Punjab Special Forces

There is much about the job of providing security to an individual, or group of people, which escapes the untrained eye but it is equally hard to avoid the conclusion that a key ingredient of the process, in Pakistan at least, involves numbers. High numbers.

There are sporadic roadblocks and the entrance to the team hotel has a barrier and an airport-style x-ray machine through which all bags must pass. Or mostly all bags, depending on whether you walk through a side door to avoid a mass pile-up when a coach load of businessmen arrives.

From time to time it is also impossible to call a member of the South African squad in their hotel room – even from a house-phone in the lobby and even if they are expecting the call – presumably that is a security measure – but for the most part the preferred ‘modus operandi’ appears to be more people. And then more.

The uniforms all differ; at the Gadaffi Stadium, there are private security guards, police, traffic police, at least three differently attired regiments of military personnel and the Punjab Special Forces.

Looking more like a caricature of a Bolivian drug Baron’s personal protection service in their formidable jack-boots and tightly fitting t-shirts, complete with a semi-automatic weapon slung casually over the shoulder, they are responsible for the up-close-and-personal protection of Graeme Smith’s team.

For the first couple of weeks on tour, the image did its job. They looked formidable – even intimidating. Especially with the grunge-surfer slogan on the back of the t-shirts which proclaims, challengingly to a potential insurgent no doubt, “No Fear.”

They may well be infinitely more disciplined and well-drilled than the majority of the other men in uniform but, after just a fortnight of working and existing alongside them, it became obvious that they were nothing like the frightening sight they portrayed.

Having kept my camera hidden in the bottom of my work-bag at the prospect of arrest and interrogation for even daring to bring it to the stadium, I finally plucked up the courage to open it and point timidly in the direction of the three men guarding the entrance to the team change room.

Instead of bristling aggression, I was met with some hurried straightening of postures and sucking in of stomachs. And pearly white smiles. They were only too happy to be introduced to my viewers, whoever they were.

As I said, there is much about the security business I don’t know or understand. And neither do the players. But impressions and perceptions are valid and the feeling remains that if somebody could walk up to the side of Benazir Bhutto’s bus and blow himself up with 14 kilograms of high explosive strapped to his body, then somebody else might have a little less difficulty in doing the same to the Proteas’ bus. Which isn’t armour-plated.

Of course, the team isn’t a target, the former Prime Minister is. But terrorist strategies can change and may even include innocent but high profile targets.

If you understand as little as me about security, at least try to understand that the players have good reason to feel uncomfortable and reluctant to return to Karachi. Particularly when the men assigned to protect their lives ask them for a ‘snap’ and an autograph.



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