Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Lack of confidence

With bombs exploding almost daily, Pakistanis are united at the very least in their concern for their safety. How does one stop the terrorists from striking? Surely additional police security and random checking of vehicles seem like appropriate measures. We can all bear the nuisance of worse traffic jams if it means that the police will prevent more bombs from going off. At least, that was my opinion till very recently.

Now, ever since the Marriott blast, security has been tightened in Karachi, but not, it seems, to protect the public. The roads in front of the Governor House and Bilawal House have been barricaded causing major inconvenience to commuters but not really protecting the public as such. It seems like we are keeping up our end of the bargain and the government is not.

Then there are the hordes of policemen stationed at every corner. They often pull commuters over for 'random' checks, but in my experience most of the people pulled over have been motorcyclists, who serve as easy targets. The policemen always wear this smarmy grin on their faces, like they cannot wait to harrass the next person and get their next hundred rupee bribe.

How can we, the public, entrust the police with extra powers to search us, when for 61 years the public and the police have had an antagonistic relationship. The police has always taken advantage of its position of power, taking bribes, arresting people at will, refusing to register FIRs and executing people in "shootouts". How are we today to trust them not to abuse the additional powers we give them to protect us from the terrorists.

It seems to me to be a Catch-22. Do not give power to the police and face the terrorists unprotected or give them power and be victimized by the police. Either way the public suffers and the poor and powerless more so than the rich. The police always avoid harrassing the powerful and the terrorists, in attacking crowded places, always disproportionately kill the poor.

The western countries have faced a similar dilemma and have mostly chosen to surrender their liberties to the state to protect them against the terrorists. Take for example America's Patriot Act, which allows intelligence agencies to access email, telephone, financial and medical records more easily. But where citizens of those countries can trust their own institutions, we cannot say the same for our institutions.

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