July Issue 2014

By | Q & A | Published 5 years ago

Does Jinnah International Airport have an emergency response plan in case of a breach of security?

There is definitely an emergency response plan, but what is missing is a coordinated response plan. This is the responsibility of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). While the Airport Security Force (ASF) has its own emergency plan, it plays a very restricted role because it is only responsible for the area within the airport; the external area — the entry and exit points — the ASF has no control over.

The militants entered from the old terminal which is only used as a VIP terminal when a VIP arrives, and often this isn’t for days. On Sunday night, there was no VIP so the terminal was poorly guarded. Moreover, the cargo work that is done here is the most prone to security risks, and the easiest target for a terrorist because there is total anarchy; all kinds of hera pheri goes on. Command and control at this terminal is, therefore, very poor and it becomes the airport’s weakest link. Anyone can travel right up to the building and nobody will stop them. It’s only upon reaching the building that one encounters security. People should be checked much before they get to this point, as in Jinnah Terminal, and this is the CAA’s responsibility.

How well is the ASF equipped and trained to deal with such emergencies?

The ASF is not as well-equipped as it should be; there are not enough bulletproof jackets or night vision devices (which has become a standard issue these days, even in the Pakistan Army), without which, they’re blind at night. Moreover, big airports in Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad etc. should all use armoured personnel carriers (bulletproof vehicles) to man the perimeter and protect security personnel from small explosions and gunfire. All this equipment has to come through the CAA, which should better equip the ASF because airports are critical areas where security is concerned.

However, I would say that the ASF is just as well trained as the Rangers, only it is lower on the list of priorities compared to them. This is because the Rangers are used by the civil government for their protection, whereas the ASF comes under the federal government, whose main priorities are the war against terrorism and protecting Islamabad. But the ASF’s men are good, they are well trained and they are educated (most ASF employees have completed their Intermediate).

How often are emergency drills conducted at the airport?

I was actually at the airport the day after the attack and the DG ASF was telling me how they had only recently completed an exercise. He said it was because of such emergency drills that the Quick Reaction Force was able to perform as well as they did.

What are your thoughts on the media’s role during these attacks?

I am very disappointed with the media. Very disappointed. There was a lot of exaggeration in the reporting. For example, I heard that a plane had been hijacked, that Jinnah Terminal had been attacked and that planes had been hit, but none of this was true. In their keenness to report, the media often misreports and this really lowers public morale.

I’m not saying that such stories shouldn’t be reported, but in Pakistan, anyone can just get up and become an anchor or reporter. There should be a basic course and some form of regulation for reporters. Sometimes, you have to remain silent for the sake of your country but, unfortunately, we often forget that.

This interview was originally published in Newsline’s July 2014 issue as part of a special report on the Karachi airport attack.

Hiba Mahamadi was an Editorial Assistant at Newsline