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Footprints: Safety for rent

Footprints: Safety for rent

DO you have enemies? Are you being threatened and are afraid to leave home? Well, worry no more and march ahead, or rather drive ahead, without fear — on offer now are bulletproof and armoured cars.

No bullet or bomb can harm passengers travelling in these safe vehicles. From the outside, they may look as normal as any other luxury four-wheeler plying the roads. But from the inside, their roofs, floors, doors, windshields and windows are all reinforced to make them bulletproof and armoured. In fact, the armoured ones are a sort of double-cabin, one inside another, which makes them bomb-proof. The windows, which usually cannot be rolled down due to their thickness, feel like steel.

With the recent surge in targeted killings in the country, especially Karachi, several agencies providing security are now offering such cars for rent. However, “this is no rent-a-car service,” explains Captain Nadeem Khan, who works at one such company. “Only security companies are authorised to do this and even there, we don’t keep such cars ourselves. We only act as facilitators.”

Also read: FIA busts illegal ‘bulletproof’ workshop in Islamabad

“The vehicle is then arranged by us from the Pakistan Armoury,” adds his colleague, Waqas Khan. “Even though the cars are given out on rent, no rent-a-car service can do this kind of work as it is a complete package: car, driver and an escort vehicle with armed guards.”

Being extra heavy and almost twice the weight of a normal car, these cars require expert drivers. It is recommended that they not be driven in hilly areas. The escort vehicles, with guards, cover and protect passengers as they enter or exit the vehicle.

And it’s an expensive package. Renting a bulletproof or armoured car for 12 hours costs some Rs100,000. Travelling in such a vehicle is also an experience. Passengers can’t smoke, since the car is sealed. Even when the windows can be rolled down, it is by no more than four or so inches. Besides, rolling down a window would be for the passenger to expose himself to harm. There is no need to carry a weapon inside such a car as the passengers are safe, and ought not make it unsafe for others by having a weapon on board.

Take a look: Karachi's elite go bombproof

These vehicles are expensive to maintain. Their suspension needs changing every now and then, along with new tyres and monthly service and maintenance to check for any other issues. Even after that, the car’s life is only five to six years. They are categorised by the level of protection they offer, such as B6 and B9. Even so, none of them is 100 per cent bulletproof as firing at the same spot several times can eventually lead to penetration.

The B9 cars that are also bomb-proof can be armoured here as well, though mostly they come from the UAE where they are custom-made. Then, carmakers such as Mercedes and Range Rover also manufacture them, usually selling them at double the cost of their normal models.

Due to this being an expensive service, such vehicles are usually owned or rented out by foreigners, senior petroleum company employees, or UN workers, etc. In Pakistan, such people aren’t enough in numbers to turn this into a thriving business. Asked if more terror attacks might make it a thriving business, Capt Nadeem shakes his head. “It will only pick up if everyone can afford it,” he smiles. “So everyone needs to get rich first.”

There is also no way of telling if the person renting out such a car is a criminal or terrorist himself. That’s where the government comes in. “The provincial home department issues special licences for the ownership of such vehicles,” explains Capt Nadeem. “Each bulletproof or armoured car requires a no-objection certificate from the provincial government. In order to prevent criminals or terrorists from laying their hands on such a car, these days these certificates are being reissued after careful review.”

Life and death are in God’s hands but it seems people can go to great lengths to keep themselves secure — as long as they have deep pockets.

Published in Dawn, June 9th, 2015

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