By Yasir Habib Khan –
The sleeping authorities have no check, no regulations over Private Security Agencies
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s well-trumpeted National Action Plan to fight terrorism is mysteriously silent on the functionality of private security agencies – major players in guarding the life, wealth and property of people.
No federal and provincial regulatory body exists to harness all private security companies deployed to protect private sectors especially schools, banks, IT companies, industry, hotels and others. There are only just provincial ordinances and government has yet to enact a law for the security industry. People seem to have been left at the mercy of loopholes that may be edgy to terrorists.
Charged by Peshawar army public school atrocity, 20-point National Action Plan is propagated as defining moment to crush terrorism with aims to plug all gaps to give no option to terror group to execute their nefarious plans. With other measures, although it resolves to regulate Madaris but it has played a blind eye on the formation of government regulatory body to streamline burgeoning industry of private security agencies.
In the absence of regulatory body to be equipped with powers and legal framework, more than 400 illegal private security agencies have sprouted out and been doing their roaring business. Most of them are found to have links with terrorist outfits and banned organizations.
As per police data, private security companies’ personnel have acted as facilitators in heinous crimes including robbery and ransom. Recent investigations also reveal their hands in various terrorist activities.
New probes saw links of private security personnel with militants, especially those connected to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) that robbed Karachi banks of US $50m since 2009. Police believed that without the help of security guards, such crimes are very hard to commit, Aatif Ahmed, a police officer, told Pique magazine.
PML-N senior leader Muhammad Mehdi says that government has begun brainstorming session to deal with security issues. It augurs well that democratic and army leadership has exemplary harmony and government is all out to improve efficiency of private security companies.
The sources in CM secretariat disclose that Home Department has girded up its loins to launch massive crackdown against illegal private security agencies and their more than 46000 personnel. Teams comprising law enforcement security agencies, police and provincial home departments have been constituted to nab criminal employees of security companies at earliest. Sources say that hundreds of companies’ licenses were cancelled for lacking basic requirements but they started working changing names. Some of them are reported to have strong backing of influential politicians and Army officers.
Two years back, sources explain, government security agencies submitted a comprehensive report to interior ministry about the surge of illegal private security companies.
Home Secretary Maj ® Azam Suleman says that government is highly sensitized about the issue and will leave no stone unturned to improve the situation. Stern action plan to curb illegal security agencies and personnel is going on at full throttle, he claims.
Private Security Company industry has worth of around 55 million dollars a year now and it has been registering upward trend after deteriorating law and order situation. From chowkidars, to private security companies, the rapidly booming industry has diversified into different kind of services. These services include protection to individuals, transportation of cash and valuables, safeguarding shopping and business centers and enforcement of monitoring by CCTVs, alarm systems etc.
They are now more and more involved in providing security in the areas that were previously regarded the reserved domain of law-enforcement agencies (LEAs), including airports. Presently, attack on Peshawar school and fearful anticipation of more attacks on educational institutions have unleashed new opportunity to the industry to flourish. Some months back, government imposed 10 percent tax besides expanding various levy on arm licensing to mint the money. However, when it comes to tie the loose ends through putting the industry in tight regulations, indifference runs high.
“There is zero tolerance against terrorists and their facilitators even working in the guise of private security agencies. All of them would be dealt with iron hands and would be brought to book,” Punjab interior minister Col ® Shuja Khanzada vowed.
Government allows running private security guard companies in a clumsy way. Anyone who wants to establish private security company gets registered under the Companies Ordinance 1984 with the approval of the Security and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP). If Interior ministry, intelligence and law enforcement agencies thumb up, No Objection Certificate (NOC) is issued
Home departments of each province are empowered to issue licenses after going through required details. Police authorities have inspection rights to know whether or not a security company carries out Standard Operative Procedures (SOPs) like renewal of license, compiling background of hired security person, capacity building measures, up-to-date training methods and required qualification.
All the institutions concerned work in hotchpotch style. They have so feeble coordination to hold illegal private security agencies in check. So much so they have never developed any liaison with licensed private security companies to improve the law and order situation.
After government looks delinquent on its responsibility, All Pakistan Security Agencies Association (APSAA) has to design a code of conduct followed by all security companies registered with association.
APSAA chairman Major (Retd.) Muneer Ahmed admits that a number of security companies which lacked prerequisites were issued licenses on political affiliation and glaring hitch went on unabated so far.
However, he rules out that security agencies registered with APSAA has any link to terrorist organizations. He terms the allegations just a fable. On the pretext of such accusations, police have been given sweeping power to inspect security agencies. “If palm is greased, nothing is objected otherwise innumerable discrepancies are pointed out all of sudden,” he added
Responding a question, Maj (Retd.) Muneer shrugged off the idea of formation of regulatory body, saying provincial home department are already serving to regulate. Since government is in want of manpower and paraphernalia, regulation issues have mounted.
He underlines the need for integration of private security agencies with law enforcement agencies to counter barbarism of terrorism. If intelligence is shared with us, we may thwart terror plans, he opined.
Private security guard companies and public security providers have big difference in their functionality and answerability. Law enforcement agencies are directly liable to parliament and government while private security companies are only accountable to customers. To rectify this glitch, time is ripe to constitute an autonomous regulatory body with formulating law to make both the companies and their employees answerable for their actions. As per some proposals, National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) should regulate the private security services industry. Now it is onus of state to act wisely before it is too late.