Pakistani provincial governor Salman Taseer, an outspoken opponent of his country’s contentious blasphemy laws, was allegedly gunned down by a member of his own protective squad. The assassin immediately surrendered and, with a smile on his face, proudly proclaimed that he had killed a blasphemer.
A lone wolf or a conspirator? It is not yet clear. Yet the killing raises a lot of questions about security and personal protection.
The assassin, identified as Mumtaz Qadir, joined the Special Forces of the Punjab police in 2002 and had reportedly been identified as a security risk at that time for holding extreme Islamic views. Yet not only was no action taken against him, he got on the Elite Force and was assigned to the most sensitive work: guarding the governor. Qadir allegedly fired more than 20 rounds at close range into the man he was assigned to protect. Not a single other member of the security detail returned fire.
The pages of history are riddled with victims of security failures: John F. Kennedy, Anwar Sadat, Indira Gandhi, Benazir Bhutto – the list goes on.
These assassinations have led to ever-tightening security measures, sometimes to mind-boggling extremes. Buildings along a motorcade route might be emptied or even a whole town locked down to keep a potential assassin away. But politicians like to mingle with people – after all, that’s where the votes are – and often ignore the counsel of their protective detail. Benazir Bhutto – who was assassinated almost exactly three years ago in Rawalpindi – became vulnerable when she popped up through the sunroof of her vehicle to wave at the crowd.
All the rings of protection around someone are futile if security checks, psychological testing, etc., fail to detect an internal threat. There is something seriously wrong if a potential assassin can get so close to his victim without setting off alarm bells.
But if, in the Salman Taseer case, the alarm bells were deliberately turned off so they could not be heard, then Pakistan’s problems with internal security and extremism are indeed wide and deep.