Security theater in Pakistan

All over Pakistan, there are nonsensical attempts at security theater. The theater part is done very well, with people roaming around with machine guns, concrete barriers, and lots of ways to make the lives of people miserable in an attempt to really impress those whose lives are made miserable by the security – but the actual security part gets forgotten somewhere by the wayside in all the theater.

Drive to any Pakistani airport, and security will be busy scanning all entering vehicles using a thin metal stick. What do thin metal sticks have to do with finding bombs? Nothing at all, but that is not a question the Interior Ministry of Pakistan would ever ask, especially when the person importing the metal sticks (which are now being made in Pakistan) is likely a friend of a friend of a general/politician somewhere. The sticks certainly add a lot of theater and delay, thus accomplishing what seems to be the main aim of security in Pakistan.

There is corruption everywhere in Pakistan, but how do you go about buying tens of thousands of dowsing rods for millions of dollars? Even in a corrupt country like Pakistan, at least part of the functionality is delivered. Schools might not run, and teachers might not teach, but schools are built and teachers paid. What kind of a institution or person buys an instrument which they know won’t work and thousands will die because of it?

The Iraqi government has spent $85m on the ADE-651 and there are concerns that they have failed to stop bomb attacks that have killed hundreds of people.

…Iraq paid around $40,000 for each device.


How much is Pakistan paying? The BBC article mentions the same company selling useless detectors for 40,000 dollars to Iraq was also selling them to Pakistan.

The ADE-651 detector has never been shown to work in a scientific test. There are no batteries and it consists of a swivelling aerial mounted to a hinge on a hand-grip. Critics have likened it to a glorified dowsing rod.


Science doesn’t worry the security establishment in Pakistan. Saving lives bothers them even less. Making money however, is really important and that’s the crux of the story.

In 1999, the FBI put out another alert: “Warning. Do not use bogus explosives detection devices.”


If people in the US were buying and using bogus devices, then no wonder Pakistan is too. For my public service of the day I will send a copy of this memo, the BBC’s article and a short covering note to Rehman Malik, the guy in charge of security all over Pakistan.

The British have banned exports of this fake metal detector – because it kills peoples. The Pakistan’s government reaction? Build the same junk here!

Somewhere deep in the pits of the ISI and the Pakistan Interior Ministry, the two institutions in charge of security all over Pakistan, there must be someone who has studied high school Physics and knows this whole thing is a blatant fraud. Maybe no one there has, or they’ve forgotten – in which case they could just watch the Feynman lectures.

There are many ironies in this whole story, not the least being that for dowsing to work you have to use magic – something which somehow doesn’t quite fit into what’s kosher in Islam and even require Rehman Malik to make good on his promise of killing the next blasphemer he met.

The US has been on a rampage against using devices which don’t work, so I have to fit in this gem from an Iraqi general, who could be the cousin of Pakistani ones:

“I don’t care about Sandia or the Department of Justice or any of them,” General Jabiri said. “I know more about this issue than the Americans do. In fact, I know more about bombs than anyone in the world.”


Of course he does, because generals know best. Especially those in third world countries. This same general went on:

Checking cars with dogs, however, is a slow process, whereas the wands take only a few seconds per vehicle. “Can you imagine dogs at all 400 checkpoints in Baghdad?” General Jabiri said. “The city would be a zoo.”


Speed and making money is a higher aim then actually working or being true. Whether education, security or government, General Jabiri perfectly encapsulates the ideals and values of much of Pakistan.

There are many other questions raised by the equipment used by security forces around Pakistan – like what good is the selection and tendering process for important equipment the government uses? If the UK doesn’t let you import your favorite magic wand does that make you think about magic and it’s effectiveness or do you ask someone else to build you a magic wand? If you ask a company to build a road and it builds a dirt track do you reward it with another project? So many more questions and nobody in the government to ask them…

How to create a really twisted ruling class, the golf course edition

People are generally good, and it takes quite a bit of effort to turn them into monsters. You have to start at a young age as that’s when people are most impressionable. One method is to send them to a madrassah, where they grow up mentally stunted and fed mental poison for years, with their star pupils turning into suicide bombers and assassins, amongst other achievements.

