Pakistan’s fear of a local security check-post

Published: October 28, 2014

The trust deficit between the average person and a security official is enormous, and in need of immediate attention. PHOTO: AFP

Last month, Sajid, an engineering student from the University of Engineering and Technology, was shot in the head by a Frontier Constabulary (FC) constable. Different sources obviously claim different versions of the story. The security officials, however, have stated that Sajid refused to stop at the security check post after being flagged down repeatedly. The real story will only be revealed when an impartial investigation into the incident is conducted.

Putting the validity of the versions aside, what concerns me today is the important ‘issue’, a daily ritual might I add, of passing through security check posts in the country. What is baffling is the fact that after more than a decade of fighting militancy and insurgencies, and the subsequent law and order situation, we are still unable to devise a proper modus operandi and protocols for security check posts.

Considering where we live, and the circumstances under which our security personnel operate, it is ignorance and a blatant disregard of law that are demonstrated by those who do not stop when required. Security check posts are placed for public-safety purposes and in this day and age, behaviour that is even remotely out of the ordinary is seen as a threat and potential danger. Fleeing from a security check-post is imbecilic and pointlessly raises suspicions. If the person fleeing somehow manages to succeed in kidnapping a victim, it is these security officials who will be blamed for being incompetent. And if they obey orders to shoot when they see a potential threat, it is the same security officials to be blamed for being inconsiderate. A clear case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

On the other hand, it is grossly unfair for a citizen of this country to fear death in case he or she fails to stop at a security post. Saying that the officials are only doing their duty would be extremely understated. To say that is to say, ‘Oh he broke the traffic signal, shoot him!’, only to realise that the driver had in fact accidentally overlooked the timeframe at the traffic light. As a citizen of an independent country, it is unfair to warrant death for small deviances such as these.

Being a country embroiled in war, security breaches are expected, but with this breach there is also an equal reaction expected. In my opinion, this time calls for a certain level of maturity from both our security personnel, who seem to be trigger happy, and our citizens, who love playing the role of Evil Knievel. The law is there to govern both sides, but if both sides choose to blatantly disregard its importance, then its effect also gets cancelled out; you broke the law and I broke the law to prevent you from breaking the law.

As complex a dilemma as it may seem, the rest of the world seems to have cracked the code a long time ago and have come up with a relatively efficient, your-life-is-spared, kind of system to cope with such situations. What is disappointing, however, is that Pakistan is still struggling with traffic signals; security checks are another league altogether.

Small things like obeying traffic rules, giving the indicator before switching lanes, not blowing the horn like an imbecile, not stopping in the middle of a crowded road, being considerate of the people around you and cooperating with security officials are just small steps we, as citizens, can start taking. It is highly upsetting and discouraging for a person to come across a news story everyday stating another member of our youth has been killed by our very own security forces for something as stupid as not stopping at a check post! It makes our forces seem demonic and our citizens delinquent. The trust deficit between the average person and a security official is enormous, and in need of immediate attention.

For security officials, there are many ways to grab the attention of a person driving a vehicle. Shooting in the air as a first warning and then, perhaps, shooting at the wheel of the vehicle to slow the person down should be seen as first options rather than shooting the driver directly in the head! Another way in which I believe this conundrum can be tackled by our officials is to place many check posts within a particular vicinity and coordinate with one another when someone flees the first.

It is a complex conundrum and a dilemma of sorts without any doubt. There is a delicate balance between the ground realities in which Pakistan finds itself and the value of innocent human lives. But then one asks – isn’t it the government’s responsibility to brainstorm and devise certain mechanisms to avoid such collateral damages as much as they can?

Initial steps such as bringing uniformity in the security rules across the country and cognising citizens about them via various communication tools would be a good welcoming start. The citizens cannot be left clueless and confused about a plethora of security standards that they have to follow in these various situations – which until that day they were not even aware existed! Our forces need to take the added responsibility of taking the citizens into confidence and gaining their trust – treating everyone like a terrorist is not an option. Stop those who seem unaware and explain the rules, explain why you are standing where you are standing, why you are performing this check. Help them help you, make them feel safe enough to stop without thinking it is just another bribe-hungry official waiting to tear into their wallets!

Only when mutual respect and maturity is established on both sides, only when uniform laws and policies are used will the ‘fear of a security check-post’ subside. Lives are not available for a dime a dozen – these are real people and each loss of an innocent life is a loss of the country. Until we learn to value and respect human lives, ours and theirs, we will not be able to coexist peacefully. And if there is yet a loss of lives, then we are to be blamed – you, me and them!

