Another Outrage


The grenade attack on the Protestant International Church in the Diplomatic Enclave on Sunday last was a disaster waiting to happen, that in the prevailing security environment the law enforcement agencies did not carry out proper “threat perception” and take the necessary counter measures is a surprise. What is more surprising that the diplomatic community’s own security analysts did not see the Church and the regular Sunday gathering as a potential “vulnerable target”. Professionalism in any cadre, whether Pakistani or foreign, involves far more effort than can be put in during duty hours, security is a full-time 24 hours discipline that requires constant monitoring, collection and collation of information, analysis thereof, and pre-emptive action when and where necessary. For the most part the foreign security personnel are very professional, only the odd one stands out as the perennial bureaucrat engaged in protecting his own job at the detriment of his prime responsibility. Find out a security manager who is sarcastic, overbearing and ready to put the blame on others for his own weaknesses and you will know the person who does not know his job.

As for the terrorists who carried out the atrocity, it is now an accepted fact that cowards will always target the innocent and the vulnerable wherever, whether in Pakistan, India or even the US. A place of worship is a soft target, an ideal force-multiplier for spreading fear and panic when anarchy is the ultimate objective, killing and maiming of women and children now being a recognized terror formula. The perpetrators can be any number of individuals and organizations with hate as their creed and murder as their philosophy. The Church incident was an absolute outrage, the only way of assuaging the pain of their taking the life of innocents is to hunt down those involved, expeditiously. A terrible price has been paid by the innocents, it is a debt that can only be re-paid by taking heavy toll of the terrorists who conceived and carried out the atrocity. They can run but they must not be allowed to hide!

Before we go the usual route of apportioning blame and asking the Federal Interior Minister to take responsibility and resign, one should take into account the parameters in which the Islamabad Police work in as well as their ability to carry out their responsibilities. The Church incident has shown there were (and are) glaring holes in the Capital’s security cover, given the fact that the location is of the highest security. You do not enhance security by blocking off roads, you enhance security by out-guessing the bad guys. Did the Police take special precautions for the regular Sunday Church assembly, given that there has been an open-ended threat to (1) the citizens of the Coalition partners in the war against terror in Afghanistan (2) generally against Christians and Jews by Islamic fanatics on the muslim world and (3) the vulnerability of places of worship during times of worship? The glaring breakdown at the operational level will keep happening until we translate the theory of security into pragmatism at the operational level.

This government is far too dependant upon divine Providence looking after General Pervez Musharraf for Pakistan’s continued good fortune. Good governance requires that individual government functionaries have to start working beyond their 9 to 5 routine, the President cannot be expected to carry the ball for them all the time. Professionals have to be appointed to the crucial law and order slots, not “friendlies” on the old-boy network. During a diplomatic party several years ago, someone asked the head of a diplomatic mission why he did not give the security services contract to a mutual friend, an owner of a very large private security company? The diplomat’s reply was not that diplomatic, “I do not trust my security to my drinking buddies!”. One can carry a flask with rose-tinted water around in your breast pocket and impress some people, professionals will react otherwise. Whenever possible private sector help can be obtained. A couple of years ago, the Federal Ministry of Interior asked for a comprehensive security plan from private security companies for the Islamabad diplomatic enclave, ultimately short-listing two as having the capability of doing the job. Once they had the plan, nothing more was ever head by the private security companies, not even an acknowledgement, what to talk about a “thank you”. This farce was played out simply to increase the local police budget and get ideas for their own “plan”. Comprehensive plans can be made, somebody has to be able to implement them. On the average private security companies spend far less than what the State (and Govt./Semi-Govt. organizations) commensurately spends on providing security, while providing better salaries, terms and conditions for their employees. The public sector cannot match their efficiency or effectiveness. The security companies give better service for value within the limits of operating parameters.

Unfortunately private security companies also can become “gun-shy”. On pointing out certain vulnerabilities requiring additional manpower and equipment, the Chief Executive of a company was severely embarrassed (and non-plussed) at being told, “You are a sharp businessman, anything to make a quick buck!”. So why should one put one’s self-respect at risk when supposed professionals dismiss off hand security imperatives and do not have the patience to argue out logically any suggestion made from another professional? Some innocent person usually has to pay the cost of such flippant remarks. It is incumbent upon security professionals to treat every observation and every suggestion with the seriousness the life of an innocent deserves. The skeptical security manager may have to eat his words, small solace for the innocent person/s who is his responsibility and will pay for it with their lives. That is a very high price to pay for off-handed flippancy.

We must realise that in Pakistan we are at “ground zero” in the war against terrorism, the President must appoint a lean and mean machine (and I certainly do not mean a gunner) to tackle the terrorists. We cannot afford to underestimate the terrorists’ potential for mayhem and/or their logistics strength within Pakistan. While the rumours about ISI involvement is hogwash, the odd individual having some service background is possible. Let us not ignore every possibility but let us not become a captive of our assumptions and fears. The President must appoint a Czar for Homeland Security, very much as Gov Ridge has been appointed by President Bush in the US to coordinate Homeland Defence. As for the terrorists who carried out the Church outrage, they must be hunted down like the animals they are.

Mr. Ikram Sehgal is Publisher and Managing Editor of Defence Journal (Pakistan).