Peshawar gets security boost with Safe City Project

By Syed Ansar Abbas

A technician installs a CCTV camera in Peshawar May 20 as part of the Safe City Project. [Syed Ansar Abbas]

A technician installs a CCTV camera in Peshawar May 20 as part of the Safe City Project. [Syed Ansar Abbas]

PESHAWAR -- The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) government is implementing a number of security measures in Peshawar to improve security and to create an environment suitable for peace and investment.

The increased security measures, such as the installation of closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras throughout the city, are part of the "Safe City Project".

After several years of delays, the project management unit (PMU) was established in March and has started work to achieve these goals, according to project officials.

'Peace is a must'

"Under the project, 5,000 cameras will be installed across Peshawar," PMU Director Waqaruddin Syed told Pakistan Forward May 20. "This will control terrorism and make the city secure from terrorist activities."

"Once Peshawar, the gateway to Pakistan, is made safer, then the whole country will be made safer," he said.

For Peshawar -- and the rest of Pakistan -- to prosper, "foreign investment is necessary, and for investment, peace is a must", he said.

A command and control centre will be established and equipped with modern technology and trained staff to monitor the CCTV footage, and it will be linked with field units, Syed said.

"This system will enable surveillance with the latest equipment to monitor every activity in the city," he said.

"Under the Safe City Project concept, all relevant agencies will co-ordinate with each other to address any untoward incident in the city immediately," he said. "Besides terrorists, other troublesome characters, smugglers, car thieves, mobs and even traffic could be checked and controlled easily."

Ensuring transparency and high standards

"The PMU was established on March 1, 2017, with a target to complete the project as soon as possible," PMU Deputy Director Abdullah Jan told Pakistan Forward, adding that the KP government allocated Rs. 1.5 billion ($14.3 million) in the 2014 budget for the PMU.

Officials are in the process of hiring and appointing staff based on merit and consultants have orders to prepare a detailed cost estimate for the project, he said. "This process will take a couple of months," he added.

Nonetheless, Jan vowed to complete the Safe City Project within 10 months.

"To ensure transparency in the project, a team comprised of technical staff will be recruited for monitoring," he said.

"We will make no compromise on standards and quality," Jan added.

The total cost of the Safe City Project in Peshawar is still unknown, Syed confirmed.

Police welcome Safe City Project

Peshawar Senior Superintendent of Police Sajjad Khan expressed appreciation for the project, saying that CCTV footage aids police in arresting and prosecuting criminals.

"After the completion of the project, our security mechanism will improve," he told Pakistan Forward. "This project will also help control criminal activities."

"The Safe City Project will help the police department in prevention and detection of terrorist and criminal activities," Khan said.

"The concept of 'safe city' is now a requirement to control terrorist and criminal activities in mega-cities," said Brig. (ret.) Mehmood Shah of Peshawar, former security secretary for the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

"In Islamabad and Lahore the Safe City concept is already being implemented," he told Pakistan Forward. "Though it's late in Peshawar ... we welcome the initiative."

'Safe and secure'

Professor Basharat Hussain, chairman of the University of Peshawar's criminology department, welcomed the installation of CCTV surveillance as an effective crime deterrent.

"The terrorists and other bad characters will know that 'big brother' is watching and that they are under observation," he told Pakistan Forward.

"The Safe City Project will help the law enforcement agencies to acquire solid evidence from the CCTV footage," Hussain said. "With the benefit of evidence, the police can prove them guilty and the courts can [hand down] punishment to the culprits."

"The existence of the surveillance system will show the government's intent towards crime control and public protection," he said.

This will make the public "feel safe and secure", he said.

Keeping a vigilant eye on criminals

With improved law and order, the economy will accelerate, say traders and industrialists.

"Traders used to receive threats from extortionists who were using Afghan SIM [subscriber identity module] cards on a daily basis," Ehtesham Haleem, founder and president of the Peshawar Chamber of Small Traders and Small Industry, told Pakistan Forward.

"A technology-based centralised system will no doubt keep a vigilant eye on criminals around the clock," he said. "The law-and-order situation will improve."

Haleem's father, Haji Mohammad Haleem Jan, was a senior trade leader in Peshawar until extortionists killed him in broad daylight on February 9, 2016, in Qissa Khwani Bazaar. They targeted him for refusing to pay them.

Peace and the safety of traders are essential for boosting business activity, said Haleem, whose family businesses have been the target of violence.

"Though we brothers are businessmen, because of insecurity we attend business and other social functions with security guards," Haleem said, adding that he and his brothers now operate their business out of their homes.

"We hope that the Safe City Project will stop the criminal activities," he said.

'Peace can be ensured'

Mujeebur Rahman, president of the KP Markazi Tanzeem-e-Tajiran Rabta (Central Traders' Co-ordination) Committee expressed hope that the project will benefit not only traders but all citizens.

"We feel insecure because of extortion, kidnapping for ransom, street crime and car thefts," he told Pakistan Forward, adding that he would feel more secure once the 5,000 CCTV cameras are installed.

Having high-quality CCTV equipment in the Safe City Project is essential, said Senator Nauman Wazir Khattak, who represents KP Province.

"Mere video is not sufficient," he told Pakistan Forward. "The cameras should be capable of identifying the number plate of vehicles and of recognising faces."

"If we install an effective and proper system, then peace can be ensured," he said.

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