PESHAWAR -- The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) government has approved a Special Security Unit (SSU) to protect foreign investors and local businesses.
The sanction granted by KP Chief Minister Pervez Khattak is considered a milestone in restoring the confidence of foreign and local investors and in bringing back KP entrepreneurs who abandoned their businesses because of poor security in past years.
The new SSU will number 4,200 personnel, including both current and retired security personnel, and will be tasked with securing economic zones, infrastructure and investors during their travels throughout the province.
"There is great potential for investment in KP, and this force has been raised to have one focus: the security of foreign investors and their investments," Khattak told Pakistan Forward, adding that other law enforcement agencies such as police, Rangers and the army will do their part.
The SSU will maintain a close liaison with district security divisions and special cells will be present in all divisional headquarters, the Home Department and police headquarters, Khattak announced at a meeting of high level KP administrative department and law enforcement officials in mid-May.
The KP government will provide the resources and training for the new SSU, he said, adding that it will undergo training similar to that of the province's Rapid Response Force and will be prepared to act swiftly in any emergency.
"The establishment of this force aims to provide a sense of security to investors, [ensuring them] that their money and material will be safe," he said. "It doesn't mean our regular law enforcement agencies can't do this ... but it will be a specialised job."
KP Police submitted the budget plan for the SSU to the government for a total of Rs. 3.05 billion ($29 million).
The first phase of establishing the SSU will cost Rs. 1.5 billion ($14.2 million), while Rs. 1.6 billion ($14.8 million) is required for the second operational phase, according to the budget request.
The money will go towards salaries and also for the purchase of weapons, ammunition, vehicles and technical equipment.
No firm date has been set for the SSU's inception.
KP business leaders are praising the move, saying that improved security will boost the province's economy.
"The business community of KP supports setting up a new force to protect both foreign and local investors and industrialists," KP Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KPCCI) President Haji Muhammad Afzal told Pakistan Forward.
"Only a secure environment can boost the economy of this war-hit region, and any steps to strengthen security will bring an economic boom to the region," he said.
"Extraordinary measures" are necessary to create a secure environment in KP, said Malik Niaz, a former KPCCI president.
"The force will provide an added sense of security to both foreign and local investors," he told Pakistan Forward.
In addition to the SSU, "there will be extra efforts to provide protection to all the investors who invest money in this region", he said.
"The major fear here for investors is protection of life and property, and this force, or any other security measures, will be great help [for investors]," said Riaz Arshad, an industrialist in Peshawar and another former KPCCI president.
Investors need two kinds of security, he said: "one for their investment and the infrastructure and the second for their mobility."
"It is a good gesture to safeguard investors as many of them had fled to other parts of the country because of bad law and order, though the situation has improved greatly now," said Peshawar-based businessmen Sharafat Ali Mubarak, another former KPCCI president.
"Protection of the local and foreign investors and of their infrastructure will boost investors' confidence and bring them back to KP," he told Pakistan Forward, adding that it will also attract new investors to the region.
Shamama Arbab, president of the Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry Peshawar, called the SSU's creation a "good initiative".
"Any security measure that guarantees protection of traders and investors is welcome and appreciated," she told Pakistan Forward.
"Local and foreign investors will feel comfortable," she said. "Once they feel something special for them has been planned, no one can stop them from heading back to the provincial market."