In the line of duty



Last week a terrible news came in from Balochistan. A senior Customs official succumbed to his injuries on Tuesday in Karachi. He reportedly was beaten up by smugglers earlier this week as he was on his way home after overseeing an anti-smuggling operation. Considering the serious nature of his injuries, he was shifted to Karachi. Islamabad deputy commissioner later shared on Twitter that Deputy Collector Customs Quetta Dr Abdul Quddus Sheikh was in critical condition after being severely beaten by a gang of smugglers on Saryab Road. The customs official was in coma with ruptured lungs and a broken jaw, he had written. Dr Sheikh had seized a truck belonging to smugglers who then retaliated.

Customs officials reported that unidentified men stopped his car at gunpoint and fled after beating him up. The police quickly moved to start the legal proceedings against the culprits and have arrested three suspects.

This attack on a state official while he was on duty amounts to challenging the writ of the state and the government of the day can ignore it at its own peril.

According to the statement issued by the Customs Department, this was not the first attack on customs officials engaged in anti-smuggling operations. In the last three years, 10 officers have lost their lives and dozens have been injured. This is no small number by any means. The statement also said that there were instances of kidnapping of Customs staff in the provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. The latter for understandable reasons remain under the media radar and hence difficult conditions the officials work there under would come as a surprise to many in the country.

Balochistan is a hub of smuggled goods from across the Iran border and the Customs department is working over time to stop the illegal activity despite lack of resources and manpower. Under the circumstances, rather than providing requisite resources and security to the dedicated officials such as Dr Sheikh, the government has virtually left them to their own devices. The brutal attack on the officer that ultimately took his life will send a wrong signal to others working in Balochistan. They should be forgiven for thinking that performing duty there means putting one’s life on the line.  And if the murder of Dr Sheikh is not avenged at the earliest and the culprits are not made an example out of, the law breakers will not only get emboldened further but they will also operate with more impunity. Nothing can be more demoralizing for the government officials there.

The federal cabinet on Tuesday expressed its grief over the demise of the officer but that gesture while it must be appreciated would not be enough. The federal government in collaboration with the Balochistan government should move quickly to meet the demands of the department there and allocate the needed resources besides ensuring ample security for the staff that are working under tough conditions.