Monday, October 26, 2015

Muharram security challenge

Muharram security challenge

By Afzal A Shigri

EVERY year Muslims all over the world recall the tragedy of Karbala in Muharram, and they observe it according to a variety of traditions. The tragedy is a gripping epic of the battle between right and wrong and victory in apparent defeat.
Even in peaceful times, Muharram congregations and processions pose a huge challenge — as we saw in Thursday’s attack on an imambargah in Balochistan’s Bolan district, and last night with a bombing of a procession in Jacobabad — in terms of management for a country like Pakistan, which has a range of traditions associated with the observance of the occasion. Pooling all their resources, the law-enforcement agencies work together on security and traffic management. Precautions have to be taken to ensure that historical flashpoints of conflict are carefully monitored so as to prevent an untoward incident as the latter can escalate into widespread sectarian disturbances.
Within the prevailing security environment, these challenges are formidable as any incident can spiral out of control and has the potential to engulf the entire country. In the last 10 years, a number of serious incidents of terrorism have led to widespread violence. For instance in 2009, the Karachi bomb blast on Muharram 10 resulted in extensive lawlessness across the city. In view of the serious consequences of such incidents, the provincial governments and the federal government have mounted large-scale efforts to arrange security for the processions and to provide effective security cover to the congregations.

The key to peace is the implementation of improved procedures for management of processions.

Over the years, with the rise in acts of terrorism in Pakistan, the law-enforcement agencies have also ramped up their efforts to enhance security during Muharram by improving the cordon around the main processions and denying access to the terrorists. But the threats of terrorism in other areas have not receded, and the possibility keeps the entire security apparatus on edge during this month.
When certain terror outfits — as a matter of policy and propaganda — question the beliefs of various Muslim sects by way of justifying violence against them, it becomes very difficult for a thinly spread-out security apparatus during Muharram to ensure protection to all. It is indeed a matter of satisfaction that, except for the unfortunate incident blighting the Ashura procession in Rawalpindi in 2013, there has been no major terror attack during Muharram for the last five years. The Rawalpindi incident too can sadly be attributed to administrative/security failure and sheer incompetence as it took place at a location which is a known sensitive flashpoint.
The usual practice had been to deploy security personnel strategically so as to prevent untoward incidents of the kind that took place that year. In this case, the district police of Rawalpindi failed to take adequate steps, which resulted in casualties and widespread disturbances.
This year, security for Muharram presents new challenges because Operation Zarb-i-Azb has dismantled the sanctuaries and command structure of the militants, and the ongoing operations by police and Rangers have denied refuge to them in the rest of the country. Yet the recovery of a huge arsenal of weapons and explosives and the arrest of a new breed of university-educated radicals shows the reach and the strength of these terrorist groups. Such widespread radicalization and allegiance of the extremists to foreign militant groups are alarming signs, for they reflect the rise of a borderless and invisible enemy that is difficult to fight or root out.
The good news is that many of the ulema and religious leaders across the sectarian divide have realized the gravity of the situation and are actively involved in maintaining peace, particularly in areas which are historically prone to sectarian confrontation. They have not only participated in the peace committees but have also pleaded for sectarian harmony in the country. However, the interrogation of the terrorists arrested recently shows that, despite being on the run, these extremists have the resilience to regroup and remount attacks with the help of their sympathizers. This reflects their resolve to challenge the writ of the state in the hope of triggering widespread sectarian violence so that the relentless pressure on them is relieved.
Tactically the arrangements are a success as the police and the civil armed forces, supported by the army, have been successful in maintaining peace during this critical period. As mentioned earlier, the operations against the terrorists across the entire country have, in general, disrupted their nefarious plans to attack Muharram processions and congregations. The newly introduced CCTV cameras and modern police control rooms have also been of great help for the law enforcers. As part of this effort, Punjab has gone one step ahead, launching a campaign to control misuse of loudspeakers for broadcasting inflammatory speeches and to confiscate hate publications/materials.
Key to this sustained peace is the implementation of improved procedures for management of the processions and direct involvement of the senior leadership of the law-enforcement forces. Despite the constraints discussed here, the maintenance of peace proves that order can be maintained by the present law-enforcement structures, if they exhibit the resolve and exercise the will to do so. Hitherto, they have been held back due to the lack of political will and absence of clear vision with a workable strategic plan.
The government should build on this newfound tactical superiority and convert it into a long-term plan as uprooting terrorism is a long and arduous journey requiring an integrated efficient intelligence network and effective police to act on the actionable information.
The ministry of interior should take the lead by activating the National Counter-Terrorism Authority, improving the law-enforcement structures and eliminating the major terrorist groups through the newly established military courts. Ultimately, the civilian government has the responsibility to devise long-term policies to sustain this peace and de-radicalize society.
The hapless people of this country have suffered for a long time and the lack of state protection for ordinary citizens has created a governance vacuum. If matters continue like this, the vacuum will be filled by those who will not allow the state to collapse. The political government has yet again been presented with an opportunity to re-establish itself, and it must act before it is too late.
The writer is a former IGP Sindh.
Published in Dawn, October 24th, 2015

