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Peril on the Tracks

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By Tushar Ranjan Mohanty
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management

At least seven persons, including two women - one civilian and one Police constable - were killed and another 16 were injured when militants triggered an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) explosion targeting the Jaffar Express train in the Notal area of Naseerabad District in Balochistan Province on October 21, 2013. Reports indicated that the train, which runs between Rawalpindi in Punjab Province and Quetta in Balochistan, was carrying hundreds of passengers. The passengers were returning from Punjab to Balochistan after Eid al-Adha (festival of sacrifice) holidays. Meanwhile, claiming responsibility for the attack, the Baloch Republican Army (BRA) claimed that the train was carrying Security Force (SF) personnel who were returning to Balochistan after celebrating Eid in Punjab.

Earlier, on August 16, 2013, the same Jaffar Express had come under rocket attack by militants in the Dozan area of Mach in Bolan District (Balochistan). At least three civilians had been killed and another 32 persons had sustained injuries. The Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) had claimed responsibility for that attack. On this occasion, the train was going to Rawalpindi. Later that day, SFs killed at least eight BLA militants during a search operation in the mountains of Mach and Kolpur.

On January 5, 2013, five passengers had been killed and another 10 had sustained injuries when militants had opened fire on passengers travelling in the Jaffar Express near the Kohsar area of Kachhi in Bolan District, while it was travelling to Quetta from Rawalpindi.

While the Jaffar Express has been targeted repeatedly, the wider Rail network across Pakistan has also come under recurring attack. According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), the Railways in Pakistan have been attacked on at least 109 occasions since March 2000 (data till October 27, 2013). Of these, 105 attacks have been recorded in just two Provinces: Sindh (56) and Balochistan (49). 56 fatalities have been recorded in the total of 109 attacks, with 30 killed in Balochistan and 20 in Sindh. 

SATP data indicates an escalation in such incidents and fatalities since 2011, with a succession of major attacks (each involving three or more fatalities) targeting the Railways. Of these, in addition to the incidents mentioned above, the most significant included:

June 27, 2012: At least seven persons were killed and another 30 were injured when a remote-controlled bomb went off at the Sibi Railway Station in Sibi District, Balochistan.

April 24, 2012: At least three people, including a Railway Police official, died and around 45 received injuries, when a bomb exploded at the Lahore Railway Station, Lahore District, Punjab.

August 28, 2011: Three persons were killed and 19 were injured in firing and rocket attacks on the Peshawar-bound Quetta Express in the Mach area of Bolan District, Balochistan. 

However, in terms of fatalities in such attacks, the year 2000 remains the deadliest, with 18 killed in two incidents in that year. On July 17, 2000, ten persons were killed in a train blast in Hyderabad city, Sindh. Earlier, on February 5, 2000, a bomb exploded in a train in Hyderabad, killing eight persons and injuring more than 40.

The concentration of attacks on the Railways in two provinces – Balochistan and Sindh – is the result of separatists operating there, and engaging in different patterns of economic subversions. Attacking the Railways is one of several such tactics. Significantly, most of the attacks on Railways - as is also the case with attacks on gas pipelines - are non-lethal. Reports indicate that Pakistan Railway has suffered a loss of PKR 132 billion over just the last four years. Though the reasons for this have not been specified, it is certain that the series of attacks on the Rail infrastructure will aggravate the financial crisis of the Railways, which constitute the backbone of an already depleted Pakistan economy.

While Baloch nationalist groupings like BLA and BRA have been engaged in attacks on Railways inside Balochistan, it is the relatively little known Sindhi groups like the Sindhu Desh Liberation Army (SDLA), a banned separatist formation, which is fighting for the establishment of an independent Sindhu Desh, that have led the attacks inside Sindh.

Despite the evident hike in the frequency of such attacks, security agencies have failed to meet the challenge because of enveloping shortcomings. Crucially, Pakistan Railways has a network of 11,755 kilometers of track with 558 stations. During the year 2011-2012, the Pakistan Railways carried 41,097,192 passengers, covering a total of 16,093,350,581 passenger-kilometers. Just about 20,000 ill equipped and ill trained personnel are there to provide safety to this vast complex. The Pakistan Railways Police (PRP), like other wings of the Police in Pakistan, has been facing acute shortages of arms and communication system for decades. Available data indicates, for instance, that PRP has just 1,625 walkie-talkie systems, 102 VHF mobile stations, 86 VHF base sets, 30 HF base sets and 300 head phones. Document available with the media in April 2012 indicated that the Railways had just 40 G-3A3 rifles for its eight Divisions; no such rifles were available at Lahore and Multan. Similarly, against the total of 10 Light Machine Guns (LMGs) in the PRP armoury, there were no LMGs at the Lahore, Peshawar, Rawalpindi, Multan, Sukkur and Quetta Divisions. The Railways Police also have small numbers of few revolvers, pistols, shot guns and Henry Martin rifles. There is also a severe and persistent shortage of anti-riot equipment, from helmet to walkthrough gates. The entire availability is just 1,721 helmets, 2,727 polo sticks (canes), 103 tear gas guns, 350 tear gas masks, 746 anti-riot jackets, 10 statures, 10 mega phones, 530 material detectors and three explosive detectors (with just one available at Lahore). Police also have 22 walkthrough gates and eight mine detecting sets.

The Department is, moreover, facing an acute shortage of funds for purchasing security equipment. Even the meager allocation of PKR 20 million in 2012, though approved by then Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, has not been released by the Finance Division under the grounds of monetary constraints. 

Much of the Railways security infrastructure, moreover, is dysfunctional. Investigations after the April 24, 2012, attack at Lahore Railway Station, for instance, revealed that the CCTV cameras at the station were not working. Furthermore, the CCTV cameras installed at the Railway Stations across the country lack the feature of night-vision recording, and are of little use after dark, though activity on the Rail network continues round the clock.

Some ineffectual measures have, of course, been initiated to 'counter' attacks on the rail system. On May 15, 2012, the Federal Ministry of Interior cancelled licenses and No Objection Certificates (NOCs) for transportation of arms and ammunition aboard trains. “All the NOCs and permissions issued for allowing carriage of arms, weapons and ammunition through railway carriers stand cancelled until further orders, and those found violating this order will be dealt with according to the law,” then Federal Minister of Interior Rehman Malik wrote in a letter to Provincial Home Departments, the Railways Inspector General and Pakistan Railways Divisional Superintendents. Recently, PRP Inspector General (IG) Ibne Hussain on October 13, 2013, disclosed that the 'latest communication and tracking system' was being installed to monitor Railway tracks and trains across the country. He added that PRP had been assigned the responsibility of operating the new tracking system, while it was the IT department that had previously monitored it. He added, further, that the latest weapons, including sniper guns, G-3 7.62 mm rifles, telescopic-sighted rifles, night vision telescopes and other weapons of various calibre, were being purchased from the Pakistan Ordinance Factory, and that PKR 21 million had already been approved for the plan - though it is not clear whether the funds have been, or will be, released. IG Hussain, however, insisted that, “The weapons will be received within two to three months.” He also stated that 13 railway stations – including Lahore, Peshawar, Rawalpindi, Quetta, Karachi, Multan, Sukkur and Gujranwala – had been declared 'high security zones'.

Other measures have also been promised. The Minister for Railways, Khawaja Saad Rafique, on August 29, 2013, pointed out that no anti-terrorist training had been provided to PRP personnel, despite the increased security threats prevailing across the country, and claimed that Pakistan Railways was planning an anti-terrorist training programme for PRP. In its first phase, he added, Pakistan Railways would nominate 100 Police personnel for the training. He also disclosed that satellite devices would also be acquired with the help of the Ministry of Information Technology, along with CCTV cameras and multiple scanning machines. The Minister also stated that an additional 600 constables would be recruited to PRP, for which special permission would be sought from the Federal Government. Even on the face of it, however, these proposals appear far too modest to impact significantly on the prevailing situation.

Worse, given the track record of the security establishment as well as that of the leadership at the helm in Pakistan's political spectrum, it remains highly unlikely that even these limited proposals are going to be implemented in full. On the other hand, discontent among the separatists can only grow, given Islamabad's flawed approach to the Provinces. Under the circumstances, attacks on soft targets like the Railways with widely dispersed and vulnerable infrastructure can only be expected to increase.

[Source: SATP]

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