NON-FICTION: POLICING IN THE AGE OF TERRORISM

Published February 4, 2018
One cannot expect the police to perform counterterrorism magic while being laggards at policing. The two functions are part of the same continuum | Reuters
One cannot expect the police to perform counterterrorism magic while being laggards at policing. The two functions are part of the same continuum | Reuters

Some six years ago I became interested in studying the role of the police in counterterrorism (CT). There was a reason for it. Having closely followed military operations in Malakand and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, I realised two things: the periphery was getting recruits from the mainland urban centres and smaller towns, and the groups in the periphery, squeezed by the operations, were dispersing and hunkering down either west of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border or moving to populated cities, including Karachi.

This meant, one, that the cities were providing a large percentage of recruits to these groups and two, the reprisals against the state came in the cities: bomb blasts, suicide attacks, kidnappings for ransom, bank robberies, drug trafficking — the nexus between terrorism and organised crime.

The fight in the so-called badlands was conventional in some ways. The military used aerial assets, tanks, artillery and ground and air assault troops. The concept was grounded in clearing the areas, holding them, building them and transferring them to the civilian administration. The populations, internally displaced, were to be brought back and resettled. A war zone had to be turned into a zone of peace with normal socio-economic activity.

A celebrated police officer’s take on the issues of policing in Pakistan offers important food for thought, but needs more cohesive consideration

But how does one do CT in the urban centres, in large cities such as Karachi and Lahore?

The terrorist strikes and melts away. He lives among the people. The threat is imminent, but also elusive. The military works in and through packing the punch. But how do you pack a punch in the cities? Where do you deliver it?

The military’s superiority — tanks, guns, helicopter gunships and fighter aircraft — is blunted in the cities. Here, it’s a different kind of fight involving tedious intelligence work, tracking communications, surveilling and following the money — in essence, policing. And who polices?

The police. Not the army, not Rangers, not the Frontier Corps.

I must confess, however, that my original premise to study the police’s CT capacity was wrong in so far as I realised early on that CT cannot be divorced from day-to-day policing. Put another way, one cannot expect the police to perform CT magic while being hopeless laggards at policing. The two functions are part of the same continuum.

This motif runs through Tariq Khosa’s book, The Faltering State: Pakistan’s Internal Security Landscape. Khosa is a celebrated Police Service of Pakistan (PSP) officer with a career spanning nearly four decades. He’s had multiple field postings as well as illustrious staff and command appointments. During his service, he worked under civilian governments and military generals as well as quasi-civilian governments. His insights come from direct exposure to decision-making at different levels of command, inter-departmental coordination or the lack thereof, political machinations and expediencies and the country’s security policies.

Khosa’s book is a compilation of articles he wrote for Dawn since his retirement in 2011. The mood of every article reflects the unfolding situation and challenges in that period. He has put together the articles in four parts, denoting four timelines. Personally, I would have liked the compilation to be thematic rather than temporal. But that would have required rewriting certain articles to create continuity. It appears that the author and Oxford University Press, the publishers, chose to go for the easier option.

Of course, this does not take away from Khosa’s personal and professional inputs, but it does create the problem of scattering the articles and a degree of repetition. For instance, on policing, we get his insights on several subjects — whether about Sindh regressing to the colonial Police Act of 1861, Balochistan on the edge of a precipice or a blueprint for Balochistan and the internal security challenges — all in Part 1.

Then, the need to rethink policing, the counterterrorism confusion and the question of who will police the police are in Part 2, while a roadmap to internal security, policing urban violence and police restructuring are in Part 3.

All these articles have great insights, but the parts, if done thematically, would have had better internal, conceptual harmony than the present configuration.

Also, Khosa is on solid ground when discussing the police, its organisational and functional shortcomings, how to restructure it and develop a culture of integrated working given the challenges of terrorism and organised crime. The appendices, especially Appendix 3, give the reader an integrated picture of Khosa’s approach to modern policing and are very useful when read in conjunction with the articles scattered in the four parts of the book.

