When someone speaks loudly or lights a firecracker he is jolted. He has been perpetually petrified for over a decade. He thought he would eventually move on, but he now knows the fear is just going to live with him forever.
When the explosion occurred, his body was pushed eight feet up before collapsing on the ground. For a while he felt as though no part of his body was intact.
Due to the dust caused by the explosion, it was completely dark, but he could hear his boss calling him. He was conscious enough to hear the voice, but because of the darkness he could not see him.
An Unknown Threat
Syed Ali Shah, 43, is Head Constable of the Special Investigation Unit (SIU) of the CIA police station in Peshawar. On October 16, 2009 he was serving as a Guards Commander at the centre, when a bomb ripped through the building, killing 15.
“At that moment, the first thought that came to my mind was of my children,” recalls Shah. “But then I reassured myself a little and told myself that my children are older now. I don’t need to worry, even if I am martyred, they can live without me.”
Syed Ali Shah hails from the Karora area of Shangla District, but has lived in Peshawar with his family for many years. Like much of the region, Peshawar was at war in October 2009. Police, security personnel and civilians were targeted every day in bombings and suicide attacks.
On the fatal day, Shah had been told by the senior officers to keep a close watch on everyone entering and exiting the police station owing to a threat alert. Shah only found out after the bombing that it was the police station itself that had been flagged as a potential site of a terrorist attack.
“We were kept in the dark about it,” maintains Shah.
On the day of the attack, six guards were on duty at the SIU centre. “Two were standing by the police station gate, one was with me and the other guards were on duty on the roof. We were talking with each other, when there was a sudden explosion,” remembers Shah.
He says the blast was so loud that for hours he could hear whistles and echoes in his ears. It was a suicide car bombing and Shah remembers seeing the bomber stop in front of the police station, and the bomb exploding within seconds, killing the bomber as well.
The CIA Special Investigation Center is located in Bara Gate, a densely populated area of Peshawar, near Saddar and Cantt. Terrorism suspects were usually brought to the SIU for interrogation. About three dozen suspects were under investigation on the day of the bombing.
“I sometimes think that it would have been better if I had been martyred, because at least my children would have got something”
According to Syed Ali Shah, the blast was carried out by the Taliban-affiliated Mangal Bagh group and the aim of targeting the centre was to free their allies from captivity, which they failed to achieve.
The Wounded Tiger
Remembering the gory scenes from the day, Shah says the body of the guard at the gate had been decimated in the bombing. “Parts of his corpse landed over 100 feet away. The body of the guard deployed with me was heavily burnt. All of my colleagues on duty died that day.”
Syed Ali Shah himself was severely wounded, but survived.
“By the time I was taken to the hospital, I had regained consciousness, but I was not sure if I would survive, because I was riddled with injuries. My right hand was badly wounded and was completely dislocated. My legs were totally crushed and bled heavily,” says Shah.
He was hospitalised for a month and three days. However, when he returned home after being discharged from the hospital, his leg wounds ceased to heal and were aggravated. Eventually, Shah was readmitted to the ICRC Hospital.
“Senior doctors advised that since my legs had been crushed by severe injuries, both of them would have to be amputated, otherwise the disease can become more severe and harmful. Then both my legs were amputated and I was hospitalised for another four months.”
After becoming differently-abled, Syed Ali Shah has now installed prosthetic legs with which he can not only walk, but also do light work. He goes to a nearby mosque to pray and can also ride a motorcycle when needed.
“A lot of money was spent on my treatment. Since I couldn’t afford it I had to take a loan from friends. I was given Rs500,000 by the police department, but no assistance has been provided by the government till date,” maintains Shah.
“I don’t have my own house. I have sacrificed so much. I am no less than a martyr because both my legs were amputated. I became disabled. I sometimes think that it would have been better if I had been martyred, because at least my children would have got something.”
Shah says when the Police Martyrs’ Day is commemorated the heirs of the martyrs are invited to the police ceremonies. The sacrifices of those injured or left differently-abled are also mentioned. Sometimes they are given cash.
