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Police In Dangerous Pakistani Province Complain Of Defective Bulletproof Vests

Police officers tend to their injured colleagues at a hospital following an attack in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Police officers tend to their injured colleagues at a hospital following an attack in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Police officers in Pakistan's beleaguered northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province say their government-supplied bulletproof vests are substandard.

In scores of interviews with RFE/RL’s Radio Mashaal, police officers said they are sustaining too many casualties because of the poor quality vests that offer little protection against militants’ bullets and bombs.

They say the lack of protection is a major concern for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's police force, which has lost more than 1,000 policemen since 2006, mostly in Taliban attacks. More than 2,000 police personnel have been wounded in the same period.

A Police officer who requested anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media said the vests weighed around 15 kilograms and were too heavy to wear in scorching Pakistani summers.

"Many in our force also believe that these jackets do not provide adequate protection against bullets," he said.

Adil Pervez, a Peshawar-based journalist, agrees. He told Radio Mashaal that the defective protective gear supplied to the police is a well-known corruption scandal.

He said the former provincial police chief Malik Naveed Khan is facing charges and a government investigation connected to the purchase of defective bulletproof vests and weapons in 2008.

"Only a small part of the provincial police is considered to be well-equipped, and even they have defective equipment," he said. "This has a very bad impact on the force. Just consider that the police endured 10 militant attacks only this month in which their bulletproof vests proved ineffective."

Pervez said the current head of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police Nasir Durrani put in a formal request for new equipment for his forces, but the provincial administration responded that it lacks funds to purchase the expensive equipment.

In Peshawar, however, police officials insist that all is well. Ashan Saifullah, a senior police officer in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa headquarters, told Radio Mashaal that they have tested the bulletproof vests and they can withstand submachine gun and handgun fire.

"It is true that our helmets are old and we have too few of them. But the provincial government is now working on meeting our requests for new equipment."

The nearly 70,000-strong Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police force is responsible for providing security to the province's nearly 20 million people. Only 30 percent of them, most of whom are deployed in the cities, have modern protective gear and cars.

The rest of the force, spread throughout rural regions, is still equipped with World War II-ear weapons and has little or no protective gear.