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Double impact

July 15, 2013

THE threat of violent extremism and terrorism is so deep-rooted and widespread that it has come to challenge our foundation and national integration. It has virtually torn apart our social fabric with the people losing faith in the ability of the state to challenge and arrest it. The internal security is deteriorating at a rapid pace with every passing day.

The question is who is in charge of internal security in the country? Numerous agencies are responsible, yet none has an answer to this question. A central authority to control and coordinate internal security is conspicuous by its absence.

Should the armed forces be responsible for both internal and external security? With the given resources, they have established a professional institution and a bulwark against the external threat, conventional as well as non-conventional. But other than the counterinsurgency operations in the borderland, are they effective in countering terrorism that is severely affecting the state and public at large?

The army is already overstretched, managing war-zone governance and involved in socio-economic development work in the conflict-hit areas. On the other hand, the death and destruction in the heartland has increased the vulnerability of the state manifold. If the situation is allowed to continue unabated, there will hardly be anything left worth defending for the army.

We need to know which institution is well placed and aptly structured to perform and deliver on the internal front. Is it the armed forces or civilian law-enforcement agencies? If it is the police, then what are the shortfalls? Was the institution of the police always corrupt, incompetent and politicised and will it remain like this?

Is the police in its present form well equipped and sufficiently trained to counter terrorism? Is it operationally autonomous to confront the multi-dimensional, highly complex internal threat? Why is there always an insufficient political will to depoliticise the police?

The root of the problem lies in the present pervasive political culture. The extractive political institutions will always entail extractive security institutions instead of inclusive ones; institutions that are well connected with the people and are more responsible and accountable to the community.

The main strength of the army is not tanks and planes but a merit-based selection and promotion system with quality training that enables it to devise effective operational strategy under a unified command.

Should not the police services be provided with the same organisational autonomy and resources that are made available to the armed forces? Why not? Should politicising and corruption in the police be taken as a fait accompli? Or are there alternatives that the state and society can provide?

Both the armed forces and police have equally important roles to play in their respective fields. It is not a zero-sum game; both are responsible for the security of the state and people. The need is to support and complement each other rather than operate in institutional silos.

The primary responsibility to handle law and order and combat terrorism rests with the police. Therefore, it should have requisite institutional autonomy, adequate financial provision, training resources and other welfare benefits that keep the force motivated.

The police intelligence networks and investigation agencies like the Intelligence Bureau and Federal Investigation Agency at the centre, special branches at the provincial level, the Criminal Investigation Agency at the district level and police stations and police qaumi razakars at the grassroots level need to be resourced and resurrected.

Most of these institutions have become dormant or dysfunctional due to obvious reasons. These are more inclusive institutions with a hand on the public’s pulse; they have delivered in the past and can do it again provided there is a will to get the job done.

To have a general idea of the per capita expenditure of a soldier and a policeman, one only has to look at their respective budget allocations and numerical strength. The military spends Rs1,140,000 on each soldier/officer whereas the annual spending on a policeman per capita is merely Rs340,000.

There is no alternative but to rebuild the police force as a frontline organisation to confront the internal threat, otherwise we’ll keep going in circles, wasting time and resources with criminal mafias and terrorists as elusive as ever.

There is a historic opportunity available to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to put the house in order. What remains to be seen is whether he has the ability and acumen to make a departure from the past and rise to the challenge.

Can he take all the provincial governments on board to bring a revolutionary change to the firmly entrenched politics of patronage that only breeds extractive politico-economic institutions? If not, we will only have extractive security institutions instead of inclusive ones, and the security of life and property of the hapless citizens, enshrined in the Constitution, will remain a distant dream.

The writers are a former police officer and a retired army officer.