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Tragedy waiting to happen

By Ikram Sehgal

While thankfully Imran Khan’s injury was not life threatening, it has immobilized him for the time being. One should be grateful that it was an accident rather than a security incident.

However security guards were involved, therefore one must look at all the aspects of personal protection afresh, particularly when it involves the security and safety of important persons. There are a lot of books and material about security protection, unfortunately most of these are written by those who have learnt their security as a subject in a classroom and have never put theory into practice. While personal protection is a specialised subject, security professionals are very reluctant to disclose details about the nature and modus operandi of their job mostly because of the confidential nature of their business; at most times they are prevented by law and the rules governing their employment.

Even when they are able to disclose incidents, all the details will never be fully articulated. This is mostly to protect the sources of information and the operational methods so that the bad guys cannot use the knowledge to penetrate the existing and future security cordons. There is always temptation to give the details to justify oneself on occasions when one’s reputation is at stake but the interests of the institution, and more than that, the interests of the country, restrains divulging that confidential information. It was therefore very refreshing to read “Taking up the Sword”, a book written by Randall Bennett from the US Diplomatic Source, Randall Bennett spent many years as Head of Security in US Chanceries abroad, his most important assignments in critical areas being Regional Security Officer (RSO) at Karachi, then Senior RSO at Baghdad before being transferred as Senior RSO Islamabad. One of the finest Special Agents in a service which is far above par than others in the US, one is privileged to know Randall Bennett personally, so his book was of great interest to me.

However one has to read between the lines to get some of the operational details. After the Oct 18, 2007 blast, Randall Bennett was tasked to give advice on security cover to Ms Benazir (at her request), he says “Not only did I not have resources sufficient to properly protect her, but her stubbornness to listen to guidance that was for her own good, and her ego, that led her to a blindness to any danger, would mean that if I took the advisory job, it would be a lose-lose venture, because at some time, her abstinence and refusal to listen to the security professionals would mean that she would be killed.

The U.S. could not be a part of that kind of scenario. If she continued to behave the way she was, and remained surrounded by ill-prepared and questionable loyalty thugs, and also kept the police from doing their jobs, it was only a matter of time before she would be assassinated. That was a simple fact in Pakistan”. To quote further from his book, “Her (Ms Benazir’s) husband Zardari, took over security and hired thugs he had served time in prison with to run her protective security. Protective Security is an art and a science. Special Agents train for years to be professionals who can protect the President, VP, or in our case, the Secretary of State, most foreign dignitaries visiting the U.S. as well as our Senators and Congresspersons when they travel into foreign countries. These thugs had no training and worse, no understanding of what protection was all about. It made one a bit suspicious about the motive and actual level of concern for Bhutto’s safety to allow untrained criminals to protect such a vital asset and prime target”.To quote my article “Learning Security Lessons” of 10 Jan 2008, “Mr. Asif Zardari made a remark in passing about his selection of guards in the inner cordon around Ms Benazir from among his former prison-mates; this was shocking. Irrespective of the personal loyalty he built up among his fellow prisoners, and irrespective of whether the person was innocent or guilty of the crime that put him in jail, nowhere in the world would those having a criminal record be allowed near a security detail. Armoured vehicles do not have sunroofs, why did her armoured car have a sunroof? Why did the company in Dubai, entrusted with armouring the vehicle, put in the sun-roof; or was this done at the express instructions of someone in Karachi? Addressing conspiracy theories, why not question the person or persons who insisted on the sunroof being installed? In a rush of adrenaline, Ms Benazir spontaneously popped out through the sunroof to acknowledge her admiring followers. She always reacted to adoring crowds and was difficult to keep in check, all the more reason to ensure that she was not given such an opportunity”.Randall Bennett say, “I told them (Ms Benazir aides) about the weaknesses I had witnessed on Zardaris thug patrol, including how they watched Benazir instead of the crowd, which allowed the terrorists to get right up next to their target to act. Their focus was simply backwards.

Leaving a meeting in the early evening, she was progressing in her vehicle very slowly through the huge crowd that had gathered to see her and she was standing in her socks on the seat, through the hatch, waving to everyone. The idiot bodyguards were as usual watching her and not the potential enemy when a man standing 20 feet from the car pulled a gun and had the time to fire two shots at her from an awkward and unprofessional one-handed stance. No one doing protection fired a shot back. He should have been dead the second he reached for his weapon and metal was detected in his hand. The inept ex-conbodyguards dove for cover”. On Oct 25, 2007 two months before Ms Benazir’s assassination I had analyzed the Oct 18 Bhutto blast, to quote”, ruthlessness and terrorism go together, there is no consideration for human life, in ones or twos or even dozens. In the business of spreading fear, the more killed and maimed accomplishes terrorists’ primary objective. While one is grateful that Ms Benazir escaped unscathed, Rahman Malik stating on national television that “human shields” were her prime protection was extremely insensitive and reflects the intelligentsia’s fear that Ms Bhutto is surrounded by callous aides with a reputation for “dirty tricks”, with no qualms about sacrificing lives (human shields indeed!) as long as it is not theirs. Hopefully the blood of those killed and the sufferings of those injured will not be in vain, and lessons will have been learnt about the mostly South Asian political practice (and culture) of rallies and processions”. It is clear from analyzing the latest terrorist attacks and the Imran Khan incident, which thankfully was an accident but nonetheless a security lapse, no real lessons have been learnt.

The common concept of security in Pakistan is that it is manpower-oriented. Nothing is further from truth that, however our armchair know-it-all experts persist in that conviction. The most ridiculous sight on the roads is to see the long motorcades of VIPs accompanied by dozen of guards brandishing weapons in every direction conceivable. To quote further from my article, “Learning security lessons”, “Ms Benazir paid with her life for being loyal beyond reason to her political aides, but the so-called “security experts” (none of whom have any credible security credentials) criminally let her down.

The security management of any popular charismatic leader is always going to be difficult, all the more reason why she should have been counselled and protected by security professionals. Oversight by political appointees notwithstanding, for their own selfish interests, her aides kept her cocooned from good security advice. Any VIP’s life depends upon his (or her) listening without debate to the express instructions of a professional head of the security detail, someone with adequate training, expertise and experience.” Imran Khan is today lying injured, fortunate not to be dead, because his security is not really in the hands of security professionals.

And if they are security professionals, one would like to know what criteria was used to select security guards who clambered onto this forklift that tilted because of the imbalance created?

The question is, while the vast majority of the people who love Imran are praying for his life, who are the people who only give lip-service to this loyalty? Amateurs cannot do the job of professionals, and if they do try, than a tragedy is only waiting to happen.

All our leaders must make a special prayer, “Almighty, please do protect me from my enemies, but more importantly, Almighty, please also save me from my friends!”

Courtesy Daily Times\05\26\story_26-5-2013_pg7_9

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