Plight of Civilians in the Security State!

The story of the extra-judicial killing of a youth in front of Benazir Park in Clifton Karachi has shattered me to a great deal from inside as I can associate with it in so many ways. It reminds me of an instance which took place about ten years back when I was serving in a public sector management training institution situated on Shahrah-e-Iran, Clifton. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s residence (70 Clifton) is also situated on Shahrah-e-Iran and it is the same road on which Benazir’s brother Mir Murtaza Bhutto lost his life in a police encounter just in front of the gate of his home. Bilawal House (residence of Benazir named after her son) and Bhutto’s residence are both about five minutes drive away from the Benazir Park, though quite apart from each other.

I used to reside in the hostel of the institute that was completely ravaged by the rangers after occupying it illegally sometime back; however, a couple of rooms were later renovated in order to host guest faculty members of the institute particularly coming from its Lahore branch. The walls of the hostel otherwise used to give clues about torture and captivity of many detainees. The hostel faces the Sindh Archives Department’s building and has a piece of land grabbed by land mafia just in front of it and also one can see the parking lot of the Park Palace shopping mall from its balcony.

My auntie lives close to the famous ‘Teen Talwar (three swords)’ leading to the ‘Dou Talwar (two swords)’ which comes just before the Shahrah-e-Iran. Another big institution situated on Shahrah-e-Iran is the British Deputy High Commission which was a Consulate back then. The back gate of my hostel was on a street leading indirectly towards the British Deputy High Commission (front gate of the institute and British Deputy High Commission are both on the main Shahrah-e-Iran – to be precise). I used to spend most of evening time at my auntie’s place, and by late night my auntie’s brother in law (almost of my age and otherwise also my uncle) and his bosom buddies (by that time they had become my close friends too) used to drop me at the hostel gate every time.

One night my friends stopped the car in front of the institute’s gate and before I could get down we started discussing a matter. While we were engaged in the discussion, we totally ignored the police mobile van turning from Shahrah-e-Iran and coming our way into the small street. We realized it when a constable came closer to our car and in a

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loud voice yelled rudely ‘why is this car standing here, get moving’.

I did not like the tone, so got out of the car and told the constable that he had no right to talk to us in such a rude manner. But the constable kept his rude tone. I warned him that if he did not change his tone I would report his unprofessional attitude to his superiors. Immediately a senior officer came out of the police mobile van and his tone was even more disturbingly commanding. He said to me ‘why are you making fuss, just get lost, this road leads to British Consulate and is not a common road.’ I informed him that I was a government servant myself as the institute is a semi-autonomous government entity, and that I live in the hostel and the street is a public place, and nowhere is it written that the road was out of bound for common folks.

He did not listen to me and insisted the car to be removed immediately from the road. I noticed the officer had no name plate on his uniform and no badges also. I again requested the police officer to review his attitude and make a rational standpoint. Anyway, the officer introduced himself as an ASI and he said to me ‘you should be careful in future, if you would have done the same thing in central Karachi, we would have shot you without any hesitation.’ He also informed me that police had killed many people in the past in similar conditions. I just got lucky that day otherwise I or my family would have been in deep trouble. My friends cursed me when I returned to the car, telling me that police one can challenge the attitude of Police only in Islamabad and doing the same would have jeopardized everybody’s life. It was a new revelation for me indeed.

When I was a school kid I used to visit the British Council library at the Civic Centre, Melody Market after pack-up time from the nearby Islamabad College for Boys (ICB). Back those days ICB used to be considered a premier educational institution. Ex-Intelligence Bureau chief Brig. Imtiaz’s son was my class fellow & also reigning Naval Chief Admiral Sarohi’s son was also our contemporary. ICB as an institution was decaying and it badly needed a negative entropy to re-energize, but since there was no other school in Islamabad, the elite had no other option but to send their children to ICB.

One day I had to board a bus from Aabpara market, which is at a walking distance from Melody market, to get home. I borrowed a book from the British Council library and while walking towards Aabpara I started reading the book. In those days main gate of the Naval Headquarters used to open on the main double

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road from Melody to Aabpara. The naval check post used to be on the footpath. I recall the book was ‘The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (children illustrated edition)’ as I used to watch the Sherlock Holmes series on Pakistan Television (PTV) with great interest. I was and still am totally in love with Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke, the artists, or magicians I would say, who rendered the roles of Sherlock Holmes & Dr. Watson respectively in such a charismatic manner.

