While the Waziristan agencies and other parts of Fata may be ground zero of militancy in Pakistan, the country’s cities and towns are also havens for militants of all stripes. However, as elaborated during a seminar organised by the Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies in Islamabad on Friday, the state’s counter-terrorism capabilities are hampered in the cities and towns by lack of reform in the police forces of the country.
The laundry list of complaints by top police officials is a familiar one: lack of proper resources and equipment, shortage of manpower, lack of specialised training, poor coordination between governmental agencies, etc. And yet, despite repeated promises, committees and proposals, there has not been any significant change for the better on any of those fronts. Given the urgency of the problem and the seriousness of the threat, there is simply no justification for delay in equipping the police with the tools it needs to increase its counter-terrorism capabilities.
However, it must be noted, the problem will not be solved by simply throwing more resources at the police. Even with the present level of intelligence, it is hard to imagine that in places like Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar, Quetta, Faisalabad and the dozens of smaller cities and towns the success rate in breaking up terrorist and militant networks could not be higher. Many mosques, madressahs, residences and other buildings are well-known havens for militants, and off the record officials freely admit their knowledge of such sites. So why isn’t action being taken against such targets? The answer is clearly political, since meaningful action is beyond the powers of local police officials who work in organisations that are tightly controlled by the political forces.
Moreover, procedural bottlenecks delay the handing over of real-time intelligence to the police in many ways. Consider that the police have routinely complained that while militants and terrorists use mobile phones to communicate, the police must go through a cumbersome process to obtain the relevant data. Admittedly, there are concerns about privacy and the misuse of personal data, but the process can surely be streamlined to reduce the waiting period from months to days, if not hours in some circumstances.
Given that SIM cards are still easily available, despite attempts to register them, the intelligence trail can dry up quickly, or worse the terrorists could have already carried out their plots by the time the police catch up with them. Such problems of semi-, or non-, efficiency are endemic in Pakistan, of course, but they can and must be addressed urgently when it comes to fighting terrorism.