The South Asia Channel

Pakistan’s tribal police: underpaid and undervalued

By Khalid Khan, Peshawar, Pakistan Standing alert in front of the sprawling building of Political Agent Khyber House in Peshawar, Khasaddar Chaman Gul guarded not only the office and home of the political agent, but also his colleagues offering prayers on the nearby lawn. Wearing the black shalwar-qamees that is the official uniform of the ...

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By Khalid Khan, Peshawar, Pakistan

Standing alert in front of the sprawling building of Political Agent Khyber House in Peshawar, Khasaddar Chaman Gul guarded not only the office and home of the political agent, but also his colleagues offering prayers on the nearby lawn.

Wearing the black shalwar-qamees that is the official uniform of the khasaddars — tribal police — Chaman Gul had his finger on the trigger of an AK-47 rifle, providing security cover to his co-khasaddars, busy in individual prayers in the roadside lawn.

Located at Bara-Peshawar road, the Office of the Political Agent for Khyber Agency is heavily guarded by tribal police and other security personnel even as Pakistani security forces recently launched operation ‘Bya Darghlam’ (“Here I come again”) against Mangal Bagh-led militants in the adjacent Bara tehsil town in Khyber Agency last week. More than 100 alleged militants were killed and dozens of their houses demolished during the crackdown against the banned Lashkar-e-Islam, an extremist group similar to the Taliban, in Bara tehsil and the remote Terah valley.  

Meagerly paid and poorly equipped, the khasaddar force is more vulnerable to terrorist attacks compared with the Pakistan Army and paramilitary troops elsewhere in the insurgency-infested North West Frontier Province and tribal areas of Pakistan. “The average monthly salary of a khasaddar is between Rs 3,500 to Rs 6,000 whereas a rifle with small ammunition is given to protect the state assets and government employees in the tribal areas,” said Additional Chief Secretary of FATA secretariat Habibullah Khan. That is between $40 and $70 U.S. dollars per month.

As many as 21 khasaddars were killed and 27 others injured when a suicide bomber blew himself up as members of the khasaddar force were about to open their fasting at Torkham checkpoint on the Pakistani-Afghan border in the Khyber Agency on August 27. Similarly, more than 100 people, the majority of them khasaddar forces, were killed in a suicide attack on a mosque near a tribal police check post at Torkham-Peshawar Road in Jamroud, Khyber Agency on March 27, 2009.

A difference in value

Authorities have announced a compensation of Rs 100,000 (one lakh, about $1,200) for the family of a khasaddar who is killed on the job, whereas a constable (a low-ranking official in the Frontier Police) is entitled to get Rs 1.5 million ($18,000), in addition to a plot of land and free education for his children if he is killed in a terrorist-related incident in the adjacent North West Frontier Province (NWFP). “We are getting a monthly salary even below the minimum wage (Rs 6,000 per month) announced by the government of Pakistan,” Chaman Gul told me, claiming he had joined the khasaddar force as he did not want to lose the job his family had held since British rule.

The levies and khasaddars are operating in the seven tribal agencies and six Frontier regions under the administrative control of the federal government. Recruited from various tribes, khasaddars often pass their jobs down through their families, along with the weapons the government provides to the eldest male recruit; levies, on the other hand, are chosen on merit and given new weapons by the government. And khasaddars must use their own ammunition, whereas levies are provided with small arms and ammunition. Both the levies and the khasaddars need proper training, modern weapons, communication equipment, transportation and above all attractive salaries and allowances to combat the well-equipped and highly paid militants in the tribal belt.

FATA ACS Habibullah Khan informed me that a total of 6,779 levies and 16,828 khasaddars were presently operating in the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas, which he said was insufficient considering the current population of the tribal areas (some 3.18 million) and government stakes and assets in FATA. He said the FATA secretariat had proposed recruiting an additional 5,000 levy personnel along with bringing the salaries and allowances of the existing levies and khasaddars on par with the police force in settled areas of NWFP.

Under an agreement between the British then-government and tribal elders from various tribes in the tribal belt of the British India in 1901, a man from lower and middle-class tribal family could be inducted in the tribal police (khasaddar) with Rs 12 (twelve only) as his monthly salary.

The khasaddar forces were deployed for the protection of roads, government buildings and government servants in the tribal areas. “The population had increased manifold and the number of government buildings and communications infrastructure had been doubled since partition in the tribal belt but the strength of the khasaddar had remained the same,” Habibullah Khan told me.

Political agent for Khyber Agency Tariq Hayat vowed to continue operations until all the extremists are eliminated from Khyber Agency, asking why, when the militants were targeting our forces at mosques and worship places, should the government give them free hand to play with the lives and properties of innocent people and government servants?

“We have advised members of khasaddar forces to adopt self-protection measures and extraordinary security arrangements at this critical juncture,” he said, and advocated that the government enhance the salaries and other allowances of the khasaddar and levies forces in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

Khalid Khan is a journalist based in Peshawar who covers events related to tribal areas of Pakistan.

THIR KHAN/AFP/Getty Images

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