Reviewing Pakistan’s new security paradigm.
Pakistan’s federal cabinet approved the National Internal Security Policy (NISP) on Feb. 25.
The document has taken about eight months to prepare. Its draft was completed end-November/early-December, and was to be placed before the cabinet on Jan. 20 but was taken off the agenda. Press reports at the time said that the draft was not discussed because of certain shortcomings. However, the Ministry of Interior rejected the news reports and said that given the schedule of the interior minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, it was decided the draft would be tabled for the cabinet’s approval in the next meeting.
This draft was shared with me in the last week of December. I wrote a brief review of it and sent it to the interior minister on Jan. 3. The review only included my quick thoughts about certain areas of the policy. Given the interior minister’s interest in getting my input, the review was essentially meant as talking points rather than as an extensive critique. While that meeting never materialized because the minister and I kept missing each other, I held on to what I had written, as also the NISP draft, because it had been shared with me in confidence, and the contents of both the NISP and my review could not be made public.
However, now that the policy has been approved and some of its salient points have come into the public domain, I can share those talking points while still keeping from the public the details of the draft as received by me.
The policy divides itself into three parts: Strategic, Operational, and Secret. This classification is difficult to figure out because many operational strategies must be kept secret while the conceptual part of any policy must be up for debate. Put another way, while the overall thrust of a policy and its direction is a public document and can be debated, as also the institutions and organizations created thereunder, operational details are a different matter altogether and often must stay away from unauthorized public eye. The classification, as given by the NISP, is therefore hard to understand. Below, I reproduce the thoughts I had sent to the minister. The text remains the same except where I have explained some terms for which I had used abbreviations earlier.
Some Thoughts on the NISP Draft As Received:
The attempt to formulate an NISP is commendable. While Pakistan has tried to deal with its internal security threat through counterterrorism military operations (CT Mil Ops), it has failed so far to develop a comprehensive national security strategy (NSS) which could help direct operational strategies. The NISP, as the draft document concedes, is one aspect of a broader NSS. Nonetheless, it is an important step in terms of a review of the internal security situation. Without such a review, there can be no effective response to the threats we are currently facing. The direction is right, the will is manifest. What is required is a clear identification of the problem and its many facets. I will put it broadly and roughly as below:
National internal security policy
Descriptive: Clear identification of the problem; and Scope and extent of the problem.
Prescriptive: Formulation of strategy; three tiers of strategy (short-, medium- and long-term); fire-fighting (short-term; police reforms/CT efforts); overhaul of laws and the criminal justice system (short- to medium-term); narrative-building (short-, medium- and long-term).
The current draft attempts to cover these areas, which is encouraging. I will try here to follow the sequence of the document as numbered and raise some additional points.
- I fully agree with the concept of “isolating” the terrorists from their support systems. I have been agitating this point since 2003, referring to it as the ‘strategy of dislocation.’ In fact, this will be the capstone of any NISP. But precisely for that reason its short- to medium- to long-term prescriptive aspects need to be clearly spelled out. Second, there can be no disagreement over enhancing the capacity of the security apparatus. However, it is absolutely crucial that the steps taken to do that are not misguided. The devil, as always, is in the detail. A good example is the Punjab government’s well-intentioned but ill-directed policy to enhance the province’s CT capacity. Third, the idea of dialoguing ‘with all stakeholders’ sounds good but (1) we must be clear about how we define the ‘stakeholders,’ and (2) what is the timing of such a dialogue. A simple example will be that, if in theory we want to dialogue with those who are fighting the state, we have to see whether we are doing this from a position of strength or weakness. The first is legit; the second, a big NO. Similarly, we have to see whether we can, in fact, divide these groups by talking to some and fighting others. That too is a legit strategy. Then again, and I can’t overemphasize this point, even if we decide to talk, that by no means—repeat, by no means—absolves the state from enforcing its writ. I stress this point because there seems to be a sense, deeply flawed, that we either talk or we fight and if we are talking, the state should put a moratorium on its functions. Nothing can be further from truth.
- The draft mentions that “Global terrorism and armed conflict in Afghanistan have changed the internal security paradigm of Pakistan.” This, at best, is partial truth. At worst, it is this argument that has confused the Pakistanis and helped sustain the question of whether this is our war. Also, it’s historically incorrect. Extremist terrorism inside Pakistan preceded 9/11 and the subsequent invasion of Afghanistan by the U.S.-led coalition. The enabling environment, in terms of what I’ve often called a supra-state mindset, was already there. The U.S. invasion has given it a fillip. Understanding and expressing this truth is crucial for formulating and implementing the correct CT strategies. The core aspect of the NISP, namely, “isolating” the terrorist from his support systems will only work if we accept that a combination of Gen. Zia-ul-Haq’s Islamization policies (ironically started by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto) at home and a security policy that rested on supporting and encouraging extremist groups has led to the creation of a mindset that rejects the nation-state and aspires to the ideal of the Ummah which never was but, nonetheless, continues to fire the imagination of people. [N.B.: imagine the consequences of this supra-state approach for border management which the NISP correctly identifies as a vital component of security. This is just one example.] Acknowledging our ‘contribution’ to today’s problems is an important start for course correction. While identifying the flaws in the policies of the U.S.-led coalition, we must refrain from apportioning all the blame to the rest of the world.
