Quetta next in line for counter-terrorism Safe City Project

By Abdul Ghani Kakar

Security personnel patrol a Quetta suburb January 30. [Abdul Ghani Kakar]

Security personnel patrol a Quetta suburb January 30. [Abdul Ghani Kakar]

QUETTA -- The government of Balochistan has approved the implementation of a sophisticated citywide video surveillance system to counter the rising threat of terrorism in Quetta.

"We are in a war-like situation, and in the ongoing fight against terrorism, it was necessary to maintain the capacity building of our security forces via advanced information technology," Balochistan Home and Tribal Affairs Minister Mir Sarfraz Bugti told Pakistan Forward.

"The Safe City Project was finally approved January 24 in a high-level law and order meeting," he said.

The same project has already been implemented in Peshawar, Lahore, Parachinar and Islamabad.

"We want to increase the effectiveness of the response capabilities of our security system and emergency services in the provincial capital," Bugti said. "This new centralised video surveillance system will cover all business and residential areas, streets, roads and highways of the city."

"The Safe City Project will not only provide a mechanism for public security but will enable law enforcement agencies to monitor public gatherings, religious processions and other events," he said.

"This project will provide an effective mechanism of command and control to our security forces," he said.

Balochistan has suffered terrorist atrocities for years, including an August 2016 suicide bombing in Quetta that killed more than 50 lawyers, decimating the province's legal community.

High-tech solutions

"The [provincial Science and] Information Technology Department is taking all possible steps to ensure the effectiveness of the video surveillance system," said Imran Yaqoob, a senior support analyst at the department.

The Safe City Project will also examine data from the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA), the Smart Verification and Alert System, the Excise Department and police surveillance, he told Pakistan Forward.

Using technology will help "minimise threats from security breaches and other [unexpected] situations", he said.

Balochistan Police will provide highly trained officials to work in the command and control centre of the Safe City Project, Yaqoob said, adding that the system will be accessed through a secure virtual private network with a hardware-based network management system.

Some 1,400 closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras will be installed at all six entry and exit points of Quetta, as well as in other important locations throughout the city, he said. "The system will also integrate with the provincial ... motor vehicle registration database" to monitor vehicles coming and going.

"We have planned a comprehensive strategy for the Safe City Project," Yaqoob said. "Through this system, all our state agencies and relevant departments will be able to quickly share any required security data and live video stream."

The provincial government has decided to hire an international firm via open tender to design and implement the Safe City Project with the co-ordinated efforts of local law enforcement agencies, according to Anwar-ul-Haq Kakar, an information technology adviser and provincial government spokesman.

Tackling terrorism, crime

"The Safe City Project is a key initiative for the security of Quetta, the provincial capital," Zmarak Khan Achakzai, a member of the Balochistan Assembly and parliamentary leader of the Awami National Party, told Pakistan Forward. "We expect that streamlining this system will enable our forces to meet the fast-moving threat of terrorism and security challenges."

"For a long time, militant groups and other anti-peace elements have been using advanced technologies to pursue their agendas," he said. "It is the need of the hour to equip our security forces with all the latest technologies and tools."

"Public safety has emerged as a significant challenge for the state ... and [we will eliminate] the fear of crime, violence and terrorism," Muhammad Nadeem, a senior security analyst in Quetta, told Pakistan Forward.

"The concept of the Safe City Project is implemented in different parts of the world, and this security mechanism is solving key, complex challenges of security," he said. "We appreciate this initiative in Quetta and are hopeful that this project will play a major role in addressing the issues of public safety in Quetta."

To execute the project, a professional team is essential, said Nadeem. "The Balochistan government must ensure that the team running the Safe City Project comprises all key stakeholders involved in governance of the province."

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