This article was published by Asia Society in their book on the subject of "Stabilizing Pakistan Through Police Reforms". Permission to publish it on this blog is acknowledged with gratitude.
Tariq Pervaz is a retired Inspector General Police who is an authority on anti-terrorism in Pakistan. In addition to many important command field assignments he worked as head of the agency dealing with the terrorism in Punjab and later as Director General of Federal Investigation Agency. It was he who conceived the idea of a national anti-terrorism authority and was its first head. Unfortunately due to non-serious attitude of the government and the obstinacy of the Ministry of Interior to retain its control scuttled a very good initiative. Tariq resigned and the organization for the reason explained in this paper failed to deliver and has been a colossal waste of resources. When Tariq Pervaz speaks the policy makers must listen and consider his advice seriously. Afzal A Shigri
The National Counter Terrorism Authority
The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks necessitated fundamental changes in the way the world responded to terrorism. Many countries that considered themselves particularly vulnerable to terrorism threats become aware of the acute need to evaluate the ability of their existing counter-terrorism institution to deal with the greater magnitude of the terrorist threat, to integrate counter-terrorism efforts, to strengthen anti-terrorism laws, and to initiate large-scale research to understand the different dimensions of the threat’s new face.
Comprehensive national counter-terrorism strategies were drawn up (e.g., the counter-terrorism strategy or CONTEST in the United kingdom), and a variety of new counter-terrorism institution were created (e.g., the Department of Homeland Security and National Counter-terrorism Committee in the United States, the Office for Security and Counter-terrorism in the United kingdom, and Detachment 88 in Indonesia) to develop and integrate national counter-terrorism efforts. New anti-terrorism laws were passed (e.g, THE USA PATRIOT ACT in the United States) or existing laws were updated with new provisions. Think tanks in the West focused increasingly on understanding the phenomenon of terrorism in the name of religion and anticipating future trends. Pakistan -- arguably the most important country in the global effort against terrorism -- by and large continued to deal with the new threat using an old framework of counter-terrorism.
In 2009, however, the Pakistan federal government took a major step forward by setting up the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) to guide and integrate the national counter-terrorism efforts. This chapter will explain this concept and evaluate its potential.
The Existing System of Counter-terrorism
According to the Constitution of Pakistan, maintaining law and order is among the basic responsibilities of the country’s provinces. Policing is conducted at the provincial level, with each province maintaining its own police force. As far as law and order is concerned, the federal government’s responsibility is to provide additional support to provincial governments upon request. The federal governments has its own law enforcements agency, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) , which is governed by an act of parliament and can investigate only those offenses allowed by the act.
The following structures currently exist to deal with counter terrorism in Pakistan:
· Local police: These forces have the authority to collect intelligence on terrorist networks and monitor those suspected of having links with terrorist (names are placed on the Fourth Schedule of the Anti-Terrorism Act). Local police have sole authority to investigate cases of terrorism that take place in their jurisdiction unless the investigation is transferred to another agency by relevant authority.
· Crime Investigation Department (CID), known as the counter Terrorism Department (CID) in Punjab province: This body is meant to help focus counter-terrorism efforts in the respective province. It has the legal authority to collect, collate, and disseminate intelligence on terrorist network and to investigate cases of terrorism transferred to it from the local police by the provincial government. It maintains a database of terrorism who are most active in the province.
· Special Branch: This is the province’s premier police intelligence agency. Since the creation of CIDs/CTD, the emphasis on collecting intelligence on terrorism has taken on secondary importance. The Special Branch, however, can collect intelligence on terrorism and pass it on to CIDs/CTD.
· Federal Investigation Agency (FIA): The premier police investigation agency at the federal level. After the September 11 attacks, a new wing was set up within the FIA called the Special Investigation Group to investigate cases of terrorism referred to it through the mutual consent of the relevant provincial government and the federal government. The FIA also maintains a national database of individuals with terrorist connection.
· Intelligence Bureau (IB): The IB is the only police intelligence outfit at the federal level. It has a counter-terrorism wing that is responsible for collecting terrorism-related intelligence and passing it on to concerned quarters for necessary action.
· Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI): This is a predominantly military organization operating at the federal level. The counter-terrorism wing of the ISI is responsible for collecting intelligence on terrorist network and disseminating it to the concerned quarters.
· Frontier Corps: This is a paramilitary force that deals with the insurgency in Balochistan and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).
· Sindh Rangers: This is a paramilitary force that assists the Sindh police in carrying out anti-terrorism duties in Karachi. They have also been given police power of arrest.
