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Plan to engage private guards for polling day security

April 14, 2013

A policeman and a private security gaurd sitting on chairs on footpath along Burns Road chit-chatting on Saturday. —White star
A policeman and a private security gaurd sitting on chairs on footpath along Burns Road chit-chatting on Saturday. —White star

KARACHI: The Sindh government has decided to engage private guards for the day of polling under a ‘security plan’ for the 2013 general elections in a move that may surprise a majority of the contesting parties whose consistent demand for deployment of army troops inside polling stations does not seem to be materialized, it emerged on Saturday.

A top official said the decision in this regard had ‘formally’ been made and only modalities needed to be worked out in consultation with the provincial security administration and private security companies.

Private security guards were likely to fill a gap between the available and required number of security personnel of Rangers, Frontier Constabulary and police, he said.

“On polling day, we need nearly 90,000 security officials,” said Sharfuddin Memon, special assistant to the caretaker Chief Minister of Sindh.

“And we have available force of around 67,000 officials of police, Rangers and Frontier Constabulary. So there is a plan in place to bridge the gap with the help of private security guards.”

He said it was too early to share the exact number of private security guards needed for more than 4,000 polling stations across the province where almost half of them had already been declared ‘sensitive’.

Talks with the private security agencies were on, he said, which were likely to be finalised within the next few days.

The move by the provincial government may satisfy the caretaker setup in terms of measures it had promised to ensure ‘free, fair and peaceful elections’ but effectiveness of such measures remains doubtful considering the past performance of private security guards hired by commercial banks and other business facilities.

Since the beginning of the year, the city has already witnessed eight bank and cash van robberies and police investigators said that private security guards were involved in five out of the eight robbery cases registered during the past four months.

However, it was a rare and daring show of resistance last month in Orangi Town that three private security guards challenged robbers and laid down their lives in the line of duty forcing nearly one dozen armed men to run away with only Rs400,000 out of Rs8 million available in the cash van.

The private security companies, which definitely see an opportunity approaching as security fears looming mainly in Karachi demand tightened arrangements, defend their history and claim to have been enjoying all due skills, capacity and resources to handle the situation on the day of polling.

“We even assisted the law-enforcement agencies in the 2002 and 2008 polls,” said retired colonel Tauqeer-ul-Islam of the All Pakistan Security Agencies Association.

“But we had done that voluntarily and had not charged anything. There is a proposal for the 2013 elections as well but it’s premature to comment or share details of this year’s plan.”

“We have been invited by the officials concerned to discuss the subject and only after that we will be able to share anything important.”

He said the companies registered with the association had a total strength of more than 50,000 security guards, which could be enough considering the requirement of the Sindh government.

Responding to a question, he sounded confident that the private security guards were capable of facing any situation, particularly one relating to polling day violence that is largely sparked on political grounds, and also handle threat of terrorism.

But he added, “Our guards are not armed for that kind of service.”

Colonel Islam then reiterated, “We are still not aware that how many guards they [the Sindh government] need and where they want to deploy them.

Things may get clearer in a day or two.”