By Tushar Ranjan Mohanty*
Two coordinated blasts targeting railway tracks hit near the Rawalpindi-bound Jaffar Express on October 7, 2016, in the Ab-e-Gum area of the Bolan District in Balochistan, killing at least six people and leaving another 18 injured. Initial reports suggest that a bomb had been planted along the railway track. The second explosion took place in the same area 20 minutes later.
On June 5, 2016, unidentified militants blew up a two-foot portion of a track in an Improvised Explosive Device (IED)attack in the Kolpur area of Bakhtiarabad in Bolan District. Though, there was no loss of life reported, the damage to the tracks suspended rail services for hours.
On May 10, 2016, three wagons of a goods train overturned and another six derailed when two bombs exploded on a track near Goth Mureed Sipio Railway Crossing in Tandojam area of Hyderabad District in Sindh. No casualties were reported. Hyderabad Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Khadim Hussain Rind disclosed that a pamphlet written in Sindhi was found at the place, but declined to share its contents.
On April 5, 2016, two passengers of the Quetta-bound Jaffar Express were killed and five were injured when a bomb exploded on a railway track near Mithri area of Sibi District. According to the Railway Police, “It was an IED which was detonated by a remote control. The blast blew up a major portion of the track.”
In the same Mithri area of Sibi District on January 28, 2016, two bogies of the Jaffar Express had been damaged in an explosion, with no casualties.The Jaffar Express was travelling from Quetta to Lahore when the blast occurred, destroying two feet of the railway track, suspending the service between Balochistan and other parts of the country for many hours.
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 134 occasions since March 2000 (data till October 7, 2016). Of these, 126 attacks have been recorded in just two Provinces: Sindh and Balochistan, with 63 incidents each. 96 fatalities have been recorded in these134 attacks, with 60 killed in Balochistan and 26 in Sindh. 2010to 2014 was the worst time for the Pakistan Railways, with 104 attacks on trains, tracks and stations, resulting in the deaths of 65 people, mostly passengers, and injuries to more than another hundred.
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 – arenon-lethal. While Baloch nationalist groupings like the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) and the Baloch Republican Army (BRA) have been engaged in attacks on Railways inside Balochistan, it is the relatively little known Sindhi groups, including 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 attacks on Railways, security agencies have failed to meet the challenge because of shortages of both manpower and equipment. The Pakistan Railway Police is operating on personnel strength even less than what was sanctioned on the basis of Pakistan’s population in 1977. Pakistan Railway Police (PRP) was created in 1977 following the Railway Police Ordinance, 1976, after a bill was tabled by the then Federal Government. This led to the enactment of the PRP Act, 1977.After taking into account the population, number of trains and passengers, research carried out by federal institutions fixed PRP’s sanctioned at 7,522. This included one Inspector General, one Deputy Inspectors General, five Superintendents, 16 Deputy Superintendents, 22 Inspectors, 145 Sub Inspectors (SI), 104 Assistant Sub-Inspectors (ASI), 850 Head Constables and 6,374 Constables.
After 37 years of population and passenger growth with expanding railway stations and stoppages, PRP currently operates with 7,074 personnel. Currently PRP strength includes Inspector General, one Deputy Inspector General, 10 Superintendents, 15 Deputy Superintendents, 40 Inspectors, 169 SI, 287 ASI, 880 Head Constables and 5,671 constables.The previous IG Railway Police Syed Ibn-e-Hussain had pointed out the difficulty of ensuring safety with manpower far below what was required. A PRP spokesperson has indicated that requests for enhancement of manpower had been forwarded a number of times to the Pakistan Railways management and finance departments.
Available data indicates that PRP is ill equipped to counterthe threat of terror. 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 in the Lahore, Peshawar, Rawalpindi, Multan, Sukkur and Quetta Divisions. PRP also has a small number of 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 mega phones, 530 metal detectors and three explosive detectors (with just one available at Lahore). Police also have 22 walkthrough gates and eight mine detection sets.
Meanwhile, PRP has been reeling under a severe financial burden.According to documents sent to the Ministry of Railways from the office of the Financial Advisor and Chief Executive Officer, Pakistan Railways, dated August 11, 2016, Pakistan Railways’ losses surpassed a staggering PKR 28.3 billion, increasing by about 12.64% in fiscal year 2015-16.The corporation managed total earnings of PKR 35.97 billion during 2015-16, an increase from the PKR 31.92 billion recorded in the corresponding period of the previous year. However, its expenses increased to PKR 64.23 billion in 2015-16 against PKR 57.03 billion in 2014-15. The total deficit amounted PKR 28.3 billion does not include interest and repayments of foreign loans on capital and replacement accounts figures, indicating that the deficit could increase further.
Lately, Pakistan Railways has started introducing luggage scanners at major railway stations in the Karachi Division on June 20, 2016. In the initial phase, the divisional management established two luggage scanners – onefor upper class passengers and the other for lower class passengers at Karachi Cantonment Station. At present, railway passengers’ baggage is randomly inspected manually, and the objective of installing luggage scanners is to upgrade the entire security apparatus. Meanwhile, most Railway Stations do not have proper security measures and an adequate deployment of security personnel to frisk and check passengers or their bags.
The Lahore Division is also lagging behind in security measures. The only X-ray machine at platform No 1 has been out-of-order for about four years. The walk-through gates, metal detectors and other security equipment was either not functioning or was in need of maintenance or repair.Two months after its installation on June 24, 2011, at the cost of PKR 2.9 million, the luggage X-ray or scanning machine developed some faults, which have not beenrectified till date.
In 2009, a plan was finalized to beef up security arrangements at important railway stations in the wake of the worsening law and order situation.As a first step, the railways administration decided to install close-circuit TV (CCTV) cameras at 24 major stations in two phases at a cost of PKR 31 million.CCTV cameras were installed under the first phase at Peshawar, Attock, Rawalpindi, Lalamusa, Faisalabad, Multan, Khanewal, Nawabshah, Hyderabad, Karachi, Quetta and Sibi stations.However, red-tapism marred the installation of the second phase of CCTV cameras at Nowshera, Jhelum, Sargodha, Gujranwala, Bahawalpur, Rahim Yar Khan, Khanpur, Sukkur, Jacobabad, Larkana and Mach stations, as funds were not released for the purpose.
Stung by the February 16, 2014, Khushhal Khan Khattak Express incident, which killed six and injured 35, the Pakistan Railways Police (PRP) devised a security plan which includes the patrolling of its tracks to evade terrorist attacks and tighten security of railway stations. PRP Inspector General Syed Ibne Hussain announced on February 18, 2014, that each Division had been provided 35 trailers with explosive detectors and bomb defusing equipment.“We are increasing our security measures with the help of the provincial governments and local police to avoid any untoward incident,” he said, adding that pedestrian teams of railway staffers would also patrol the railway tracks and that commandos had been deployed at the stations.
With the severe limitations of PRP’s manpower and resources, however, these measures have proven to be largely cosmetic. The Government’s continuing apathy towards the Railway has pushed the service into a state of chronic sickness, even as militant efforts to target its networks escalate.
* Tushar Ranjan Mohanty
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management