Police, Devolution and Terrorism
By Imtiaz Gul
Express Tribune, December 02, 2015
Around the middle of November, I initiated an email correspondence with two differententities. One was addressed to the chief of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) police. The other directed at the current head of an institution that is supposed to be flourishing under the aegis of the National Action Plan. The result of the correspondence was both surprising and shocking; surprising because the K-P police chief not only responded himself to the communication, most of his district police officers (DPO) personally followed up on requests for cooperation with respect to individual letters of interest (LoI). Not only this, the staff of the respective DPOs followed up their emailed letters by calling to make sure that the LoIs had been received.
In a sharp shocking contrast, we did not receive any written response to our request from the other institution for nearly two weeks. This, despite the fact that we had met with the current head of the institution a day after sending out the written request, explained to him the objective and sought a meeting with him early next week. As of December 1, we still await a reply.
In both cases, I was dealing with highly respected police officials. I know them both. But their reaction to requests has been stunningly different. This reminded me of a similar situation back in 2012 when it took a senior official of the ministry of foreign affairs at least 10 days to get back to us on a letter we had sent.
What can we make of these contrasting responses? Is it devolution in K-P and the operational autonomy that the police there currently enjoys or is it the leadership of the provincial police force, or both that resulted in such efficiency? Probably both; the police in K-P is largely autonomous, and independent in hiring, firing and managing close to 75,000 police and special forces personnel.
The region’s close proximity to Fata, and the existence of several sleeper cells and pockets of support for terrorist outfits place unusual responsibilities on the K-P police. Fulfilling those responsibilities with relative ease and success in odious circumstances required unusual operational latitude. The K-P police currently enjoys that latitude — easily measureable in the way its leadership is responding to crises.
In Islamabad, most security institutions remain under the overbearing shadows of the Ministry of Interior. They also keep looking at the direction the establishment is moving towards. An accompanying impediment is the conceptual confusion on ‘what really ails Pakistan’ and what constitutes ‘existential threats’ to it. In addition, we have the prime minister and the interior minister holding a string of routine meetings and wanting all relevant officials to be around whenever they convene such meetings. We also see bondage of the subsidiary to the principal i.e., affiliated institutions possibly don’t have the liberty to act on their own and perhaps lack the requisite courage to take even the smallest of initiatives.
Quite an apt explanation for the slow response from within Islamabad’s power corridors came from Ziad Bashir, executive director of Gul Ahmed Textile Mills: “The major difference is the attitude of our government and the governments of regional countries. The response time in Pakistan is too slow,” he told this paper last week.
Bashir is on the mark in his diagnosis of the reasons behind the slow responses in places where power is multi-layered but concentrated in a few hands. The dysfunctional governance currently visible across Pakistan is the obvious consequence.
What is needed is devolution of power. Devolving governance functions and thus staggering responsibilities to the lower levels creates space for independent decisions, involves the community and serves as a much stronger pressure pool on the bureaucracy than a centralised governance regime. The panacea to many of our challenges i.e., terrorism, extremism and organised crime, as well as lack of accountability of public representatives and the bureaucracy lies in devolution of political power and operational autonomy to institutions that serve as the first point of contact for the public at large.
Imtiaz Gul is the executive director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies