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Mercs for ministers in terror war
- Pakistan imports 42 armoured cars to protect VIPs on hit list

Islamabad, Jan. 4: Pakistan has imported 42 armoured Mercedes-Benz cars, including two stretch limousines, for the security of VIPs considered potential militant targets. About 30 had been imported early last year.

The two bullet-proof stretch limousines, model S500 Pullman, alone cost (Pakistan) Rs 32 crore. Ten others, each an S500, together cost about Rs 70 crore.

A senior official reasoned that the cars were needed to address the security threat arising out of the post-September 11 war against terrorism, a newspaper report said.

Many international dignitaries have been reluctant to visit Pakistan, and therefore measures had to be taken at various levels to satisfy their security concerns, the paper quoted the official as saying.

The official said that after the Twin Tower attacks, many countries, including the US, had raised their security budgets. America had invested more money in armoured vehicles for VIPs.

The newly imported cars are loaded with hi-tech gadgets, such as explosive detectors and remote signal jammers, and their use would help cut down the deployment of security personnel on the routes used by VIPs.

But analysts suggested that many ministers exaggerate the threat to them and procure bullet-proof cars as a status symbol.

“Providing a bullet-proof car to one minister means that 58 others would be in the queue to get the same,” an official said.

There are almost five dozen ministers and advisers in the cabinet of Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, who is always advising his ministers on the virtues of austerity.

Officials argue that President Pervez Musharraf, who survived two assassination attempts in December 2003, needs bullet-proof vehicles for his travels outside Islamabad. It was mainly because his car was fitted out with signal jammers, provided by the US, that Musharraf had escaped unhurt in the second of those attempts, on December 25, 2003.

While Pakistanis generally appreciate that Musharraf needs special security vehicles, the import of so many costly, bullet-proof vehicles hasn’t gone down too well with the public.

With at least a third of Pakistan’s 161 million people living below the poverty line, spending money on vehicles for people who claim to be public representatives amounts to a farce, a rebel member of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League said.

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