For once, intelligence agencies timely informed jail authorities in DI Khan of a possible terrorist attack, but the latter ignored it and paid the price. In its wake, Benazir Bhutto International Airport (BBIA) authorities decided not to take any chances when they were warned of a possible attack on the capital’s only airport.
The magnitude of the threat was large. Airport Security Force (ASF) sources said the intelligence indicated that al Qaeda in collaboration with the Pakistani Taliban had planned to attack the airport. The threat needed to be taken seriously, which the aviation authorities did.
But what they came up with as a strategy to counter the threat was anything but sensible. They called in the army for help and locked down the entire facility, denying access to the public. No vehicle or individual except for passengers are allowed to enter the airport premises. Army vehicles patrol the area while the army and ASF have jointly set up posts inside the airport.
The current state of the airport suggests that the security forces have prepared themselves for a pitched battle with an unseen enemy. The lockdown is likely to continue indefinitely. So, by completely closing the parking lot down to the general public, do the authorities think they have fully secured the airport from any possible terrorist attack?
Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and ASF officials fear the airport is far from secure, as the key components necessary for the vital installation’s security have been missing for a long time.
Multiple security agencies are deployed at the airport to take care of various aspects of its security. They include the ASF, police, Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and Customs among others. To ensure that they work in unison, all security forces have been placed under the control of the airport manager. He is responsible for maintaining coordination between all agencies.
“Practically, there is no central authority at the airport. No security agency cares much for the airport manager. Everyone acts on their own,” said a CAA officer. He feared that in the event of a terrorist attack, the security forces deployed at the airport would not be able to put up a coordinated defense.
The airport manager has lodged multiple complaints about lapses in coordination with the relevant authorities.
Coming to infrastructure, the lack of a concrete boundary wall along the parking lot makes the airport more vulnerable to an attack. Its gates would not be able to resist any forced entry, the CAA officials fear.
One key component of security at the airport is monitoring and checking of vehicles with the help of closed-circuit television cameras and other equipment. Interestingly, there are only two officials deployed in the monitoring room set up at the airport to keep a check on suspicious activities around the airport spread over acres. Most of the cameras installed on driveways at entry points are out of order. These cameras scan the vehicles for bombs and explosives.
Moreover, visitors who come to see off or receive their relatives at the airport are being made to park their vehicles a few feet from the boundary of the airport’s parking lot in the dozens. Is this in itself not a security threat to hundreds of lives?
There are only two unarmed ASF officials deployed at the entrance who check visitors’ identity before letting them in. There is absolutely no concept of providing assistance to those who are made to go through the mess. In any other civilised society, the security authorities would have given people’s convenience preference. In the least, a help desk should have been set up at the entrance to communicate with and guide people at the airport about the changes to security measures.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 5th, 2013.