While I was about to pass the main gate of the Naval headquarters, two guards were ready in uniform to salute a senior officer leaving office on car with a national flag on it. I was so involved in reading the book that I did not notice the guards. Just when I was about to cross the road in front of the gates they opened and the guards saluted the outgoing car immediately. I went between the guards exactly the same time, as it was a footpath meant for general public. I looked up and instantly was amazed to see two guards saluting me – I thought they were saluting me as they were facing me; the gate being on their right. The car came out and left the headquarters’ gate in a blink of an eye. However, it made the guards furious. There supervisor came charging towards me while yelling at the peak of his lungs. I could not feel the gravity of the situation at first, but I retaliated and told the security guard that the guards were standing on the footpath on which pedestrians stroll and that the footpath belonged to general public, and since I did not notice them so it was not my fault.

The supervisor instructed the guards to arrest me. By that time many people had gathered at the scene. I did not budge and informed the supervisor that the consequences would be dire if they even touched me. Islamabad is a city created for government servants, so naturally police and other security officials conduct their affairs in comparatively a careful manner. Anyway, somehow they let me go, and I still remember one of the guy among the spectators appreciated my courage and assumed that since I was a student and in those days there used to be no ban on student politics so he thought the navy guys must have left me assuming my fellow students would raise hell if they did anything against me. He told me that I was lucky the security personnel left me alone, otherwise, for a common man, consequences would have been pretty grave. The good part however, I must acknowledge, was that the next day the main gate was shifted from the main road to the backside of the headquarters facing ICB and the covered market. I must appreciate the management of naval headquarters who took a prompt action and saved themselves and the public from recurrence of similar undesirable incidence.

Another event that is hard for me to erase from my memory also happened in the Clifton area again near the British consulate couple of years after the first incident. I now used to work for a private TV channel and was driving my boss’s car

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while he was also with me. There was a great deal of security that day. I and my boss who later became chief of a private airline, just had lunch and were heading to our office situated inside the Rojhan Street, Clifton block-V. We intended to go via a small street where residences of the officials of British Consulate are situated and the road on which our car was at that time was heading towards the famous ‘Auntie Park’ (named after those wonderful elderly ladies who jog, walk and exercise to burn extra calories in order to make them slim and smart.)

Exactly the same moment a VIP car escorted by many other vehicles entered the road, so I stopped the car to facilitate the VIP movement. However, a police constable appeared from nowhere and started using abusive language. He thumped the car bonnet with all his might and ordered us to take another course. I went totally stalled. My boss urged me to turn left but I could not follow his instruction. This all happened so quickly that I was totally taken aback. I could not move the car an inch. Later my boss told me that we would have landed in big trouble. He understood that it was none of my fault but still said that ‘the police guy will never forget this incidence in his life too.’ I think it was my fault not to comply with the request of the police constable in time but still they should have closed the road for general public temporarily prior to the VIP movement. It looked like a last minute change in VIP movement route may be due to security purpose.

I remember once I visited President Musharaf’s camp office in Rawalpindi with some academicians. I was excited as I used to like President Musharaf so much. Particularly the way he demystified the portfolio of the President of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. No stiff neck and conventional body language, just a cool customer. During Musharaf’s regime there were job opportunities for youth and it was the first time I got a job on merit without any reference. Before that I never had reconciled with the fact that after studying in top notch institutions and completing sixteen years of education, one still had to find a ‘sifarish’ (reference) to get a job.

Anyway, after clearing the security check points at the entrance of the camp office we entered the main hall. The academicians started sitting in an unorganized manner as there was no plan available for our guidance. Since I was a coordinator so I thought it would be a good idea to seat the academicians according to rank and position. So in connection with that I requested a guy who was sitting at the edge of a row to shift to another seat. I did not realize he was an undercover security guard. To my surprise he snubbed me in an extremely rude manner. By that time I realized my mistake, so I left the whole idea and sat where my other colleagues were sitting. The thing I did not like was the way that security guard reacted. He could have done it in a polite manner. I did not like the way security arrangements were made as there were too many loopholes and also apart from this I noticed the dirty curtains on the windows of the hall and poor state of cleanliness which reflected how pathetic we are as a nation in maintaining the decorum.

