By Mohammad Ali Babakhel
THE assassination of the federal minister for minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, highlights Pakistan’s need for an exclusive, dedicated and professional protection organisation. Within a few years the country has lost a twice-elected prime minister, the governor of its largest province and a federal minister.
Pakistan is, of course, not the exception in terms of the assassination of political figures. The pages of history are replete with such events. In India, Mahatma Gandhi, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi were assassinated. Bangladesh lost presidents Mujeebur Rahman, Ziaur Rahman and prime minister Mansur Ali. There are many such examples in countries across the world. In the United States, presidents Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, William McKinley and John F. Kennedy were killed during their presidential terms.
Unlike many other countries, however, Pakistan does not have a specialised VVIP and VIP protection department. It has also seen a number of assassinations of people in power. Its first prime minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, was killed in 1951 while addressing a public meeting in Rawalpindi. More than 50 years later, the first female premier of the Islamic world, Benazir Bhutto, lost her life at the same place. Other political figures assassinated include Khan Abdul Jabbar Khan, Hayat Khan Sherpao, Ghulam Haider Wyne, Fazal Haq and Hakim Said. Gen Pervez Musharraf survived two suicide attacks on his motorcade while former Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz escaped an attack at a public rally.
For the average person, security is a feeling or a state of being. For a VVIP or a VIP, it is the successful execution of a planned effort. Globally, particularly since 9/11, VIP security has become a rapidly expanding field. What used to be a low-paying profession has become a rapidly progressing industry.
Developments in technology have made the job of protecting national political figures more difficult. Effective security requires close coordination and teamwork. The lack of communication in terms of security procedures is detrimental to protective missions. The security of VVIPs and VIPs can be likened to a chess game, where the goal is to capture the king. Yet despite the fact that Pakistan has seen many assassination attempts, successful or otherwise, we continue to operate with confused and poorly planned security arrangements.
Recently, Afghanistan established an exclusive VVIP security department that is styled after the American Secret Service. India too has a professional security network that provides security to VVIPs and former presidents and prime ministers. The security of India’s prime minister used to be the responsibility of the Delhi police force. In 1981, this was assigned to a special task force. However, the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her bodyguards, using their service weapons on the premises of the prime minister’s house, compelled the government to revamp the newly created mechanism of security for the premier.
As a result of the recommendations submitted by the Birbal Nath Committee in 1985, the Special Protection Unit, soon renamed the Special Protection Group (SPG), was created. Its main function was to counter the threats being faced by the then prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi. Extending protection to former premiers was not within its mandate. This flaw was exposed when Mr Gandhi was assassinated during an election campaign.
Consequently, the government amended the SPG act to insert a provision extending security to former prime ministers and their families for five years after the conclusion of their term in office. In 1994, owing to increased threat levels and the expiry of the security cover term for Sonia Gandhi, the government extended the act again to cover a 10-year period. Since 1991, the SPG is regarded as an effective organisation with more than 3,000 personnel drawn from various police services and national security guards. It is managed by officers of the Indian police. In the United States, the Secret Service was created in 1865 with a mandate to investigate currency counterfeiting cases. In 1894, during the era of President Cleveland, it started undertaking partial protection duties. In 1902, the Secret Service assumed full responsibility for the protection of American presidents and their families. Currently, it has 6,700 personnel and a mandate to protect serving and former presidents, their families and visiting heads of state and government.
During the last century, VVIPs in Pakistan were more interested in protocol than security. Over time, therefore, security managers developed a casual attitude and VVIP security assumed a ceremonial role, with the managers of security putting their energies either into the physical appearance of their personnel or into the show of weapons. In the rapidly changing scenario after 9/11, attempts were made in Pakistan on various VVIPs’ and VIPs’ lives. These incidents compelled the managers of security to update procedures regarding the formation of motorcades, expand the security network, recruit young blood, focus on training and revise procedures. As a result, a thin delineation can be seen between protocol and security. Tremendous improvement has been made in the areas of personnel and training in the past few years.
However, the focus remains general and this must be made more specific. Pakistan’s managers of security follow the Blue Book, but the threats and challenges have changed in the last three decades. It is therefore imperative to update the procedures in the context of new realities. Also, leaders must give up their casual attitude and fully observe the principles dictated by VIP security. Those potentially at risk should be sensitised about prevailing security threats. Furthermore, it is high time that an autonomous and centralized protection department were created. This would need to be equipped with modern techniques and technologies and follow international protection practices and ethics. This would not only protect the lives of our leaders but also improve the country’s image.
Source: The Dawn