Value of life

Though our security forces did whatever they could in their own areas, a coordinated approach and the teamwork required in this hour of crisis was totally missing both at the national and provincial level

Value of life

You are better off dead than alive. This is the state of despondency prevailing in the country. Instead of law and order that is a basic human right, we face lawlessness and disorder where in our houses, on the streets, or at airports your chances of coming out safe and sound may just be a toss of the coin. Sometimes it is on the busiest road of Islamabad and sometimes it is the busiest airport of Pakistan in Karachi that we witness a bunch of hooligans walking past all security and taking the whole country hostage. The state is responsible for providing this security but it seems that the state is too busy securing itself to really focus on what is happening to the security of its people. When the new government came in there was huge fanfare of making security a top priority. After a period of time we finally got to see an NISP, i.e. National Internal Security Policy that turned out to be less of a policy and more of a collation of various agencies of intelligence and counterterrorism somehow cooperating with each other with an expectation of good things following. The name itself, i.e. ‘National Internal Security Policy’, is a misnomer as according to our understanding, foreign hands of all sorts are involved in these attacks. From India to Afghanistan and from Saudi Arabia to the US, there are recognised vested interest groups trying to destabilise our country. Therefore how can we make an internal security policy without taking into account the foreign policy angles and international relations?

National security is not just a matter of strengthening your intelligence agencies and training your armed and police forces, but a much bigger and broader concept. A comprehensive national security policy integrates economic security, political security, energy security and environmental security. If any of these factors are missing, insecurity will sooner or later ensue. This perhaps is the biggest reason why no government has been able to really go beyond a stopgap, lull-before-the-storm approach to providing peace and security. Economic insecurity caused due to political incompetence normally leads to accumulation of wealth in a few hands with the vast majority getting more and more impoverished. In the last ten years in Pakistan the figure for the population that lives below the poverty line has jumped from 40 percent to 60 percent. That means 120 million people living on less than two dollars a day. This is a huge pipeline of able-bodied people with the aspiration of living a decent life, but living in conditions worse than animals. These are people who crave a decent meal, yearn for a roof over their heads, and are dying to have access to education and employment. These are the people whose desperate fight for survival every day is contrasted by the super-luxuriant indulgence of the over-endowed few whom they see every day spending on their dogs and pets more than these people can spend on their children. These are the people whose existence becomes so mundane and meaningless that anybody and anything that takes them out of this physical and mental misery becomes an escape, a purpose, a relief. Expecting such desperate and ill exposed minds to really think of the consequences of taking the law into their own hands is asking for a bit too much.

An unjust and unequal society will always be a security hazard. The recent incident at Karachi airport, especially the deaths of seven people trapped in a cold storage that became a burning inferno is a ghastly tragedy. As usual we will all cry for a few days and then wait till a bigger disaster happens to divert our attention. Who is responsible for this unbelievable criminal negligence is subject to the typical blame game without any culprits being caught and punished. Though our security forces did whatever they could in their own areas, a coordinated approach and the teamwork required in this hour of crisis was totally missing both at the national and provincial level and between aviation security and Rangers, etc. This is where a united and committed leadership that could blend them all into a team was found lacking. This is where the politicisation of many of these institutions has created a senseless lack of ownership. This is when people who are appointed on the basis of their loyalty to their appointers rather than loyalty to their institution create disengaged and unmotivated leadership at all levels. This is where over-security of jobs not based on performance leads to insecurity and inconsistency of performance; and this is when a lot of activity may happen but results remain a far cry from what they should be. In this crumbling of security, of institutions — of values — the value of life has become so depreciated that it is almost expendable.

Instead of catching the culprits, typically a commission is appointed to investigate an incident, which produces a document that becomes a report that is filed and forgotten. What the government does more quickly and effectively is to lay a price on the dead bodies and announce compensation for the families: the more bizarre the death, the more the media hype, the higher the value of the deceased. Security thus is not a standalone issue that can be solved with force and resource. It is not a cause but an effect of governance, of competence, of vigilance. These are attributes that only come when societies mature and become aware of the value of making themselves and their leaders accountable to systems and laws. Systems that do not operate independent of individual whims are bound to be abused and misused and thus in times of trouble often fail to hold up. At all levels within the institutions, the need to do away with personality cults is essential. When institutions embrace a performance culture, they provide the sustainability and security that has become such an endangered species in our institutional environment.


The writer is an analyst and columnist and can be reached at