Stories about security

Karachi in the grips of extortionists, terrorists

Earlier this month Sindh Home Minister Zulfiqar Mirza entered the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) building for a media briefing where a businessman handed him a ‘parchi’  from extortionists and asked the minister to take action against the people who had been threatening him if they didn’t pay the required sum. The ‘parchi’ practice Being a part of the business community in Karachi for several decades, I can confirm that the parchi system is normal practice in Karachi. Political parties, gangsters, ‘community associations’ and representatives of so-called philanthropic and religious organisations pay regular visits to business units around the city ...

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US airports: (Not) a humiliating experience

Earlier this year, Javed Chaudhry wrote a column titled “A humiliating experience” for The Express Tribune. He details a bad experience at the hands of immigration officials upon arrival at a US airport. Unlike Chaudhry, my recent experiences of applying for visas and then traveling to North America as a Pakistani on a Pakistani passport was extremely pleasant. I applied for a visit visa to the US from the UAE. At the interview, the officer looked intimidating. However, his tone of questioning was very humble. The officer kept addressing my wife and I using the terms “ma’am” or “sir” respectively. The questions ...

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On being considered a Taliban…

Earlier this week,  Rangers personnel cordoned off Kunwari Colony, a Pashtun-dominated area in Manghopir, Karachi. The area is inhabited mostly by people belonging to the Mehsud tribe that hails mainly from Waziristan. The Rangers banned the exit of all and sundry from the colony with the help of police. They then started a door-to-door operation arresting anyone they found to be suspect; tied their hands, covered their faces and put them into trucks. More than 1,500 were booked and shifted to undisclosed places. Most of them are daily wage labourers and road-side vendors who sell scrap items or fruits. Later some ...

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NATO troops pullout: Is Afghanistan ready?

When I read that leaders from 48 nations (including 28 Nato members) endorsed the gradual pullout plan of Nato forces from Afghanistan in 2014 at the Lisbon summit, several concerns crept into my mind.  With this, the combat operations that started in 2001 will also be stopped, giving Afghan forces complete control for the security of the country. Has enough been done to reduce the Taliban to a negligible strength? Will the wound not start bleeding again after 2014? Will the withdrawal of troops not add to the instability in the region? The Telegraph reports that the Pentagon has admitted that ...

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Lessons unlearned: Post 26/11 train travel still unsafe

Its been two years since Mumbai’s landmarks were attacked and 26/11 became a date etched in the minds of every Indian. Those 60 hours are practically unforgettable, even for those who were at home, witnessing the horrific event unfolding on TV. On the second anniversary, the city has been turned into a virtual fortress. Security has been stepped up and vigilance increased. Naka bandis on main roads, patrol units have been set up around all the city landmarks and mock drills have been conducted. But these steps are taken today, what about in between these two years. Chugging back to normal While ...

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A US pilot’s tale: The gauntlet of goodwill

I’m a UH-60 Black Hawk pilot with Task Force Denali, a US Army aviation battalion sent from Alaska to provide flood relief to Northern Pakistan. I blogged about my first impressions of Pakistan nearly two months ago, and I’d like to share some more thoughts about my new friends here. Surrounding our barracks and the control tower, hangars, airfield, and base itself are Pakistani military guards and commandos – tough, well-trained men armed with assault rifles and pistols tasked with maintaining security 24 hours a day. I didn’t know what to make of these guys when I first saw them. Take, ...

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Roadblocks: A field of a hundred bombs

“We are standing in a field of a hundred bombs.” One of my colleagues has a penchant for dramatic statements, but this time he was not exaggerating. Having recently returned from a visit to Afghanistan, he was in a position to talk about what constitutes a security hazard. A hundred cars packed snugly into the space before a road-block, with most engines running on CNG, is not merely a question of inconvenience. It is a disaster waiting for ignition. It should be self-evident that the elements seeking to strike terror look for maximum impact, given their resources. Shrines, mosques and market-places are ...

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In times of suicide assaults

In a way, the recent suicide attack in Lahore is the first of a kind. The suicide attacks so far had had a target each; this one had two. It killed, or tried to kill, two birds with one stone. There was a sea of devotees brimming over at Data Darbar on account of the urs. At nearby Karbala Gamay Shah, the mourners milled around in anticipation of a chehlum procession slowly winding its way towards it. Great planning, one must say, for this way the attack had an impact on two fronts. Of course, both gatherings, from the planner’s ...

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Pakistani airports vs international airports: Which is worse?

I’ve been sniffed by dogs, asked to remove my shoes, been randomly radio tested for explosives, questioned by immigration officers and the list goes on. After travelling  to 26 countries, I have realised that being a Pakistani is not easy when it comes to airport immigration and security clearance. I imagined that at least in a Pakistani airport, I would have some respite. But I was so wrong. My worst airport experience was at Karachi’s own Quaid-e-Azam International airport a few weeks ago. I reached the airport at 9pm to catch an 11pm flight and felt dismayed that I would be bored at the ...

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Do you think I look like a terrorist?

It was a scorching Saturday afternoon and I was supposed to be at cricket practice for my office team. As I waited in the heat for a colleague to pick me up I looked around for some shade. Incidentally, there was a tree nearby where a ranger’s van was parked. I thought I would kill two birds with one stone -get some shade and protection from mobile snatchers. I moved under the tree and stood beside the van, chewing gum. Ten minutes later, my colleague was late and I was still waiting. Suddenly, a ranger came up to me and said: “Maulvi sahib, ...

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