Very recently, I was heading home after a hectic day’s work. Prior night I could not sleep well due to intermittent un-scheduled power break-down so my reflexes were naturally slow. At the ‘Ammar Chowk’ (round about named after Captain Ammar a valiant martyr of Pak army – terrorists once attacked President Musharaf near this round about). I stopped my car just before the signal and only then realized that there was a Toyota land cruiser with black mirrors crossing the roundabout in front of me heading towards Chaklala Garrison. There was a security vehicle, boarding army ranger guards, which charged-in from behind the car with tainted mirrors anticipating if I moved a fraction they would bang their cruiser into mine. It was a close call, good enough to rejuvenate my faculties. I made sign with my hands to convey to the security guards to cool down as I was no enemy (ever!) however their reaction was a bit way too exaggerated. Why do these in-secured big-wigs come out on the first place; and then in order to impress their superiors their guards show un-necessary efficiency which often results in nuisance for general public.

I have pointed out some incidences and would also like to present a reason why these mishaps take place. I believe primarily the security personnel are not given proper training how to deal with people. It is not difficult to be polite and at the same time complete all the security formalities. The disrespect for civilians leaves a bad impression in the psyche of masses. The problem with power is that it yearns for a channel to manifest itself; if you can not apply it on your enemies then it takes a toll on your own self. There are principles of carrying-out security measures in a systematic manner about which our security forces seem to be totally ignorant or inconsiderate. Also it is the need of the day that separate roads be developed for VIP movement which should be out of

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bound for general public. This way we can to some extent mitigate the inconvenience caused to people stuck in traffic due to VIP movement. Military police and rangers should also be given training to deal with general public in peace time. When actual wars are over then they are only fought in the minds and only during war time military personnel are treated like heroes – in peace time may be like villains!

Reminds me of the great Urdu poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz when he says (translated in English):

My salutations to thy sacred streets, O beloved nation!

Where a tradition has been invented – that none shall walk with his head held high

If at all one takes a walk, a pilgrimage

One must walk, eyes lowered, the body crouched in fear


The heart in a tumultuous wrench at the sight

Of stones and bricks locked away and mongrels breathing free


In this tyranny that has many an excuse to perpetuate itself

Those crazy few that have nothing but thy name on their lips

Facing those power-crazed that both prosecute and judge, wonder

To whom does one turn for defence, from whom does one expect justice?


But those whose fate it is to live through these times

Spend their days in thy mournful memories


When hope begins to dim, my heart has often conjured

Your forehead sprinkled with stars

And when my chains have glittered

I have imagined that dawn must have burst upon thy face


Thus one lives in the memories of thy dawns and dusks

Imprisoned in the shadows of the high prison walls


Thus always has the world grappled with tyranny

Neither their rituals nor our rebellion is new

Thus have we always grown flowers in fire

Neither their defeat, nor our final victory, is new!


Thus we do not blame the heavens

Nor let bitterness seed in our hearts


We are separated today, but one day shall be re-united

This separation that will not last beyond tonight, bears lightly on us

Today the power of our exalted rivals may touch the zenith

But these four days of omniscience too shall pass


Those that love thee keep, beside them

The cure of the pains of a million heart-breaks



  3 comments for “Plight of Civilians in the Security State!

  1. June 20, 2011 at 1:00 pm

    They don’t need separate roads: They need to learn that the nation belongs to the people and they are the servants of the people.And there is no justification for killing civilians in cold blood.

  2. June 20, 2011 at 2:06 pm

    By the way, this post is making quite a few people uncomfortable. I mean those who will have no such criticism of powers that be. Thank you for writing it. Deleuze was right: power must totalize its narratives and even a puny challenge such as ours comes across as a threat to the normative totalizing narrative of power.
    Yes, not every one in the Army is like this: In fact majority of them are decent human beings, but if something like this happens, it must be reported and written about, for that is how living societies keep the powerful institutions honest.

    June 20, 2011 at 11:36 pm

    Thanks so much Sensei for your insightful comments…

Comments are closed.