Pakistan police losing terrorism fight
By KATHY GANNON – Associated Press, December 4, 2008
BADABER, Pakistan (AP) — Brothers Mushtaq and Ishaq Ali left the police force a month ago, terrified of dying as their colleagues had — beheaded by militants on a rutted village road before a shocked crowd.
They went straight to the local Urdu-language newspaper to announce their resignation. They were too poor to pay for a personal ad, so the editor of The Daily Moon, Rasheed Iqbal, published a news story instead. He has run dozens like it.
"They just want to get the word out to the Taliban that they are not with the police anymore so they won't kill them," said Iqbal. "They know that no one can protect them, and especially not their fellow policemen."
Outgunned and out-financed, police in volatile northwestern Pakistan are fighting a losing battle against insurgents, dozens of interviews by The Associated Press show. They are dying in large numbers, and many survivors are leaving the force.
The number of terrorist attacks against police has gone up from 113 in 2005 to 1,820 last year, according to National Police Bureau. The death toll for policemen in that time has increased from nine to 575. In the northwestern area alone, 127 policemen have died so far this year in suicide bombings and assassinations, and another 260 have been wounded.
The crisis means the police cannot do the nuts-and-bolts work needed to stave off an insurgency fueled by the Taliban and al-Qaida. While the military can pound mountain hideouts, analysts and local officials say it is the police who should hunt down insurgents, win over the people, and restore order.
"The only way to save Pakistan is to think of extremism and insurgency in North West Frontier Province as a law enforcement issue," said Hassan Abbas, a South Asia expert at Harvard University's Belfer Center Project for Science. "Rather than buying more F-16s, Pakistan should invest in modernizing its police."
In the Swat Valley, militants have turned a once-idyllic mountain getaway into a nightmare of bombings and beheadings despite a six-month military operation to root them out. About 300 policemen have fled the force already.
On a recent evening in Mardan, Akhtar Ali Shah had just slipped out of his deputy police inspector's uniform to head home. In an escort vehicle, a half-dozen of his guards had inched outside the giant white gates of the police station for a routine security check.
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