More than 1,500 policemen have been martyred in terrorist and extremist attacks in the last 20 years. Many officials have maintained it to be the most testing time in the history of the KP Police
“I am satisfied with my department, but the government has never done anything. I have five sons, four of whom are unemployed. If one or two of them got jobs, some of my problems would be addressed,” he says.
Syed Ali Shah has not been on duty since the attack, but his job is still intact. He is receiving regular salary and other benefits every month.
The sacrifices of policemen in the War on Terror in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa mark a golden chapter in the province’s history.
According to the latest figures released by the police department, more than 1,500 policemen have been martyred in terrorist and extremist attacks in the last 20 years. Many officials maintain that when scores of personnel, including numerous high-ranking officers, were being subjected to a series of attacks and killings, it was the most testing time in KP Police’s history.
The year 2009 proved to be especially devastating in the War on Terror, as 209 KP police officers were killed in terror attacks. It was the year when the number of bombings in Pakistan was higher than war-torn Afghanistan and Iraq.
KP’s senior police officers who have laid down their lives in the last 12 years include two additional inspector generals, two deputy inspector generals, six superintendents of police, one SSP and 17 acting SPs or DSPs.
The sacrifices of lower-level officers and personnel in this war are said to be innumerable. The list of those who died includes 32 inspectors or acting DSPs, 125 sub-inspectors, 85 ASIs, 152 head constables and more than a thousand constables or police personnel.
Police officials say many instances during the War on Terror stand out where frontline police personnel set a towering example of duty, and embraced suicide bombers to prevent the attacker from reaching the target.
The Peshawar Police Bomb Disposal Unit, in spite of its limited resources in the war on terror, has had a history of sacrifices. Many officers of this unit, despite the lack of modern equipment, never shunned their duty, and continued to fight bravely till the very end.
The Ticking Time Bomb
Inspector Hukam Khan was one of the founding members of Peshawar’s Bomb Disposal Unit. The courageous officer defused hundreds of bombs and explosives without wearing a bomb suit. Even on the day he was martyred he was trying to diffuse explosives without protective gear.
“Even that day, he was disabling the bomb inside the pressure cooker on his own. He had diffused a bomb but another one remained. The second one exploded and martyred my father”
Hukam Khan belonged to Peshawar’s Mattani village. He joined the police department at a time when “jihad” against Russia was going on in Afghanistan and bombings in Peshawar had become a norm. Hukam’s son Akram Khan is an ASI in the police department.
“It was an early September morning in 2012. My father called and asked me to run a few errands on his behalf since he had to go somewhere else,” narrates Akram.
It was Friday and Akram asked his father if he would be coming home soon. He was informed that an IED had been planted on Frontier Road, which Hukam was leaving to defuse.
“I asked him why he couldn’t send a trainee. He said ‘I’m just coming back in an hour’. And then a few hours later his dead body came home.”
Akram Khan worked in the bomb disposal unit under his father for many years. He has seen firsthand his father’s bomb disposal routine: Hukam Khan would go alone first, and after inspecting the bomb he would ask his teammates to join him in dismembering the bomb.
“Even that day, he was disabling the bomb inside the pressure cooker on his own. He had diffused a bomb but another one remained. The second one exploded and martyred my father,” recalls Akram.
When Hukam Khan joined the Bomb Disposal Unit, no protective suit or similar equipment was used in Peshawar. He would regularly risk his life while carrying out his duties without protective gear.
“Later the Bomb Disposal Unit was given some protective equipment by the department, but it wasn’t the latest technology. That equipment was more suitable for grenades or smaller explosives, while the protective gear for bigger bombs is very heavy. The helmet alone weighs 5-6 kilograms,” maintains Akram.
According to Akram Khan, 14 members of the Bomb Disposal Unit have so far died in the War on Terror. He said a martyr’s package and a five-marla [1361 square feet] plot was given for his father by the police department, while one of his younger brothers also got a job in the police.
