Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Bannu jailbreak – part II: We had only five Kalashnikovs, say police

The Express Tribune
After a successful military operation in Swat in 2009, the public was willing to believe government claims that it had managed to successfully establish its writ in volatile Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P). However, after a planned Taliban operation in Bannu jail led to hundreds of prisoners breaking out of prison, this claim has come into serious question. It also raises concerns over the jail’s current security set-up – a common sentiment is that if 150 militants can travel down the hills and take command of the jail, they could just as well take control of Bannu city. On paper, the security at the high-profile prison seemed full proof. Surrounded by open fields, the jail is located opposite the posh Bannu township, at a ten-minute drive from the Frontier Region (FR) Peng. It’s also within two kilometres of three police stations. The jail, which has three entry gates, is surrounded by huge cemented walls, the top of which are covered with barbed wire. Each gate is located further inside, so that one must pass through one gate to get to the other. The outermost gate is called the Phatak gate, and is situated on the main road. One person is deployed at each of the four search towers. At the Phatak Gate, two armed men are deployed. In addition, there are three other men at the gate – one with an AK-47, another with a register to enter names of visitors and a third assigned with the duty to frisk visitors. At the last gate to enter the jail, there is only one policeman, armed with just a baton. A total of 151 police personnel are supposed to keep the jail secure – but on the day the militants mounted the assault, only 119 policemen were present and only 21 were performing their duties. Sources told The Express Tribune that eight policemen had been lent to Dera Ismail Khan Jail and four to Karak Jail. In addition, ten others were on leave and six were found absent from their duties. A police official, who wished not to be named, told The Express Tribune that the first target of the Taliban was a search tower located just beside the Phatak gate which was blown up when a rocket was fired at it. Rockets were used to shatter the first and third gates, and hand grenades were used to smash the second. “What could we do, they were above a hundred in strength with the latest weapons and we only had five Kalashnikovs. Tell me honestly, could you face such a situation?” the police official said. The police official then called his brother and told him what was happening. “My brother told me that he has contacted high-ranking police officials. They were changing their uniform and would soon arrive. In all, it took around one hour to break the first and the second gate but we could not respond. We were empty-handed.” “I could clearly see my death. I thought my last moments had arrived and I was going to be slaughtered or shot to death,” he said, adding that two members of the jail police who were deployed at the death cell, climbed up a tree to save their lives. Two other policemen wore prisoners’ uniform as a cover and ran with the prisoners, unarmed and fearing for their lives. “I called them to inquire about them but I started laughing when I came to know they had also escaped with the prisoners,” the official said. He also said one man, who seemed to be leading the militants, was standing at the main gate, telling all those who were escaping: “Go, go, you are free now, just pray for us. Don’t forget to spare your life for Allah.” The official said those who returned to jail informed the authorities that the group , after entering the FR area, asked all the prisoners if they were willing to leave for Miramshah. Those who declined were dropped off in Peng. “Those who returned said suicide bombers and explosive-laden vehicles were also dispatched for the attack but returned as fresh as dispatched”, the official added. Officials have said that all those rearrested or who returned voluntarily, will not be awarded further punishment as they were forced to escape.

Cabinet to accompany Gilani in SC verdict
The federal cabinet on Wednesday expressed solidarity with Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani and resolved that all ministers would accompany him to the courtroom on Thursday. This was stated by Minister for Information and Broadcasting Qamar Zaman Kaira while briefing journalists on the cabinet meeting here at the Prime Minister's Secretariat. Flanked by Religious Affairs Minister Syed Khursheed Shah, Secretary Ministry of Religious Affairs Chaudhry Muhammad Azam, Secretary Information Taimur Azmat Osman and others, Kaira said the Prime Minister informed the cabinet that he would not avail any privilege while appearing before the Supreme Court of Pakistan in the contempt of court case and would go to the court on foot. "The leaders and ministers of the coalition partners will also accompany the Prime Minister. We expect justice from the court and hope for justice," he said while responding to the questions raised by reporters. He said the president enjoyed immunity under the local and international laws and writing a letter to the Swiss authorities would tantamount to surrendering immunity. The minister said, "We as a nation say that a foreign country should hand over Dr. Afia Siddiqui to Pakistan and has no right to set head money for Hafiz Saeed. Likewise, we cannot surrender our President before a Swiss magistrate." Asked whether the government would implement the court verdict, the minister said that the government's legal and political teams would take a decision in line with the Constitution and law of land. He said that the Prime Minister also summoned a special federal cabinet meeting to discuss future strategy in the wake of court's order. The meeting to be held after the SC verdict, would be attended by chief ministers of Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan, and governors of the provinces, besides the Prime Minister and the President of Azad Jammu and Kashmir. "The Prime Minister has no ego problem and he is ready to appear before the court for a third time. He will appear before the court like an ordinary citizen," he added. He said President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani had set a new precedence by transferring their powers to the Parliament. He said the President surrendered his powers to the Parliament and the federation devolved its powers to empower the provinces, which were now getting Rs 400 billion additional amount as per new NFC Award. To a question she said that Dr. Firdous Ashiq Awan belonged to his party and he was her continuation and there was no question of holding any investigations into appointments made by her.

Mehrangate: Nawaz too took Rs 50 million

AG presents interior ministry report which says Nawaz Sharif took Rs 50 million from Mehran bank. Three-member Supreme Court bench headed by the CJP Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry heard the Mehrangate scam case. AG Irfan Qadir informed the court that he had met the interior and law ministry officials but could not get hold of Mehran Bank Commission reports. Asghar Khan’s lawyer Salman Akram Raja said that one of the journalists told him he has got the reports. CJP wondered as to why the government hasn’t got the reports. The AGP presented the interior ministry report which said Yunis Habib misused the money and Nawaz Sharif also got Rs 50 million. The report recommended calling the then additional DG FIA Rehman Malik AG Qazi Jamil and registrar Supreme Court. The report also recommended to hand over ex DG ISI’s original statement to registrar Supreme Court as it also could go missing.