Pakistan’s experiment of countering terrorism, through civilian law enforcement means, within the contours of prescribed law, has yielded selective results. Ever since the onset of ‘war against terror’ in our region, after the fateful event of 11th September, 2001, successive governments in Pakistan (military as well as civilian) have grappled with the defining challenge of our time: countering the evolving menace of sectarian as well as religious militancy.
Initially, for the first decade, the ostensible rhetoric of countering terrorism was betrayed by deceitful State policies, in which a tainted military top-brass and compromised political leadership demonstrated abominable inertia towards rethinking the ill-found doctrines of ‘strategic depth’. During this time, caught in what Tariq Ali calls the ‘Clash of Civilizations’, Pakistan’s leadership made disingenuous distinctions between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban; between militants who only carry out attacks in Afghanistan, as opposed to those who target the State of Pakistan; between those who fight the American forces, as opposed to those who target Pakistani military personnel; between those who sponsor violence within our borders, as opposed to those who export militancy from our soil. And caught in a myriad of this ideological and intelligence warfare, the State of Pakistan never got around to developing a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy that focuses on long-term goals through the empowerment of civilian law enforcement framework.
The present Government, given its historical love affair with the Islamic/Sunni forces, would probably have taken no major steps to offend the religious right. However, as fate would have it, PML(N)’s hand was pushed towards decisiveness by two (external) factors: 1) General Raheel Sharif, and his military cabinet, who have shown an unconquerable resolve to rid our land of militancy, and 2) the unspeakable tragedy of Army Public School, Peshawar, which broke our nation’s back in terms of tolerating even the slightest shred of sympathy towards militant elements.
In the circumstances, even away from Zarb-e-Azab, enormous leaps have been made towards the development of a legislative and executive paradigm that can effectively counter the scourge of terrorism. To this end, amendments were proposed to the Anti-terrorism Act, 1997; a new legislative instrument (Protection of Pakistan Act, 2014) was enacted, granting sweeping powers to the law enforcement agencies; a legal distinction was created in regards to ‘enemy aliens’, and their treatment within our laws; National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) was revived; the National Action Plan (encompassing 20 points) was formulated; the National Internal Security Policy 2014 – 2018 (NISP) was framed; and finally the 21st Constitutional Amendment (creating Military Courts to try religious terrorists suspects) was passed.
As part of these structural changes, the incumbent Government announced its plan to create the Joint Intelligence Directorate, housed within the infrastructure of NACTA, designed as an apex committee for comprehensive intelligence sharing and coordination. Specifically, per the NISP, this Joint Intelligence Directorate would include member of the military leadership, heads of civil and military intelligence agencies, paramilitary forces, as well as the Federal and Provincial police representatives. After some delay, earlier this week, the Federal Interior Minister, Chaudhary Nisar Ali Khan, announced that the Joint Intelligence Directorate will become operational shortly, and that the initial budgetary requirements for the same have already been allocated.
This is much-awaited good news – at least from a structural perspective – in Pakistan’s ongoing war against terrorism. As has been vociferously advocated by members of civilian as well as military leadership, there is a dire need to create an overarching umbrella organization, spanning both sides of the civilian-military divide, for the purposes of tactical, strategic and operational intelligence sharing.
However, the mere creation of such an organization, necessary as it is, will not fix the voids in the coordination of our intelligentsia. For this purpose, the non-tangible barriers of disconnected dominions, between the competing intelligence agencies, will have to be removed. And this, as experience has shown, is a herculean task in Pakistan.
For now, given Pakistan’s extended historical experience with military rulers (and also military–controlled democracies), the critical capacity and resources for intelligence gathering rest with the khakis. From cutting-edge equipment, to manpower, to financial resources, the ISI and the MI are far ‘superior’ intelligence agencies than the civilian counter-parts. To make matters worse, in light of a historic distrust for one another, the military intelligentsia has never been too keen on sharing the fullest extent of their institutional knowledge with the civilian and police personnel. As a result, the civilian law enforcement agencies, or the civilian leadership, do not exercise control over the trickled information, provided to them by the military intelligentsia, for carrying out their anti-terrorism operations. Resultantly, there is frequently a large disconnect between the agency that provides critical intelligence vis-à-vis the one that carries out its operational details.
Without controverting the ideal that intelligence gathering (in regards to terrorism) should have civilian oversight, it would be an exercise in futility to argue that the ISI and the MI should relent their hegemony over the intelligence gathering apparatus. This, at least for now, cannot be the purpose of creating the Joint Intelligence Directorate. Instead, the forum should serve as a real-time platform for coordinating operations based on the intelligence gathered by the respective agencies. And this, in itself, would be an admirable achievement.
An effort, in this regard, would need a tremendous measure of wisdom from civilian leadership as well as the Army command. Despite apparent frustration, the Ministry of Interior, FIA, police, and the Intelligence Bureau must refrain from an impulse to see this as an (immediate) opportunity to step onto military toes; conversely, the khakis must gradually open their doors of internal mystique to treat the civilian law enforcement agencies as equal partners in the war against terror. And only in this way, through a deliberate sense of purpose and trust, can the initiative of Joint Intelligence Directorate fulfill its elusive promise.
These are exacting times. The people of this nation – including children in their school uniforms – have fed blood to our land, in the hope that their sacrifice will usher an age of peace, progress and tranquility. The creation of a Joint Intelligence Directorate, for the first time in our history, is a step toward redeeming our national pledge towards those who have sacrificed their (all too young) lives for this cause.
We cannot, now, allow this opportunity to be squandered at the hands of trivial turf-war between competing agencies of the state.