That’s one type of twisted, but to rule a country, other skills come into play. How do the children of the ruling class turn into monsters, and go on to wreck havoc on the country? Well, they too get trained in the art of becoming a self centered monster at a young age, and though they might not attend madrassa’s, or the school of how to steal more money than your neighbour, but they do have many institutions in their lives to strip them of their humanity. One is the nanny, and omnipresent servants, but thats a story for another day. Today’s story is about teaching children that it’s ok to hurt people.

Continue reading How to create a really twisted ruling class, the golf course edition

Escapees from the land of the pure

Life is tough in Pakistan if you don’t two the religious line (or at least hide the lack of toeing). Though in this case the victims escaped, hurray for them!

Asmaa Azeem is 22, Fatima is 16. They are sisters from Pakistan, seeking asylum in Sri Lanka. Their parents are religious fundamentalists and the girls want out. They want an end to the abuse, they want an end to the old religious order and they want a life of freedom; freedom of thought, freedom of expression and more importantly, freedom of religion. The girls are atheists, and proud ones.
The girl’s family are the obvious scoundrels and scum here, and it’s interesting how scoundrels and scum are always connected to the upper levels of the Pakistan govt:
They say their uncle is extremely influential in Pakistan and has many contacts with top officials and the Ministry of Interior.
Why did the ‘society’ she was brought up in, choose to turn a blind eye and even deny issues and incidents that took place right in its face? (She describes the sexual molestation a cousin went through at the hands of an uncle)  Why did women have no fundamental rights in her country? Why, why and more why?
The uncle probably went on to molest more of his nieces and nephews and achieved a high post in Pakistani society… and while the Pakistan embassy in Colombo is probably figuring out ways to extradite the girls back to Pakistan, real criminals roam free.

Times have really changed in this country. The media’s latest love affair with Raymond Davis has really stirred up enough people against anyone who’s different, that tourism is dead. A white face on the streets is just asking to be lynched. A lot of foreigners have asked me over the years whether it’s safe to travel across Pakistan, and I’ve always said yes, but with caveats which kept getting bigger over the years into what has become an absolute no.

It doesn’t really matter what the masses think – the majority might be flower hugging hippies all wanting peace, but the number of people wanting to kill others is large, and the number supporting these killers even larger – browsing through Pakistani TV a lot of the media shows support killing anyone who’se different – and considering people watch them, it’s one indication that their ideas have a following.

Update: Reddit post and discussion

Stephen Cohen on Pakistan’s Road to Disintegration, 2011 edition

A depressing read on Pakistan, including state failure, growing insecurity, govt failure and the increasing reliance on China:

“The fundamentals of the state are either failing or questionable, and this applies to both the idea of Pakistan, the ideology of the state, the purpose of the state, and also to the coherence of the state itself,” Cohen says. “I wouldn’t predict a comprehensive failure soon, but clearly that’s the direction in which Pakistan is moving.” On a recent trip, he was struck by the growing sense of insecurity in Pakistan, even within the military, and the growing importance of China.

Continue reading Stephen Cohen on Pakistan’s Road to Disintegration, 2011 edition

Send your ads to Awab, the happy new year edition

My friend Awab is running a free advertisment campaign to highlight stuff needing highlighting, so here’s my pitch for all the issues hiding in obscure dark corners all over Pakistan, and much deserving of recognition:
How about an ad for all those lonely groups of brigadiers and colonels toiling away in obscurity hatching plan after plan, I mean only the lucky few like Benazir’s plotters end up on the front page of the Tribune, I’m sure the rest could do with publicity too!

Portugal’s non war on drugs

I wonder what Karachi would look like if drugs were decriminalized and brought out of the shadows, like Portugal has done?

LISBON, Portugal — These days, Casal Ventoso is an ordinary blue-collar community – mothers push baby strollers, men smoke outside cafes, buses chug up and down the cobbled main street.

Ten years ago, the Lisbon neighborhood was a hellhole, a “drug supermarket” where some 5,000 users lined up every day to buy heroin and sneaked into a hillside honeycomb of derelict housing to shoot up. In dark, stinking corners, addicts – some with maggots squirming under track marks – staggered between the occasional corpse, scavenging used, bloody needles.

