PESHAWAR, February 21st: A small building packed with cubicles at Gulbahar police station is where you will find the district’s most vulnerable unit in the war against militancy – the bomb disposal unit (BDU). Constantly on alert, always on call, the BDU is the one entity trained to respond to all threats explosive.
An athletic looking officer, sitting at work waiting for the inevitable call summoning him to dismantle something that could blow up in his face, smiled as he explained that even though two dozen BDU officials work in Peshawar district, only four can technically defuse bombs. “Bombs of all kind, from small intensity to vehicles bearing improvised explosive devices,” he claimed.
The other 20 officials are deployed at the Governor and Chief Minister houses and other government installations on a daily basis – “to sweep the place.” The rest are on duty round the clock.
“It’s a tough job, a stumble or nerves can cost the official his life along with of those around him; you’d think they’d add to the force but the government has not promoted a single BDU official since 2008,” he complained.
Another BDU official lounging in an armchair nearby agreed, chiming in, “The late Hukam Khan was the last official who was promoted – no one after him was. Seven DSP posts have been vacant in the BDU since a year but no one has been promoted.”
Hukam Khan, a BDU veteran, continued to give back to his job even after it rendered his left hand useless. He was killed while trying to defuse a second bomb in Badhaber on September 27, 2012; he had successfully neutralised the first one.
So how valuable are these men whose nimble fingers can shift the destiny of anyone within a blast radius? Not very, explained the official.
“There are only monthly salaries, no allowances. If a policeman achieves in the line of duty, he will get a certificate and some cash,” he shared. But, “every day in the life of a BDU official is a dangerous one. Even if the BDU is worthy of the honour, even though the government knows the exact nature of the job, they do not appreciate us or reward us.”
He reiterated the other BDU official’s assessment of the personnel’s training. Of the 24 men, only four had received Explosive Incidents Training, which was a collaborative effort with the US. The course tutored the officers in defusing “every kind of bomb”.
“The training is now closed,” was his tight-lipped explanation.
In a recent venture launched at the start of 2014 in Risalpur, Nowshera, BDU officials receive guidance in dismantling improvised explosive devices (IED). Most of them have signed up for the training, he added.
Recently 400 policemen were sent for training to Nowshera; according to plans, some 13 BDU officials will be deployed at each district of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P). While previously police personnel would join the BDU, complete the training course and go back to the force, The Express Tribune learnt the police would have to play by a different set of rules now, whereby they would be part of the BDU.
With four trained BDU officials and some 20 others deployed to protect anyone but you and me, how does the City of Bombs fare? By October of 2012, 250 bombs had been defused in Peshawar since the start of the year.
Of the 433 terrorist attacks which took place in K-P in 2013, 153 took place in Peshawar. Of course, some of these could have used arms, or other forms of violence, but bombs were a formative part of these 153 acts of violence. Some 256 civilians, 53 policemen, eight men from the FC, 15 men from the army and 20 terrorists were killed in these.
January 2014 saw its share of violence, but in the shadows, BDU men defused 36 bombs in the month. That’s 1.2 bombs per each day of the month that were planted but did not go off.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 21st, 2014.