Frontier Constabulary jawans: Dying comes easy to them, it’s living they can’t afford! Friday, May 08, 2009 by Mariana Baabar Islamabad We want these faceless men of the Frontier Constabulary (FC) to die defending our vaunted foreign diplomats and our homegrown VVIPs. We even observe long silences of mourning and light memorial candles when they do die, but how many of these very VVIPs and important foreign dignitaries have ever spared a few minutes to think about how these men actually live, for everyone forgets them the moment they are waved through one of the many check-posts being manned by these foot soldiers. But one tiny look into the lives, and the ‘living’ conditions of these troops sends a shiver of guilt, a guilt for having it all so good. It is difficult to believe that this is not a makeshift camp in an area where the Frontier Constabulary (FC) is on exercise in the middle of no-where. In this high-risk zone, just opposite the heavily barricaded Marriott Hotel, the frail wire fencing around the so-called FC Headquarters could at best serve as a mosquito net. There is no wall, not even a mud wall for that matter at the perimeter of the mighty sounding headquarters. There are no searchlights, and late at night the area is consumed by pitch darkness, transforming the greenbelt into a deadly killing field for any adventurous militant. There are two tiny igloo like brick structures (left over from the earthquake and built by an NGO) while the rest of the dozen or so tents put to shame even the tents of the Afghan refugees. One I swear has been hastily mended with an old piece of cloth. There is one ‘pucca’ room though which is the office of SP Jan Mohammad, but its fragility can be gauged by the fact that, “After the Marriott blast, when I walked up to my office, the door had landed on my desk”, he tells ‘The News’. Welcome to the lives and styles of the 1,700 strong FC force in the capital who have been here since 1988 when the headquarters was in Gadoon, and only lately shifted to Islamabad a year ago and now declared an FC area. The FC is here to protect diplomatic missions, important buildings and of course the VVIPs. Sher Afzal is a young soldier who joined the FC seven years ago and belongs to Tank in Pakhtoonkhwa province. He leaves for duty in the morning after having only one cup of tea and nothing else. No, it’s not about any freaky dietary habit but a compulsion of poverty. “What else do you expect me to eat on my salary? It costs me Rs12 just to go to Aabpara and I have to maintain my family back home. It has been one year since I received my ISD (special allowance to serve in non FC area), and now from this summer this special allowance will also be stopped as Islamabad is now an FC area. At times I wonder what I am doing here. Some of my colleagues here have not received ISD for the past four years”, laments an otherwise proud looking Afzal. Others want to know that while the cost of living in Islamabad is same for them and for their colleagues in the Islamabad Police then how come the ‘style’ of their colleagues is so different and wonder if they are children of a lesser god. “So why are we paid less?” he asks, and I don’t have the heart to tell him that he belongs to an area that is probably off the priority radar of the Ministry of Interior. I have already had a chat with the SP and he has been kind enough to grant permission to ‘The News’ team to walk around and talk unchaperoned to the soldier, but not without a warning. “They are very frank and you will be surprised. Remember this is the FC culture and not the police. They will not even hesitate to point out the wrongdoing of a senior officer”, says Jan Mohammad. And he should know because the FC has had a rather quirky history as well. The FC unlike the impression in the capital, cannot do crowd control like the police. All they are trained in is to protect and to shoot if threatened. I remembered that even during Benazir Bhutto’s Long March, FC soldiers had orders to fire if attacked by the agitating mob. Once in Bara, the junior FC soldiers exhausted by long spells of duties and unbearable heat, and made berserk by no electricity for days, had taken a Wapda employee and tied him to a tree for a few hours. So how come, they have since ‘behaved’ for two decades and one has not heard them complain? In a sharp contrast remember the incident when the Punjab Constabulary mutinied and had public fights with the Islamabad Police at Aabpara because they felt that they were not being treated at par? After all, recently there has been a pay rise in the Punjab, Balochistan, Sindh, and NWFP police besides others. Only the FC has been left out. “Maybe it is the culture of the FC which gives them so much, but one should not take anything for granted”, says Jan Mohammad. The men live on vegetables and ‘roti’, as even daal is too expensive a luxury for them. “Since this SP took over we have ‘Bara Khana’ on Eid and at least can eat meat on that day”, says Subedar Major Javed Khan who has put in 29 years in the service and hopes that the present SP can stay longer. So you can no longer joke about Pakhtoons and their meat eating habits. [Interjection: Whatever on earth happened to the brave, meat-eating pakistanis?] “You see, he speaks excellent English unlike many SPs who normally get promoted from the ranks. Look at me, I cannot speak English. This language is very important for us in Islamabad because we have to deal with those that converse in this language”, says Khan. The compensation for dying on duty is Rs6.5 lakhs (1.5 lakhs come from the FC fund while the government pays up another 5 lakhs) an amount which, in theory, should