IT seems that the police are quickly becoming an endangered species. The latest attacks on them were carried out by the student wing of a party that suffixes “Islam” after its name. If this is their idea and practice of Islam then I think we are all in grave danger.
What happened in Rajshahi on Sunday when a police constable’s hands were blown off while fending off a homemade explosive device, and on Monday with the bestial attack on a lone policeman, by Jamaat-Shibir goons, were meant to provoke a backlash. Jamaat has embarked on sinister tactic, more of which later; but first on the vulnerability of the police.
Of late the police have been subjected to various forms of assault. I do not ever recall instances where police contingents have been attacked in a preplanned manner with the intention to kill. All these have happened in the last one month in several parts of the country, all in the name of politics, all on the grounds that the opposition’s back has been pushed to the wall, all in the name of exercising one’s political rights, and in the last two days the attacks were carried out to protest the arrest of Shibir general secretary.
Why have the police been made to look so helpless?
I suspect there is flaw in the operational procedures of the police, because nothing can justify police actions which in the last several weeks have left more than hundred people dead all over the country and scores of policemen killed and injured. And the police have been accused of discarding the principle of use of minimum force.
However, there have been instances where police have shot people at point blank range without rhyme or reason. The matter has not been helped by ordering the police to shoot at sight. “Shoot at sight” cannot be the normal procedure that is adopted by the police on crowd control duty. There are clearly defined circumstances when the police can resort to that extreme measure, but that is never resorted to without first adequately warning the crowd. And, surprisingly, not a single inquiry has been conducted into these killings and deaths.
That notwithstanding, I do not think that these are all revenge attacks on the police. Targeting the police serves the strategic aim of the opposition, but these have come about also due to several of the inherent deficiencies in the operational procedures, resources, and protective measures of the police.
Regrettably, protests by the opposition have become more violent than anytime in the past, and these have more widespread, resulting in the depletion of the force. And the strength of the police force in a particular situation is sometimes so pitifully small that they are no longer able to project themselves as deterrence, which a police force should normally do. And in many cases they have been isolated and picked on individually, as had happened in Rajshahi. And with the type of weapon and the protective gear they have, and with the strength they command on the spot, opening fire at the very sight of the mob becomes the only option.
It speaks poorly of police operation procedures when an SI gets separated from his group; it was a sorry sight that none of his compatriots came to his aid when he was being savaged by the Shibir activists. And none of the many “brave men” around that place, including so many TV camera crew, felt any moral obligation to come to his aid either, till one brave lady passing by in a three-wheeler took the wounded policeman to the hospital. Shouldn’t there have been a standby contingent to rush to the spot the moment the SI was attacked? I am inclined to think that there was, but it is most likely that the standby force was without any transport they could use to move quickly to the spot.
As for the Jamaat-Shibir tactics, obviously the aim is to make people lose faith in the law enforcing agencies, and certainly no force that appears unable to protect itself, can engender confidence in the public mind. And what we are seeing being done, pre-hartal and on hartal days, fits more the definition of terrorism and subversion than political violence.
It is sheer luck that the derailment of a train near Comilla on Tuesday did not cause any deaths but I am sure that the Jamaat-Shibir activists are not unaware of the fact that they had put the lives of more than a thousand people at risk by removing fishplates from the railway tracks. If this is not subversion than what is. By ratcheting up the level of violence and exposing the inadequacy of the police they are precipitating a situation hoping that it would force the involvement of the army.
Surprisingly, the police are approaching the present situation as exclusively a law and order issue; it is much more than that. The government must revisit the tactics of the police, their capability, strength, and availability of adequate resources to respond with least casualties on either side.
The writer is editor, OP-ed and Defense & Strategic Affairs, The Daily Star.