Officials admit to security lapse, hesitate in pinning blame

2008 plans to install metal detectors, walk through gates gathering dust

Hafeez Tunio February 17, 2017

KARACHI: Nearly all Sindh government officials admit to a security lapse that allowed a suicide bomber to enter the jam-packed shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan on Thursday evening and kill 88 people but no one is ready to pin the blame.

"There was no proper security," admitted Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah, without explaining why the arrangements were so poor at the country's largest shrine where thousands of people visit every weekend. The same response came from Hyderabad commissioner Shahid Parvez and Hyderabad DIG Khadim Hussain Rind.

A civil society activist, Mustafa Meerani, who lives in Sehwan, claimed there was hardly any security. "As per police records, 20 policemen were on duty for the shrine security but only three were deputed," he said.

Following the aftermath of 9/11 and the wave of terror that hit Pakistan, Sindh's Auqaf department installed two walkthrough gates - one each at Golden Gate and Qadeem Alam Gah, he said, adding they are now lying idle for the last five years. "The devotees ignore the walkthrough gates because there is no proper system to ensure security," he said.

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Local officials are working in connivance with the Auqaf department and the police, trying to mint money at the cost of security, claimed a local journalist Mujahid Shah. "If there were walkthrough gates and metal detectors, the suicide bomber would not have entered the dhamaal area," he said, referring to the Abdullah Shah Ghazi mazaar incident in 2010 when security stopped the bomber at the entrance gate.

"May God save people at the time of the annual urs when 200,000 to 300,000 people gather without going through security checks," he said. Around 5,000 to 6,000 cops are deployed at the time of the annual gathering to manage the crowd, he said. Even outside the dhamaal area, restaurant waiters are seen serving food. There is no security check for vehicles that can be parked near Golden Gate.

Plans gathering dust

Former Auqaf minister Abdul Haseeb Khan, who has served as a minister of this department twice, told The Express Tribune that a comprehensives security plan was devised by his department in 2008 on the orders of Pakistan Peoples Party leader Asif Ali Zardari. There were plans to install modern walkthrough gates, CCTV cameras and metal detectors but the plan is gathering dust, he said. "Around Rs1.25 billion were allocated for the renovation, repairs and security of this shrine, but this project is in limbo," he said.

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Currently, there is no minister for this department and the charge lies with the chief minister. MPA Syed Ghulam Shah Jillani, who was recently relieved from his post as the minister for Auqaf, acknowledged the security lapse. He then shifted the responsibility to the local administration and the police.

"We have nothing to do with security. This department has limited resources," he said. When asked where the millions of rupees generated from the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar go, he said, "The amount is utilised by the mazaar committee." The renovation works on the shrine was a federal government project and Sindh has no role in it, he insisted.

Security arrangements last week

During  a visit to the shrine a week before the attack, the area was heavily guarded by policemen. One sat outside on a rickety old chair, eyeing passersby and the other carelessly hung on to the metal gate and stopped men wanting entrance. Strangely enough, women were checked more thoroughly than men.

To the left of the gate sat a female police officer in a curtained area. She patted down women entering the shrine from the waist up and rifled through their bags. In contrast to this, the men received a brief pat down. Every person entering the shrine's premises was searching, regardless of whether they had just stepped out for a moment or were entering for the first time. Surprisingly, these strict security measures were absent on Thursday.

With additional reporting by  Siham Basir

Published in The Express Tribune, February 18th, 2017.

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