Places of worship in Pakistan have been subject to over 100 terrorist attacks since 9/11/; sitting ducks for highly trained terrorists with the capability to penetrate the securest of secure. So what are the chances that existing half-hearted security measures around civilian targets will not attract the wrath of terrorists? The security detail around civilian targets at best comprises poorly trained police that is, inadequately equipped and lacks discipline. Mostly, worshipers are left to their fate. Consequently, security has been beefed by employing guards from private security companies. These guards are usually pensioners, too old and poorly equipped. As Wednesday’s incident in Islamabad indicates, the state is neither pushed nor serious in protecting places of worship.

In the All Saint’s Church Peshawar suicide bombing incident in September 2013, the police guards detailed for duty were merry making over the food being distributed. The bomber easily infiltrated and ripped through hundreds of peaceful worshipers. Similarly in Army Public School (APS) Peshawar and a Shia mosque in Peshawar, the terrorists used the backdoors rather than the frequented approaches. Security is always caught napping and scenes of carnage replayed with impunity.

Cognisant that something had to be done immediately to restore the confidence of non-Muslims of Pakistan, Pakistan Ex Servicemen Association (PESA) held an emergency meeting after the bombing at All Saint’s Church. PESA called upon all retired servicemen running security companies to rally for the call of protecting churches in Pakistan. They responded immediately. For the past 17 months, ex-servicemen are protecting over 160 churches from Karachi to Peshawar and Quetta to Lahore on Sundays and feast days. This is voluntary and costs running into millions are met by the security companies and PESA. A few hours before the prayers, the entire area is scanned, spotters posted on strategic points, scanners deployed and electronic surveillance switched on. In addition, a quick reaction force in ‘cash in transit armoured vehicles’ is deployed as standoff reserves. Contingency plans are made and rehearsed. Each man knows his duty. Security details on neighbouring churches provide support in emergency. Retired officers are posted at each deployment to form a ring of mutually supporting localities. ‘Reserves in Situ’ are always ‘on call’. So far it has worked but for how long? Yet this gesture is appreciable and unmatched. The clergy and congregations feel secure.

This generous and communitarian effort has gone unnoticed in the media. It is the only example of its kind in the world where a predominantly Muslim community has volunteered to provide security to Christians without cost tags. Pakistan is notorious in the world for negative hashtags and needs to project this image of brotherhood. Within the PESA, the effort is led by the Pathfinder Group and their subsidiary Wackenhut Pakistan (Pvt) Ltd. The scale of logistics and deployment all across the country is astronomical. Yet it is accomplished on every occasion with military precision and efficiency. The services are now being extended to temples.

But there are less fortunate targets. Mosques of other sects, religious gatherings and educational institutions remain highly vulnerable. As the APS massacre and recent attacks on Shia mosques indicate, terrorist will always find a loophole for bloodletting. The National Action Plan for all its political verbosity, lacks the vision and detail to counter terrorism ‘lock stock and barrel’. There will always remain vulnerabilities that terrorists will identify to wreak havoc.

The crucial civilian infrastructure to fight urban terrorism lacks imagination, organisation, discipline, training, morale and political directives to befit credible dissuasion. Hapless civil society despite being taxed heavily has no choice but to succumb to government pressure and pay for security.

In the aftermath of the APS attack, educational institutions are being forced by the government to invest heavily in outsourced security. Barring the private sector institutions that may afford exorbitant costs, the public and ‘not for profit’ sector institutions are finding it very difficult to meet the recommendations of official evaluation teams due to financial constraints. Yet the list of dos and don’ts keeps inflating. Filling of blanks to absolve responsibility and affix blame is the norm.

One unfortunate aspect of this outsourced security is reliance on poorly trained guards who carry extremely inferior weaponry. Pump action guns with limited range are no defence against modern weaponry. In repeated incidents, like the one in Islamabad on 18th September, these guards are outranged and out gunned. In most cases, they have no communications with their parent companies. Guards equipped with automatic ball ammunition weapons are very expensive that most institutions cannot afford. This false sense of security is criminal neglect. Something is bound to happen.

To bolster this privatised security, efforts by local police are insufficient. Police mobiles even if posted are lethargic and revert easily to the business of checking vehicles and bribes. Within the civil society, ward vigilance (chowkedari) and coordination is missing. The civil administration has yet to form committees of local communities. Municipal corporations and cantonment boards that fill the gap of local bodies are bureaucratic and bossy. Even the district coordination officers have outsourced their responsibilities to education officers through long check lists. ‘All is well’ till something happens is the ugly reality.

It is important to note that privatising security in environments of urban terrorism can only delay the inevitable allowing time for police to arrive at the scene. Security at this level cannot be exclusive. Similarly, police stations alone cannot exercise due vigilance. Because the terrorist are not recognisable, awareness at grassroots over suspicious activities will provide useful and timely information. Occupation of houses by new tenants, appearance of suspicious characters and vehicles can be timely noted by local communities. This coordination to the lowest levels will achieve the objectives of vigilance, timely reporting, quick reactions, and operational drills. They will give citizens the feeling of being part of a plan.

The state cannot absolve itself of responsibilities by issuing a long checklist and turn a deaf ear to financial implications. It must accept the primary responsibility for protecting its citizens. The least the state can do is provide long range weapons and sentries placed tactically on roof tops to bolster privatised security. Also, the quick reaction forces of police and military garrisons have to be positioned on wheels and nodal locations to respond to threats. Perhaps reporting and communications between the schools and local administration can kick start the principle of inclusiveness.

The 10 year conflict has repeatedly reminded us that privatised security has seldom challenged terrorists. It will not and cannot; unless it becomes part of the security plan.