Elite Force providing ‘unauthorised’ protection

Punjab’s Elite Police Force (EPF) is currently providing security to influential families and institutions despite having never been formally directed to do so, an irregularity that the provincial police chief is seeking to resolve by asking the chief minister to grant formal approval of the current arrangement.

Inspector General Javed Iqbal plans to send a request to Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif to regularise officers in the force and allow their permanent deployment for protection of influential families until a specialised force can be created, sources told The Express Tribune.

Iqbal had earlier asked the provincial home secretary to approach the chief minister but was told to deal with the matter himself.

There are currently 5,718 members of the Punjab EPF, which includes 941 members of the Lahore Elite Police. Of these, 660 policemen have been deployed to protect the families of the chief minister, the prime minister, the governor, judges and others, including some foreign nationals.

As many as 299 elite policemen have been deputed to protect Punjab’s ruling Sharif family. Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has 59 personnel for his security, with another 68 officers deployed at a farm house owned by the Sharifs in Raiwind, a suburb of Lahore.  Nawaz Sharif, the eponymous head of Punjab ruling Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N), has 50 officers providing him security.

The chief minister’s son and member of the National Assembly, Hamza Shahbaz, has eight officers to his disposal, while Salman Shahbaz has seven. The chief minister’s wife is served by 14 EPF personnel and her residence in Gulberg has 32 officers.  The chief minister’s camp office has 36 personnel deployed.

The police chief, in his note to the chief minister, is expected to argue that according to 19-A of Punjab Elite Police Force Act of 1997, the protection of the ‘very, very important persons’ like the president, the prime minister, governors, chief ministers and foreign dignitaries and any other person or institution indicated by the chief minister is the responsibility of the EPF.

Around 125 officers from the force are deployed with the family members of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, including 24 with his wife. His son, Abdul Qadir Gilani has 12 officers, while his other sons Haider Gilani and Qasim Gilani have eight each.  The prime minister’s daughter has been provided 12 personnel. The prime minister himself is protected by 37 EPF personnel and his residence has 12 officers.

PML-Q leaders Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi and Shujaat Hussain are third on the list of families benefiting from the force, with 50 officers for their security.

Some other people and institutions use the force, a statement said.

The Elite Force was created by Shahbaz Sharif during his second tenure as chief minister of Punjab in 1997. It was initially formed for counterterrorism operations, but over time its duties have expanded to escorting VIPs. The force is also meant to perform high-risk operations, which cannot be carried out by the regular police.

The IGP said he has received a report from the Counterterrorism Department to revisit the security arrangements for VIPs. This issue involves a policy decision on creating an independent VIP protection cadre/force from within the elite police.

After approval of the chief minister, the status of deployment would become institutionalised and no one would criticise the security given to VIPs, an official requesting anonymity said.

Earlier, Capital City Police Chief Ahmed Raza Tahir had surrendered 63 EPF from various people, including from former chief justice of Punjab Khawaja Muhammad Sharif and Raja Riaz, the opposition leader in the Punjab Assembly.

The Express Tribune

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