Counter-terrorism: Hollow claims!

Iqbal Khan

QUETTA Hospital tragedy has brought forth genuine concern over lack of progress on implementation of some very important points of National Action Plan. Establishing long term peace and stability in Pakistan is likely to remain evasive, unless an all-out effort is made to implement NAP is letter and in spirit. Three consecutive days of deliberations at highest level of national leadership ended up in a disappointing output, yet another High Level Task Force is born to monitor the progress.
NAP was unanimously prepared to consolidate the gains of the military component of national counter terrorism effort. Military action has significantly dampened the capacity of terror making entities; this fact has been widely recognized the world-over. However, pace of transition from military to civilian authority is dismally slow. This has resulted in fixation of army troops to all the area where they marched in to conduct counter terrorism operations—starting from Swat to Waziristan. Army cannot spare the requisite manpower for policing of cleared areas on permanent basis. This task is the primary responsibility of the police and other law enforcing agencies, under purview of provincial governments.
Such institutions are unable to deliver due to capacity issues. Also judiciary has not been able to come up to expectations in trying cases of terrorism on expeditious basis. one must admit that implementation of NAP, has at best been half-hearted, lacking political will. Protection of Pakistan Act (PPA) lapsed without timely follow-up for its continuation. Employees of National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) have not been paid salaries for the last seven months, and so on and so forth. Faulty investigations, poor prosecution and lacklustre judicial system results in criminals to go scot-free and resume their activities with impunity. Security in form is sprinkled all over Pakistan; however, it terribly lack in substance. Security is on exhibition in shopping malls, airports, road barrier etc. Police, military and paramilitary personnel are everywhere alongside innumerable private security guys. Those who carried out Quetta attacks must have deceived many such barriers or scans; why and how? The Supreme Court directed the provincial authorities on August 11to evolve a mechanism for screening out private security guards. “There may be some agents of RAW or Taliban,” CJP Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali observed. Referring to recent killings of more than 70 citizens in Quetta, top judge made eye-opening remarks that although 75 security guards were posted at the civil hospital, none of them had actually undergone training to cope with such incidents.
Bombs and their carriage and detection are a concern for everybody. Government of Pakistan has just invested in a bomb detection device that was proven to be a scam many years ago— completely ineffectual. The ‘inventor’ of this bogus bomb detector and his accomplices are currently serving long prison sentences in the UK for fraud. They made millions of pounds marketing their ‘devices’ worldwide, including to Pakistan. The nonsense is now being compounded by the government still going for manufacturing these dummy devices. These scanner are still employed at airports, government installations and most sensitive facilities under the rationale of deterrence!
However, such attacks disprove the tall claims by security forces and law-enforcement agencies that they have nailed-in terrorism through intelligence based operations. The real challenge of course is how the problem is to be solved; and, of course, there are no easy and instant solutions. Though we have come a long way in reducing the frequency of such attacks, finish line is still far away—warranting perseverance, professionalism and political acumen. Balochistan has all along been a trouble prone province for one reason or the other. Equally ghastly incidents have been haunting its urban centres much before the entry of China Pakistan Economic Corridor factor. There are multiple powerful fault lines capable to igniting tinderbox on slightest pretext. Moreover, Quetta Hospital type incidents are not specific to Balochistan, such events are happening in all provinces and territories of Pakistan.
Interior Minister has recently said that while most political parties were against the introduction of harsh laws, stricter laws were needed to reign in terrorists. In fact adequate laws are in place, we are indeed an over legislated nation. Where we lack is will and efficiency of Law Enforcing Agencies with regard to implementation. Certainly, Quetta like security lapses are the fault of the security agencies, and too many such lapses have happened to continue giving them the benefit of doubt. Had any other government department failed with such frequency and with such shattering consequences, heads would have rolled long ago. Beyond doubt, it is time for our intelligence agencies to be held accountable for such lapses, after all it is their duty to neutralize foreign intelligence agencies’ efforts before they materialize into such attacks. While it would be naïve to believe that certain foreign forces would not take advantage of a crisis in the region to cause further instability, ascribing blame on RAW has become an easy scapegoat for our state failures—especially in Balochistan. Let’s not forget that similar incidents took place in Punjab on Easter day and a university, in KP.
To stay viable, terrorist entities have to conduct one such attack in a while, followed by a long pause, so far they retain this capability. And, over and above, such entities are in sufficient number, so even if each carries out such activity once in a while, those at the receiving end are poised to face it quite often. At the same time, to stay credible, those responsible to counter such attacks must be able to intercept each potential attempt before it culminates in to blast. Each blast is failure of those tasked to prevent it, that’s what professionalism dictates. The question is who is responsible to deal with counter espionage? And why isn’t it being done in a professional manner? There is need to take stock as to why our counter intelligence is failing again and again?
Failure of politicians, military, intelligence, police, judiciary, media and the bureaucracy has reached epic levels in Pakistan. It is about time we take collective actions to improve our efficiency. What we need is concrete implementation and not just photo-ops focused security huddles. Though political leadership managed to compose a usual message of sorrow, deterrence and resolve, their word were hollow, the phrases had little impact – such articulations had since been heard umpteenth times. Reaction to Quetta Hospital attack was business as usual. Everyone was grinding his own axe—point scoring, political opportunism and increasing space for respective organization.
We shake up from slumber on every major tragedy of this type, post activity in great panic and fanfare for a few weeks and then go into a deeper slumber—or say coma. Again and again, same lessons are learnt—and forgotten. Comments and reactions by various segments of leadership indicate that we have not learned any lessons; so the unfortunate truth is that more such events are likely to happen.
— The writer is consultant to IPRI on policy and strategic response.

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