"If we fail during our job, we lose our lives. And if we succeed in any mission, we only get a word of praise," were the words of sub inspector Abdul Haq, the top expert of the bomb disposal unit (BDU), only few days before he was killed in a bomb attack in the rural Peshawar.
Thirty eight men of the BDU in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Police are doing the most dangerous job of the world in the most dangerous part of the world for only Rs 50. They have defused over 6000 bombs, suicide jackets, improvised explosive devices and other explosives during the last almost four years. Shamefully, these experts are getting only Rs 50 per month as Risk Allowance for protecting thousands of lives and properties worth billions of rupees.
Four of the BDU experts, including the top expert Abdul Haq (60), were killed a couple of weeks back when they were rushed to Sulemankhel village in rural Peshawar to inspect the site of a midnight blast. Their vehicle was targeted by a roadside bomb, killing all the four personnel and injuring a passerby. At the time the bodies of these slain BDU officials were being shifted to hospital, their other colleagues were busy in defusing two IEDs in the same area with tears rolling down their cheeks over the death of their top men.
Two experts, including the famous Inspector Hukam Khan, were killed in the same locality some months back. Hukam Khan and Abdul Haq are said to have defused over 5000 bombs in their careers, protecting the lives of thousands of people. Both, however, were trapped on two different occasions in the limits of the Badaber police station.
"Only a few of our experts are left, the rest have sacrificed their lives while protecting you people (general public)," said Shafqat Malik, the assistant inspector general (AIG) of the BDU. His unit has lost 13 top experts during the last few years, almost all of them while defusing explosives.
The BDU of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Police has a sanctioned strength of 130 officers and experts. However, presently only 34 personnel are posted in the unit. Most of them are recruited on contract and have no job security. The rest of the positions are vacant since nobody is ready to do the most dangerous job against a meager salary. All the seven positions of deputy superintendents of police (DSPs) are vacant. Two experts of the unit have quit the job in recent months to get a job abroad against several time higher salary.
"We are working to improve the conditions. The government has announced increasing the Risk Allowance for BDU staff to Rs5000," the inspector general of police (IGP) Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Nasir Khan Durrani told The News on Sunday. The official, however, admitted the allowance is still not enough for those risking their lives to secure the lives and properties of others.
The BDU of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Police, which according to some officials has the world record of defusing most number of bombs during the last almost six years, has no bullet-proof or bomb-proof vehicle for safely transporting its personnel to the site of a planted bomb. The force has no jammers or other modern gadgetry that can detect and defuse explosives without putting the lives of BDU personnel in danger. Six robots provided to the unit by the foreign donors over an year back are hardly used on few occasions. The officials believe the robots cannot be operated in most of the places, for technical reasons. The safety kits are so heavy that one can hardly move in it while defusing any explosive.
"We have to work with ordinary knives and scissors to defuse a bomb in this modern age. The reason is that the BDU never remained a priority of the governments," said a cop, requesting anonymity. He added the minimum Risk Allowance of any BDU expert should be Rs 50,000 which in fact is presently Rs 50.
"We are left with a few bomb disposal experts now. Paying them well will never be a burden on the exchequer as hundreds of thousands are being spent every month on an ordinary superintendent of police (in terms of his salary, fuel, house rent and salaries of his supporting staff)," said the cop.
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police authorities are looking to provide latest technology to the BDU on one hand while on the other efforts are being made to use the traditional means to find explosives.
The authorities are looking to get more experts and educated cops for the BDU as the sanctioned strength is to be increased to 250. Recently, 32 sniffer dogs have been provided to the BDU and the Special Branch Police that will be used in detecting explosives at suspicious places and vehicles. Interestingly, not a single candidate appeared when the posts of 60 dog handlers were advertised twice in local and national newspapers. "We are now going to train constables from within the force. They will be given additional allowance," said Nasir Durrani.