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An open letter to the interior minister


By Imtiaz Gul

The Friday Times, August 23, 2013


Dear Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan,

The shameful but scary Sikandar Saga that played out near the Red Zone of the capital on August 15 exposed the intellectual paralysis and the institutional inefficiency that is glaringly evident as the hallmark of our security apparatus. Your statement in the National Assembly (August 19) that an 'expert' who knew how to use a stun gun properly was not available when required offers a bitter reflection on the state of our preparedness.

Your criticism of the behavior of senior media officials is also legitimate because most went over-board in getting and putting out the "exclusive inside information", but the fact that PEMRA did not spring into action at all explains the other paralysis too.

Your admission of guilt and responsibility is also candid, when you say you never had the time to provide Standard Operating Procedures to police officials. This statement underscores another discomforting and bitter reality - the capital police of a country facing an intense, bloody religiously-wrapped insurgency for over a decade apparently has no SOPs for emergency situations.

That is why a scenario which could have ended in 15 minutes without a single bullet shot dragged on for over 5 hours, stigmatizing the name of the country all over the world, which watched in awe a thoughtless, unplanned stupid intervention by Zamurd Khan - an act that could have taken his life too.

One wonders whether repeated humiliations at the hands of criminals and terrorists have taught any lessons to our police, military and other security agencies.

Dear minister, we hear that you are "burning the proverbial mid-night oil" to authoring a new counter-terror policy for the country (presumably this is what kept you and others from short-cutting the drama on the Jinnah Avenue). May we suggest that, following colossal human and economic losses, this country's security apparatus needs to be brought out of the paralysis of thought and action through a massive overhaul? 

We hope that the proposed Joint Intelligence Secretariat and Quick Reaction Force do not turn into another extractive institution - one that is used either to provide jobs to cronies or to dump unwanted officials (the way it happened to NACTA).

But much before coming up with the masterpiece on counter-terrorism or deciding to talk to or fight terrorists, you could probably put in place certain SOPs that may make the job easier for the police and other law-enforcing agencies.

Step one: Order rubber-coated projectiles and stun guns for the police. Night-sticks (that the US the police uses) are also an essential element of fighting criminals and other thugs without shedding blood.

World over, a wide range of electroshock weapons are available and are used to incapacitating a person by administering electric shock aimed at disrupting superficial muscle functions - ideal for situations we witnessed a week ago.

Step two: Ban the airing of CCTV footage of any criminal and terrorist act so police and intelligence can follow the culprits to their dens as soon as possible. As of now there is no policy on the police control of critical information. For example, the CCTV footage of a bank robbery in Karachi on August 6 was flashed on a national TV. The video had very clear, easily identifiable images of the robbers. Will the people in the footage now surface anywhere in near future?

This way the culprits involved will take all precaution not to appear in public for long.

Step three: Bar police and law enforcement officials from giving away names of surviving injured or captured terrorists and criminals. The best way to reach out to the masterminds is in maintaining deliberate ambiguity about people involved in attacks. Police officials who gave the names of one or two in-custody injured attackers of the Dera Ismail Khan jail did no service to their own cause at all.

Step four: Stop police and officials from waiving or relaxing law in the name of religion.

For instance, the Chief Traffic Police Officer of Rawalpindi Syed Ishtiaq Hussein in a meeting with senior officials on August 1, instructed the police not to penalize traffic violators unless involved in very serious violations. He passed this order in deference to the movement of fasting citizens ahead of the Eid, basically suggesting that personal religious practices take precedence over the law of the land.

Setting aside rules in the name of a religious occasion amounts to subversion of the law by the state itself. Why should people be allowed to justify breach of law in the name of Ramadan?

Step five: Institute some legal administrative control and monitoring of sectarian hate content that emanates from mosques and madrassas. Since there is no policy on what private schools and madrassas teach, clerics and religious groups are practically free to teach and train their students as they please. We should follow the Turkish, Malaysian, and Indonesian examples.

Step six: When offering cabinet or similar prestigious slots, commit mavericks like Maulana Fazlur Rehman into categorical rejection of the intellectually despicable, socially inflammatory and politically poisonous rhetoric that their associates spew against rivals or those they don't like. Why must every major political party embrace mavericks for the sake of self-preservation?

Step seven: Place a ban on mobile phones inside jails, or at least install cellphone jammers there to rule out communication. Recovery of hundreds of phones from Dera Ismail Khan jail and their use for the attack on the facility should be instructive on the hazards of this technology.

These are some basic guiding principles for walking the lofty talk. Unless we move in this direction, success in the fight against terrorism will remain elusive. Your prime minister must also realize that fighting political terrorists overflowing with ideological vibes is possible only by professional training and technical capacity enhancement which is ruthless and secular in action against all those who are out to jeopardize public interest.

You need to embed your new policy in the basic premise that the counter-insurgent ie the state does not shed bled or take life. Its primary responsibility is to prevent the insurgents from bloodshed, and even guard against shedding the blood of terrorists as much as possible.

Imtiaz Gul is the executive director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, and the author of the recently released book Pakistan: Before and After, published by Roli Books, India

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk