Anger rises after Taliban jailbreak
By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR - Nervousness permeates the very air of Dera Ismail Khan these days. It has been more than a fortnight since militants attacked a high security prison here in a military-like operation and released about 200 inmates, including Taliban commanders.
Dera Ismail Khan is one of the 25 districts of Pakistan's northwestern province Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. It is adjacent to the North and South Waziristan provinces of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), which have long provided the Taliban a safe bastion.
The fear is that the released Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP, Pakistani Taliban) will now resume their activities and seek
revenge on those suspected of giving them away to the authorities.
"People are afraid after the jailbreak, as hardcore militants have been released. They will now harass the people and further disturb peace in the area," Ahmed Sultan, professor of political science at the Gomal University in Dera Ismail Khan, told IPS.
That fear echoes in other areas as well. A police inspector in Tank district, located between Dera Ismail Khan and Waziristan, told IPS that people in this part of the country were now scared of a Taliban reprisal because of others who might have informed the police about their presence.
Tank too is located in the south of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and is said to have a heavy Pakistan Taliban presence.
What has compounded people's fears is the possibility of the role of the police and security forces in the July 29 jailbreak in Dera Ismail Khan.
The Taliban have enough friends and well-wishers within the police force and administration, Muhammad Nabi Gul, a former jail superintendent, told IPS.
Locals too are confused about the role of the police in the incident. "There is every likelihood they have helped the TTP out of fear or for money," Muhammad Shah Khan, a resident of Dera Ismail Khan, told IPS. "The militants have become so powerful that the police have no courage to stop them."
The suspicions over the police role were confirmed when a spokesman of the outlawed TTP, speaking from an undisclosed location three days after the incident, told Pakistan media, "We are thankful to the police and jail employees for their fullest cooperation."
He went on to hail them as "good Muslims".
"[The escape] enabled us to get freedom for 250 people, who have now reunited with their colleagues in FATA."
There are four central jails, seven district jails, seven sub-jails and four judicial lockups in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Together, they hold about 15,000 inmates, including 700 held on terrorism charges.
The Dera Ismail jailbreak, said ex-jail superintendent Gul, would not have happened had the government held a proper inquiry into the Bannu jailbreak of 2012 and brought those responsible to justice.
"From Bannu, the Taliban had taken away 384 prisoners that included 20 facing the death penalty," Gul said.
It was one of the escapees in the Bannu jailbreak who masterminded the repeat breakout in Dera Ismail Khan this year. The 2013 jailbreak, said Pervez Khattak, who took over as chief minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa after the May 11 election this year, was the brainchild of Adnan Rashid, a former employee of the Pakistan Air Force and an accused in attempting to murder former President Pervez Musharraf on December 14, 2003.
Rashid is said to have trained a 10-member squad that gathered intelligence before storming the prison at midnight.
"The Taliban had made a film of the Bannu jailbreak as well as of the one in Dera Ismail Khan," Ali Amin Gandapur, revenue minister in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, told IPS.
"Our police were nowhere in sight," he said, lending one more voice of doubt over their role in the incident. "The police, who are supposed to protect the jails, instead took refuge in nearby houses at the time of the attack."
As a member of the provincial cabinet, he said he would push the government to take action against those who did not put up any resistance.
The stance of the army too is being questioned. Chairman of the Pakistan Tehree-k-e-Insaf Party Imran Khan expressed surprise that the militants could carry out their task with such ease and precision despite 25,000 army men being stationed in the city.
"I will take up the issue with army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kiani as to how the militants reached the jail after crossing half-a-dozen checkpoints," Khan told IPS over the telephone.
Khan's party won an overwhelming mandate in Khyber Paktunkhwa in May this year.
"Less than 100 militants mounted on vehicles reached the Dera Ismail Khan jail, but the army failed to take any action," said chief minister Khattak.
Khattak told IPS he had called up the Peshawar corps commander at the time of the attack, asking him to order the army to stop the militants. The corps commander told him that they were "seeking permission from the higher-ups", Khattak said.
Khan said he wanted a closed-door meeting with Kiani and with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to know exactly why the army was reluctant to launch a full-scale military action against the Taliban.
The Taliban, meanwhile, are jubilant over their success in freeing their comrades. "A majority of the escaped prisoners were brought here where the Taliban received them warmly," Muhammad Shah, a shopkeeper based in Waziristan, told IPS. He said he heard the local Taliban fire shots in the air in celebration.
A majority of the residents are unhappy over the jailbreak, Shakoor Ahmed, a shopkeeper in Dera Ismail Khan, told IPS. They want the criminals and militants in jail, he added.
Following these jailbreaks, the government has planned to build high-security jails.
"We have also ordered the installation of mobile jammers and walkthrough gates in all jails," Khyber Pakhtunkhwa information minister Shah Farman told IPS. Soon after the incident, he added, the army had been deployed to protect Peshawar prison where high-profile militants are lodged.