reach the beneficiaries even before the body does. But till this day, the families of the ten FC soldiers who were killed a few months ago when there was a terrorist attack have still to see a single rupee. “After the attack we have become more vigilant and this time will take them on before they can reach us. Any suspicious movement and crossing the red line and we shoot”, says Javed Khan who is from Shabqadar. The others who have now formed a small circle around me all agree and slowly start trusting what they say is the only person who has ever come up to us and talked to us and shown care in this strange town. “In fact the FC commandant should also on his next visit come and see us instead of heading to the Frontier House”, snaps one of the younger jawans. FC Commandant Zafarullah Khan lives in a palatial house built by the British in Peshawar and it has taken my breath away with its grandeur on several visits. He has several vehicles at his disposal and though in Grade 21 lives like a viceroy and not only him but none of the commandants have done anything meaningful for their men in Islamabad. Maybe he needs to spend a day at this headquarters and share a mat with a soldier who sleeps on the floor as there are not enough charpoys. Forget the monsoon rains which seep in and the insects of every variety which crawl over you in summer, and the freezing all over in winters. If the call of nature beckons then he should run to the nearest police building if he is outside the headquarters as the camp has no toilets. Also, he should be ready as a sepoy to live on a Rs10,000 salary a month which should cover the cost of his laundry, food and Rs5 for ironing his uniform, etc, etc. Also with only one cup of tea he will have to stand on duty for four hours in the daytime and two hours at night. He will have a bit of rest in between but because of constraints and the unusual situation in Islamabad, he will have to be back on duty very soon during the day. Also he will be singing a different tune when living in a camp he goes looking for water to bring back and collect wood to light a fire for cooking. He will be very lucky if he has to do duty outside the embassy of Saudi Arabia, China and Kuwait, “Where we are treated very well. We get some food and we can use their lavatory also. But the others, well we could be a part of the landscape as they don’t think we are human”, is one confession. But these soldiers remember with great fondness some senior officers who have stuck out their necks for them and made a difference in their lives. “One was this DOFC from village Pir Pia at Bara. Believe me khor, after the British left the area, only he brought about such improvements that till today the FC is benefiting”, says the subedar major. “But we are very lucky in one aspect. After the attack on our camp, the media coverage helped, and now the soldiers have moved to police barracks from the camps and have a roof over their head”, says Jan Mohammad. As for the permanent headquarters which are being built it is the paucity of funds which are not allowing it to be completed. The SP meanwhile is off in his four-wheeler to a meeting at the Diplomatic Enclave. “I will be meeting security staff from the foreign missions. If the FC gets hit, the morale of the diplomats also gets hit. If the FC cannot protect itself then how can the diplomats be safe, this is what we have to constantly reassure them. I have asked, pleaded and begged for searchlights, fencing and trenching from the government but the diplomats say that for our needs our own government should provide the same. At least I managed to get trenching from the government, as you can see”, adds the SP. Two HESCO barriers have been put up and Javed Khan says, “We tried and tried but nothing came of it and we were sitting ducks. Then the SP sahib approached CCOP Peshawar City, Safat Ghayur, who put in a word and we got at least this partial protection. But anywhere else in the world we would have these barriers all around us as we are waiting to be attacked”. The men point towards the Marriott Hotel whose front portion is all protected by these barriers and the glory of greenery. So, it broke my heart to see that despite all these shortcomings, these men had even then planted a patch of flowers and plants in front of their tents which were blossoming in the face of all odds. “We have stopped going for ‘Juma’ prayers because of threats and now say our prayers there”, the men point out. “Their mosque”, is just small clearing of slush and mud after the recent rains and it can only be an absolute faith that makes you get down on your knees and put your forehead to the wet ground. So where is all the funding we keep hearing about? I do not want to embarrass these gentlemen and ask about corruption so I phone a retired FC officer in Kohat. “Corruption is at its peak during recruitment. These boys sell their mothers gold jewellery for bribes. Then the suppliers of rations ensure that these soldiers are eating inferior insect eaten ‘daal’ and other rations. There is pilferage in the supply of uniforms as well and they get substandard stuff. Where should I begin?” he asks as the line gets cut off. I left the headquarters with an earlier memory at one FC camp in NWFP, where this soldier had his feet cramped in kayrai (open shoes) that were quite a few sizes small for him but he had stubbornly shoved his feet in and still managed to walk normally. Someone had made a killing while supplying these shoes and the FC culture ensured a code of suffering silence. But for how long? The News.com.pk: Frontier Constabulary jawans: Dying comes easy to them, it’s living they can’t afford!