A society living on the edges of extreme defensiveness and self- justification, often based on an exaggerated sense of insecurity, is likely to run into at least four major complications. This feeling of insecurity will progressively worsen. The society will spend all its energies and efforts on defensive measures instead of proactively eliminating the root causes. The bureaucrats, the contractors, the law enforcers and the security agencies will be the largest beneficiaries of the insecurity hype. The resources and attention of the state will shift towards protecting the life and property of its ruling class, while squeezing the common man to fend for himself.
The ‘bunker mentality’ appears to have become our standard operating procedure for responding to our largely self-created problems. Let us look at our response to some of the recent incidents that took place in Pakistan in the last few days. A fire broke out in Karachi’s Agra Taj colony. Eight shops and clothes worth millions of rupees were burnt to ashes. The government promptly concluded that there is a need to ‘buy’ more fire brigades.
The truth is that fires break out every other day in one or the other shop, ‘katchi abadi’, building, warehouse or factory. No one deems it necessary to push for measures that will ensure that the fires do not take place. Improving electrical wirings, following warehousing rules, periodic checks on condition of electrical fittings, no-smoking precautions, preventing kitchen fires, isolating combustible materials, effective government inspections, building control measures, eliminating sources of sparks, using smoke detectors and creating fire escape routes receive little attention. We all know that the fire brigades extinguish fires but not prevent their occurrence. But the bunker mentality would prefer the proverbial ‘fire-fighting’ over measures to prevent fires.
In a meeting held this week in the office of Commissioner Karachi, it was decided that all banks must build bunkers inside their branches to curb the growing trend of bank robberies. Interestingly no banker participated in this meeting. The government however found a perfect opportunity to sub-contract its responsibility. The architects and contractors are already gearing up with fancy bunker designs. It is analogous to demanding that besides the surgical instruments, the surgeons also keep a Kalashnikov handy in the operation theatre. The ‘bunker mentality’, an extension of disaster capitalism demands that we must focus on building and hiding behind the ‘bunkers’ and not on catching and disarming the criminals.
This week was also a gloomy week for the anti-gun lobby of Pakistan. The Karachi Commissioner readily agreed with the plea of private security companies about issuance of automatic weapon licences to upgrade efficiency of private guards. Automatic weapons and private guards are the new compulsions of the ruling elite, a class that is primarily responsible for the spread of weapons and violence in Pakistan. An argument was put forward to explain why foreign banks get less robbed. Because they ‘invest’ more in security, i.e. more guards and more weapons. Surely no one is willing to quote the famous words of poet Charles Simic, “ Anyone who tells you that having a lot of guns will make us safer is either out to make money out of dead children or living in a fool’s paradise.”
One can only thank the Punjab government for its brilliant illustration of how ‘bunker mentality’ shifts the resources and attention of the state towards protecting the life and property of its rulers. Suffering from extreme paranoia, the Punjab government, this week, released Rs.364.4 million for the Sharif family’s security in the ‘Jati Umra’ town near Lahore. This was in addition to the funds already specified in the current budget for the security of Prime Minister, his brother and their families. What is the shopping list for this budget? Rs.283.2 million for erecting a 4.4-kilometre fence, 90 CCTV cameras, 20 elevated checkpoints and Rs.86 million on purchase of security equipment. This does not include the expenditure incurred on 2,751 police officials appointed for the security of PM, the CM and their families.
When the government allocates almost a billion rupees and over 2000 policemen to protect just one family, it is depriving its ordinary citizens of not just security but every other opportunity to seek a better life. How is Karachi police any different when 30% of its force is reserved exclusively for the ego massage of its rulers. Regrettably we have opted for ‘bunkering’, a brilliant corporate driven recipe for selling fear. Not choosing rational and proactive solutions and opting to hide behind barriers and bunkers is an addiction that needs to be understood and given up.