Security issues: The logic of security
We stopped in Timargara to buy cucumbers. The police in their vehicle in front of us, jumped out and stood guarding us, standing a few feet apart, keeping potential customers for fruit, meat and other food items from coming anywhere near us. People started staring. Who were these strangers with a police escort?
I turned to one of my staff in the back of the vehicle: You cannot imagine the amount of money that must have been spent on my ‘security’ since ‘they’ decided I needed it some 10 years back.
For years, as soon as we approached Chakdarra Bridge, I steeled myself for the usual confrontation and banter at the police check post.
“No, I don’t need security. For what?”
The wretched registration book, hated by foreigners, was always brought forth and stuck under my nose. After getting my card, I refused to sign it; that resulted in more banter and argument. Once, when I was at the wheel, I became very impatient, and, making sure no one was in my way, I stepped on the gas. For those who remember old British Ealing comedies, this was a perfect trailer. Moments later, I saw, via my rear view mirror, a police van following me. I increased my speed, careful not to go over the limit (is there one?) and tried negotiating around all the potholes. Soon I saw a police van coming towards us from the opposite direction. Upon seeing us, the vehicle suddenly spun round and blocked my path. Obviously, one of my guardian angels was looking over my shoulder, as I just managed to squeal to a halt.
The fact that they could have caused me to have an accident did not enter their minds at all.
At the next check post, I was given additional security — two motorcycle cops. Then with horns blaring and headlights on, we raced to Timargara. As I drove, I reflected that it was not possible to live in a country more illogical and crazier than Pakistan.
In Timargara, the manager of a hotel greeted me with, “Wow, now you are a very, very VIP!” When I entered the dining room and saw the crowd of uniformed men in front of me, I ordered chai. Twenty cups! Was it really necessary for me to have that many policemen to guard me on the Chakdarra/Timargara road?
From Dir to Asheret was generally peaceful, much to my relief, so that I could enjoy the scenery and reflect on work ahead.
If I thought Chakdarra was a problem, it was nothing compared to the check post at Asheret, where, invariably, I had to keep a tight reign on both my patience and Irish temper. Many a time, I would glance at my driver and the rope in front of us, stopping us from proceeding, and say, ‘Okay, Afzal, here is where I start to walk.”
Afzal, poor man, would sigh and raise his eyes to the sky and mumble something under his breath.
On one occasion, I walked more than a kilometre before I heard the vehicle behind me and saw that Afzal had a policeman with him. Then we had security all the way to Drosh. On one occasion, I was held at Drosh police station for five hours. Fortunately, the SHO was an intelligent man with a sense of humour. When he told me I will have to return over the Lowari, I pointed out that it was almost five in the evening and that it would be dangerous for me to cross over in the dark. He looked at me silently. “After all,” I continued, “are we not talking about my ‘security’?”
The poor man nodded and ordered a police van. He would accompany me himself to Birir.
It was not just that I needed security on the road, but in the valleys as well. We started off with one poor Ayun policeman. One summer, I said to the current incumbent, “Tomorrow, I am going to trek to the High Pastures.”
Startled, the policeman sat bolt upright. “The High Pastures?”
“What’s the problem?”
“I must go to Bumburet, to get bullets for my rifle.”
On another occasion, after a murder in Bumburet, there was a whole platoon, plus some of my Kalash tour guides for my security one night. In the middle of the night, one of my friends came into my room to retrieve some arc lights I had. “For what do you want these?”
“The police want them to shine into the jungle. They can’t see into the trees at the back of the house.”
I did not know whether to laugh or cry. When travelling at night in the bush or jungle, one goes by hearing. Lights do not penetrate far enough and only give away the position of the person holding the light.
Nothing, however, can beat one experience I had last year. It had already been a difficult year with a member of my large extended family meeting with a fatal accident. The widow was the person who had looked after me and my dogs for 14 years.
Now in the middle of the night (around two in the morning) the police came to drag me out of my bed.
There were seven vehicles with special police. With the police officials who came into my room were two policewomen.
The same had happened the previous year, but that had been only one captain and driver and it was only nine at night (although of course frightening the children and dogs); this was something different.
I started arguing with one of the police officials whom I had known many years. “For what are you harassing me now?”
“We are here to protect you. We don’t want anything to happen to you. You must come to Chitral!”
“I am not going anywhere!”
“You must! The Taliban are after you.”
“Yes, you! They are in Birir. We must hurry.”
In Chitral, I was housed in the decaying governor’s cottage. All gates were bolted. All had guards. I was under preventive custody. All had been lies.
Now, in spring of this year, with the Kalash celebrating their Joshi Festival, the game has resumed.
Why do Westerners hate this security lark? Because the police high ups appear to have no understanding of the word. The Westerners wish to go unobserved, not to have their presence advertised to the world.