Jul 11, 2010

Intelligent solutions

Security officials complain of several limitations

By Shahzada Irfan Ahmed

The provincial governments and police authorities have often blamed intelligence agencies for not sharing crucial data with them. Recently, it was Punjab CM Shahbaz Sharif who complained about this "non-cooperation" by the federal intelligence agencies. Interior Minister Rehman Malik took a strong notice of this allegation and, like always, vowed to resign if the Punjab government could prove it.

On the other hand, there is a general perception among the masses that the police authorities and political governments have failed to stop acts of terrorism despite being warned about them beforehand. For example, the police authorities of Lahore were informed by the Crime Investigation Department (CID) that the Sri Lankan cricket team could be attacked by terrorists, while on its way to Qaddafi Stadium. The warning turned out to be 100 percent true as the attackers succeeded in their plan as well as fled the scene.

Every other day one hears about police carrying out search operations in different areas all over the country. The purpose, as mentioned, of this exercise always is to spot the terror suspects and interrogate them. The localities in the vicinity of Data Darbar were also scanned thoroughly on days preceding the blasts that killed dozens of devotees at the shrine.

Police tried its best to pre-empt these terrorist acts but failed due to several limitations, says a police official on conditions of anonymity. He tells TNS that police is the least equipped force meant to combat terrorism that is well planned and executed by highly planned terrorists.

The official adds that police is not allowed to trace phone calls or even access call details; neither is it equipped to do so. In case there is need of it, an official request is made to the Intelligence Bureau (IB) which writes to the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), he says. This whole process takes a lot of time which in turn compromises the quality of investigations, he adds.

About the intelligence reports of terrorists entering a part of the country, he says the informers placed at the point of origin play a key role as well as the phone calls coming from there. For example, the official says, if there is a drop in number of students at a madrassa marked by intelligence authorities, the implied message is that they have left the place to target an installation, building or public place.

He says it's not easy to point out these people on their way to their destination as they often do not carry any weapons with them. In fact, they are provided with these by local facilitators once they reach the destination.

Civil Lines Lahore SP (Operations), Haider Ashraf tells TNS that the police always acts on receiving warnings from intelligence agencies. He says they immediately place barriers, increase surveillance, place snipers and enhance the level of physical search at the place declared vulnerable. Search operations around such are also part of the strategy to stop terrorist activities, he adds. Haider says it is impossible to increase police presence at places on high-alert as the strength of police is limited in comparison to the duties it has to perform, like the VIP duty and crime busting.

Haider says the real problem in this respect is that police is ill-equipped and not trained to fight terrorism. There is only one bullet-proof jacket per police station and 15 to 20 weapons -- a fact that tells about the sorry state of affairs, he adds.

He admits that quite often the information they get is accurate and they act in time. "Police is condemned when terrorists strike but not lauded for averting them. The problem here is that prevention cannot be measured whereas destruction is easily noticed," Haider adds.

He says the police is not a counter-terrorism force and not in an ideal position to stop a crime whose source and destination are different. "The areas where terrorist acts are planned are beyond our reach, so we have to depend on the information reaching us through different sources," he adds.

Haider says the government must take some immediate steps to check terrorism. For example, all the entry and exit points to the cities should be computerised and the data shared mutually. This way it would be easier for the authorities to check each and every vehicle entering or exiting the city, he says.

Haider says if such a system is in place it would be possible for the law-enforcing authorities to track a Peshawar-registered car which enters Lahore and does not exit it even after a week or so.

Haider is of the view that police should not be assigned the task of collecting data. Instead, it should be provided data for analysis and devising strategies against crime.

He says that currently policemen visit 100 to 150 houses of the city and inquire about the inmates which is quite taxing. This duty should be assigned to some agency set up exclusively for this purpose.

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