Waqas A. Khan

Waqas A. Khan

Once again Pakistan withstands, but when will it learn to endure?

“In the name of Private Security”

On Sunday, our national chatter began with news that Kulbhushan Yadav, an on-duty Naval commander and agent of the Indian spy agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), had been arrested. It is widely believed that Yadav and his accomplices are involved in terrorism, sectarian clashes and target killings on our soil.

At the same time, thousands of protestors were gathering for 40 days of remembrance for Mumtaz Qadri, the police constable who was executed in February for the 2011 killing of former Punjab Gov. Salman Taseer. Qadri was sentenced to death by the Supreme Court for his drastic opposition to our nation’s strict laws related to blasphemy. Protestors began a sit-in in front of Parliament and the Diplomatic Enclave in Islamabad. Stones were thrown and metro stations and media vehicles were set ablaze. Police responded with tear gas.

Such actions, reactions and upheaval signaled business as usual in Pakistan.

Soon enough, though, our attention was swept back all-too-close to home when heard the sickening about the tragedy unfolding in Iqbal Park of Lahore on Sunday. Dozens of women and children were killed and at least 300 were wounded in a despicable and ruthless suicide blast. Because it was Easter, a large number of Christians were in the park.

Terrorists had correctly identified the family destination as a soft target. Closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras, metal detectors, security alarms, security guards and other safety measures to protect the masses were conspicuous by their absence. 

Shamefully, such barbarism is no longer a surprise.

While angry, we also were numb.

Our anger persists because the mostly women and children who perished were unable to lay claim to their legitimate share of $7.6 billion in tax money, which the state supposedly spent on national security in 2015. Instead, these mothers, daughters, sisters and brothers put their faith in numbers – the ones that show Pakistan among the top 25 countries of the world when it comes to spending that much on national security.

But none of our military personnel, snipers, handguns, assault rifles, machine guns, drones, F-16s, missiles or atomic weapons would save a single life this miserable Sunday. Instead, blood flowed in our lovely park. Sirens pierced the still air. There were plaintive wails from mourners and a sense of despair.

Terrorism has reared its ugly head again.

But where were our leaders?

In December 2014, seven foreign-national Jihadists massacred 141 people, including 132 innocent schoolchildren, at Army Public School Peshawar. In the face of such carnage, our government finally awakened from an irresponsible slumber when it comes to the security of its citizens. It mandated a vast array of entities to install the very same CCTV cameras, metal detectors, security alarms, and ordered them to hire security guards and take other step to assure public safety. Among the places receiving mandated protection orders were educational institutions, private clinics, private parks, wedding halls, hospitals, banks, financial institutions, non-governmental organizations, foreign projects, religious=gathering places, companies, firms, petrol & CNG stations, jewelry shops, amusement or entertainment centers, public transport terminals and businesses to make security arrangements by themselves through mandatory.

But on Sunday, these safety features, precautions, installations and personnel were inexcusably absent from state-run Iqbal Park.

So what’s really going on? 

We must be brave enough to seek answers.

Is something happening under the table? 

Yes, indeed.

As such, the time has come to shine bright light – most likely for the first time – where the details have been isolated for far too long. Sorting through the cobwebs that have collected – also known as available data – I want to bring to light the number of private security guards operating within our country, compare the number of institutions and the average number of security guards, and take a look at the average monthly pay those guards receive. 

Put together, we should have a much clearer picture when it comes to our national efforts, and, perhaps, the root of a festering problem. 

Here goes:

■ Forty private entertainment parks have 320 security guards. 

■ Pakistan Medical & Dental Council data shows there are 240 renowned private hospitals in Pakistan, and there are about 3,000 private clinics at which doctors practice privately. On average, 10 security guards have been employed at each of the hospitals, with another one at each of clinics. So the total number of security guards in this sector is 5,400. 

■ There are about 40,000 CNG and pumping stations with 8,000 security guards, 

■ Seven-thousand jewelry shops have 10,000.

■ Four-thousand wedding halls are patrolled by 12,000.

■ Eight-thousand non-governmental organizations and foreign projects employ 16,000.

■ National Highway transport buses boast 20,000 security guards.

■ Forty-six banks with 12,000 branches have 36,000.

■ It is estimated that other firms and businesses employ about 50,000.

■ Each of 100,000 mosques, churches and other places of worship have a full-time or occasional security guard. To be fair, it should be pointed out that security often is handled by volunteers. 

