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Safwat Ghayur and the price of freedom

Safwat Ghayur and the price of freedom

The assassination of Safwat Ghayur in Peshawar on 4th August, 2010 occasioned two significant outbursts. First, there was a widespread and spontaneous outpouring of popular grief at the untimely death of a superb police officer who had a sterling reputation for integrity and a proven record of courage. But side by side, there was a massive outburst of revulsion against those who perpetrated this dastardly act. It was instinctively felt that the Taliban were behind the murder. Subsequently, the Taliban circles owned responsibility for the deed. But most importantly, the event can be seen as a watershed in terms of open expression of public hatred against the entire Taliban culture and philosophy. Indeed, people in the street were heard saying that they won’t mind if the Taliban “are bombed out of existence” in reprisal of their barbarianism.

Some other dimensions of the event call for attention. For example, it appeared as though the whole nation had come together to salute a brave officer whose life was devoted to secure the lives and property of our citizens. The collective role of the media in projecting the valour of a hero who did not flinch in the face of dangers and threats struck a deep chord across the country. If the objective of the killing was to dissuade and discourage law-enforcers, especially the constabulary and the police, from doing their duty, they did not succeed. The rank and file as well as the officers closed behind their slain commandant and resolved to keep his banner aloft. The appearance of life-sized billboards in the province, especially around Peshawar at the initiative of the jawaans speaks volumes of their morale. Safwat Ghayur was by all counts an exceptional individual. But we must pause for a while and reflect on the price he chose to pay for defending our freedom. He left behind a loving family.   He had two children of ages 11 and 9. He was on the way to ascending to higher echelons of service. But he did not cower or shy away. He appears to have charted out a course of facing all odds intrepidly. He did not look back for a single moment.

A plethora of details has emerged in the wake of this hero’s sacrifice. He considered public safety as the basic obligation of law-enforcing agencies. His courage was matched by his concern for the welfare of the force. He never accepted any civil or police award despite being involved in numerous head-on encounters during his service career. On the other hand, he would ensure that the sacrifices of the jawaans were duly acknowledged. “Officers should not be given such awards,” he once told a Chief Secretary. “An officer should feel honoured if the sacrifices of the jawaans are recognised.” Former IGP Masud Shah informed that every time his name came up for gallantry awards, he would ask for deletion of his name.

No compromise on professionalism

Courage without skill is not enough in this field. It is universally recognised that Safwat Ghayur took pains to instill skill and enhance the quality of both manpower and firepower in the forces that he commanded. In the space of a few months, he converted the Frontier Constabulary from a force of house guards and personal attendants into a highly motivated and professional force. He loved his men and often spoke of giving his life for them but he would not brook any indiscipline. He could be soft as silk and as hard as nails. The successes he achieved against the Taliban in and around Peshawar, in Kohat and Peshawar FRs as well as in the Kala Dhaka region had begun to produce tangible results. As commented in a newspaper article, “This was his stature and calibre that despite being from a civilian force, Safwat was given the command of the operation ‘Spring Cleaning’ in Darra Adamkhel in which apart from FC, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police and army took part. His force was also part of the parties carrying out search operation in rural Peshawar.” The Taliban threatened him in every conceivable way. He responded to the threats with even greater determination. Those who knew him at first hand attest to his faith in the nation’s ability to respond to the unprecedented law and order challenge. But he would say that to achieve results, there was a need to invest in terms of sustaining a professional force led by officers who do not compromise on professionalism. It is these qualities that made him a role model in the eyes of his subordinates. He was a source of great inspiration to the force. This is how one of his officers remembered him:

“Fourth August was perhaps one of the most devastating days of my life. In one stroke, I lost my godfather, mentor and inspiration. Still I cannot come to terms with the huge loss of Safwat Ghayur, Commandant Frontier Constabulary in a suicide bombing in Peshawar. My personal loss is immense and deep. It seems my soul has died with him which will never be revived. I would never get that abusive but loving call from him when I would do crazy things. I can still hear the pride in his voice and feel the glint in his eyes even while giving me hell on not wearing a bullet proof jacket. To me, the greatest pride which I’ll take to my grave is the statement when he said ‘I see myself in you’. I know it for sure that it was out of sheer love and no one comes even close to the great man.”

