Jan 1, 2010

Where’s that counter-terror strategy?

Mosharraf Zaidi

The writer advises governments, donors and NGOs on public policy.

The challenge of indiscriminate bullets and bombs in our markets, our universities, our places of worship and our police stations is not going to be met with verbal diarrhoea. Yet, that’s all we can seem to muster in the face of this challenge. The problem is not that Pakistan is incapable of responding to this challenge. The problem is that too many Pakistanis, especially in government, seem to want to counter live bullets and detonating bombs with speeches about the ideological and existential nature of this threat. Tom Jones adjures us to fight fire with fire. Pakistan’s generic response to this challenge seems to be to fight fire with spitballs.

What lies behind the obsession of right and left, progressive and traditional, liberal and conservative to collectively want to mutilate this conflict into an ideological war that it is not? Perhaps it is the overwhelming instinct ingrained in an irrational public discourse.

Forget conceiving of a viable response to the challenge, Pakistan’s national discourse doesn’t even have a widely agreed upon nomenclature to describe the conflict. Serious people, for example, would not use the word Taliban in every sentence, because the term Taliban is a deeply imprecise and inaccurate summation of the plethora of terrorists that the Pakistani state (among others) has helped gift to the Pakistani people.

Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) is not the Taliban. And the LeJ, as much as it may share part of its name with the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), is not the LeT. And neither of those two organisations takes its orders from Jalaluddin Haqqani, or from Jaish-e-Mohammad’s Masood Azhar. It is safe to say that the origins, sources of financing, and even pool of recruits for these organisations will sometimes put them at crosshairs with each other, as much as their shared appetite for the blood of innocents will often put them in synchronicity.

The term Taliban itself is imprecise. Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is not simply the Pakistani “version” of the Kandahari Taliban. No mater how thick and deep the connections between Mullah Omar’s core team and Pakistani intelligence may be, these are specific, separate and distinct groups. In fact, the TTP and the Kandahari Taliban have serious political differences.

With that kind of stark disparity across the different terrorist groups that operate in and around Pakistan, the notion that Pakistan is in an ideological war with “the Taliban” is disingenuous. Even the notion that Pakistan is in an ideological war with terrorists is unhelpful. It sacrifices nuance and accuracy. No wonder carpet bombing seems to be such a popular solution to this challenge. Pakistan is in a conflict in which it needs to counter terrorism.

In 2009 alone, more than 2,227 civilians have been killed in terrorist attacks in Pakistan. One thousand soldiers have laid their lives on the line defending this country. How did this country of 180 million people, with a middle class of more than 30 million and with a purchasing-power-parity GDP that ranks it as the 26th largest economy in the world, get here, kneeling before the cartoon-bravado of cave-dwelling terrorists? Worse still, how can this country with so much at stake, still have no counterterrorism (CT) strategy?

On July 25, 2008, I wrote an article prematurely celebrating the advent of Pakistan’s CT strategy. That was informed by conversations and news items that confirmed the prime minister’s intent to formulate such a strategy. The prime minister should know that since that promise almost 18 months ago, a total of 3,603 civilians and 1,327 soldiers have died in terrorist attacks. That is a total of 4,930 Pakistanis. The blood of these Pakistanis is squarely on the hands of terrorists, but in all societies, those that are in charge must bear some responsibility. The prime minister is in charge.

The prime minister’s task is not an easy one. The challenge of constructing a set of civilian institutions that are not just resilient to being repetitively bombed, but also robust in preventing such bombings and proactively rooting out perpetrators is massive. One way to try to begin understanding just how grand the scale of the challenge is, is to consider data points in other countries where police services work reasonably well.

I recently had a chance to visit the Australian state of Queensland. Queensland is a state of about 4.4 million people. The Queensland Police Service (QPS) has a total of about 14,000 employees. That comes to about 314 citizens per cop.

In the province of Punjab, there are 170,031 sanctioned police posts for a province of roughly 90 million people. The citizen-to-policeman ratio is not flattering at roughly 530 to one. In Karachi, a much more desperate situation exists. For a population estimated to be close to 18 million, there are 26,873 policemen giving this grand metropolis a citizen-to-policeman ratio of 670.

The ratios clearly indicate that Pakistan doesn’t have enough cops. But it gets worse if we start to compare police salaries.

The basic pay scale level for an Inspector, which is the senior-most non-commissioned police officer in Sindh, is roughly Rs16,000 per month. The senior-most non-commissioned policeman in Queensland is a staff sergeant, and earns about AU$85,000 a year, or roughly Rs530,000 per month. That is more than 33 times what his policeman brother in Karachi makes. Even at BPS 22 level, which is the head of the Sindh Police, average monthly salary and allowances are set at about Rs56,811. Or 1/10th of what a non-commissioned Aussie cop makes. Of course, these comparisons are often unfair. Australian and Pakistani costs of living are as far away as Melbourne is from Lahore. But the discrepancy is still huge.

Let us put this fiscal challenge in perspective. There are 670 inspectors (which is equivalent to the staff sergeant level in Queensland) in Karachi. To provide less than half the level of salary made by Queensland cops to only those 670 inspectors alone, the government of Sindh would need to come up with an extra Rs2 billion per annum in funds. The entire annual budget for the Sindh Police? Less than Rs24 billion.

A CT strategy will need to think through not just the verbal anti-Taliban bluster that Pakistanis (myself included) are so keen to demonstrate. It will need to get serious. One small aspect of such seriousness will be to think through the fiscal implications of how Pakistan’s provincial police services will be retooled, and refinanced. Not just for today, but for the long-run, in terms of the pensions liabilities that such a retooling will imply. And it will have to re-layer such a retooling with an FIA that is more Tariq Khosa and less Rehman Malik. In short, we’ve not even begun to scratch the surface of a viable CT strategy in Pakistan.

4,930 Pakistanis deaths may not have been entirely avoidable, had Pakistan drafted a CT strategy back in July of 2008, when the prime minister said he would. But the confidence of a nation would have been buoyed by revisiting that document, every time the country was attacked. If nothing else, it may have held incredible inspirational value.

In the absence of a coherent, cogent and organic CT strategy, it is no surprise at all that Pakistanis on the progressive side seek the comfort of an ideological war, and Pakistanis on the traditional side seek comfort in the bosom of conspiracy theories. In the aftermath of killing fields that truly stretch from Khyber Agency to the gates of Karachi, it doesn’t really matter who is killing innocent Pakistanis. It matters that they are being killed. The killing needs to stop. The prime minister is in charge. And stopping the killing is the job of those in charge.

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