· Military Intelligence and the Directorate of Military Operation: These two departments of the military are active in operation against insurgents in FATA and Swat.
· National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA): This institution was set up at the federal level in 2009. As will be explained, it is still experiencing growing pains and has not yet started to operate effectively.
Existing Counter-terrorism Efforts
Before discussing the concept, role, and structure of NACTA, It is necessary to describe some important area of concern in Pakistan’s existing effort in Pakistan.
First, the existing national counter-terrorism effect in Pakistan is based almost exclusively on a capture/kill approach by the police and concerned paramilitary and military department. The drawback of a focus on arresting and killing militants is that it is extremely lopsided, as it does not place due emphasis on the process and factors that breed militants, nor does it seek measures to ensure conviction after militants are arrested. The net result is that although a large number of militants are arrested by security forces, large number of new recruits continues to join the ranks of the militants.
Similarly, a lack of attention on securing the conviction of arrested militants in courts leads to an abysmally low conviction rate, which reduces the deterrence value of the criminal justice system in the eyes of militants. Even if they are arrested, suspected terrorists are usually sure that they will unlikely be convicted, for various reasons. The net result of this approach is that existing responses have very limited effectiveness in reducing militancy in the long term.
Second, Pakistan has no national counter-terrorism strategy despite 20 years of experience in combating terrorism. Consequently, the current effort is adhoc, lacks any nation sense of direction, and has no long term plan to deal with such a crucial threat. There is no national counter-terrorism action plan indicating what needs to be done, by whom, and according to what timeline. As a result, there is no unity of efforts at the national level to combat what many consider an existential threat to Pakistan and a threat to global peace.
Next, the existing national countertenor effort in Pakistan is fragmented, which is debilitating to the country’s response. The effort is broken up between the provincial police forces and intelligence agencies, between the provinces and federal government, between different ministries and departments of the federal governments, and, above all, between the civil and military counter-terrorism department. The existing national counter-terrorism effort is led by the military, with the ISI acting as the lead agency and the police playing a secondary role. This is a fundamentally flawed approach. Counter-terrorism basically involves arresting terrorists, collecting evidence against them, and getting them convicted in the courts. This is primarily a police job, but leaving this task to an intelligence agency - particularly one that is predominantly military in nature - introduces fundamental distortion, most clearly manifested in the missing person’s phenomenon that is currently being witnessed in Pakistan. It is absolutely imperative to declare the police force the lead agency for counter-terrorism in the provinces.
The existing policy of using militant proxies as instruments of state policy to achieve foreign policy goals leads to ambiguity in dealing with militant entities. There is a need to have a civilian agency in place with the capability and stature to discuss nation security policy to give well considered policy option to the government to debate and decide in consultation with the political leadership, military, and other stakeholders.
Finally, efforts to understand the phenomenon of terrorism in Pakistan through rigorous research are almost nonexistent. Research on terrorism – related subjects must be encouraged, both in government sponsored think tanks and in independent research groups connected to civil society.
The Concept of NACTA
NACTA was conceived as a civilian agency operating at the nation level and responsible for orchestrating and coordinating the national counter-terrorism effort by taking the following steps:
· Draw up a national counter Terrorism and Extremism strategy (NACTES), with input from all nation and provincial stakeholders for approval by the political leadership
· Generate a National Action plan to implement the NACTES, in consultation with all implementing departments and institution, according to set timeline.
· Address all three dimensions of militancy: violent extremism, terrorism, and insurgency.
· Draw up a research plan to look into the various aspects of militancy in Pakistan and to provide support for research projects.
· Collect, collate, and disseminate intelligence from all provincial, federal, and military agencies as part of an effort to prepare a comprehensive national security analysis for government at the federal and provincial levels.
· Act as a one-stop shop for liaising with international organization and other states with regard to counterterrorism interaction and assistance.
The structure of NACTA
As originally envisioned, NACTA is to be headed by a national coordinator (equivalent in rank to the inspector general of police) who is assisted by a deputy national coordinator. It should comprise four wings: research, intelligence, counter extremism, and an international liaison
- Research wing: Headed by an eminent educationist or research scholar assisted by research officers, this wing will carry out research in areas relevant to militancy in Pakistan. The need for this wing cannot be exaggerated in view of the fact that in Pakistan, research is generally perceived as a low-priority activity. Not only are there very few serious think tanks working on militancy, but also the government does not provide funds to finance research. Without research, most policy making in Pakistan is based on anecdotal evidence, personal experiences, or unverified statistics.
