It was just a few weeks back that a catastrophe in a posh locality in Lahore was dubbed by the government as a generator explosion at first, a bomb blast later, and a cylinder explosion when people needed comfort more than paranoia. All of this synchronized with a series of messages circulating a week prior to the attack warning against going to the same area where the explosion took place, and a hoard of barriers sneakily placed closing off certain entrances and exits to the same locality.
It’s like a boomerang, trying to make sense of the security situation in the country, it always hits you back with more questions unanswered – the only answers we get are in the form of deflecting blame, hushing the truth, or just outright denial.
If there’s any truth to what happened in Lahore that fateful morning, it’s that we are unprepared for the worst – and the worst has come upon us.
Understanding the psyche
In conversation with a friend a few days back, I was told that he witnessed three men on a motorcycle headed towards a security check post, where upon reaching one man got off and walked across the green belt while the other two got their ID cards checked. I asked him if he informed the officers standing at the check post, irritated, he replied: “I’ve done that before, and nothing ever happens”.
That is the faith a citizen now has in the efforts of the government and its institutions, in its pledge to abide by the social contract, and foremost in his voice and the power it holds. Perhaps, his propensity to diffuse responsibility has become contingent on the change he sees in terms of both rhetoric and policy following catastrophes that hit the country, and the vile harassment citizens are often put through by police forces when approached – making them feel insecure than protected.
Perhaps the system has lost faith in itself, where it feels that what has to happen will happen – that the system is so weak in protecting itself, a few ruptures here and there are inevitable. It is maybe this disenchantment that loomed across Sehwan Sharif, where the security guard performed, or failed to perform his duty, not because he felt he had a responsibility towards the people he had promised to protect, but rather because he half-heartedly had to for a few thousand – shuffling through a few, missing out many, out of which one blew himself up as he strolled across the security check.
Or maybe it’s the detachment of the people, and the lack of awareness of the realities that the country faces, where stopping at security checks, and getting checked patiently just so the rest are checked too as a means to ensure the safety of the self and others, has escaped the rationalities of the people. And the words echo: What has to happen will always find a way. Shehryar, a young boy who got killed riding a motorcycle, after he failed to stop at a check post in Karachi, possibly thought the same. It’s what most of us think when we’re stopped at the various barriers between point A and B: “I wish I could accelerate myself out of this situation”, or “Why should I stop when I haven’t done anything?”, or the more worrying and heart-wrenching one, “If this was of any utility, then xyz wouldn’t have happened” – and that’s where the detachment, and loss of faith in the government, its security agencies, and the system at large, creeps in; a system where security is exchanged for a few hundred rupees for some daal, roti, and chai, and protection equates to how heavy your pockets are.
The concept of peoples skills is lost on the security forces of the country, that is no secret. And while the government is busy churning out new police forces, where the public is tricked into thinking that its transparency is synonymous with the innocence of an aquatic mammal, their mismanagement and poor functionality has surfaced on many accounts. Apart from technical troubles plaguing the Dolphin force, four constables were found guilty of taking Rs 90,000 in bribes from a drug dealer in Faisal Town, Lahore. The officers decided to be more ambitious when they also tried arranging a monthly payment arrangement with the dealer in return for safe passage. Similarly, like its counterparts, officers have also been found outstepping their boundaries and job descriptions rather brazenly. Taking advantage of the lack of public awareness regarding what the force can and can not do, and a timid civil society refusing to stand up for what’s right in fear of the twisted capabilities of the security forces, the Dolphin force is seen stopping people on the roads as they please to check the insides of their cars, and most importantly their pockets. What many are unaware of is that their responsibility is confined to monitoring the streets and roads of the metropolitan as opposed to body and car searches.
The other side of the story is this: that with 22,000 a month – the same as a regular police constable, where the trainers have to do their regular patrol jobs as well as train new Dolphin Force recruits, officers are pushed to look for other ways to make a few bucks. And that is where the chicken and the egg situation comes in: Did the system corrupt the people, or did the people corrupt the system?
The Dolphin force is just one example of many of how the system is failing in protecting its people, and while our obsession with security and moulding Pakistan into a security state is towering over our national priorities our security, national dignity, and public dealing is declining rapidly.
And that is our problem.
Our biggest worry as of now is the rise of terrorism, without a doubt, but what’s more alarming is our lack of preparedness for such attacks, and our misplaced priorities whereby the government was more concerned with hosting the PSL final in Lahore rather than ensuring the long-term security of the people. Our buildings are open to assaults, our shrines have minimal security, our security forces are inept and flawed, and check posts have been found to have no utility. Added to this are leaders who refuse to internalize the blame, and get defensive in the face of dissent – and you have a country that’s headed for the ruins.