No security in an insecure country - Irfan Husain - Wednesday, February 23, 2011

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WATCHING the stirring and colourful opening ceremony of the cricket World Cup in Dhaka last week, I was reminded that originally, Pakistan was supposed to be one of the hosts of this hugely popular sporting event. But the rising tide of violence, culminating in the terrorist attack on the visiting Sri Lankan team in Lahore two years ago, has effectively made Pakistan a no-go state for foreign sportsmen.

Now, none of the World Cup matches will be played on our soil. In fact, our sports teams have to go abroad to play in fixtures where they were supposed to have the home advantage. Like nomads, they roam the world to gain international experience. The sad reality is that the state can no longer guarantee security to foreigners, or, indeed, to our own leaders, as the recent assassination of Salman Taseer so painfully demonstrated.

The Sri Lankan team had been assured of a level of security that the government provides the president and the prime minister. In the event, it transpired that the superintendent of police in charge of the visiting team’s safety was having breakfast at home when the attack occurred in broad daylight. Similarly, the police officers in charge of Benazir Bhutto’s security in Rawalpindi were woefully negligent, according to the UN report.

After the many threats to Sherry Rehman’s life, a well-meaning friend emailed me from London to suggest that we demand official protection for the brave parliamentarian. I pointed out that poor Salman Taseer had been killed by one of the guards assigned to him by the Punjab government. I suggested that Sherry Rehman is probably better off with the private security arrangements she has made for her own protection. The fact that a minister advised her to go abroad is a shameful admission that the government is unable to protect one of the ruling party’s leading members.

The fact is that even so-called ‘elite’ police units are virtually unsupervised by their officers, and members are never vetted for their extremist views at any stage. Thus, Qadri could continue in his job, even though he made no secret of his intentions to kill the Punjab governor.

It would appear that only specialised army units are now capable of guarding the lives of public figures at an acceptable level of professionalism. However, even Musharraf was nearly killed on a number of occasions despite being surrounded by SSG commandos. In at least two attacks on his life, air force personnel were involved. So it seems that the contagion of extremism has spread to every nook and cranny of the country.

It is true that a determined assassin can breach any security barrier in any country. In the United States, despite the high level of training the Treasury Department security detail assigned to the president and to presidential candidates receive, two Kennedy brothers fell to assassins. Ronald Regan was almost killed by a deranged gunman. So clearly, politicians who mingle with the public are always going to be at risk.

The difference is that in Pakistan, the police no longer appear to have the motivation or the training to do the most routine policing work. But in this decline in performance, they reflect the general fall in standards across the bureaucracy. This, in turn, is linked to the poor education now being imparted in state institutions across the country, as well as to the widespread corruption now so prevalent at every level of society.

When these corrosive elements are combined with toxic levels of extremist propaganda being force-fed into the system through textbooks and TV broadcasts, we should not be surprised at the meltdown we see all around us. The reality is that today, jihadists out-gun the police and the paramilitary units they are fighting. And they are certainly more motivated. Partly because of their poor training, these security personnel have been laying down their lives in unprecedented numbers.

Understandably, the police are a very demoralised force today. Apart from being targeted by Islamic extremists day in and day out, they are being constantly blamed by their masters and the public for being unable to ensure security in any public place. But as we have seen time and again, it is impossible to stop suicide bombers determined to kill themselves and as many victims as they can.

In other countries with more efficient police forces, terrorist cells have often been penetrated, and plotters arrested before they could carry out their gruesome plans. Courts have swiftly tried these jihadists and handed down stiff jail terms. In Pakistan, trials drag on for years, and suspects granted bail at the drop of a hat. They can then continue on their deadly missions. Given the virtual absence of modern forensic training, techniques or equipment in our police departments, evidence is patchy at best, and acquittals are proportionately high.

Over the last few years, jihadists have been subtly transformed into the good guys by reactionary sections of the media. Even when they commit the most appalling crimes, they do not receive the kind of condemnation the Americans get for their much more selective drone attacks against Taliban and Al Qaeda targets in the tribal areas.

In Sri Lanka, where I am currently, a friend told me that when he reported a robbery a few years ago, the police immediately sent over a fingerprint expert. In Karachi, despite the number of armed robberies we have experienced, I have yet to see any policeman taking fingerprints. Nor, as far as I can recall, has any criminal been convicted because his prints matched those at the scene of a crime. And this technology is over a century old, so it’s hardly rocket science we are talking about here.

Every now and then, some politician or other announces the formation of yet another anti-terrorist police unit, or the passage of yet another anti-terrorist law. But all we require is the strict implementation of existing laws by a properly trained, equipped and motivated police force. The need for new laws and new units are excuses made by politicians who lack the will and the ability to make the present system work.

More than training and equipment, our security services need the support of our political leadership, our judiciary, the public and the media. In the fight they are waging against a determined and ruthless enemy, they do not need to be the punching bag
for any politician or TV personality wanting to gain cheap popularity.

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