A bureaucratic cocktail

Pakistan faces a socio-political challenge that requires a community-based response

A bureaucratic cocktail
In a country that has looked more like a rudderless ship than a functional state, the National Internal Security Policy (NISP) marks the first major response to the multitude of challenges that Pakistan faces today. It provides some guiding principles, first-ever ‘official’ data on the extent of losses, lists the number of proscribed organizations (60), and the startling disclosure that the number of madrassas has skyrocketed to 22,052 (up from nearly 16,000 in 2005-06). The policy also gives a first-ever consolidated figure on the total number of police (412,167 for entire Pakistan) and the citizen-police ratio. But the policy has shortcomings that make it another bureaucratic recipe for problems that require practical steps for resolution.

Firstly, the concept of “internal security” is misleading, and erroneous, for an extremely complex situation. It draws distinction between internal and external security, whereby the authors appear totally oblivious to the internal threats that are trans-national in nature. These threats thrive off, and are fueled by, external drivers such as Al Qaeda, as well as negative perceptions on the US-led western civilizations.

Secondly, the policy fails in identifying the root-causes of home-grown terrorism and extremism and its links to external factors.

Thirdly, it lacks strategic conventional vision, and thus seems to rest on administrative structures as the core components of the strategy, ie reliance on hard power alone, rather than explicitly talking of a narrative that is embedded in i) indiscriminate enforcement of rule of law, and ii) an intellectual and informed debate on the role of religion in modern society and the havoc that “religious” freedom has played with social values, politics and national cohesion.

[quote]Will the state of Pakistan consider an army of small-time criminals and mercenaries legitimate stakeholders?[/quote]

Fourthly, the policy focuses on visible and invisible terrorist or extremist threats and not on the factors that facilitate terrorism and extremism. One wonders whether the authors consider violations of the Article 256 of the constitution as a facilitating factor. This article bars private groups and individuals from raising private armies in the territories of Pakistan. We have certain “private armies” that enjoy undeclared official sanction as good Taliban.

Fifthly, the policy fails in spelling out the “stakeholders” and this relates to a general confusion or deliberate obfuscation of the reality. Will the state of Pakistan consider an army of small-time criminals and mercenaries as legitimate stakeholders?  What will be the future of talks and engagement if viewed against the Article 5 of the constitution? This article requires everyone, including foreigners in Pakistan, to extend obedience and loyalty to the constitution and to the state of Pakistan.

Sixthly, the NISP speaks of 60 banned organizations in Pakistan, pretty much in line with a UN-guided sanctions regime to cover individuals and entities associated with Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden and/or the Taliban wherever located. Although it recognizes “poor enforcement” of the ban on these organization, but ostensibly it remains shy of mentioning that successive governments miserably failed in enforcing various sections of the Anti Terror Act of 2013, particularly sections 8, 9, 11-E, and 11-M. They all relate to acts of terrorism, collection of donations for and by proscribed organizations, spread and propagation of sectarian hatred, and incitement to violence. Even the 1965 Loudspeaker Act is flouted all over. The alarming number of illegal mosques and madrassas even in the green areas of Islamabad fly in the face of an administration that punishes small time violators in a big way, and glosses over massive law-breaches.

A soldier stand guards in the Mashal de-radicalisation centre run by the Pakistani army in Swat
A soldier stand guards in the Mashal de-radicalisation centre run by the
Pakistani army in Swat

Although the policy pledges to “create a safe environment where life, property, civil liberties and socio-economic rights of the citizens are protected and the people of Pakistan are able to live and prosper in harmony, freedom respect and dignity as enshrined in the Constitution of Pakistan”, unfortunately the constitution itself inherently encourages sectarianism, intolerance, disrespect for all sects, religions, militancy and insurgency.

As Ijaz Haider points out, “We are living in 21st century, the so called global-village, but are trying to follow the norms of statecraft followed by inward looking clergy living during 8th-10th centuries of Christian church in the geographical confines of Europe and Palestine only. Every Christian was free to follow whatever sect he liked. He was not burned on stake for blasphemy or lynched for belonging to a different sect.”

We must remember that most of these religious institutions are either affiliated directly or otherwise either with proscribed organizations or by leaders, members or associates of religio-political groups – often a subject of favors and privileges by mainstream parties.

Seventhly, the policy talks of a comprehensive arms-control regime and stresses integrating mosques and seminaries into the national and provincial “educational establishment”, without reference to the previous, largely failed campaigns to reform the seminary for curricula, scrutinize their accounts and “de-weaponize” cities such as Karachi.

Turkey, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Malaysia, Indonesia – all keep a strict watch on what the Imams – all of them highly qualified – tell their followers, in a glaring contrast to  Pakistan, where you come across toxic speeches even in Islamabad’s mosques.

Eighthly, how can terrorism be a provincial subject? Terrorist attacks are not just a local law and order problem, they are both trans-border, trans-regional and invariably linked at many levels. So talking of federal and provincial rapid response forces is yet another example of a bureaucratic mindset. Why raise new armies at a whopping cost of over $500 million instead of reorganizing the existing structures and building their capacity at an accelerated pace. Counter-terror departments and units must be raised from within the existing national intelligence services, the Special Service Group, and police.

Lastly, because of being typically bureaucratic, the NISP places the prime minister and the interior minister on top, followed by the chief ministers. And herein lies the devil of obstruction and free function of what is supposed to be a dynamic, 24/7 functional intelligence and security apparatus. In a country where state functions revolve around personalities, why must the prime minister, the interior minister and the chief ministers all be dragged into a process that requires professional knowledge and clear mental focus?

What Pakistan faces is a socio-political challenge. It requires a community-based response, as the French counter-terror expert David Galula had proposed more than four decades ago. Police must remain the lead agency as a natural first point of contact. The second most important element he proposed was the crucial role of prosecution of those found guilty of working against state. Third, restoring peoples’ confidence in state institutions, particularly in police and prosecution, backed up by better service delivery and commitment to rule of law.

No strategy will work until already existing legal tools are enforced across the board with a clear realization that this holds the key to social harmony, prevention of radicalization, and a check on agents of terrorism.

Imtiaz Gul is the executive director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk