I have travelled abroad quite frequently over the past few years so waiting around airports for domestic and international flights is not anything unusual for me. In comparing my experience at various airports, I am struck by certain aspects of the security situation at the Karachi and Quetta airports.
At the Karachi airport, appropriate security measures appear to be in place. There are security scanners, walk-through gates, armed guards and passenger searches, both at the check-in and at the gate. And while metal detectors might not be one hundred per cent foolproof, opportunities for security lapses seem slight. On the surface at least, the security precautions seem satisfactory, the special treatment accorded to some passengers is not.
On one occasion, I arrived at the airport with a friend. He had invited me to come with him and see what it’s like to be accompanied by the friend of an airport employee. “There won’t be many security checks, because I know someone who works here,” he said. He explained that workers at the Karachi airport have access to all areas of the airport. This means that they can accompany you as far as the gate where you board the plane. I asked my friend if he thought this posed a security risk and whether it wouldn’t be better for everyone, even airport employees, to have to go through proper search procedures and security checks. He replied, rather defensively, “You should see the privileges given to the families of senior officials, politicians and the rich! You would be stunned.” All Civil Aviation and Airport Security Force employees, even the airport cleaners, are known to use their influence to circumvent official policies and procedures in this manner.
This practice endangers the lives of hundreds of people every day. Every time I re-enter the country, I see passengers meeting people holding name cards, even before they clear immigration. Other countries do not permit this. Why is such flouting of rules tolerated here? How come those who come to meet a passenger off a plane are permitted to wait inside the immigration area? I know this is a common practice here and something many enjoy. But it also constitutes a major breach of security and needs to be addressed. People are paying for their security and officials concerned should act responsibly.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 19th, 2014.