Rangers officials are being inducted in various jails across the Punjab, so as to prevent a Dera Ismail Khan-like jailbreak. This has become necessary after it transpires that the 32 jails of the province contain 48,000 prisoners, and are guarded by untrained wardens, who are not even able to fire issued weapons. At the same time, the prisoners include 317 prisoners involved in high-profile cases, of whom 123 are involved in sectarian cases. There is clearly the danger of a jailbreak in Punjab jail like that faced by the KPK, where the Dera Ismail Khan jailbreak last Monday led to the freeing of a large number of militants. This has prompted that Punjab IG Prisons to request the help of the Rangers, a paramilitary organisation, but which is officered by the Army.

It should not have needed that jailbreak to have made the government realise that imprisoning so many militants would pose fresh challenges in guarding them, and there should have been adequate provision made in advance. However, as they say, better late than never, so it is wise of the Punjab government to even now be taking precautions, including asking help from the paramilitary, before it gets a rude awakening in the shape of a jailbreak.

It is to be hoped that the two other provinces, Sindh and Balochistan, are also taking due precautions. The prisons of both will contain many imprisoned for being guilty of crimes involving sectarian or religious motives. Neither province can afford a further attack on their law and order, which has been made very parlous, though not necessarily by religious terrorists. The Sindh capital has had itself made unsafe by target killers and extortionists, while the Balochistan capital has seen horrific attacks being made on the Hazara community.

Another problem that also needs handling is that prisons are a hive of illegality, all facilitated (for a fee) by those who are supposed to stop these violations of rules. So long as these violations continue to prove that jail staff can be bought, attempts will continue to be made. The bringing in of the Rangers is thus necessary, and must be used by the government as a breathing space to allow the reform of the prison staff, so that the Rangers can swiftly turn to their task of guarding the country’s borders. There is much to be done, and the central government must take up the duty of making sure that all provinces carry out the prison reforms they need.