As the number of guns and guards in the Defence Housing Authority (DHA) increase, The Express Tribune traces the origins of this culture of weapons in the residential scheme.
According to older residents of the neighbourhood, the trend did not start until the 1990s. Several residents started hiring private guards at their homes when a wave of kidnappings hit the area. Young men from well-to-do families were being kidnapped from DHA, recalled security analyst Ikram Sehgal. “Before that, people would only depend on the chowkidars for protection.”
Asad Kizilbash from the Association of Defence Residents, who has lived in this area for two decades, remembers the time when guards would be posted only at banks. The trend may have started due to kidnappings but, as violence escalated in DHA, so did the need to rely on private security. Nowadays, militancy in other parts of the city has affected this area too, Sehgal added.
The co-founder of the Citizens-Police Liaison Committee (CPLC), Jameel Yusuf, also attributed the origins of guards in DHA to the kidnappings. He added, however, that these incidents were brought to a halt by their committee. “House burglaries and robberies were taking place,” he said. “Residents were installing alarm systems and also posting guards at their houses.”
After the residents, the next wave of guards and guns came with elected politicians and other influential people living in the area. Most of the politicians opted, however, to hire guards without uniforms from their clan instead of relying on private security companies.
But back then, there were strict rules on keeping private guards, said Yusuf. Between 2000 and 2002, Moinuddin Haider, who was the interior minister at that time, placed a ban on keeping guards without uniforms. “Only guards in uniforms were allowed,” he said. “The ban also prohibited the display of weapons, and arms were not to be seen from outside the vehicle’s windows,” he added, explaining that he did not want other people on the roads to feel harassed.
“Keep guards without uniforms were prohibited because they are the family’s own people,” Yusuf explained. “Unlike the guard’s provided by the companies that are governed by certain laws, the personal guards are uncontrolled, untrained, and have no identification.”
Nearly a decade later, private guards could be seen at almost every household in the area and accompanying people in most vehicles. Former IG Afzal Shigri said the main reason is the violence in the city. “Businessmen and influential people are getting extortion and kidnapping threats,” he said, adding that the worsening law and order in the city has made the rich hire their own private guards, and not be dependent on the police alone.
Another factor behind the increasing gun and guard culture is to show power and status. “Hundreds of arms licences have been issued over the last few years and that has significantly affected crime levels,” said Shigri. “There used to be a proper system of issuing arms licences to anyone but not anymore.”
As adults procure more and more weapons, their children are growing up in an environment where guns are common. Sehgal said this is a dangerous trend.
Psychiatrist Dr Syed Wasif Ali at the Ziauddin Hospital said that teenagers from families that possess guns and have guards have become accustomed to them. “Kids are not scared of guns anymore; instead they feel gratified handling them,” he said. “The video games in which teenagers are given points for killing people are also leading to a dangerous and violent trend.”
Types of guards
According to security analyst Sehgal, there are two types of guards: stationary and mobile. Most of the guards hired by families are stationary ones, who are only supposed to be stationed at the houses and are not allowed to move around.
“Static guards are now being used around by people and their children to show off,” he pointed out. “If guards move around in vehicles, the person using them and the security company are supposed to seek permission from the police. However, this rule is being violated.”
Referring to the recent killing of Sulaiman Lashari on Khayaban-e-Shamsheer, Sehgal admitted there is little hope left when the police are breaking the law. “Why does a police officer posted in rural Sindh have police guards in the city?” he wondered.
Yusuf blames the parents. “They [parents] should manage the guards,” he said. “Only armed guards in blue uniforms should be allowed. They should train the guards and control their children.”
Cantonment Board Clifton member Aziz Suharwardy complained how every other street has armed guards or police guards carrying Kalashnikov. “We have raised the issue a lot of times and the DHA should take action.”
Those who are forced to keep guards claimed they do so due to the law and order situation. “The main purpose of keeping guards is for security,” said a politician and landlord from Khairpur, who did not want to be named. “The guards escort my children when they travel at night to protect them from criminals,” he said, adding that muggings have become very common these days.
According to him, tribal clashes are another reason why families who belong to various clans keep guards. He dismissed, however, that keeping guards is part of any culture. “If it was a cultural thing, then why was it not present years ago and why has it increased now,” he asked.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 17th, 2014.