By: Murtaza Razvi
It is a daunting debate at this time of terror visiting and revisiting our cities, day after day, as to where one should draw the line between fending for oneself and creating a sense of panic while doing so. The debate basically revolves around fear and prudence. For instance, anxiety has gripped the parents of many school-going children today. Authorities in Lahore keep closing down private schools that are not found to be ‘prepared’ enough to face a terrorist attack, while their counterparts in Karachi are less circumspect. A state of apathy prevails in officialdom in Sindh at a time when intelligence agencies have warned that high-end schools may come under attack.Schools have been told that the police alone cannot give them the required security cover and that, in other words, they have to fend for themselves. The warning has been met with a mixed response. Some schools have taken security measures, while others have ignored the counsel altogether; a handful of schools have decided to remain closed until ‘adequate’ security is put in place.
Here, it must be asked as to what is ‘adequate’, and how high is the level of the threat posed to educational institutions. Unfortunately, the authorities in Karachi have chosen to keep mum on the issue. Privately, police and intelligence officials say the reason for ambiguity is that the government does not have enough police and security personnel at its disposal to provide ‘adequate’ security cover to all potential targets, which now include businesses, shopping centres and educational institutions. Available resources are simply stretched beyond capacity.
Many well-connected people have been given police guard at their offices and residences as have police high-ups and VIPs, including politicians and their families. The numerical strength of the security force is simply not enough to defend ordinary citizens.
While many citizens may well be alarmed at the situation, and look over their shoulders as they go about their daily routine, there is little heard in terms of concern or soothing words from our leaders. The army may be fighting the terrorists in South Waziristan, but our cities are becoming another war front. They have been left virtually undefended. What happened in Meena Bazaar in Peshawar a few days ago should come as an eye-opener.
The irony is that even places like unknown shopping centres and little bazaars, which may not otherwise be seen as high-end targets, could well be on the terrorists’ hit list. Most of those killed in Peshawar were women and children — women from the Taliban’s perspective should not be out shopping. What happens in high-end schools? There is mostly women teaching staff and a co-ed student profile — both objects of hate for the extremists.
Security experts say that institutions which ‘look’ less prepared to handle a disaster could well be seen as a soft target by terrorists. This perspective is opposed by many parents and school administrations. They say that well-known educational institutions could be at greater risk. The Meena bazaar attack in Peshawar neutralises this line of argument.
The government’s claim that militants in Waziristan and Fata are now on the run and in their desperation are attacking Pakistani cities is of little consolation to those who have lost their near and dear ones in recent attacks, or indeed many more who live in fear of such tragedies. The highly secured and elaborate arrangements made for government functionaries to go about conducting their daily business helps them maintain a calm that is in sharp contrast to the jittery state of mind of the vast majority.It can be argued that these high-security arrangements made for the VIPs with the taxpayers’ money are justified given the existing threat level, but they need to be complemented with some tangible measures of safety and security promised to the public also. If we as a nation are at war, it needs to be said so and explained why.
The government needs to come out clean because the enemy dwells within and everyone now appears a potential target. A wartime strategy aimed at creating awareness by clearly outlining the responsibility of the individual and the state in securing people and neighbourhoods is missing. Instead, by beefing up their own security, politicians and officials are creating the impression that they are only fending for themselves and leaving the people to their own devices.
It is important to get out of the denial mode that propels us to believe that outside forces are bent on destabilising Pakistan and democracy. With so many Pakistanis around, we hardly need any outsiders to do this to us when we are quite capable of it ourselves. Politicians must speak up unequivocally against the enemy. There is no time for the government to bury its head in the sand when it comes to the all-pervasive terrorism that is now targeting civilians and security forces alike. People want their concerns voiced and shared by the leaders even if there are no clear-cut solutions at hand. The ill-timed verbal clashes between government and opposition leaders on public television just ring hollow.
People are caught up in routine worries, not least of which is now their own and their children’s security. The scourge afflicting the people today is terrorism, followed by inflation, and not the NRO or the 17th Amendment on which politicians have focused their energies. Cut-throat politics can wait pending the resolution of more pressing issues. Meanwhile, the media must deny politicians their limelight and bytes of screen glory on prime time TV, and focus on the war against terrorism, which we cannot afford to lose if democracy and the rule of law are to be established