Sunday, 16 December 2012

Peshawar: Enemy past the gate

Originally published by the News
Saturday, December 08, 2012, re-posted today after the recent attack on Peshawar airport-ed 

How do you tell the difference between apathy and fatalism? This is the question a few concerned citizens of Peshawar often ask themselves every time they hear of another rocket attack or suicide attack or another story of a piece of the city’s heritage being lost.

This attitude reminds me of the story of a king who defeated a proud opponent. The cruel king wanted to teach the man a lesson and killed one of his three sons. Inviting the father to dinner, he served his enemy the remains of the man’s son to him. As he saw his beaten enemy, eating he told him the gruesome truth and ordered him to keep eating. The elderly man briefly paused and with a sad face continued to eat. Afterwards the king’s minister, revolted by the king’s actions, asked the poor man how he could continue eating. The man replied, “I had three sons. Two are still living.” Such is fatalism....

The terrorist attacks in Peshawar rarely get much attention and it is even rarer for the effects of these attacks on the city to be reported. Geographically the city covers 1,257 square miles and four National Assembly constituencies. It is unique in that it borders three tribal zones – the Khyber Agency, Darra Adam Khel and the Mohmand Agency.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has suffered 166 suicide attacks, with 1,930 dead and 4,502 injured, from 2006 to 2012. In the first three months of 2009, there were 200 kidnappings for ransom in Peshawar, from 599 in 2006 of which only three led to convictions. The city suffered a staggering 120 incidents of terrorism in 2011 averaging ten per month.

In all this, one would expect the government to have invested in the Frontier Constabulary (FC), and the police, by recruiting extra manpower and intelligence operations. Instead of that, from 31 police stations in Peshawar in 2006, there were 30 in 2008. There have been 235 policemen killed and 496 injured; the killed include well known figures like the late Safwat Ghayur and Malik Saad. Breaking it down, two DIGs, three superintendents of police (SPs) and a number of DSPs and station house officers (SHOs) have been killed since the last quarter of 2006.

With one fourth of the Frontier Constabulary deployed outside the province, 119 men have died with 247 injured. Despite this, an official of the federal interior ministry informed the Peshawar High Court that a quarter of the force was deployed outside the province. While 367 FC platoons were deputed within the KP and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), only 78 were assisting provincial police and 109 were active in different army operations and another 95 FC platoons deputed outside KP of which 45 were deployed in Karachi, 35 in Islamabad and 15 in Gilgit-Baltistan.

To add insult to injury, the city’s plight is not due to a lack of political representation – out of the two ministers in the federal cabinet both Ghulam Bilour and Arbab Alamgir hail from Peshawar. Within the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assembly, both the speaker and deputy speaker are from Peshawar, while one senior minister and three provincial ministers are from Peshawar. Their collective inability to mobilise the federal government or build support for the battered city in the country speaks volumes about the failure of leadership. There is also a lesson for the rest of Pakistan in the plight of Peshawar, as the attacks this Muharram have shown – a problem allowed to fester somewhere in the country will eventually become a problem everywhere.

The writer is founder of the site www.qissa-khwani.com and tweets @qisskhwani
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