With the Las Vegas massacre all but disappeared — no conspiracy but any number of intriguing questions and not all of them about guns — my thoughts turned to safety. As in how safe am I really and am I as safe as I think I am or as unsafe as others think me?
Digging around Japan quickly surfaced in the safety search. In 2015, the police in Japan fired just six rounds. That is all the police in the entire country. In the same year there was just a single homicide using a firearm. Blades are a different matter, as is sexual harassment of women which is rife but talking to those that have visited or lived and worked there in recent times there was agreement that for the most part they felt safe, as in unthreatened day or night.
England? Not so much. Plenty of anecdotal reporting that if you are daft enough to walk through many city centres at night then you deserve what you get. Smaller towns also seem to have a perception of being unsafe after dark. France? All quiet apparently, and yes midnight strolls by the local river reported from Carcassonne. America…don’t ask.
So how safe is Pakistan? Well for starters it is a lot safer than what those living outside the country perceive it to be. There is a sort of hazy stereotype of Pakistan that is filled with wall-to-wall guns, bombs, muggings, car hijacking, mass murder and plug-and-play terrorists for hire in every bazaar.
So let’s get the guns out of the way shall we? Guns? What guns? Vast swathes of the country are de-weaponised. Even Gilgit which was a bit wild and woolly in the early 90s has got to the point where it is very rare to hear gunshots. To be sure there are guns in criminal and terrorist hands but for the most part and other than police or army you don’t see a gun from one month to the next.
All that crime then? Well yes, there is crime as there is everywhere and some cities — Karachi is the stand-out — is deeply unsafe day or night, 24/7. Phones snatched, muggings and other street robbery at gun- and knife-point a daily occurrence. But generally crime levels according to police-persons of my acquaintance are ‘relatively low’. Yes I know ‘relatively low’ is not a statistic but bear with me. There seems to be a spike in street crime in Islamabad, mostly aimed at foreigners. So watch your step.
Those bombs then? There certainly are but there are fewer and fewer of them as the security environment has improved everywhere in the last three years, and if you are caught in a bombing it will be wrong-place-wrong-time.
Right…so what about travel on public transport? As a consumer of public transport here for the best part of a quarter century — no real problem. There are instances of robberies on trains and some of the less-well-regulated buses but again they are rare. This is not happening day-in and day-out and some of the train journeys you can take in Pakistan are a real treat. Parlour Class is still the best way to do long-haul overland, a bit frayed at the edges but genteel — and safe. Long-distance bus companies have all swung up market and offer considerable comfort at affordable prices.
How about walking around at night then? Not that I do it very often but the greatest nighttime hazard is erratically driven cars (drink often involved these days) and motorbikes that appear without lights out of the blackness. There is not much by way of pedestrian traffic after midnight anyway. So nobody on the streets to rob. Gangs of nocturnal brigands would have very thin pickings.
Unfortunately for Pakistan none of the above is the stuff of headlines. Good news flies under the radar all the time, bad news comes in widescreen and blood-boltered dollops by the hour and is consumed avidly. Unfortunately again that then has a tendency to be internalised as a negative paradigm. There is so much bad news it must be a dreadfully unsafe place to live Mr Chris. Not at all! Tootle-pip and mind how you go.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 12th, 2017.