VIP security and citizens
By Imtiaz Gul
Express Tribune, April 08, 2015
In a country touted as a functional democracy, it took a three-day deadline and a last-minute warning to many political VIPs to remove dozens, if not hundreds, of roadblocks placed in front of or around their residences in Karachi. Some of them may have been motivated by genuine security concerns but most of these barriers symbolised the inner sense of insecurity of those people who tirelessly claim to represent hapless and helpless citizens. Besides the obstructions the ruling elite had placed on roads, many also surround themselves with huge security walls around their palatial residences.
This way, the political elite not only feel secure but also project their mighty social status. All this had happened and continues to happen in cities such as Islamabad, Lahore and Peshawar at the cost of the common people, who have to take detours to reach their homes.
The trend of raising additional security walls, protective cordons and instituting multi-layered security mechanisms grew immediately after the Lal Masjid Operation in July 2007, when terrorist organisations began sowing terror in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), Islamabad, Rawalpindi and Karachi in retaliation for what they termed revenge for the operation.
These spiralling events sent the security apparatus into an unprecedented defensive mode. Officials of the apex committee for K-P/Fata even toyed with the idea of raising a physical cordon around Peshawar. Many even suggested that the city be insulated through a fortified security wall. Such an approach clearly exposed a defeatist mentality, which made the state appear in a state of retreat in the face of an encroaching nexus of militants and criminals operating out of Fata. The situation in the urban centres was even worse as VIPs had ever more state security deployed for their protection. A former interior minister, for instance, relied on at least five dozen police and FC personnel for his protection.
Operation Zarb-e-Azb has reversed that siege mentality. The anti-crime crackdown in Karachi, too, has dented the militant-criminal-politician nexus. Pakistan has taken a major step in the right direction — a break from adopting a reactive approach to a more proactive one for enforcing the writ of the law. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan deserves credit for relieving most of the police and FC personnel off his personal protective escort. He has also tried to rationalise the deployment of security forces so as to free them up for providing security to the public. More of such steps are needed. Personal residences of ex-presidents and prime ministers and offices of international NGOs should be no exception either to the changing security regime.
Many Pakistani bureaucrats, politicians and VIPs have erected walls in gross violation of the laws that govern government and road-side structures in Islamabad. These structures need regulation if not complete removal.
Since the VIPs — all those sitting in parliament — are themselves insensitive to the issue, the Supreme Court can make a public interest intervention on this issue: why not devise guidelines for the elite so they refrain from abusing their authority, and bar them from blocking or restricting spaces that are meant for the general public. Almost daily and everywhere, whenever the civilian and military VIPs are on the move, the public has to endure unusual torture for hours. Perhaps, the Supreme Court can, through a suo-motu intervention on security walls, barriers and escorts, sensitise the elite to be more deferential to the convenience of the public at large — who don’t travel in air-conditioned vehicles nor are they allowed to enjoy gratis state security.
Imtiaz Gul is the executive director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies