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Counterterrorism confusion

December 31, 2013


ALTHOUGH more than six months have elapsed since the new government came to power, neither the federal nor provincial policymakers have been able to formulate a clear strategy on combating terrorism and organised crime.

At the federal level, there’s no internal security policy. Two, the peace talks with the Taliban have not begun in the wake of US drones hitting targets in Fata, exposing the weakness of our security establishment’s half-hearted operations in the militants’ sanctuaries.

Three, the Cabinet Committee on National Security has yet to come up with a clear role and charter along with the rules of business for its secretariat pertaining to whether it will be under the prime minister’s office or the cabinet division. Such decisions have implications for the professionalism and autonomy of a set-up tasked with devising and implementing a national security policy.

Four, the National Counter Terrorism Authority has neither been reorganised nor staffed with professionals. A decision on posting an experienced counterterrorism expert as Nacta head is still pending. There’s confusion whether Nacta should report to the prime minister (as per the law) or to the interior ministry.

Such indecision is sending mixed signals as if the political leadership is facing resistance from all-powerful stakeholders. Professionals usually look to Punjab for providing the lead in facing challenges arising out of internal security threats such as the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan’s countrywide acts of terrorism. They often quote the example of the firm political will displayed by the Punjab government in the 1990s to tackle sectarian terrorism. It was then that the Crime Investigation Department was created by raising a special cadre of police and security officials with intelligence, analysis and investigative sections to augment the capacity of the district police to apprehend the sectarian terrorists of Lashkar-i-Jhangvi and Sipah-i-Mohammad.

The Anti-Terrorism Act was promulgated in 1997 with the provision of speedy trials before special courts, resulting in the death penalty for 72 terrorists within two years.

In order to provide muscle to the law-enforcement machinery, specialised combat squads called elite police units were raised, along with a state-of-the-art training facility in the suburbs of Lahore and trainers especially seconded from the SSG commandos. The Punjab police, assisted by intelligence and investigative agencies, squarely met the threat of sectarian terrorism and acquitted itself well because it had a clear mission and an able leadership.

Today, Punjab is emitting confused signals as it struggles to organise itself to face far more devastating terrorist outfits that threaten to shatter the peace and cause mayhem in the otherwise comparatively tranquil economic powerhouse of the country.

In a meeting presided over by the prime minister, the Punjab government decided to raise a counterterrorism force comprising 1,500 retired and serving army and intelligence officers and to place it under the home instead of the police department. The CID, which had been upgraded to the Counterterrorism Department during the previous tenure of the Sharif government, is to be disbanded or placed under the home secretary. This decision means that the essentially policing function of counterterrorism is to be given to serving and retired military officers under the bureaucratic command of the home secretary.

It also means that the authority of the inspector-general as commander of police is to be further eroded and the officers and units under him to be placed under a non-professional bureaucrat. Instead of strengthening or reforming the police, politicians and bureaucrats are expressing no confidence in the present 250,000-plus policemen and policewomen.

This retrogressive step is a reminder and extension of decisions taken by the military rulers and their political surrogates in handing over law and order in Karachi to the Rangers under army command and taking away the counter-narcotics role from the police and creating the Anti-Narcotics Force under serving army officers.

This trend of militarisation of civilian policing functions continues even under a democratic political dispensation. The prime minister seems disillusioned with the performance of the police who he believes are responsible for the failure to control crime, including terrorism. He wants a new force raised, instead of relying on an institution perceived as criminalised and corrupt.

The politics of patronage and kinship, institutionalised in Punjab since the 1990s, has resulted in the deterioration of police professionalism and discipline. Successive political governments are responsible. Loyalty rather than merit has been the matrix of the governance framework. This has resulted in institutional decay.

The present state of affairs in Punjab also reflects police command failure. While some mid-level and junior officers have raised their voice and conveyed their concern through the Police Service of Pakistan Association, senior commanders have chosen not to speak. They lack the courage to respectfully inform the chief executive that nowhere in the world are counterterrorism functions outside the purview of policing. Many countries have raised specialised task forces or professional counterterrorism units such as the SO15 in Scotland Yard UK, the NYPD CTF in the US and the National Investigation Agency in India. They are all under police command. Our prime minister and the Punjab chief minister would have surely learnt from the Turkish prime minister that counterterrorism is handled by the Turkish National Police with whom the Punjab Police have signed an MoU on capacity building and reforms.

This matter is too serious to be made a turf issue between the bureaucracy and the police. They must rise above petty service rivalries and think about the principles of policing a society through a chain of command that upholds the rule of law rather than the use of force. Police commanders must stop acting as loyal courtiers of politicians. Integrity, professionalism and hard work will earn them respect from the public they serve. It is time to speak up and be counted.

The writer is a retired police officer.