Pak to hire American security guards for Zardari''s security

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Rezaul H Laskar

Islamabad, Jan 19 (PTI) In the wake of Punjab GovernorSalmaan Taseer''s assassination by his police guard, thePakistan government is considering a proposal to bring inspecial security guards from the US for President Asif AliZardari, according to a media report today.

While Zardari''s security has always been cause of"serious concern" for authorities, the government is alsomulling a proposal to hire foreign security guards for severalVVIPs, including the Prime Minister, provincial Governors andChief Ministers and a few federal ministers, The ExpressTribune newspaper quoted highly-placed sources as saying.

The proposal for the President''s security envisagesdeploying US guards in Zardari''s "inner-most security cordon",the report said.

The proposals are part of the government''s decision toreview security arrangements of key personalities followingthe January 4 assassination of Taseer, which validated "fearsthat religious extremism had penetrated the ranks of securityforces in Pakistan", the report said.

"An overhaul in the present security system has beenrecommended as an essential requirement by the authoritiesresponsible for the safety and well-being of the VVIPs," asource was quoted as saying by the daily.

An army unit, the 111 Brigade that has been used forseveral military coups, is currently deployed at thePresidency for the security of Zardari, while police guardsare posted around the boundary walls of the palatial buildingin the heart of Islamabad.

However, Zardari has engaged "many private guards fromSindh" for his personal security, "reflecting a distrust ofgovernment-provided security arrangements", the report said.

On several occasions, Zardari "has been quoted to havesaid in the presence of US diplomats and officials that hislife was in danger", the report said.

A secret US diplomatic cable released by WikiLeakssaid Zardari had instructed his son Bilawal, the chief of theruling Pakistan People''s Party, to name his sister FaryalTalpur as the President in case he is killed.

The fear about the presence of extremist ideology inthe security forces is not new.

It surfaced a few years ago when personnel of the airforce and army were involved in two unsuccessful attempts onthe life of then President Pervez Musharraf.

A young Major who had joined the Taliban in the pastyear after resigning from the Pakistan Army was interrogatedby security agencies for his alleged links with FaisalShahzad, the man who plotted last year''s unsuccessful TimesSquare bombing, the report said. .

In a related development, the police department of Islamabad has collected detailed data of its personnel afterTaseer''s assassination.

This data includes the religious leanings of personneland their family background, including affiliations withreligious organisations.

Authorities plan to purge the department of "suspectelements".

The report said "a few police personnel have alreadybeen removed from the security set-up".

Collection of similar data is being recommended forpolice departments of the four provinces.

Taseer was gunned down by Mumtaz Qadri, a police guardwho said he was angered by the politician''s criticism ofPakistan''s controversial blasphemy law.

Investigators have established that Qadri was assignedto protect VVIPs, including the Prime Minister and foreigndignitaries, despite being declared a "security risk" in 2004for his extremist leanings.

Investigators are yet to determine whether Qadri actedon his own or was part of a wider conspiracy.

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