At that time, Portugal, like the junkies of Casal Ventoso, had hit rock bottom: An estimated 100,000 people – an astonishing 1 percent of the population – were addicted to illegal drugs. So, like anyone with little to lose, the Portuguese took a risky leap: They decriminalized the use of all drugs in a groundbreaking law in 2000.

The Lisbon of yesteryear sounds a bit like Karachi’s Shireen Jinnah colony of today, though one of them is a lot worse then the other.

Unlike other countries which are debating this move, drugs are already freely available everywhere in Pakistan, so it’s not like making them legal enhances availability in any way – it just takes them out of the hands of the mafia and politicians and into a taxable market place. I don’t know what Pakistan’s drug market is worth, but given that Afghanistan produces over 90% of the world’s heroin, and a big part of that is consumed in Pakistan, it’s gotta be large. And that’s just one drug, there are plenty of others floating around… A lot of the Taliban derive substantial revenue from the drug trade.

It’s pretty ironic that America’s war on drugs funds their their other big war, the one in Afghanistan.

Other countries just like Pakistan, but with extra oil

Russia steps up to the plate, but being somewhat more literate it’s descent into a mafia state is done way much better than Pakistan’s ongoing slide…

Russia is a corrupt, autocratic kleptocracy centred on the leadership of Vladimir Putin, in which officials, oligarchs and organised crime are bound together to create a “virtual mafia state”, according to leaked secret diplomatic cables that provide a damning American assessment of its erstwhile rival superpower.

Arms trafficking, money laundering, personal enrichment, protection for gangsters, extortion and kickbacks, suitcases full of money and secret offshore bank accounts in Cyprus: the cables paint a bleak picture of a political system in which bribery alone totals an estimated $300bn a year, and in which it is often hard to distinguish between the activities of the government and organised crime.

Instead of Cyprus, read Dubai and London, and of course, there is no way 300 billion dollars of bribery exchanges hands – even the biggest briber of them all only admits to about 5-6 billion dollars a year, so adding up all the rest we’re probably looking at a figure well south of a 100 billion dollars.

Continue reading Other countries just like Pakistan, but with extra oil

Playing Ostrich with the Taliban

The more I read about the western world’s adventure in Afghanistan and Pakistan, bombing villages here and there to bits and occupying a country, the more surreal it gets. The latest news is a doozy – the taliban leader the US have been negotiating with for a peace deal turns out to be a fake – an enterprising Pakistani or Afghani out to make a quick buck for himself. Full props to the guy… as to the US Army and what not, no suprise they got fooled yet again:

For months, the secret talks unfolding between Taliban and Afghan leaders to end the war appeared to be showing promise, if only because of the appearance of a certain insurgent leader at one end of the table: Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, one of the most senior commanders in the Taliban movement. But now, it turns out, Mr. Mansour was apparently not Mr. Mansour at all.

This guy strung around NATO for over a year! The suprising, and very interesting thing about the US involvement in Afghanistan and Pakistan is that they get every single thing wrong, over and over again.

Continue reading Playing Ostrich with the Taliban

The effect of Colonial rule in India

A paper on the effect of colonial rule in India, comparing areas ruled directly by the British against the indirectly ruled ones:

This paper compares economic outcomes across areas in India which were under di- rect British colonial rule with areas which were under indirect colonial rule. Controlling for selective annexation using a specific policy rule, I find that areas which experienced direct rule have significantly lower levels of access to schools, health centers and roads in the post-colonial period. I find evidence that the quality of governance in the colonial period has a significant persistent effect on post-colonial outcomes.

A recent book on Colonial India had pointed out that the gdp per capita for the average Indian fell by over 50% during the colonial period, which also suggests that Colonial rule was not quite peaches and cream for the toiling masses. Of course, the Mughal era before colonial rule wasn’t particularly better. The Mughal’s spent their empire building huge tombs and palaces, and the British did practically the same, except on an island far away with their Indian wealth. Continue reading The effect of Colonial rule in India