- Counter extremism wing: Headed by an eminent educator, a religions scholar, a media expert, or any suitable person with relevant experience, this wing will address a gap in the existing counter-terrorism effort, which focuses on a capture/ kill approach and ignore the process and ideology of militancy that breeds new terrorism. Presently, terrorism organizations have an open field to spread their narrative and have a steady stream of new recruits.
- Intelligence Wing: Headed by a senior police officer, with representative from the ISI, IB, and provincial CIDs/CID.
- International Liaison Wing: Head by a police officer and responsible for dealing with international bodies in the field of counterterrorism and extremism.
The Present status of NACTA
Although it was formally set up in 2009, NACTA has yet to take off. This is partly attributable to a tussle over ownership of the organization. Presently, it is part of the ministry of interior, which maintains direct and strict control over it. Some provinces and federal intelligence agencies, however, feel that if NACTA is to become an effective coordinating body among counter terrorism stakeholders in the province and the intelligence agencies, it should be under the direct supervision of the prime minister of Pakistan. Not only would this lend necessary stature to such a coordinating body, but reporting to the prime minister would also make it more effective ant useful.
This issue has still not been resolved, and as of June 2012 NACTA leadership was in the process of preparing legislation to be presented to the prime minister for a final decision. It goes without saying that if NACTA continues to be a part of the Ministry of Interior, it will be a nonstarter, with important stakeholders such as provincial governments and federal intelligence agencies not fully cooperating with it.
Prospects for NACTA
NACTA would be an institution that not only would take a long-terms measure of the challenge of terrorism in Pakistan, but also would ensure that all dimension of militancy in Pakistan --violent extremism, terrorism, and insurgency -- would be treated with due importance . As the supreme national counter terrorism civilian body, NACTA can influence overall national security policy effectively transferring, in due course, the ownership of the national security strategy from the military to the civilian government in Pakistan.
In the strategic dialogue between the United States and Pakistan on security held in Islamabad in June 2010, it was decided that the first point of cooperation between the United States and Pakistan for achieving strategic unity in counter terrorism would involve strengthening and supporting NACTA. It was also decided that the National Counter terrorism Committee in the United States and NACTA in Pakistan would cooperate closely with each other as twin organization. For counter terrorism efforts in Pakistan to succeed, it is necessary to implement the decision taken by the two countries during the strategic Dialogue on Defense.
The need for coordination of the national counter terrorism effort by a civilian agency with adequate stature, authority, and competence is critical to the success of the Pakistan counter terrorism response. NACTA is an idea whose time has come. Sooner or later, the Pakistan government will need to depend on this national institution to get its act together on counter terrorism.
To ensure that NACTA is an effective institution, the following recommendations are proposed:
- Requisite legislation to establish NACTA must be enacted as soon as possible so that it can start functioning effectively. The legislation should have input from all stakeholders, including the provinces, federal government departments, and intelligence agencies; it should not be prepared by the Ministry of Interior alone. The Parliamentary Committee on National Security, headed by Senator Raza Rabbani, is a good forum in which to discuss and finalize the legislation. The legislation would be more useful if the Defense Cabinet Committee also approved it, as it would then have the support of all political parties represented in parliament as well as the military authorities and the provinces. This would give NACTA the required stature and acceptability to act as the supreme national coordinating body in counter-terrorism and counter extremism.
- NACTA must be immediately attached to the Prime Minister Secretariat, and the head of NACTA must be given the status of a minister of state who has the ear of the prime minister. This would help alleviate the growing pains of the organization, enabling it to start working at the earliest.
- A skeleton structure should be raised to start work on developing the basic framework of the organization. This skeleton structure must consist of personnel selected on the basic of qualification and merit, through a transparent system, preferably through the Federal Public Service Commission. The present practice of changing head of NACTA every few months must be stopped. In less than two years NACTA has had five heads, making it into a sort of parking lot, with officers waiting there until other position fall vacant. This indicates that the government does not take the agency seriously, adversely affecting the take off this excellent initiative. Additionally, this puts off international donors, who take it as a measure of the seriousness of the government to deal with terrorism and extremism.
- International assistance for counter terrorism in Pakistan should go toward capacity building in NACTA in the field of research on counter terrorism and counter extremism, developing the ability to carry out analysis of intelligence on counter terrorism and counter extremism, and developing and disseminating a counter narrative to militant ideology, besides other areas listed out by NACTA leadership. At the time of its establishment in January 2009, the United Kingdom and the European Union showed keen interest in its development but gave up when there was not much progress. The United States should implement provisions for NACTA, as set forth during the June 2010 U.S.-- Pakistan Dialogue on Defense.