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Securing the nation

February 24, 2018

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WITH the first-ever National Internal Security Policy (NISP) expiring this month, the interior ministry has started putting together the next five-year internal security plan. This is a welcome development. However, policymakers must avoid the pitfalls encountered during the last five years.

It was in March, 2013 that I had proposed to the government through this paper to initiate a process of putting together an internal security policy framework containing “strong elements of a national counterterrorism and counter-extremism strategy”. It was stressed that Nacta should put together an action plan on CT and violent religious extremism.

In July 2013, while I was in London, I got a call from then interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan asking me to prepare an outline for an internal security policy. The major security challenges I identified as facing the nation were, among others, lack of national consensus on ways to tackle militancy; absence of a national narrative against the religious and political agenda of the terrorists; weak writ of the state in Fata and Balochistan; lawlessness in Karachi; inadequate coordination, cooperation and collaboration between civilian and military law-enforcement agencies; lack of intelligence and information sharing between the federal and provincial agencies, etc.

The political and civilian leadership have allowed their authority to be eroded.

My proposal contained an internal security strategic framework based on the trilateral paradigm of security, sovereignty and sustainability. “Security implies state monopoly over the use of force, eliminating domestic threats, and firmly dealing with non-state actors. Sovereignty entails the effective reach of law enforcement over the entire territory of the state, the use of civil armed forces and military in aid of civil authorities, and reassertion over de facto and de jure policies by parliament. Sustainability aims at socioeconomic justice, a sound public education system, a national counter-extremism narrative, good governance, and the rule of law.”

To the interior minister’s credit, a 56-point first-ever NISP was approved by the cabinet and rolled out in February/March, 2014. It turned out to be an ambitious wish list that required massive funding and institutional restructuring. Instead of entrusting the National Police Bureau within the interior ministry to carry out coordination and implementation of the policy, the task was given to Nacta which has a limited mandate of counterterrorism. Contrary to the law under which it was set up, Nacta was placed under the interior ministry instead of directly under the prime minister. Turf battles and a lack of funding stymied the policy’s implementation. The politics of agitation further pushed back the agenda of reforms in the internal security arena.

The APS tragedy jolted the state security stakeholders into action — over a year and a half after my plea for a CT Action Plan. I got a call on Dec 19, 2014, at the behest of the then interior minister to assist the ministry and Nacta as a member of a group of professionals to put together a CT NAP. We met at the Punjab House in Islamabad on Dec 21 and deliberated extensively to combat the challenges posed by terrorists bent on unravelling the state.

The group recommended a 21-point action plan. On top of the list, we stressed that the country was at war with the terrorists and war was too serious a business to be left to the generals alone. The entire nation had to fight it and therefore, the civilian commander-in-chief should lead this national effort. We wrote that the US president gets a daily briefing on national security at 7.30am from his intelligence and military chiefs or their deputies. Therefore, our war must be led by the prime minister who should be briefed daily by the civilian and military security agencies. I am still at a loss to understand why this crucial point was omitted by the political leadership that finally approved the 20-point CT NAP on Dec 27.

The political and civilian leadership have allowed their authority to be eroded. They chose to aid the work of the military authorities rather than the other way round. The result was militarisation of the internal security strategy through which military courts were established and re-established as the government failed to build the capacity of the criminal justice institutions while upholding due process and fundamental rights, even of ‘misguided militants’. At no stage should the state have lost its moral authority.

I was constrained to point out that “terrorists on a suicide mission succeeded in their agenda of drawing the state to the path of belligerence, thus becoming ‘martyrs’ for their cause”. This resulted in more disgruntled and misguided youth getting sucked into militancy. State brutality infused the terrorists’ cause with more life as it was on their turf that the battle was fought by the state. Even in fighting militants, one should be just. The resultant attacks on police and security personnel are a manifestation of this faulty strategy.

While putting together the second NISP, I request policymakers to consider the following recommendations: one, despite appointing a national security adviser, establishing a National Security Division, the National Security Committee has failed to come up with a comprehensive national security policy. Internal security is just one, though very important, part of this. Without further ado, a policy having a whole-of-the-nation approach needs to be approved by the cabinet and parliament.

Two, provinces are important stakeholders in internal security. It is heartening to note that Balochistan and KP have finalised five-year rule-of-law road maps this year. Punjab was the first to start but got bogged down in bureaucratic infighting. Sindh is also working on bringing out one now. The next NISP must engage and support these road maps to build the capacity of justice sector institutions such as the police, prosecution, judiciary, prisons and bar associations.

Three, no long-term policy can succeed without political will, resources and enhancing professionalism. The federal and provincial governments are urged to make rule of law and good governance a priority during this election year; hopefully, the political parties would take it forward as part of their election manifestos. Finally, internal security is a shared responsibility and therefore the civilian-military disconnect should be addressed so that a unified policy discourages violent extremism and combats terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, leaving no place for non-state actors and militant outfits.

The writer is a former IG Police and author of The Faltering State (2017).

Published in Dawn, February 24th, 2018