LAHORE - Elite Force, a vigorous police wing established in the late 1990s to counter sectarianism and carry out special operations against the hardened criminals, has become merely a protocol division. The prime responsibility of the comparatively well-trained force is only to escort the ‘under threat’ ruling elite in the Punjab province. Currently, there are more than 5,700 personnel of the Punjab elite force out of which above 4,000 policemen are deployed to provide security to the influential persons and their families including the prime minister, chief minister, governor, senior judges, and powerful individuals. Recently, the police high-ups were snubbed by the political elite as they decided to withdraw the elite police squads from the influential leaders. In February, Punjab Inspector General of Police (IGP) Khan Baig ordered the Elite police to carry out operations rather than providing security duties to the VIPs. The decision to this effect was taken during the Regional Police Officers (RPO) conference attended by the top police officers in Lahore. “It was decided that the Elite Police Force will be utilized to carry out special operations rather than deploying them on the security duty of VIPs. In this regard, the police will coordinate with the Special Branch, CTD, and other security agencies for intelligence sharing,” the central police office had issued a statement after the conference two months ago. However, the police top-brass failed to implement the decision as it literally annoyed the powerful people. As per statistics collected from the Punjab Home Department, more than 75 percent strength of the total Elite Force personnel in Lahore has been deployed to ensure ‘foolproof security’ to the VIPs of Punjab. Many of them are guarding and escorting PM Nawaz Sharif, CM Shahbaz Sharif, Hamza Shahbaz, Salman Shahbaz, Nusrat Shahbaz, Tehmina Shahbaz, Maryam Nawaz, Captain (r) Mohammad Safdar, Imran Yousaf and other family members. “This culture of protocol duties has destroyed the prestige of the Elite Police Force in the province,” said a former inspector general of police, requesting anonymity. It was also learnt that a good number of elite force personnel are deployed to provide protocol to powerful individuals who are otherwise not entitled to enjoy the opportunity. A police official said that over 500 personnel of the Elite Force providing security cover to the Sharif family alone. He also informed that more than 350 Elite Force men are at the disposal of Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif. “At least 12 elite police personnel are deployed around the graveyard of late Mian Sharif at Jati Umrah. Several VIPs visit the graveyard every day to offer prayers for the deceased,” a senior police officer said. Another four dozen men are also deployed at the Raiwind Farm House of the Sharifs. Dozens of elite police guards are also escorting Maryam Nawaz, her husband Mohammad Safdar, Hamza Shahbaz, and Salman Shahbaz. Sources further revealed that special elite police squads also escort the ruling elite during their travel by road in the Punjab province. Four units of the elite police including two in plainclothes and two in uniforms also escort the members of Sharif family during their inter-city movement. In Rawalpindi, currently above 650 personnel of elite force are on the strength of divisional police to counter terrorism and sectarianism. But most of elite cops are deployed to provide protocol to the elite class. They are deployed at the residences of leading political leaders and bureaucrats in Islamabad, Murree, and Rawalpindi. Over three dozen Elite Force men are guarding ex-PM Yousuf Raza Gilani and his family members in Lahore and Multan although he is entitled to 12 security personnel while Punjab Governor Chaudhry Sarwar has above 30 commandos at his disposal. The elite policemen are also guarding the family of former Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer, Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid leader Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, and former CM Pervaiz Elahi. More than 40 policemen guard the American Consulate building in Lahore while dozens provide security cover to the Punjab Police Inspector General, Lahore capital city police officer and other top police officers. “In order to overcome the shortage of staff (of the Elite police) in Lahore, the personnel from other districts are also called for protocol duties in the provincial metropolis,” a police commando said. This situation leaves less than 120 elite policemen for the security of public in Lahore. In case the PM or CM travels by road in Lahore then eight to ten units of elite force are bound to escort them. Dozens of elite policemen are also deployed at Allama Iqbal international airport and Benazir Bhutto International Airport during the VIP movement. These cops are also put on guard around key government installations including jails in the big cities. Elite police is the highly trained force that assist district police in situations that need expertise with high-risk searches, raids, and rescue operations. The officers in the Elite police are trained to a high degree of skill in use of firearms, personal combat, and reconnaissance missions. Police sources said the elite police force personnel are deployed on permanent basis to guard and escort the VIPs and influential families until a special force is created for the protection of high-profile personalities. An official of the Punjab government said Elite cops are deployed to guard the high-profile persons and their families since they are facing serious Taliban threats. When contacted, Punjab Inspector General of Police Khan Baig was not available for his comments.This news was published in The Nation newspaper. Read complete newspaper of 18-Apr-2014 here.