Unsung heroes: bomb disposal squads of KP stop destruction

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PESHAWAR: Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, a province at the front line against the war on terror, witnessed innumerable attacks over the past decade which claimed thousands of civilian lives as well as security personnel. Barely equipped to cope with the number of bombings, the province has lost many of its rightly acclaimed valiant soldiers and bomb defusing experts.

“The frequency of explosions caused policy makers to spring to action and made them realize the dire need to set up a facility where new personnel could be trained to handle explosives,” said BDU expert, Arif Khan. “This need was fulfilled in February 2015, when the first ever Police School of Explosives Handling (PSEH) was set up in Nowshera,” he told News Lens Pakistan.

Situated on the bank of River Kabul, the main entrance to the building is adorned with portraits of those who died while defusing bombs and Improvised Explosive Devices (IDEs). The portraits of Inspector Hukam Khan and Inspector Abdul Haq are among these as well as thirteen others. The duo Hukam Khan and Abdul Haq had defused over 2500 bombs during their many years of service, which is arguably the highest number anywhere in the world.

Due to the lack of technological facilities and proper training, the BDU lost some of its top experts including Inspector Hukam Khan and Inspector Abdul Haq. Many of the cops, who were not a part of the BDU, also lost their lives as they were not able to handle explosives in the absence of BDU experts. “Incidents such as this prompted the authorities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to set up its first ever school of explosives handling to not only further improve the training of the BDU experts, but to impart basic training to the cops of all districts on handling a live ordnance in case there was no BDU official available”, an expert said.

“Currently, the Police School of Explosive Handling is imparting training to a batch of 44 cops. As many as 341 have already been trained since the 9th of February 2015,” an instructor at the KP PSEH Inspector Shafiq Khan told News Lens.

“Despite lack of proper training facilities, the bomb disposal unit of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has defused over 6,000 bombs since 2009. It has also lost its top 15 experts during the last few years,” said DSP Waqar Khan while showing News Lens Pakistan explosive handling equipment, bombs of different types, mines detectors, remote control vehicles for the purpose of demonstration to trainees for practical training. “The trainees are being trained to know the different kinds of bombs, their bases and their disposal during training,” he added.

Assistant Inspector General (AIG) and Chief of Bomb Disposal Unit Shafqat Malik told News Lens Pakistan, “Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is facing the brunt of the war against terrorism due to its presence at the front for the last one and a half decade. Militant groups use explosives; these explosives are directly or indirectly detonated by using Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) as weapons of mass destruction which cause more casualties and damage than any other weapons.”

More than 6,000 IEDs had been defused in KPK under command of AIG Shafqat Malik during the last seven years and many suicide bombers as well as explosive laden vehicles were defused by the chief of the unit. Malik also happens to be the founder of the PSEH.

“Throughout the world, the bomb disposal unit of the KPK police has made history with their blood and sacrifices and countered terrorism by defusing more than 6,000 IEDs including many vehicles borne IEDs and suicide bombers,” he said.

This unit has saved scores of innocent citizens as well as property worth billions of rupees, leading at the front by sacrificing their own lives. “Fifteen brave personnel of this unit sacrificed their lives for this sacred mission,” added Malik.

“This profession is very noble but uncommon as training was not available in the market for Explosive Ordinance Device, (EOD) therefore we were dependent on foreign countries or military institutions which is time consuming,” said Malik.

He said the need for their own police training institution for EOD emerged and so KPK’s current Inspector General Police Nasir Durrani bought this idea, and the Police School of Explosive Handling was established in February 2015.

It did not have a very large budget; most of the equipment was arranged free of cost, due to the personal efforts top police officials. The AIG revealed that the bomb disposal unit has zero budget. “We just get salaries from the government, all robots, bomb suits, x-ray units, EOD, vehicles and other equipment was arranged free of cost with personal efforts,” he said.

Inspector Shafiq Khan, an ex-serviceman for the Pakistan Army, said that the Bomb Disposal Units (BDU) conduct short two-week refresher courses. “In addition to these courses, we also train the officials for post blast investigation and site preservation in order to examine the nature and quantity of explosive material.”

Qazi Waqar, a PhD scholar of Electric Power, who visits the school to deliver lectures on electrical concepts said, “Terrorists always use newer technology in making bomb circuits and IEDs so the trainees need to know different modes like usage of sensors and manual system while operating numerous kinds of bomb disposal equipment in practical training at this school.”

He said that terrorists gradually got more sophisticated, transitioned from simple IEDs to more complicated explosives, thus making them more difficult to abort. “Light dependent or proximity sensors are used in bomb circuits and their relation with light in a specific radius is very crucial. Therefore the staff of the disposal unit need to know ways of handling a sensor technology as well,” said Waqar.

Zamer Khan, a trainee of refresher course, told News Lens Pakistan, “Earlier, we just know the methods of simple bombs and cut the wires of circuits in an IED, but now we are able to identify the circuits and can defuse the newer kinds of bombs.”

“We were in dire need of such an institute due to the increasing casualties of bomb disposal experts and the sophisticated tactics employed by the terrorists in making bombs and explosive devices to wreak mass havoc,” he said.

In most cases, the terrorists attach a secondary IED or ambush the BDU officials with snipers, hence they learned about the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) while defusing a bomb in order to avoid mass destruction and casualties.

Zamer Khan, a first responder of bomb disposal in Peshawar, has defused 37 bombs so far while working as a BD expert in the police department since the last five years.

“The terrorists are using vibration systems, pressure systems, mobile phones, radio remotes and wires. I have seen at least one device with all these methods. It is a technological war, however in this refresher course we are able to operate such systems,” he added.

Muhammad Arif, an expert in the Hazara Division has skirted with death on several occasions. On his way to the office after defusing a bomb at Thorghar area of Hazara Division, he was severely injured because of a roadside bomb planted by the terrorists on May 10th 2013 at Thorghar.

“Secondary attacks are often used to confuse and discourage BDU officials which were also a major cause for the loss of BDU experts’ lives” he told News Lens Pakistan.

Arif has been working as a BDU expert for the past eight years, and was teamed up with Inspector Hukam Khan, who embraced martyrdom on September 28th, 2012. He had defused a number of explosive devices ranging from suicide jackets, artillery shells, RPGs and hand grenades, to anti-personnel and anti-tank mines, as well as heavy IEDs since 2007.

“I feel proud knowing that my own life is at risk while defusing bombs as I am able to save humanity,” he said.

Majority of the BDU officials are ex-Army soldiers, who were recruited to the police department on contractual basis. Officers and officials are reluctant to join a unit that has no incentives for one of the most dangerous jobs in the world.

Each district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has one or two BDS experts. There are 450 Bomb Disposal officials and most of them are ex-servicemen.

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