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Karachi's elite go bombproof

KARACHI: As an unprecedented wave of killings and kidnappings hits Karachi, the Pakistani city's elite are splashing out the cash to have their luxury cars made bomb and bulletproof.

The sprawling metropolis of 18 million people on the Arabian Sea is Pakistan's economic heart, with ranks of factories, import-export wheeler-dealers and slick bankers.

But it is also the crucible of the country's worst excesses of violence, criminality and inequality.

Bloody gang wars fed by ethnic and political bitterness, drugs and the Taliban have created a culture of impunity under the stunned gaze of police.

The past two years have seen record death tolls. In the first six months of 2013, 1,726 people were killed in Karachi compared with a previous high of 1,215 in the same period last year, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

In 2012, nearly 130 people were kidnapped in Karachi -- another record -- according to the Citizens-Police Liaison Committee.

Like many successful businessmen in the city, Nadeem Khan, who owns pharmaceutical labs and marble workshops, feels threatened and has no faith in the ability of the authorities to protect him.

“Karachi is more dangerous than Kabul. We have police here and we have Rangers (paramilitary) here but they won't lay a hand on the criminals,” he told AFP.

“So the people are compelled to have themselves secured by having their own personal bodyguards and armoured vehicles.”

The epidemic of killings and kidnappings shows no sign of slowing, so those who can afford it are kitting their cars out with windows that can stop an AK-47 bullet and chassis that will survive a bomb attack.

Khan recently armoured two of his 4x4s and is waiting for two more to be completed for his father and brother.

“I got threats many times. I am the head of the law and order committee of the Korangi Industrial Area and there are so many dacoits (bandits) and robbers there,” he said.

“There are bhatta (extortion) groups -- they always hurl threats on the phone.”

These are worrying times for Karachi's rich but boom times for companies such as Streit, which armours vehicles.

Khalid Yousaf, head of Streit Pakistan, says business has doubled since they started work in December.

In a spotless workshop with a polished concrete floor set amid the city's carpet of dust, a team of Streit mechanics work on a dozen stripped-down 4x4s.

The hulking Toyota Land Cruisers are no more than skeletons: an engine, wheels and chassis with no bodywork, doors or seats.

The mechanics insert thick metal plates, laser-cut for a precise fit, into the doors, reinforce the floor, fit bulletproof windows, protect the battery with a metal cage and beef up the suspension to cope with the extra tonne of steel and glass that has been added.

All this costs anything between $30,000 and $45,000, said Yousaf -- an incomprehensibly huge sum for most Pakistanis. But the rich are happy to pay for peace of mind, and the armourers' business is booming.

“We were expecting at the beginning to armour three to four cars per month, but initially in the first months and onward we had seven cars, then 10,” he told AFP.

“Now we are around 15 cars per month. Maybe it is going to increase even more.”

Discretion is a valued commodity in the armoured car business and other firms were reluctant to discuss business on the record, but several spoken to by AFP confirmed that orders were on the rise.

“Before, we were watching movies where in Mexico or South America people were roaming in armoured vehicles,” one salesman told AFP.

“We were amazed to know why they were doing this, but now it is happening here in Pakistan -- rich and famous people are asking for their safety and are moving around in armoured vehicles.”

Media executive Saif -- not his real name -- said many in Karachi had felt the kidnap threat get closer and closer in recent years.

“Previously, it was three or four degrees of separation. It's now one degree of separation away,” he told AFP.

“When it is people you know, that means you have to make the blanket assumption that it will happen to you.

“It's not a matter of whether it will -- it will. It's just a matter of are you protected enough?”

And an armour-plated skin is no guarantee of safety in Karachi -- last month Bilal Shaikh, a security chief for President Asif Ali Zardari was driving in his armoured car when he was attacked.

His driver opened the door and a suicide bomber threw himself into the car before blowing himself up, killing Shaikh instantly.

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Comments (30) Closed

Umer Enam
Aug 19, 2013 05:06pm

Its not a good way to spend hard earnings of our tax payers or corruption money.

