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Without autonomy — Passage of Nacta bill

March 10, 2013

FROM December 2009 to March 2013, that’s how long it has taken for the National Counter Terrorism Authority to go from inception to standing on the verge of getting legislative cover with the passage of the National Counter Terrorism Authority Bill, 2013 by the National Assembly on Friday. First mooted as an intelligence coordination, research and international liaison organisation in response to the wave of terrorism that gripped the country in the late 2000s, Nacta has been a case study of institutional turf wars, political disinterest and civil-military tensions. Now, with a raft of pending legislation being rushed through parliament, new life has been breathed into Nacta’s cause. That is the good news.

Unhappily, last-minute changes to the bill that was vetted and approved by a parliamentary committee have left question marks over Nacta’s future efficacy. Thanks to these late insertions, Nacta can now be headed by an army officer, policy matters can only be approved by the board of governors if all members — including the DG ISI and DG MI — are present, and Nacta personnel are to be vetted by the military’s intelligence apparatus. What was meant to be a civilian-run entity can now be effectively controlled by the armed forces, defeating the very purpose of a cross-institution coordination body that was meant to bridge the gaps between the civilian and military security apparatus. If that seems like an exaggerated version of Friday’s changes, then consider how a holistic counterterrorism strategy can be crafted by Nacta when its very organisational structure reinforces the old hierarchy in civil-military relations. Who can propose a fundamental rethink in national security strategy when the generals are still in charge?

The sense of a missed opportunity is compounded because the Nacta bill, until the last-minute amendments, had incorporated the input of technical experts. There is a genuine need for a high-powered Nacta that is adequately resourced and given the time and space to bring about a change in intelligence and bureaucratic culture. For example, the lack of coordination between the various tiers of law enforcement and intelligence agencies and between the civilian- and military-run organisations means that even the most basic inter-provincial coordination when it comes to tracking down sectarian outfits is missing. By acting as a clearing house for such information, Nacta can help change insular organisational cultures of law-enforcement and intelligence agencies. But it needs to be seen as independent of existing power centres, something it may have failed to achieve.