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Bracing for a backlash

It would be an even bigger challenge in cities

Bracing for a backlash
— Emilio Morenatti / AP

The big cities are on red-alert in view of possible backlash by the militants after the government launched military offensive in North Waziristan to uproot the terrorists.

Law enforcement agencies and intelligence gathering units have been asked to target sleeper cells of the militants in the urban areas. Pakistan Rangers have also been deployed at all important buildings and check-points in various cities.

The question of preparedness of local administrations and law enforcement agencies arises amid fears of backlash by the militants — suicide attacks and bomb blasts at important buildings and government installations.

So far, a few measures seem to have been taken by the security agencies for eliminating sleeper cells and nabbing local facilitators of militant groups.

With the launch of military offensive, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has declared a state of emergency at government hospitals in Peshawar as law enforcement agencies have indicated possible hideouts of militants and their expected targets.

In Karachi, an operation is already underway to apprehend criminals with the help of paramilitary forces. Along the Sindh borders, security agencies have adopted a joint strategy to prevent terrorists from entering the province under the guise of displaced people.

“Police, Rangers, and the army are working with a strategy to combat incidents of terrorism,” says Sharjeel Memon, Sindh’s information minister, talking to TNS.

Hotel managements and guesthouses are required to give particulars of guests lodging with them at the nearest police station everyday. Owners of houses and flats renting out their properties have been directed to provide particulars of their renters to the police station. Otherwise, they will have to face legal consequences.

In Punjab, police commandoes have been deployed around main prisons in different districts and are supported by rapid response force. “Pakistan Army, Rangers, police and Airport Security Force are working together to thwart the nefarious designs of militants,” says Punjab Law Minister, Rana Sanaullah.

Punjab and Balochistan governments have also decided to enhance security at sensitive places, including public buildings and installations in the provinces.

“The Sindh government is also working to reduce free flow of internally displaced people so that the militants from the tribal badlands don’t come to the city in their guise,” Memon says.

Tariq Pervez, former director general National Counterterrorism Authority, says the backlash is natural when the militants have sympathizers in cities. He says that preparedness to counter terrorism in big cities is based on manpower of law enforcement agencies, their capacity, and resources. “Currently, counterterrorism coordination efforts seem fragmented with lack of full coordination. We are doing things in bits and pieces.”

Pervez says preparedness means response, integration, and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). He recalls that during the previous caretaker set-up in Punjab they planned to have district level coordination cells to integrate intelligence and counterterrorism efforts.

He also suggests that police should revise the Fourth Schedule (notorious or suspected people) list and monitor those people regularly so that there is a check on them. All such possible and suspected local facilitators must be put on that schedule, he believes.

Contrary to popular opinion, a recent National Internal Security Policy (NISP) document states that the ratio of the population and number of police officers assigned in rural and urban areas is not very low. But the number is not the only yardstick to determine human resource requirements of modern police.

According to NISP, the ratio is most satisfactory in ICT (Islamabad Capital Territory) with one policeman for every 114 citizens. After that, there is Balochistan with one cop for every 223 people. The ratio in Gilgit-Baltistan is one cop for 234 people while in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) the ratio is one policeman for 411.

In Azad Kashmir, one cop is for 467 people and in Sindh one cop is for 504 citizens. In the most populated province of Punjab, this ratio is one cop for 514 people. The deficiencies and weaknesses of police have increased reliance on the military and paramilitary forces. The world’s modern formula suggests one cop for not more than 250 citizens.

“Unfortunately, we have neglected security forces for a variety of reasons. Police now is highly politicised, under trained, and under equipped. This is a long-term process to correct things,” says Shaukat Javed, who has served with police and Intelligence Bureau in top positions.

Javed says assistance to the police in technical intelligence gathering is limited, which needs to be expedited. This way, police can help military and paramilitary forces. In cities, the key role should be of well-equipped Crime Investigation Agency, Criminal Investigation Department, and counter-terrorism department; the military and paramilitary forces should have focus on the war theater.

There is a need for coordination at the federal and provincial level. That is why, he says, “NACTA was set up as an independent authority. But it is still not working effectively. Until intelligence coordination is improved the results cannot be achieved,” he maintains, adding, “the police is the biggest agency that can gather maximum human intelligence through its local networks. Police can spread widely in urban areas. But the irony is that the police, which can work even in limited numbers, is busy on support duties.”

Javed believes the government will face an even bigger challenge in the cities. He says a long-term policy is needed to purge the cities from such elements, their sleeper cells, and local facilitators. “Besides intelligence preparedness and logistics, a counter narrative is also needed to fight militancy.”

Waqar Gillani

waqar gillani
The author is a staff reporter. He can be reached at [email protected]

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