“However, despite repeated promises the federal government hasn’t provided anything,” laments Azam.
Rehman Malik, the then federal interior minister, had announced that the martyr’s son would be given a job in the FIA, while the deceased would be awarded the Sitara-e-Jurrat, but the announcement has not been implemented to date.
“A bullet hit me in the kidney and another in the back. The third bullet went through my stomach and intestines, leaving me in the hospital for 15 days.”
“After my father’s martyrdom, I traveled to Islamabad several times and also to the FIA headquarters. Several applications were submitted to various departments. Someone advised me to file a case in the office of the acting ombudsman, but despite all efforts, no hearing was held. In fact, the travel cost alone was beyond my means of income,” adds Azam.
After the devastating attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar in 2014, for the first time the country’s political and military leadership unanimously vowed to eradicate terrorism and shaped the National Action Plan. Large-scale operations were launched against militant organisations. Security forces took effective action against the extremist groups present in all the tribal areas at the time and expelled them from Pakistani territory.
Most of the anti-Pakistan outfits moved across the border to Afghanistan, where they remained quiet for some time. After reorganising, attacks have resumed in the former FATA, which has since officially merged with KP. As things stand, there is currently no area in Pakistan under militant occupation, but secret sleeper cells are still active, launching attacks from time to time. Targeted killings often involve attacks on police and security personnel, for which militant groups regularly claim responsibility.
A Bullet In The Kidney
40-year-old Sher Alam Khan hails from Swat’s Salaampur area. He joined the police department in 2002 as a recruit. One night in April 2007, when the Taliban operations in Swat were at their peak, Sher was on foot patrol with his accomplice in Engro Dheri, around the Rahimabad police station jurisdiction, when miscreants opened fire from behind. Sher’s colleague Sultan Hussain died on the spot, while three bullets struck him as well.
“A bullet hit me in the kidney and another in the back. The third bullet went through my stomach and intestines, leaving me in the hospital for 15 days. During this time I went through a lot of pain, I couldn’t defecate. A big pipe was fitted through which I would pass stool,” says Sher, recalling the agony.
Sher Alam Khan had to undergo an operation for which he was admitted to the hospital again for around 10 days. During this time he lost a lot of blood which rendered him extremely weak.
“I was sick for about a year and didn’t go on duty during that time, but I was getting paid consistently. Now I have rejoined the duty, but due to a bullet in my kidney, I can’t lift much weight or do heavy work,” adds Sher.
“I have arthritis these days. I don’t know if it is due to weakness, or some other reason, but I can’t walk for long. I am being separately treated for joint pain, for which I have to use expensive pills.”
Sher maintains following his injury he has had to spend around Rs150,000 but has only been given Rs50,000 by the police department. Occasionally, however, senior officials provide cash assistance to the injured police officers. In recent days, Sher has received financial support from DIG Malakand.
About 30 to 35 policemen in Swat have been left differently-abled after being injured in the War on Terror, and now use wheelchairs.
“Had I been fit, I would have made a lot of progress in the police. But since I can no longer attend courses or do exercise, I cannot progress. I am currently a head constable and will retire as one as well. The injured policemen, who have sacrificed for the sake of the country and the nation, should be promoted in a special case so that they do not feel deprived,” says Sher.
Sher Alam Khan has three children, two sons and a daughter. The eldest son is 15 years old. All three are studying in different schools.
“What is the salary of a head constable? And when he is left disabled, unable to do any work, and his children are studying, it becomes very difficult to meet the expenses.”
Even so, Sher has never regretted being seriously wounded in the line of duty. He might occasionally feel depressed owing to his injuries and health condition, but he never gives up and continues to fight it out. Sher Alam Khan maintains that he has always been proud of the fact that he never spared any sacrifice for the sake of the country, the nation and his duty.
“However, the government should have shown the same generosity in return,” he insists.