Aug 19, 2013 06:19pm

The Affluent one can be in their bullets or bomb proof cars with the hope that they may survive

Aug 19, 2013 06:56pm

Necessity is the mother of invention.

Aug 19, 2013 07:15pm

If this elite actually put real pressure on government to act which they can and never do it as they collaborate with them for business interests in common, things will never improve with this unless the root cause and these lunatics protected by political parties are rooted out from Karachi and all other major cities. These bullet proof cars will never create a real sense of security!

Aug 19, 2013 07:41pm

How entrepreneurial! Trust South Asians to come up with business ideas to capitalize on adversity!

It's amazing how the rich anywhere can be insulated from everything.

Aug 19, 2013 09:04pm

Not to rain on your parade but armor piercing bullets are much cheaper than you would imagine.

Sher Khan
Aug 19, 2013 11:41pm

We all also need a Bilawal house or Shareefs farm house.

Aug 20, 2013 02:51am

Rich people always backbone of country. But in Pakistan if someone get rich he lives in burden. These people need protection. Great job Khalid .Factory look clean and worker professional.

Aug 20, 2013 07:14am

welcome to the Mexico City version of Asia ...

Aug 20, 2013 07:25am

What a way to cope with destruction, rather than improving law and order situation, we are bracing for more terrorism.

Asad hussain
Aug 20, 2013 07:36am

Umer Enam hasn't understood the concept of the article of armoured vehicles. If one has the means to safeguard theirselves and their family by purchasing armoured vehicles at their own expense why not. Would you rather get blown or shot? If the so called law and order of the country can't or won't protect it's citizens then they have to fend for theirselves. The security forces should get their head out of the sand and take action and not just say words with no substance.

Aug 20, 2013 08:11am

@Umer Enam: Do you not believe in Trickle down economy??

Aug 20, 2013 11:55am

Agree with you Umer... and its not a permanent solution. The people who are getting themselves protected should use thier money in lobbying for an able Government that can bring peace to the city. So far only Ms. Benzir Bhutto had the will and guts to curb these terrorists, but unfortunately her party will never have a leader like her or her father again.

Aug 20, 2013 12:37pm

There is no such thing as Bullet or Bomb "Proof" actually it is "Resistant". Secondly the weight of armoured plating not only effects the suspension but also Engine and its engine performance.

Aug 20, 2013 01:28pm

@Shakil: I agree, Scrutiny, pressure, demands, threats cannot turn trash into gold. Government officials and employees at every level are incompetent. All of us who have ever interacted with any department of the government know that. Even if they intended to bring peace and security, they couldn't. They need to be replaced.

Unfortunately, the competent ones do not dream of extorting bribes, and sleeping peacefully on the governement's secure job. Instead, they dream of immigration........ The precious metal mines of australia, the oil sands of canada etc.

Aug 20, 2013 03:15pm

its seems more like status symbol now, hottest trend in automotive market started from corrupted politicians and moving towards business community.

Aug 20, 2013 05:22pm

Pakistan is on the verge of industrialization. Abbas Toronto's words are turning out to be true:)

Aug 20, 2013 08:05pm

Jo jaisa karta hai uska waisa hi anjam hota hai !

Aadil Awan
Aug 20, 2013 10:36pm

Brazil, Venezuela and now Pakistan...The rich will do anything and everything to safeguard their interests. If we have an equitable distribution of wealth, we probably wouldn't be facing this dilemma. Instead of building walls around their castles and having bullet proof cars, the rich should invest in the communities they live in and use their money to lobby reforms for the betterment of society! Easier said than done... but at least someone is saying!

Aug 20, 2013 10:40pm

Don't people know that when it is time for one to go, they will go! It seems death scares the rich - and yet, it is just a continuing process - which all of us go through. They can run - but they can't hide. Death will ultimately catch up to you.

Bin Adam
Aug 21, 2013 02:27am

In spite of all the extra protection, luxuries and affluence still majority of the affluents live with round the clock fear and worries. But those of non-privileged majority with no home or shelter of their own and hardly affording a few pairs of ordinary dress and 2 times simplest meal been leading a fearless and peaceful life and with sweet sleep, some even under the open sky. This is a great blessing of God to the poors specially in this crucial age.