One important insight relates to metropolitan policing. Khosa is very clear that we need Met policing. I couldn’t agree more. But the problem is that even the Police Order 2002, arguably the most ambitious step towards police reform and which the author repeatedly mentions, falls short of recommending a radical reorganisation.

Currently, there are three tiers of recruitment: PSP, which is the federal cadre, and sub-inspector and constable, the two provincial cadres. The Police Order did not tamper with this. If Met policing is what we need and, like Khosa, I believe that we do, then we have to rethink the basic structure from the recruitment tiers up.

Similarly, the world has experimented with both the organisational paradigms as well as functional approaches to policing. At the organisational level, do we want centralised policing or local policing? If the latter, how do we ensure that disparate police forces can coordinate and function in an integrated manner? Every model has its pluses and minuses and there’s no perfect model. Whatever model is to be adopted, the policymakers will be required as much to draw from its strengths as plug its weaknesses.

Ditto for functional approaches. Are we talking policing by consent or policing by law? Do we understand and appreciate the difference between law enforcement and policing in the sense that law enforcement is one aspect of a much broader function of policing? When the Lahore police decided to create the Dolphin Force, to my knowledge there was no discussion of hotspot and broken-window policing to that end; no discussion on the merits and demerits of crime pre-emption.

These are vital questions and while the author touches on some of these, he could have carried it forward if the book’s focus were confined to policing. Given his vast experience and his strength to speak truth to authority, that is a project he must undertake.

Another strand in the compilation relates to governance and institutions. This is a tricky area. Different theorists and institutional economists, such as Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, as also Douglass North, John Wallis and Barry Weingast et al. have contributed a rich corpus of literature on why and how some nations fail or how institutions (‘the rules of the game’ in institutional economist parlance) contribute to social order or disorder.

Most of us observe how the politicians behave or the organisations ‘satisfice’ rather than optimise, but our explanations, at best, are heuristic and at worst, flow from the gut. That results in simplistic solutions that begin with ‘if’. But ‘if’ doesn’t really hold our finger and take us through the Daedalian complexity; it merely serves to conflate the ‘is-es’ with our ‘wishes’.

We all want organisations to work efficiently, but they don’t. The question is, why?

That’s a question organisation theory deals with. As Scott Sagan and others have noted, “Organisations, by necessity, develop routines to coordinate action among different units: standard operating procedures and organisational rules, not individually reasoned decisions, therefore govern much behaviour.” They “often accept the first option that is minimally satisfying.”

In other words, policy approaches, as also the strategies, have to factor in this structural problem. It can’t be wished away. The problem of why the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) hasn’t taken off the ground or is unlikely to, or why the National Internal Security Policy is gathering dust, has to be studied in and through existing theoretical literature on organisations and politico-bureaucratic wrangling.

Khosa is deeply critical of the governments’ lack of will and capacity to tackle extremism. But the degree of difficulty in countering extremism (as opposed to terrorism) goes up many notches compared to doing CT. Extremism is a mindset. In many ways, that mindset has been ingrained not just in the social fabric, but also the constitutional contract. Democracies, which in the end always degenerate into majoritarianism, are particularly bad at challenging numbers because they rely on numbers. At the low end of the democracy spectrum, vox populi (voice of the people) is always vox dei (voice of God). To expect warring politicians to take an integrated policy approach on such issues is to upend the logic of political expediency. It’s a pious wish, sure. But that’s about it.

Khosa’s book has much to offer on the internal security landscape, not just through analysis but also personal anecdotes, whether they are about a VIP sending a Mr X to the Federal Investigation Agency, or the Mumbai attacks investigation or solving murder mysteries or apprehending the warlord and former prime minister of Afghanistan, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar! Equally, by whetting our appetite, he must now write another one to tie up the loose ends.

The reviewer is editor, national security affairs, at Capital TV

The Faltering State:
Pakistan’s Internal Security
Landscape
By Tariq Khosa
Oxford University Press,
Karachi
ISBN: 978-0199404582
440pp.

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, February 4th, 2018

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