Grateful for your Service

IspahaniHangaratNightImage courtesy of Ertaza, Creative Commons. This is the Ispahani Hangar targeted by the terrorists.

My husband had an eight o’clock flight this morning that has understandably been delayed. The attack on Jinnah Airport has been horrific. We spent most of the night watching the attack unfold on TV and following feeds on Twitter that was trending #KarachiAirport globally.

More disturbing than the distressing images on TV were the tweets from India applauding the attack (they believe we deserve it) and the contemptuous deconstruction of security at the airport by Westerners (The Guardian ran live updates on their site, with tweets coming in from journalists on the ground and one or two stuck in the airport itself). It was comforting therefore, to see an equal number of prayers and good wishes coming from all corners, including from our non-hawk Indian neighbors.

For our critics and detractors, however, I’d like to put a few things in perspective.

Most Pakistanis are resigned to an equation that brings massive corruption in tow with every democratic government we have had in the last thirty years. Becoming a parliamentary representative in Pakistan does not require that a person work his or her way up, or have any political experience at all. Party tickets are sold, not distributed, for obscene amounts of money (not unlike the concept of buying an officer’s commission in the British Army at one time) or in return for favors (though favors will get you a bureaucratic or advisory position only). Anyone with 2-5 crore rupees (or $200,000 to half a million dollars) to spare may become a top party member, with a promise of a ministry or a significant position in government should the party win the seats. This is standard modus operandi for the two larger parties, PPP and PML-N, who have been sharing power for the twenty-some years of democracy we’ve had so far.

This means that I, a graphic designer and romance writer with no political experience, could conceivably become Pakistan’s Finance Minister if I pay the party enough money. Can you imagine a speedier way to destroy a nation?

These people, having forked over half their fortune for power, work very hard to recover this investment made into their future. With no oversight and equally corrupt courts, this is a piece of cake for our elite. On top of a salary, they get the perks and benefits of being a minister, which would include housing, cars, servants, free utilities, free travel (including their families) and often unlimited funds for ‘miscellaneous’ activities. The chief minister of Punjab, Shahbaz Sharif of the PML-N party, notoriously declared every residence he had (I believe there are three) official government spaces and allocated funds for their upkeep and maintenance from the public coffers (he’s often lauded by our media for his ‘good governance’ of the province—what a joke!). Similarly, the PPP prime minister, Yousuf Gillani, allocated Rs. 2m a month in the annual budget just for his gardening bill—it was a big garden—and defended this decision by suggesting that 2 million was a drop in the bucket compared to the total country budget.

To recoup their initial investment into the party (because their perks aren’t enough—their poor Swiss bank accounts need to be fed), funds allocated for public amenities, for schools, for police, for ambulances and public services are siphoned off into their pockets. By the time the funds actually arrive at their intended destination, they are severely depleted, because this is trickle-down corruption. If the boss takes a percentage, then so does every bureaucrat down the line. As a result, things like essential school, hospital and security equipment, training for police, paramedics, doctors, teachers, and general public amenities are more than under-funded—they’re anemic.

On top of this and particularly in relation to security, in a city of over 20 million people and with a police force of less than 24,000, political bigwigs demand police protection for real or perceived threats from ‘unknown assailants’. As a result, our entire commando division of the police (almost 9000-strong) is permanently deputed to baby-sitting duty. Their job is to move containers on to streets where these politicians live and block off public thoroughfares, to stand guard on a radius of 1-2 kilometers around their houses, and to while away their time by harassing residents who are unfortunate enough to live in the same vicinity as the protectees.

Is it any wonder that this country is plagued with terrorism?

Is it any wonder that security at our airports and seaport is not up to par?

With this backdrop, it’s astonishing that the attack on Karachi’s airport was wrapped up with such efficiency.

Karachi’s Jinnah Airport is relatively new. It was built less than 20 years ago at a distance of a few kilometers from the old airport. The old and new share runways, but the old terminal caters almost exclusively now to cargo planes, VVIP requirements (so that our politicians don’t have to mingle with the ordinary folk at Jinnah Terminal) and passengers going for Hajj. Hajj is several months away and no VVIPs were travelling out, so the terminal was empty aside from staff and airport security.

This was the terrorists’ entry point. Yes, they got in, but they never made it to the new terminal. They were cornered by fast-thinking airport security, several of whom lost their lives trying to contain the terrorists. The small contingent of our police force that hasn’t been relegated to baby-sitting duty reacted with admirable speed, as did ambulance services (private services) and fire-fighters. All were on the scene within an hour. They needed the army for the actual operation, because our police force has neither the equipment nor the training to counter terrorism in any form. And the army stepped up to the plate.

At the last update, while the major threat has been contained (all civilians have been removed from the vicinity, 18 terrorists neutralized), the army and rangers are still sweeping both terminals. It may take them the whole day, and the world may scoff and call them inefficient, over-confident, lax, incompetent, and a host of other unflattering names (because that’s what the world’s media does. Let’s not pretend otherwise), but Iknow that they’re doing an awesome job. I know that their hands are tied from every direction and they’re still managing to keep Pakistanis safe.

This is a public acknowledgement of their service to the nation.

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