Anatomy of failure

We saw hundreds of elite members fighting a handful of militants; it raises doubts over professional skills of police.

Anwer Sumra July 24, 2014

I salute Sabir Hussain, the security official who embraced martyrdom during the operation against alleged terrorists near the prime minister’s Raiwind residence on July 17. Two terrorists were killed during the assault. The 10-hour operation was mounted on a lead provided by an arrested suspect from a nearby area. According to news reports, Military Intelligence officials backed up by members of the elite police, conducted a raid on a compound harbouring the dangerous suspects.

Being a common citizen, I have lot of apprehensions over the poor handling of the operation. The housing of suspects in highly sensitive areas has led to a vulnerable security situation in Punjab. At last solid evidence has been found of criminal gangs and groups of bandits operating freely in those areas.

This is an age of rapid access to information. The country’s intelligence apparatus is expected to keep a vigilant eye on suspects. As many as one dozen federal and provincial intelligence agencies are working in Pakistan and none of them had any information about these men for about two months. This is nothing short of an intelligence failure. Even the local residents did not notice their mysterious activities, which is again a social and moral failure.

It is sad but true that globally applied strategies and standards were not observed during the operation. When security agencies cordon off a hideout of criminals and launch an operation there, they usually take special precautions to capture the suspects alive. Such a move would naturally benefit interrogation and aid criminal investigations. Oftentimes it can bring investigators closer to a breakthrough in the efforts to curb the network of militants. For this purpose, security agencies routinely use gases to incapacitate and psychologically defeat the suspects for arrest.

But the footage of the operation at the compound shows that the police resorted to indiscriminate and excessive firing in their haste to stub out the resistance of the terrorists. Even each brick of the compound was struck by three to four bullet marks. The excessive use of grenades, rocket launchers and bullets by police indicated that its leadership lacked in strategy to ensure safe arrest. As the operation prolonged, policemen lost their cool and resorted to indiscriminate firing to raze the structure and kill the suspects. Such militants tend to blow themselves up when they fail to find any safe runaway but in this incident they were targeted with bullets.

Punjab boasts of an elite force brigade specialising in counter-terrorist and high-risk operations. Instead, we saw hundreds of elite unit members conducting an operation against a handful of militants.  This raises serious doubts over the professional skills and capacity of our policemen. Perhaps it is because so many of them are engaged in VIP duties that they have forgotten how to handle crisis situations.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 24th, 2014.

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