Fahad Ur Rehman

Fahad Ur Rehman

A freelance writer and a teacher based in Peshawar, belonging to the Tribal FR Lakki. He is also a student of International Relations and Public Policy at SZABIST Islamabad.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Oats

    When will people understand that security check posts are for their own good? If some criminal or terrorist slips past, they complain about lax security but when they are stopped to be searched or checked, they expect to pass through like some VIP. When will people realize that until everyone submits to the same screening and checks, only then there can be safety? I feel sorry for the security forces who have to deal with common citizens and their attitudes. I have seen how members of my own family have been disrespectful and rude to police, FC and others who question them in a routine manner at check posts. Until we all learn that we all have responsibilities as citizens, people will keep trying to behave like VIPs and society will be unjust. Of course I feel sorry for a student who was shot but I can’t imagine any security person in Pakistan shooting someone for no reason because their career would be on the line.Recommend

  • Dream Enigmatic

    This is a very important issue that is one of the factor that has drained all the mental health from the nation. Our security setup seriously needs to devise some smart approaches specially when dealing with ordinary masses.Recommend

  • Fatima Khan

    Good job. Exceptionally well written, contained and sound practical piece of work. you discussed various points which should be highlighted and are quite thought provoking.
    Thank you and please keep these good articles coming. Looking forward to reading your next informative work.Recommend

  • pakZero

    The blog writer seems so understanding of the security check post guards killing an innocent young pakistani muslim man for not slowing down.
    Here is the question for the author, detach yourself from the event. Imagine a different scenario where a kashmiri muslim in the valley (that has suffered from terrorists from a brotherly muslim country), does not decide to stop at a check post manned by Indian muslim soldier. What would be your first instinct? Burn tires and protest against ‘genocide’ of muslims in india by the evil hindus (even when the soldier was a muslim).Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    In any country where terrorism is rife and rampant the basic freedoms of its residents are severely curtailed.
    I am personally of the view that it falls on the residents to abide by the stricter rules. As far as the security personnel are concerned , they are strict believers in Murphy’s Law, therefore shoot first ask questions later is pretty much normal for them. They would rather have one innocent, albeit stupid, person injured, then 50 dead from a suicide attack.Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    well said. I agree with you 100%. Many civilians believe that the police is out to “get them”. Although the routine shakedown by the police at these check posts may have had a lot to do with fostering that opinion, but nevertheless, we have to start acting like responsible civilians.Recommend

  • Khan

    The security check posts may be vital in a country like Pakistan. I do support it, as the country needs to protect its citizens. However, I would like to add, and I can only speak of the check posts in Islamabad/RWP and NWFP. I have never had issues with check points in Punjab but as I travel a lot up north, being as I am from there and I travel to my house quite a bit.. I have noticed that the army check points there are just horrible! They are rude, and they question you, belittle you and show unnecessary force. One incident that has stayed with me is when I was traveling with my cousins, my car was following me. Army stopped us, checked everything in the car, accused us of not being family (I’m a girl, my cousins are boys), we had Red Bulls in the car they accused us of them being alcoholic beverages- made us stop, got us taken to the police station, and they got even angrier when my driver stopped behind us- accusing us of trying to show who we were! I was baffled, I have never felt so humiliated. They took our ID cards, at this point I had no choice but to involve my family because it is humiliating and would have been tarnishing to my family’s reputation to have been arrested in my own village, where I do come from a very respectable family. I have never in my life felt so helpless especially because we didn’t do anything wrong. I respect all authority, and I treat everyone with respect but that day all of that respect was gone for how we were treated, without doing anything.Recommend

  • Renaissance

    Yes as the writer himself has clearly stated that the problems lies on both sides. Security check posts are indeed necessary and abiding citizens in such a precarious law and order situation also a requisite but then both sides needs to raise their standards which at the moment we are lacking.

    If we are witnessing poor cocky attitudes from some occasions from citizens with the security personal, on the other hand there are a number of cases where security personal specially Police and other ill trained security personal treat decent citizens in a very harsh and bad manner.

    The writer has covered both the sides beautifully with well grounded arguments if you check the whole article. The situation can’t become good unless both sides of the coin do some deep soul searching.Recommend

  • Rumi Khan

    This issue has been the need of the hour. We are really sick of this security state systems. Look at the world around us. Its been more than a decade. We have to come with up smart new ideas, which are decent graceful and respectable for a democratic society.. This old draconian system is getting old now… Please devise new mechanism, a special appeal to the new leadership of Pak Army from whom we have many hopes and expectations… Destroy the terrorist and terrorism phenomena and finally give this gloomy nation some good air and healthy relief….Recommend

  • sadia

    I thnk its d mst imprtnt issue to b discussd nowadayz in our pak…n as a writer u did full justice vd ur wrds n thoughts…..very well written….such issues should b highlightd to deal vd d problmz on both d sides

  • Anna

    I Appreciate the way u have enlightened this issue ,its a real concern of our society ..And the measurements u have suggested are also quite Reasonable ..Thumbs Up (Y)Recommend

  • saad ur rehman

    reforms are needed in our counterterrorism policy on urgent basis…….Recommend

  • Sofi

    I think we need tazers and proper screening devices to counteract this.Recommend

  • Asma Rehman

    Simple, powerful n very well written.. Thumbs up!!Recommend

  • Arif Khan

    Unfortunately Pakistan was conceived as a welfare state but went on to become a defence state and this happens when you carry on with such policies. Its about time we realise our mistakes and start a debate on where we want Pakistan to be. On lines of Afghanistan or we really want it to prosper. There is no concept of human rights in Pakistan at all.Recommend

  • Xeric

    In a terror stricken Pakistan, you dont stop at a security checkpost, you’d get shot. It’s as simple as that. Discipline, which we as a Nation so direly lack is the keyword here.

    Oh BTW, in Free America, you’d even get shot if you moved your hands before a Police Officer could see them.Recommend