Posted on Saturday, March 1, 2014
in The Friday Times (Editorial)
Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, the interior minister, has finally unfurled a “National Security Policy” for Pakistan. A perusal of the 100-page document reveals the PMLN government’s intention to revive and beef up the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) that has been dormant for the last four years.
The policy framework document envisages dynamic coordination and virtual Intel sharing between the country’s 6 Intel agencies (ISI, MI, IB, SB, Naval and Air Intelligence) and assorted police and paramilitary forces in the federal and provincial governments. NACTA will use this Intel to analyse, locate and physically degrade or destroy terrorist cells across the country by means of a Rapid Deployment Force of 500 commandos equipped with helicopters and modern high voltage weapons. The minister did not say when NACTA would become fully operational, and several more significant questions remain unanswered.
NACTA was originally envisaged as a separate and independent organisation or branch of government directly under the command of the prime minister. Strategic, tactical and intelligence inputs were to be provided by the various agencies (like ISI, MI, IB) and federal ministries (like interior) or provincial departments (CID, CTD, SB). But problems arose at the outset when the then interior minister, Rehman Malik, insisted that the interior minister, rather than the prime minister, should chair NACTA. This proposal was resisted by the ISI whose DG is appointed by the prime minister and is supposed to report directly to him and to the COAS. It may be noted that the ISI has a history of refusing to answer even to the prime minister, let alone an interior minister, as evidenced in the case of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto/Interior Minister Aitzaz Ahsan from 1988-1990 and in the case of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani/Interior Minister Rehman Malik from 2008-2013 when it actively resisted attempts by the administration to take charge of its internal political wing and went so far as to destabilise it. How Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan expects to tame the fire-breathing dragon and actually get it to dance to his tune, a very tall order, remains to be seen.
But that is just the tip of the iceberg. The document lists 26 such organisations, all of which are expected to dovetail their activities with NACTA when Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan cracks the whip. This is an impossible task in the short and medium term, considering that each such organisation is trained to zealously guard its turf and spurn the advances of competitive organisations to steal the limelight and budgets. In advanced democracies, such cooperation between similar departments is usually predicated on privileged and rare access to one another’s acutely sensitive and secret online databases rather than regular physical contact. But in Pakistan, apart from military organisations, there is no such sophisticated system in any civilian department, and the military is not about to give access to the “bloody civilians” come hell or high water.
The unrealistically ambitious scope of the document is evident in other areas too. For example, it lists over 60 banned or proscribed organisations that are all expected to come under its radar. NACTA’s task is not just to physically uproot terrorist networks but also to “promote pluralism, freedom, democracy, and a culture of tolerance” among the citizenry and to “reconstruct the social infrastructure in terrorism affected areas and follow-up for timely implementation of sustainable and integrated development and rehabilitation” of such areas. Indeed, as newspaper reports point out, its “mandate” extends to “developing a national narrative, development of national deradicalisation programme, reconciliation, youth engagement strategy, integration of mosque and madrassah in the national education system, introducing legal reforms, rehabilitation of victims of terrorism, prevention of misuse of IT and cyber crime, regulating the movement of Afghan refugees, introduction of a robust border control regime, etc”. Each of these objectives would require a herculean effort by a highly empowered department motivated by zeal, intellectual vigour and unrestricted budgets. No such department is in sight.
The document is bang on target by identifying the core sources of terrorism in the country as “flawed and myopic foreign policy choices relating to India, Afghanistan and Kashmir, prolonged military rule, declining capacity of state institutions and poor governance”. But it offers no paradigm analysis on how to change these policies and practices so that they are in sync with the aims and objectives of the document. Incredibly enough, the role of the National Security Advisor (Sartaj Aziz) and the revamped Cabinet Committee on Defence and Security under the prime minister does not figure in it.
The original NACTA brief was conceived and written by Tariq Pervez, ex-IG Punjab, four years ago. He resigned in disgust when it couldn’t become operational because of agency/departmental turf wars. So Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan should forget about the lofty aims of NACTA. If he can simply assemble an effective anti-terrorist hit squad in four years and take out the top LeJ and TTP commanders, that would be a small miracle.