The job of securing the city and its outskirts belongs to Peshawar's police force. But these days, the 43,000 police officers have a hard time keeping themselves safe. The militants have come to view policemen as agents of the state and have targeted them for the last two years. In 2007, Peshawar police lost 72 officers. By mid-December 2008, the annual toll was 148. More than 500 others were injured, many seriously.
In Peshawar city, I spoke to Saleem Khan, who had dreamt of being a police officer since he was a child. "I liked their uniforms and the way everyone looked at them with respect," he said, smoothing his bushy moustache with one hand as he spoke. "I told my mother when I was 10 that I was definitely going to join the police."
Khan's dream came true when he was recruited into the police force at the age of 20. But after 13 years in the service, he decided to quit, fearing he would not live long if he stayed in the force. "Two of my friends were killed in bomb blasts, and every day there were attacks on the police," he said. "I have two small children and didn't want them to grow up without a father, so I quit." Khan now runs a general store and avoids his former colleagues.
Hundreds of officers have left the force, and police recruitment in NWFP is at an all-time low: In January, an ad inviting young men to apply to join the police in Swat drew just two applicants, and they both refused to show up for the interview.
With the police force too understaffed to secure the city, Daud Khan and the other young men from Budaber took the responsibility on their own shoulders. Initially, the government ignored the patrols, but in February the NWFP's chief minister pledged to provide 30,000 guns to patriotic citizens across the province who would help the government secure the area.
Many are critical of this initiative.
"I don't think such widespread distribution of arms is a great idea," said Mahmood Shah, a retired army brigadier. "There is no guarantee these guns will stay in the hands of good, law-abiding citizens instead of making their way into the clutches of the Taliban."
But Khan and others who are part of the patrol say they don't have a choice: If they don't act today, the Taliban will.
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