■ And just like the other entities that have followed the instructions of the government, 225,711 schools in Pakistan employ security guards to assure the safety of their students. Within this number, about 10,000 private schools employ two guards each, bringing the total number of security guards in our schools to nearly 250,000.

Hence the total private security guards employed in the country are estimated to reach a number of 493,431.

Nationwide, near a half-million armed private guards supposedly are watching out for our well-being. But none were to be found this Sunday in Iqbal Park as security there was a mandate of the government.

The average budget allotted for private security is estimated at Rs.10,000-per-month per security guard. This figure, when aggregated yearly, is equivalent to about $540 million in U.S. currency, a substantial cost that– through sleight-of-hand – is being passed right along to unassuming citizens.

Remember when authorities suddenly made it mandatory for motorcycle riders to wear helmets? They began arresting those who snubbed the law. The price of helmets rose within a week from Rs 300 to Rs 2,000. Naturally, the public had to absorb the heightened expense of mandated protection, as well as the fines now being levied. In a similar vein, the state has passed along — through its mandate to purchase and install (CCTV) cameras, metal detectors, security alarms, barbed wire, boundary walls and others safety features for business and educational facilities — billions of dollars in costs that have successfully been plucked from the vulnerable pockets of its citizens. 

This is a black-hole security budget if ever there was one.

Even with so many security guards in place, robberies, killings and attacks on private installations have risen. 

In 2015, bank heists garnered Rs 20 million. 

Since 2009, 845 educational institutions in Pakistan were targeted by militants, according to a report by global coalition to protect education. Ill-equipped security guards were unable to fend off trained militants when it mattered most. 

And in the first few months of this year, 280 civilians and 110 security personnel have fallen in the name of terrorism.

According to South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), the total number of civilian deaths from terror attacks last year numbered 940,339; security personnel who lost their lives. 

Pakistan’s crime statistics present an even more disturbing picture. Despite such a wealth of private security, 13,276 people lost their lives in assassination attempts in 2015, and 81,520 individuals were relieved of their valuables and movable property in robberies. There were 33,243 vehicles stolen. And 3,285 women were raped, and 329 others were gang-raped.

Is this really who we are? 

Today, my heart still mourns for innocent martyrs lost in among the senseless and abhorrent violence in a Brussels, Belgium airport last week, just as it has for the atrocities committed in Peshawar, Karachi, Charsada. Thirty-five souls were lost in six coordinated, cowardly attacks in Belgium More than 300 people were injured. The lives of countless families and friends were forever changed.

We held our breath that day because we knew we were not immune.

How would we react – not as a people, but as a great nation – when our soil was sullied once more?

In Lahore, we were left to ponder Article 9 of our Constitution that guarantees no person shall be deprived of life or liberty. Article 18 asserts citizens’ right to freedom of trade, business or profession under state security. 

While we dream of adequate healthcare, jobs, education, business, food and shelter in this country, it seems that government leaders would rather extract more taxes to stockpile sophisticated weaponry.

While we dream of a day when women and children – of all faiths and affiliations – can come together without fear of one another or of the unknown, we need to know that our local safety is paramount – and not based on the latest technologies within submarines and fighter jets.

While we dream of a glorious land in which the people are more important than the powerful, too often the latter are the corrupt hands that incite the feeble minds that believed there is something to be gained through holy terror.

My heart still hurts after witnessing the mutilated body parts of women and children sprawled around the play areas of my Iqbal Park. 

But in the chaotic moments at local hospitals on Sunday — the blood of Muslims was repeatedly drawn and injected into injured Christians — and vice versa – we proved that we are not humans simply drawn by the boundaries of provinces, party affiliation or religion. Lives on Sunday were forever intertwined with so many caring individuals coming together in the name of two far greater reasons — compassion and humanity.

This is who we are. We are proud Pakistanis!

On a day in which inhumanity, distrust and carnage were at the top of the news chain, it was comforting to realize that the blood cells of each and every individual are amazing, wondrous and life-affirming. Despite the ruthless inhumanity, we are even more resolute that our exceedingly fair and justified dreams must be nurtured to come true.

Terrorism cannot – no, it will not – cause us to plot a path of retreat.

As for those within government, it is high time to listen to, act and protect ALL good people. Failure to do so will mean that the next time a terrorist attacks, the blood of these good – no, make that our great – brothers and sisters of Pakistan shall forever indelibly stain your hands.

Now, what says your heart?

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Dr. Waqas A. Khan is a Journalist - Educationist - Lawyer from Kasur Pakistan.