Whilst terrorism remains a clear and present danger in this country, the level of laxity with which the authorities concerned deal with different aspects of the menace is astonishing.
It turns out that 1900 CCTV cameras installed in the federal capital under the multi-billion Safe City Project are of little use when it comes to identifying helpers of suicide bombers. The issue came up in a recent Senate session during the question-hour when a legislator asked the Minister of State for Interior Muhammad Balighur Rehman if his information was correct that the cameras are of poor quality, incapable of identifying a person from a video frame. The minister’s response reflected usual lack of attention to the challenge at hand. He claimed the utility of the cameras was well established as they had helped improve not only the law and order situation but also to control crime and better management of traffic in Islamabad.
As for the questioner’s point of concern, the minister admitted the cameras lack face recognition capability, saying that approval had been given for installation of computer software required for the purpose. Which merits the question, why identifying suspects from CCTV footage of terrorist bombings was not an important feature of the Safe City Project right from the start?
In a country where terrorism is the number one threat to the lives of innocent citizens and stability of the state, those in authority are expected to leave no stone unturned to cover all bases. Yet, time and again they have been found to be negligent. The latest case is the terrorist strike at Sehwan Sharif.
The provincial government had no clue as to how the suicide bomber entered the shrine and who his collaborators/facilitators might have been, and laid the blame on load-shedding due to which the CCTV cameras were not working at the time of the blast. Considering that power outages are a routine matter, the administration should have made backup arrangements to ensure the cameras stayed in working order at all times, especially in the wake of a red alert.
Going by past experience, during a previous incident in Karachi, the quality of cameras at the place is not any different from the ones installed in Islamabad. Even if operational, the images they produced would not be good enough to identify anyone involved in the carnage.
The threat of terrorism is not going to go away anytime soon. There is no room for complacency on any score. Balighur Rehman said that another 200 cameras will be installed in the federal capital, and that the traders and shopping malls are also being encouraged to install CCTV cameras. It is hoped these are to be of superior quality than the existing ones.
Also, a countrywide survey is in order to examine surveillance requirements, followed up with action. The federal as well as provincial governments must get their respective act together and do all that is necessary to nab terrorists and their facilitators.