SECURITY guards’ involvement in the looting on Monday of a van carrying cash is not the first case of its kind in Karachi or in other Pakistani cities. As in many such cases the crime was committed with commando-style precision: two motorcyclists trailed the van that belonged to a currency exchange company; the guards-turned-robbers inside the vehicle had it stopped at a given point, held the manager inside the van hostage, transferred the loot, estimated at over Rs10m, to those on motorcycles and all four vanished. A few hours later, gunmen robbed a bank at Gulistan-i-Jauhar, killed a security guard, injured another and decamped with Rs3.6 million. While in one case, the security guards turned criminals, in the other they were the victims. This highlights the dilemma the authorities face, because private guards generally now outnumber the police and are very much needed. A wholesale denunciation of all security guards and their employers would be unfair, because quite often those on duty fight back and get killed, and their sacrifice needs recognition. The issue is how to eliminate the black sheep among the tens of thousands of uniformed security guards throughout the country and make security at banks and other enterprises foolproof. We also know that many security agencies are not very meticulous in following government regulations.
Most security agencies stand registered with the government, but merely screening the employers is not enough; what is needed is the vetting of every single candidate through a system that is modern and comprehensive and not confined to routine police verification since that can be managed easily, especially in the rural areas. Nor should verification be a one-time affair. Given the extent of organised crime with suspected links to terrorism, all security guards need to be vetted yearly to guard against a possible change in outlook. Further, every person performing guard duties and carrying arms should be readily identifiable as such. Regrettably, instances are growing where gunmen in mufti accompany certain persons. This is an affront to citizens, to say nothing of being openly threatening. The government must ensure that all private guards don uniforms.