Pakistan police get new anti-terror training
Sihala — Blissful sleep for Bazgha Salim Raza ends at 5:00am when the whistle blows at Pakistan’s biggest police academy, and she begins a day of martial arts, punishing drills and counter-terrorism training.
Raza and her colleagues rush to complete their early morning prayers before instructor Ghulam Rasool orders them on the march around the 350-acre (142-hectare) Sihala training grounds about an hour’s drive from Islamabad.
"I teach them martial arts, camouflage and different ways to advance on the enemy without letting him know," said Rasool, before bellowing "snake walk!" and watching recruits bend at the knee and advance in zig-zags.
"I also teach them the monkey walk and tiger walk to hide from enemies during an operation or defensive action," he told AFP.
Raza is one of 40 women and 433 men who in May became the first batch of recruits embarking on a new police training regime, remoulded to fight terror as Taliban attacks plague Pakistan’s cities and towns.
Critics say that a wave of suicide bombings has exposed a cash-strapped police force woefully incapable of fighting insurgents.
But Sihala staff say the revamped curriculum of close combat skills, psychological endurance, CCTV analysis and forensic investigation will help the cops of tomorrow fight militants and stop attacks.
"We have revised all our courses after the increase in suicide and other terrorist attacks," said Nasir Khan Durrani, head of the school.
Tall, strong and dressed in a smart dark blue police uniform, Raza says she joined up to eliminate crime and militancy from her troubled homeland.
"We should stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our men in the fight against terrorism. Women should not stay behind in the war for the nation’s survival," said Raza, who has a masters degree in research.
About 2,000 Pakistanis have been killed in deadly bomb attacks blamed on Islamist militants around the country over the last two years.
The death of Pakistan Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud in a US drone missile attack earlier this month has boosted morale, and there appears to have been a lull in bombings since the strike.
But Durrani recognises the Taliban are a tough foe, and says that his recruits need the latest training to take their places alongside the military and powerful intelligence agencies.
"The video technology, close combat methods and psychological strength will be new lessons imparted by top experts," said Durrani.
Until recently, police training was limited to mob dispersal, firearms use and law enforcement.
"The old instructors will be replaced with on-field officers who have been through the experience of suicide attacks and terrorist ambush," said Durrani.
"We are also in talks with the United States to get help in scientific training and two of their experts are likely to arrive within three months.
"They will train us in investigating complicated crimes and dealing with improvised explosive devices (IEDs)," said Durrani.
But analysts believe improved training alone is not sufficient.
"We need to adopt more technological advancements and strengthen the communication networks, besides improving the cops’ training," said Sharf-ud-din Memon, the head of the Citizen Police Liaison Committee.
"Our police should have a system to break and trace mobile phone conversations," said Memon, adding that a network of CCTV cameras should be installed in all major cities.
The force remains short of recruits — for 167 million Pakistanis, there are just 383,000 police officers.
Funding is also a problem, despite some recent investment. The government this year doubled the salaries of the police, but they remain woefully low, with a new constable earning 12,000 rupees (145 dollars) a month.
Arif Babar, a spokesman for Sihala academy, said the centre had been given a 4.5 million rupee (54,000 dollar) bump in funding this year but that still was not enough to pay for the instructors they needed.
"We still need more funds for better training and have demanded an additional grant of 33 million rupees," said Babar.