AT a recent meeting of the National Action Plan (NAP) apex committee, civil and military leaders vowed to meet all security challenges. This was a belated but welcome move in view of re-emerging militant and extremist threats. The TTP and similar other outfits have been emboldened by the Afghan Taliban’s victory. There has been a surge in terrorist attacks on law-enforcement and military personnel. Attacks on Chinese nationals involved in CPEC projects are of special concern.
After the APS tragedy, a working group of professionals, civilian and military met on Dec 21, 2014, on the invitation of the interior ministry, and based on their experience and expertise, identified the internal security fault lines that posed a mortal threat. The proposed kinetic and non-kinetic, short and long-term counterterrorism and counter-extremism (CE) measures resulted in the 20-point CT NAP. The implementation strategy contained short-, medium- and long-term measures for review by apex committees jointly steered by the chief ministers and army corps commanders.
A policy of appeasement towards extremists has undermined the state’s writ.
However, the then political and military leadership were trapped in a power struggle, resulting in a military-centric focus on CT-related kinetic measures at the expense of long-term inter-institutional and cross-cutting CE measures envisaged by NAP. The National Counter-Terrorism Authority (Nacta) eventually came up with a policy review on CT NAP in 2019 and 2020. Most of its recommendations have been approved in the latest apex committee meeting seen as a positive attempt to restore the balance between CT and CE strategies.
The decision to set up a National Crisis Information Management Cell appears to be a revival of the post 9/11 Musharraf-era National Crisis Management Cell (NCMC) set up within the interior ministry and headed by a retired brigadier. After Nacta’s establishment, the NCMC was correctly disbanded and merged with Nacta. The creation of NCIMC, with a brigadier in charge and again placed within the interior ministry, appears to undermine the civilian coordination authority and further formalise the militarisation of the internal security mechanism. In terms of CT and CE, intelligence-sharing, monitoring and coordination are Nacta’s legal mandate. The implementation was to be ensured by the provinces through their home departments and the interior ministry through the National Police Bureau. In fact, constituting apex committees was a temporary measure adopted for better coordination and monitoring of NAP by chief ministers and army commanders.
The latest decision to revive a crisis management cell along with the earlier establishment of National Intelligence Coordination Committee reflects the military establishment’s domineering role in national security. The NICC is led by the ISI. The IB and FIA are civilian departments with distinct legal mandates. They cannot and must not take dictation from any other institution. One notices in the composition of the National Security Committee that civilian law-enforcement and intel agencies like Nacta, FIA and IB are missing. The NSC deliberates on internal security issues, and the absence of law-enforcement agencies from the highest security forum of the federal government reinforces the view that the military establishment has primacy on security-related issues. A democratic government must dispel this impression.
Reportedly, the NAP apex committee “vowed that no one would be allowed to take up arms and no violence from any group would be tolerated”. The policy of appeasement towards extremists like the TLP has already undermined the state’s writ. Now there are reports of state agencies reaching out to the TTP for a ‘peace agreement’. Such ‘deals’ violate CT NAP. Also, all erstwhile strategic assets used in Afghanistan and elsewhere were to be neutralised and firmly proceeded against by the state. The army chief said in response to a question in 2019 that the time for ‘proxies’ was over. At the Islamabad Security Dialogue in March 2021 he said, “Unless our own house is in order, nothing good could be expected from outside.” The US Centcom commander has warned that regrouping of militants would be Pakistan’s biggest worry in the near future.
The CT NAP review addressed the proliferation of weapons in society. A firm arms-control policy with zero tolerance for illicit weapons and a complete ban on licences for prohibited bore arms are needed, but Pakistan hasn’t even ratified the UN Protocol on Illicit Firearms.
Pakistan is undergoing the UN Transnational Organised Crime Convention peer review through two African states. It is good to know that the interior ministry has nominated the focal point and appointed a national expert on organised crime. FIA is the premier agency dealing with organised crimes — migrant smuggling, human trafficking, cybercrime and illicit financial flows which also relate to FATF concerns. The implementation mechanism is key to producing the desired results.
The apex committee will reportedly “fast track implementation of various measures to meet emergent security, including cybersecurity and espionage, judicial and civil [service] reforms, capacity building of law-enforcement agencies, counter-extremism and other issues having direct bearing on national security”. The recently announced cybersecurity policy will require a careful implementation mechanism. In 2009, a framework for cybersecurity was notified within the FIA but no one pursued it. Espionage is a big concern for our state agencies, but no one has asked if the main counter-espionage federal intel agencies like ISI and IB operate within a legal framework. They are bound by no law and have developed a mindset of being above the law. There is no parliamentary oversight of intel operations.
The government’s track record in improving governance and the criminal justice system reflects indifference or lack of capacity. In a cabinet meeting last October, it was decided that a CE commission would be set up to deal with religious intolerance and violent extremism. But the terms of reference and legal mandate of the proposed body still haven’t been finalised. Similarly, only lip service is paid to judicial reforms. The average tenure of the IG police of the largest province has been just six months over the last three years. There is no security of tenure for federal secretaries or provincial chief secretaries. Judges’ appointment, even in the apex court, lacks transparency. Court cases are piling up. Accountability of public office holders is a sham. Despite the Supreme Court’s strictures, NAB continues to pursue a flawed accountability campaign.
In short, people at the helm understand power and know where to look for it, and how to use and misuse it.