PUTTING together an accurate threat assessment demands intelligence nuggets to be assembled together to form a coherent picture. If too many pieces of the jigsaw are missing, the result can be disastrous. Seen in this light, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s go-ahead for setting up the National Intelligence Coordination Committee is a logical step — at least on the face of it. Helmed by the DG ISI as its chairman, the NICC will serve to coordinate a number of intelligence organisations in the country. The Abbottabad Commission investigating the US raid to capture Osama bin Laden in 2011 had noted the absence of a mechanism whereby civil and military intelligence could be integrated and had recommended that such a body be set up.
A lack of synchronised intelligence can indeed compromise the readiness of security operations. The raison d’être for setting up the Abbottabad Commission was itself the result of a massive intelligence failure by Pakistani authorities. A number of large-scale terrorist attacks have also been successfully carried out because of a lack of intelligence integration between different agencies. For example, the storming of Bannu jail by the TTP in April 2012 resulted in 384 prisoners being sprung from prison. With some hard-core terrorists among the freed inmates, the incident marked a significant setback for Pakistan’s war against militancy. There was also the horrific APS Peshawar attack on Dec 16, 2014, also carried out by the TTP, in which nearly 150 people lost their lives. Despite the school being located in a high-security zone, the terrorists managed to arrive at the destination undetected and launch their murderous assault without facing resistance. However, while there may be sound arguments for the establishment of the NICC, it is worth noting that the National Counter Terrorism Authority will come under it. Established via an executive order in 2009, Nacta was conceived as a body that would coordinate the counterterrorism efforts of civilian and military intelligence agencies — in short, the role that the NICC will now be playing. A turf war between the various agencies that were unwilling to share information, and a tussle over its leadership left Nacta moribund for several years. One wonders why it has now been relegated to a lower rung on the intelligence ladder. In any case, it is to be hoped that the mandate of each agency will be well defined in the new set-up and that none will be used to encroach on civil liberties.
Published in Dawn, November 25th, 2020