- The NISP’s identification of nontraditional threats—extremism, sectarianism, terrorism and militancy—needs to explain the linkages between these categories, especially the first three. I say this because some political leaders and parties, Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf being the most prominent, try to compartmentalize them. This has policy implications. For instance, Khan argues that while we must talk to the Tehreek-e-Taliban, there can be no dialogue with the sectarian terrorists. This argument presupposes that the Taliban and sectarian terrorists are two separate categories. This is factually incorrect: almost all the various groups are rabidly anti-Shia. They share the same ideology with Pakhtun groups that comprise the Taliban core. Groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi form the backbone of the Taliban fighting cadres in the federally-administered tribal areas as well as in the settled areas of the Punjab and other provinces. The NISP needs to make these linkages clear to put matters in perspective.
- I now come to “Vision,” numbered 5 in the draft. The idea of protecting “civil liberties” while mounting an effective CT response is the most troublesome area, given the tension between securing the state and society at large and safeguarding individual liberties. It is commendable that the NISP is alive to this. However, this deals with the application of law and I’d recommend that the Ministry of Interior take the initiative and put together a group of eminent jurists to review the current legal regime in this regard. Opinions and approaches differ even among jurists so this won’t be an easy exercise to conduct. Also, this tension cannot be fully eliminated, which requires that any such regime must have adequate checks and balances.
- Threat perception, Paragraph 7: The mention of the possible use of biochemical weapons is an important inclusion. This threat may not be immediate but it cannot be dismissed in the future. Training toward countering this threat is, therefore, very important. The draft says the Ministry of Defense is dealing with this “adequately.” I do not necessarily agree with this assessment. Another area of disagreement is about responsibility inside the borders. The lead agency in dealing with all internal threats must be the Ministry of Interior. All other agencies/departments/ministries, with required capacity, must be commandeered by the Ministry of Interior, depending on the nature of the threat, to retain the integrity of the chain of command. This is also important for a coordinated quick response. However, the Ministry of Interior, as currently configured, has no capacity to perform this umbrella function.
- Paragraphs 8, 9, 10 under the head of threat perception are poorly formulated and repetitive. To say that terrorists “lurk in shadows [sic] and thrive on a strategy of invisibility and ambiguity” is a no-brainer. Of course, that’s what they do because there is no other way of doing what they do. The important point is not what they do and how they do it but how we can swat them despite their invisibility. Similarly, it is a tough sell to create direct causality between economic woes and terrorism. While some correlation between the two, in some cases, cannot be dismissed, there are too many other factors impeding economic growth to put the entire blame for lack of economic growth on terrorism. For instance, in Sri Lanka, even at the height of the JVP and later LTTE terrorism, tourism kept thriving. There are other examples. But more than that, one can argue that despite current levels of terrorism, Pakistan’s economy would look much better if we didn’t have the energy crisis, did not mismanage the economy for multiple other reasons, and could enforce contractual obligations with a better judicial system.
- “Policy Objectives,” paragraphs 11 to 29: No. 12 says: “To peacefully resolve and manage disputes with hostile elements by ensuring rule of law.” I am not sure if I understand this. Hostile elements can be varied and any response(s) will depend on what kind of threat they proffer. Also, by their very nature, hostile elements begin by undermining the law of the land. The application of that law to them or to get them to accept law’s diktat may not always be a function of peaceful resolution of disputes. Other paragraphs, too, are general and, in some cases—like No. 18: comprehensive arms-control regime across the country—talk about doing something which is desirable but not necessarily doable in the short- to medium-term. Similarly, No. 22 stresses integrating mosques and seminaries into the national and provincial “educational establishment” [sic] without reference to previous efforts/application of laws and with no mention of the fact that even mainstream schools teach syllabi that are only marginally better than the denomination-specific fiqh education imparted in the seminaries. I stress this point because No. 19 talks about constructing a narrative to counter extremism and No. 20 emphasizes promoting pluralism, freedom, democracy, and a culture of tolerance. It should be obvious that these are connected policy objectives and any policy intervention must be designed such that it moves from the easier to the more difficult. Another important aspect of any policy intervention is that it should select the areas in a way that allows intervention to have spin-off benefits in areas that have not been intervened into directly. An example of this could be that while the government might face resistance in getting the seminaries to change syllabi, the CT capacity to track the funds that make them create havoc merrily can put the required squeeze on them. That is what creates synergies. We can discuss this at greater length but my overall advice would be to reformulate the policy objectives on the basis of two broad categories the NISP lays down in the Policy Framework, correctly, as the soft and hard components. That will help get rid of redundancies in the Policy Objectives and place them under the ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ components.