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Address in opening session of National Police Executive Seminar

I had a chance to address the senior officers of Police Service of Pakistan in the seminar arranged by National Police Bureau. As a retired police officer I had noted the absence of an organized institutional arrangement for the welfare of the families of the police officers who had laid down their lives in line of duty of or had been injured I used this opportunity to raise this issue in my address. It is disappointing that despite thousands of causalities police leadership have yet to create a functional institutional arrangement to look after the suffering families of the Shaheeds and the injured. I hope that the officers who were present in the seminar will take some action to address this most important matter that has a direct impact on the morale of the force that they command.

Afzal Ali Shigri 

Address in opening session of
National Police Executive Seminar held on 19th October, 2015 by National Police Bureau
in collaboration with ICITAP Pakistan

My dear Bother Officers distinguished guests:

Let me begin by expressing my immense pleasure at the opportunity to participate in this prestigious forum. I consider it to be a great honour and privilege to be called upon to address and to participate in this conference for the senior executives of the Police.

Indeed, today’s conference serves as a delightful occasion for me to be once again sharing a platform with my ‘brother in arms’, in order to highlight key challenges facing today’s police force and to explore possible solutions to these conundrums.

In attempting to discuss the challenges confronting the contemporary police force, we must be mindful of the fact that today’s police force is not a force operating in times of peace. Rather, it is an embattled one, fighting against an amorphous, and at times, invisible enemy, constrained by political interests and held back by a lack of resources. The people are looking up to you to restore peace and make Pakistan safe. We can only do it if we can win the trust of the men that we command. Police in Pakistan despite its negative image is in reality a fine force that has repeatedly proved to be a dependable body of men who have ultimately maintained order in the society. The key to success is with its leadership and I have the honour to be speaking to them in this conference.

The police force now numbers about 400,000 personnel, and every day, these brave men and women lock eyes with death, as they skirmish with terrorists, carry out dangerous door-to-door searches, raid terror cells and protect key installations and the public alike from the rabid threat of terror attacks. Countless police officers and men have embraced martyrdom in this endless battle or sustained life-altering injuries. Their families now languish in obscurity, largely neglected by the force, in the service of which these officers and men sacrificed their lives.

Let me share with you some of the cases that came to my notice where this apathy was visible. In one case a young policeman lost his life in confronting a rowdy crowd and the committee set up to examine his compensation case in its collective wisdom declared that he could not be declared a shaheed depriving his five year daughter and three years old son and a young wife from the special compensation package for the shaheeds. I had to seek the intervention of the IGP. In another case an ASI was dismissed on the specific orders of a superior for alleged recording the recovery of narcotics less than the actual recovery. Later on it transpired that the complaint lodged through electronic means was false and initiated by the terrorists who were smuggling the drug. Tragically the officer was also killed by them in his home town. Yet in another case reportedly gallantry award was not recommended to an officer who was seriously injured in stopping a suicide attack. The reason sighted was inadequate security arrangement by him. Yet in a very well known case a number of police officers charged under anti terrorism law continue to suffer for years while stopping a torch bearing lawyers protest procession. Police as an institution failed to protect them from the wrath of the lawyers and indifference of the courts.

It is a great pity that despite great losses, the police service has neglected to create a solid structure for the welfare of officers and men, especially those who have paid the ultimate price in the service of their country. At a time when their morale needs to be the strongest and when faith in the ability of their service to take care of their dependents has to be vindicated, the police service has done little to merit the sacrifice of its officers and men. It is also critical that those who take the initiative and confront the criminals are also fully protected from malicious and false allegations and in case of law suits the institution provides the best defense lawyers in the never ending litigation.

 It is my considered belief that if we want to win the battle against the terrorists and radicals, we must create an exemplary support network, structure for welfare and relevant provisions for our personnel, so that when they face the enemy in the battleground, they do so in the assurance, rather than vain hope, that their families will be looked after and provided for, in the event of their martyrdom. They also expect to be protected against any prosecution for their acts in good faith in line of duty and not abandoned just because of a media report that someone in power has taken note of. That is what the men demand of the commander and in return give loyalty.

I must end by thanking Mr Inam Ghani the Director General, Mr. Kaleem Imam Director and Mr. Miller head of the ICITAP in Pakistan for having the foresight to arrange this forum so that we may set into motion changes, which will address the core challenges besetting today’s police force. I hope that today’s conference will one day be remembered as the symbolic and practical turning point in the efforts to strengthen the morale and resolve of police officers and men, so that the police force gains a reputation for ‘taking care of its own’.