‘A legend has gone into history’

As my friend Dr Shahzad very rightly said that a legend has gone into history. When I sat at his grave and cried out aloud, I thought I would be the only one but I heard many others beside me. He had touched the lives of so many that it’s almost unbelievable. He was the greatest ever to have worn uniform and in my opinion, the most complete police officer ever. Safwat Ghayur used to go to his mother’s grave three times a week. When he received a specific threat regarding his graveyard visits, he started going seven days a week. Such was the infectious courage of the great man. When I got injured in Manawan, Safwat Ghayur was in the middle of a major operation in Peshawar. He halted the operation for one day, drove all the way to Lahore, sat with me in the hospital for 15 minutes, kissed my forehead and drove all the way back again. It gives me this gut-wrenching feeling that no one would ever do that for me again.

It is said that we are living in an age of permanent turbulence. Pakistan is surrounded by a multitude of problems, but terrorism is the foremost. It is a blessing that we breathe in a free country. But to protect our freedom, we need to pay a price. We have been paying this price for quite some time now. Since the inception of the war on terror, our country has lost thousands of precious lives. Only this year, a total of 3,215 security personnel lost their lives in the line of duty.

Safwat Ghayur’s martyrdom at the hands of a suicide bomber should be seen in this perspective. His whole career is filled with examples of unmatched bravery. He was perhaps an exceptional officer who would personally lead his forces in different operations; he also sustained serious injuries in one of these operations. He had a clear mission set out for himself. His priority was the safety of people. He always personally visited the families of martyred soldiers. He would not eat his meals unless the bereaved families were attended to first. Not just this, but he would also carry their dead bodies on his shoulders to the grave.

A caring officer, a dauntless soldier

In the wake of a successful operation recently, he was personally felicitated by the Chief of the Army Staff who asked him if anything could be done for him. He said, “Yes Sir, I want my men to become entitled to the medical facilities in the Combined Military Hospital.” This was graciously acceded to. “Anything else?” he was asked. “Nothing else,” he replied. This was the calibre that distinguished him from the generality of people. He would stay with his men in the tents, which served as a source of motivation for them to give their best.

Those who knew him personally always talk about his delightful sense of humour. His simplicity was also disarming. A colleague of his once told me that he asked Safwat for his BlackBerry number. “What’s a BlackBerry?” was Safwat’s honest response. Perhaps he was always thinking about his work and never wasted time on less important things. The day he took charge of CCPO, Peshawar, a powerful blast occurred in the city. When people protested about the government’s failure, he told them to remove the word ‘government’ from their slogans and replace it with his name because he was responsible for the safety of the city. He was a straightforward vertical person. His presence instilled confidence in the public at large.

Safwat was aware of the dangers posed by the strategy of the Taliban, and the resources available to them. He would say that despite the perils, the war against them was winnable and had to be won. For this, professionalism of the force and courageous leadership at the law enforcement level was the only answer. He remained cheerful and optimistic to the very end.  The nation owes it to him to bring the perpetrators of the crime of his murder to book and ensure that his acts of valour and heroism are not wasted. The best tribute to him would be to eliminate the scourge of terrorism from this land.

Safwat Ghayur paid the ultimate price in defence of the people’s right to be secure. The tremendous public expression of love witnessed on the occasion of his martyrdom clearly shows that we are a grateful nation who recognise and honour our benefactors.

A law-enforcer who was first a law-abider

Before concluding, it would be appropriate to recount the last reported conversation Safwat had with his driver Shakirullah who was driving the ill-fated vehicle. Shakir, who was injured in the incident, recalls that as he approached the chowk where the incident occurred, the traffic signal turned red. The traffic constable on duty signalled to the driver to keep moving ahead by disregarding the traffic sign.  This was the standard practice allowed for FC Commandants on the given route. As soon as the driver started to move on, Safwat Ghayur stopped him. “How many times have I told you that we will not violate the traffic signal. Please remember that I am not above the law.” This conversation sums up the man and the officer that was Safwat Ghayur.

Although Safwat died in a blaze of glory, his martyrdom became an occasion to focus on the personal qualities of the officer as well. What comes out is the portrait of a police officer with a high sense of duty and a deep commitment for ethical conduct. His colleagues at the Police Academy used to describe him half in jest as “good shahadat material”.

Zulfiqar Haider is an Islamabad-based development consultant involved in police reforms. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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