- The Comprehensive Response Plan (CRP) component of the NISP is fine as far as identification of areas of intervention is concerned. But as noted earlier, the devil is in the detail and the draft is unclear about what strategies will be adopted to achieve the objectives of the soft component. Of course, the draft itself cannot detail those strategies and one assumes that subsequent work will be done in the areas identified, which is compatible with the objectives of the NISP. Two points are, however, important. The soft component has areas where strategies will have short- to medium- to long-term objectives. Ditto for results. What I said above apropos of policy interventions obtains here as well. Honest implementation of what is doable will ultimately lead to what is desirable. Moreover, given resource and other constraints, it is better to do some work effectively rather than stretching oneself thin and ending up doing badly all-round.
- That brings me to the ‘hard’ component of the NISP, the Combined Deterrence Plan (CDP). This is a very important component because it begins here and now and then moves to the medium- and long-term. The NISP correctly identifies redundancies in the security and intelligence infrastructure but then goes on to create more. Some quick points: (1) The Ministry of Interior must be the lead ministry in dealing with internal security, along the lines of Homeland Security. The NISP mentions this but I am advocating a more comprehensive role for it. Currently, it does not have the capacity for that; (2) There’s a lot of emphasis on NACTA and its role reference both the ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ components of the NISP. NACTA is a dysfunctional body for reasons that you know well. Its reconfiguration, as laid down in the NISP and the policy’s annexures, is not going to make it more effective. It will be money wasted. Yet another important point with reference to NACTA is its placing. It was conceived to be the lead agency but was thrown by the wayside because the Ministry of Interior wanted to control it. The Ministry of Interior should play the lead role for which it is currently not configured. If the Ministry of Interior has to take the lead then NACTA could serve as its secretariat, just like the Strategic Plans Division (SPD) does for the National Command Authority (NCA). But, this is only possible if the Ministry of Interior is remodeled; (3) CT policing is the task for the police. The NISP talks about the lack of capacity of the police. But that requires looking into police reforms, not creating special CT forces outside of the police; (4) An allied point is that without effective (normal) policing, even the best CT efforts cannot be entirely effective. If your police are good, your CT efforts will bear fruit. To think that the police can languish in the pit while we can create spanking CT units external to the police is a complete misconception. This is what I referred to at the outset vis-à-vis efforts by the Punjab government to enhance its CT capacity; (5) Corollary 1: police needs to be reformed (we can discuss the modalities); Corollary 2: CT units must be raised from within the police and those elements that might be seconded to the police from, say the Special Service Group, must operate under the command of the police. This is part of best practices across the world; (6) policing is a provincial subject; terrorism is a countrywide menace. The NISP talks about a Federal Rapid Response Force (FRRF) and Provincial Rapid Response Forces (PRRF). I wouldn’t recommend such duality. Firstly, there is no need to create a new FRRF; the current FIA can be used for that purpose with necessary legal amendments in its charter and terms of reference. Secondly, such a federal force should have unity of command across the federating units and its specialized units can be based in all four federating units. That makes the PRRFs redundant. For better coordination, the current PSP cadre can be utilized to command the provincial and federal forces; (7) We seem to have, since Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s time, this flawed concept of CT as some kind of James Bond activity. Fire-fighting is just the tail end of any CT activity. While the fire-fighting units should be highly trained along the lines of Special Forces, the people directing them have nothing to do with guns. They will involve computer experts, communication experts, forensic experts, lawyers, investigators, financial experts, etc. The police’s capacity for policing and CT is at the low end because the force is heavily weaponized with no sub-specializations. Getting SSG and Army personnel for CT functions is, therefore, a nonstarter. There’s nothing in their training to make them perform CT policing functions. What we need are smart, highly-educated young experts, men and women, who fit into the different specialized roles imperative for effective CT functions. None of them requires guns; they require brains. But it is their work which will lead to preemptive action, i.e., the proactive role the NISP has correctly stressed.
These are just some points. They require to be fleshed out in greater detail. Each point will require its own modalities. My effort here was simply to highlight some aspects for further discussion.