Security in Pakistan

January 17, 2011 Updated: January 17, 2011

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan—I received an email from my son’s preschool late one evening recently, informing the parent body that school would be closed the next day due to the assassination of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer.

The governor was shot by his own gunman while leaving a café after lunch on Jan. 4. The Punjab Elite Force guard who killed Taseer, fired two rounds of bullets, 40 of which hit the governor’s body. Witnesses say he died on the spot. The irony is that the governor had over a dozen guards there to protect him. The man who shot the governor said he did so because the governor was too outspoken about changing the blasphemy law.

That night I wondered what to say to my son when he asked why he did not have to go to school the next day. It made me think back to my own school days 35 years ago when the only reason my New York elementary school closed was for snowstorms. The neighborhood kids and I would spend the day outside playing, building snow forts, and laughing.

It made me think that things have gotten so bad in such a short time, with violence on the rise, and us looking to find security outside ourselves. Groups and individuals feel desperate and resort to blame and scapegoating others. We try to make our surroundings safe instead of getting to the root of our fears as parents, as a community, and as a nation.

A little over a year ago the same school my son goes to closed for almost 3 weeks after a suicide bomber blew himself up at a local university in Islamabad. The Islamic University with a student body of 17,000 was targeted in late October 2009. The bomber, disguised as a woman, blew himself up at the entrance to the women’s cafeteria. As a consequence all levels of educational institutes in the province of Punjab, both public and private, were required to close and upgrade their security to ensure the safety of students and staff.

My son’s kindergarten with a student population of about 150 and a staff of 15, made many security upgrades in those three weeks, including raising the walls around the school to six feet and adding barbed wire. Three extra personnel were added to take children between the front gate and their cars. The front gate itself was closed off to all but staff and parents. Extra security cameras were installed, and there was of course, also a fee increase for “security”.

The fronts of the majority of educational institutions look more like prisons than places to learn and grow, but alas this part of price we pay for a sense of security. I wonder however, what message this sends our children and how it affects all of us as people, as a country and as humans.

I remember hearing the sound of the bomb when it went off at the Islamic University that October. I was at work at the American School next to the Islamic University. In the three weeks that all other schools in Punjab were closed, we remained open because the American School in Islamabad has security second only to the US Embassy in Islamabad.

The front of the school looks like a maximum security prison with a watchtower, and eight-foot walls and barbed wire around the building. Two armed guards watch the entrance to the parking lot and you have to pass through a metal detector before you enter the school grounds. Plain-clothes police also patrol at odd times and government issued “Antiterrorist” vehicles with armed gunman patrol the roads outside the school at peak hours. Most parents feel very secure sending their children to the school but I sometimes think when that even with this much security, something could still happen, (like in the case of Governor Taseer).

In the five years that I worked for the American school I remember we closed only a couple of times; the longest was for a week after the Marriott Hotel bombing in late 2008. Although this hotel housed and was frequented by foreigners, almost all the 54 people killed that night were locals. Security was not very tight at the Marriott at that time; no one thought that a truck with a massive amount of explosives would be blown up directly outside. The blast set the building on fire and left an enormous 20-foot deep crater outside the hotel. The fire damaged the entrance and multiple rooms.

As a parent I do feel a greater sense of safety with all the “security” measures but after the governor’s murder, I have begun to wonder where our security really comes from? How can we predict and be prepared for the irrational/insane behaviors of a handful of extremists? I believe that a real sense of safety has to come from trusting something larger then oneself. As cliché as it may sound, I believe that in order to create peace, we have to find inner peace and then spread that around.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Masooma Haq
Masooma Haq began reporting for The Epoch Times from Pakistan in 2008. She currently covers a variety of topics including U.S. government, culture, and entertainment.