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By Zahir Shah
PESHAWAR – Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) will get Pakistan’s first explosives forensic laboratory this year, adding to law enforcement resources for fighting insurgency and militancy, KP Bomb Disposal Squad (BDS) chief Additional Inspector Gen of Police Shafqat Malik told Central Asia Online in an exclusive interview January 5.
“Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is the first line of defence in the global war on terror,” Malik told Central Asia Online. His unit defused 664 improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in 2011, he said. “You can imagine if these things had not been defused.”
Less terrorism, fewer casualties
The BDS’s performance in 2011 showed growing skill at protecting itself and the public.
"During 2010, the BDS defused 390 IEDs while about 270 exploded,” he said. “In 2011, the number of IEDS defused was 664 and those which exploded were about 469. This shows the use of IEDs has almost doubled from last year ... credit goes to the law enforcement that countered (militants’) plans.”
Remarkably, the BDS suffered no casualties in 2011, he said.
The decrease in terrorist activity in KP and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas during 2011 owes much to the country’s effective strategy, he said, citing regulations on the sale and use of commercial explosives and an increase in the BDS’s equipment and personnel.
Militants had effectively used home-made devices, such as pressure-cooker bombs and explosives contained in buckets, cans and even pipes to target security forces, blow up schools and government buildings and destroy infrastructure.
Such attacks have slowed likely because militant access to explosives “had been disconnected,” while law enforcement agencies “have gone more sophisticated to counter” militants, Malik said.
The militants’ strategies changed during 2011, said Malik, an internationally certified bomb disposal, explosives and chemicals expert. “Instead of going for big car bombings, we have seen more than 100 incidents of remote-controlled improvised explosive devices (RCIEDs), which speaks to how they changed strategy after our counter-terrorism measures ... deprived them of their supplies.”
“It’s not only the law enforcement agencies (LAEs) who have modified their techniques. The militants also have started using more sophisticated means; the trend of books and diary bombs surged in 2011, and the militants have also started using booby traps to lure in the LAEs,” he said. “They did succeed for a while, but you know our training helped us in countering this strategy too.”
Pakistan in recent years beefed up its BDS.
“It was really sad that a force of only 35 people was forced to play with bombs bare-handed,” Malik said. The BDS lost more than 8 men in 2008, when the wave of terrorism started. “But from 2009 onward this force has been raised to 150 personnel. All divisions have their own bomb disposal unit, while we also provide services in the tribal areas.”
Malik hopes to establish bomb disposal units in all 25 districts of KP. He also wants more bomb-sniffing dogs, “explosives sniffers,” X-ray scanners, explosives detectors and “disrupters” that jam radio frequencies for remote-controlled bombs, he said.
“Besides modern gadgets, we now have a well-trained human resource that is key to our success as bravery of our men and (their) technique are paying off,” Malik said. “Our force is now a regular ... police force, which earlier had no service structure, and furthermore, steps are being taken to give them facilities of a special anti-terrorism force.”
Battling fertiliser bombs
Fertiliser bombs are the deadliest weapons used against coalition forces in Pakistan and Afghanistan, media reports suggest.
Making such bombs is not rocket science, Malik said, saying terrorists use explosives smuggled in from China, Central Asia and elsewhere. Ammonium nitrate is extracted from fertiliser, mixed with other products and made into bombs, which “have often caused huge destruction,” he said.
Potassium chlorate bombs are rarer in Pakistan, he said, “but after the (2002) Bali bombing, where it was used for the first time, the idea (was) also brought to Pakistan by the foreign militants.”
“The real problem was explosives were available in the tribal areas, ... but now it is being tackled through proper legislation,” Malik said.
Legislation now regulates Pakistani fertiliser factories, he said, explaining that manufacturers will start dyeing their fertilisers to permit tracking.
It would be impossible to ban such fertiliser in Pakistan because farmers need it, he said. Creating a fertiliser containing non-lethal substances would be helpful, but illegal sales of nitrate fertiliser will always be a problem, given the profit motive, he added.