THE much-awaited military operation in North Waziristan Agency against the terrorists has been launched in the second week of last month. The question that is being asked most frequently all over the country is whether we are prepared to deal with the blowback of the operation. The blunt answer is ‘no’. We are not as well prepared as we should have been.
That the militants are not going to give up without a fight through a campaign of terrorist acts all over the country appears to be a reasonable prognosis. This situation calls for a holistic threat assessment and a well-thought-out, coordinated, national level response by all stakeholders at the provincial as well as the federal level. Hats off to the government for formulating a National Internal Security Policy (NISP). But we have not heard anything regarding the stage of the policy’s implementation and the resources that have been allocated to it in the recent budget.
Also, we are not aware of what the National Counter Terrorism Authority (Nacta), the pivot of the NISP is doing. What has the government done to ensure that Nacta gets off the ground at the earliest to meet the expected aggravation of the terrorist threat? Again, the blunt answer again is ‘not much’, or at least nothing has been shared with the public on that.
Nacta was set up by the government in 2009. The Nacta Act was passed by parliament in 2013, and the authority was placed under the prime minister for administration, like the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Its mandate, according to the act, includes, inter alia, the following:
Formulating and monitoring the implementation of the counterterrorism strategy
Coordination among different counterterrorism departments including the intelligence agencies at the federal and provincial level
Carrying out research in areas related to counterterrorism
What has the government done to ensure that Nacta gets off the ground?
The starting point for any preparation to counter the expected blowback of the terrorists should be to get our act together at the national level by integrating the national counterterrorism effort. To achieve the stated objective, activating Nacta, which is the focal counterterrorism institution at the federal level, should be the highest priority. Unfortunately, not much has been done by the federal government in that direction. The following are some of the steps that can be taken to activate Nacta on an urgent basis.
Removing duality of control
According to the Nacta Act, the organisation is under the control of the prime minister. A notification, however, issued by the federal government, has created duality of control where Nacta is concerned. It places Nacta under the prime minister for administrative purposes, and under the interior ministry for operational matters.
This duality creates confusion within the counterterrorism body and is also likely to belittle Nacta in the eyes of powerful entities including provincial governments, federal ministries and the IB and ISI with which it has to coordinate. The status of Nacta, as laid down in the Nacta Act, should be restored forthwith if the organisation is to take off as intended.
Appointment of a national coordinator
Nacta is to be headed by a senior law enforcement officer with considerable counterterrorism and law-enforcement experience, to be called the national coordinator. Sadly enough, for the last more than one year, Nacta has been functioning without a regular national coordinator and is being headed by junior officers without any experience of law enforcement and counterterrorism. The first essential step, therefore, is to appoint a serving senior law-enforcement officer, who has considerable experience of dealing with law enforcement and counterterrorism as head of Nacta. This can be done by the federal government within a couple of days provided it is serious about it.
Convening a meeting of board of governors
The effective decision-making and direction-giving body of Nacta, as stated in the act, is the board of governors headed by the prime minister. It has as its members, inter alia, all the chief ministers, the federal ministers of the relevant ministries, the directors general of the ISI, IB and the Federal Investigation Agency. No meeting of the board has been held so far. An immediate meeting of the board of governors is imperative to get Nacta off the ground and take important decisions to enable it to start functioning. This can be done by the government within a fortnight.
Get officers on deputation
At present, Nacta is working with a skeleton staff — highly inadequate to deal with the task, both in terms of expertise and numbers. While full staffing is likely to take long, an immediate step can be taken to get officers with suitable experience, working in different government departments, on deputation. The process of selection, however, should be objective and transparent. The final decision must lie with the national coordinator. This process can be completed within one month if Nacta has the strong support of the prime minister.
Providing adequate resources
It goes without saying that expecting Nacta to deliver without providing it with adequate resources is a pipe dream. Not only that, to attract the best human resource in the market and in view of the high security risk to their lives, Nacta employees must be offered attractive working conditions. No amount is big enough to be placed at the disposal of Nacta, if it leads to greater security of the common man from the terrorist threat .
Strengthening Nacta is essential to developing a comprehensive response owned by all stakeholders to deal effectively with the brewing blowback from the militants. It may not be a foolproof arrangement, but it can then be said that the best efforts were put in. Failing this, if the blowback turns into a bloody deluge of terrorist acts, the government will have nobody to blame but itself.
The writer is former national coordinator of the National Counter Terrorism Authority.
Published in Dawn, July 1st, 2014