Security lapse seen in Shabqadar tragedy
PESHAWAR, May 13: Security lapse and mismanagement may have led to loss of so many human lives in the twin suicide attacks on the Frontier Constabulary headquarters in Shabqadar on Friday that left over 80 soldiers and civilians dead and scores of others wounded.
Background interviews with officers and wounded soldiers suggest that standard operating procedures (SOPs) were not implemented before allowing nearly 800 recruits to leave the academy for their hometowns after their formal induction in the paramilitary force.
The soldiers are usually sent on a 10-day leave after completion of their training course at the academy situated near the main Shabqadar bazaar. Recently, the duration of training course for the recruits has been cut from nine months to six months because of the security situation.
“What happened at Shabqadar today is because of the poor security arrangements and carelessness,” said an FC officer on condition of anonymity.
He said that it was the responsibility of the officers concerned to release the recruits in small groups rather than allowing all of them together to go out.
The attack on recruits was the second deadliest against security forces in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in less than three months. A bomber had entered training area of the Punjab Regiment in Mardan in February last killing about 30 recruits.
Wounded soldiers told this correspondent at the Lady Reading Hospital, Peshawar, that 700 to 800 trained personnel who passed out on May 5 were given permission to proceed on a 10-day leave on Friday.
Police said that two suicide bombers riding a motorcycle carried out attacks in quick succession when a herd of recruits rushed with their luggage to the nearby bus stand and started boarding vehicles to go home. Over a dozen vehicles were lined up in front of main gate of the fort, built in 1837.
A farewell function comprising skits and music was organised for the recruits at the FC ground on Thursday night. Jubilant recruits hailing from far-flung areas were on their way home when bombers turned the moment into a horrible scene.
“All my colleagues were relaxed and enjoying the occasion. I was heading towards the wagon when the first explosion occurred only a few yards away,” said Sajid Ali, a recruit who received shrapnel on his forehead.
Doctors said that 117 wounded people, including civilians, had been shifted to the LRH and some were referred to other main hospitals. LRH chief executive Dr Hameed Afridi said that 19 bodies were also brought to the hospital and 40 wounded persons were in critical condition.
The Frontier Constabulary, which has a training center each in Peshawar and Shabqadar, is primarily responsible for securing border with the tribal area and used as additional force to assist the civil administration in case of emergency.
Officials said that the SOPs were taught to the trainees during training and that they would move in small groups in public and keep low profile to conceal their identity.
Sources said that a few days ago about 500 recruits passed out at their training center in Peshawar. “Unlike Shabqadar, recruits at Peshawar center were asked to leave in small groups,” said an official.
“During the night a funfair was organised in the Shabqadar fort while in the morning nearly 800 recruits were allowed to come out together from the main compound,” he remarked, adding that it was responsibility of the training officer to make security arrangements for the personnel. In fact, militants were offered opportunity that they exploited, he said.
Recruits also said that neither their officers cautioned them before leaving the compound nor they cared, as there was a hustle and bustle and they never thought that such a tragedy could strike them.
The British-era Shabqadar Fort is close to Mohmand Agency, where security forces have been fighting against militants in Safi and Baizai tehsils adjacent to Afghanistan. Banned Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan had surfaced in the area in 2007 when a group of militants under the command of Umar Khalid (real name Abdul Wali) occupied the shrine of Haji Sahab Tarangzai, a great freedom fighter.
According to reports, despite extensive military operation militants were still holding positions in the embattled zones and even had extended their activities to Michini area near Peshawar district.