Aug 21, 2013 05:39am

Typical reaction of elite of a country which is on verge of destruction. These sand castles on the beach are not the solution, but the short sightedness of the elite of this country is beyond comprehension. Nobody seems interested in taking on the problem of Law and order all we hear is no more than eye wash from all centers of power.

Ferhan Syed
Aug 21, 2013 11:51am

These fortunate few who concentrated wealth and power by evading taxes, stealing electricity and gas, and not paying fair compensation to their employees, are now being threatened by criminal minded have-nots. You reap what you sow!

Akhter Husain
Aug 21, 2013 01:16pm

The Talibans and their suicide bombers seems to be a blessing in disguise for enterprising worksmen and traders.Good luck for new avenues for earnings.

Aug 21, 2013 01:23pm

I am shocked at the misleading title of this article, for starters the vehicles in this "workshop" appear to be B4 type and at maximum would be B6 = Level III protection which can be penetrated using armour penetrating rounds from a large calibre rifle.

Hence they are in no way shape or form "Bomb Proof", even T8 armoured vehicles designed to stop multiple hits from armour penetrating rounds are not "bomb proof". As unfortunately experienced by Coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan a home made EFP: Explosively formed projectile can easily penetrate armour plating upto 2" thick.

These vehicles are part of a security solution and not the be all and end all of personal security, good security starts with practising good situational awareness, maintaining a low profile and not walking down saddar flashing your latest iPhone 5 and Hublot Wristwatches.

People are spending $35/40K on these vehicles, however what they fail to understand is that a large suped up, hulking armoured SUV is about as security conscious as wearing a banner saying "I'm loaded, follow me home and strike it rich".

Yes many people say security is the state's responsibility and to a large degree they are correct, however as Maslow's Hierarchy of needs teaches us, Security is one of the fundamental human needs along companionship and food, water, clothing and shelter. So ultimately it falls back on the individual to maintain a security posture that they can afford appropriate to their means.

Simple things like reading newspapers and keeping upto date on foreign delegation movements, visiting politicians, reading up on crime reports in your area, when going to work swapping your smart phone for a cheap disposable cell, carrying a "throw down" wallet with a limited amount of cash, make a habit of swapping your chopard for a casio, when nipping out of the office for a walk, leave your jacket on your chair and dress down, make yourself a less attractive target.

Stay alert and stop plugging earphones into your ears, with music playing so loud that you are aloof to the world around you. Manage your digital foot print, be careful what you share, who you add on FB and who follows you on Twitter, as they say in the military "loose lips sink ships".

Sorry if i ranted on, but i read reports like this and it makes my blood boil. Security is all about common sense, as the saying goes if you break the word Security down it spells: sec U R IT y.

Stay frosty, stay safe.

J. Ahmed
Aug 21, 2013 01:37pm

Next turn is to build a bunker...just like our president has done in Lahore. Every businessman will start giving orders to Riaz Malik and associates to build bunkers near their case the ransom collectors come to collect money or throw hand grenades...By the way, we should get an advice how much it will cost minimum ?

Best way is to replace these politicians or jugglers and bring those who really have some strategy to bring peace in this country.

Mudassir Hussain
Aug 21, 2013 02:16pm

So, the companies like Streit are among the beneficiaries of all the terrorism & lawlessness!

Aug 21, 2013 02:42pm

Why dont Karachi elite put some efforts on removing terrorism as well? If muslim people are so interested in action and fights, guns, bombs why dont they dedicate themselves in saving human life or do something constructive? Or do they think that they are only religion correct in this world and eveybody else is a bullshit.

Aug 21, 2013 05:26pm

Oh What happen with Bilal Sheikh's Bulletproof truck...

Aug 22, 2013 04:39am

Don't people know that when it is time for one to go, they will go! It seems death scares the rich - and yet, it is just a continuing process - which all of us go through. They can run - but they can't hide. Death will ultimately catch up to you