Homeland Security & Pakistan – 11 Dec 2022

THE call for setting up an internal security structure on the lines of the US Homeland Security Department echoed again last week when the board of governors of the National Counter Terrorism Authority (Nacta) met in the federal capital. A lucrative and massive internal security infrastructure always inspires Pakistani security institutions, despite the existence of multiple constraints.

The bureaucratic mindset has developed a habit of suggesting new initiatives, inspired by those in the West, without considering the local context, need and the inherent financial and institutional limitations. There is hardly any interest in and consideration of reforming existing mechanisms for improving their implementation and ef ficiency.

The logic behind proposing ever-new parallel initiatives is that it gives bureaucracy the room to shift the blame for their lack of competence onto the existing system. Executives and policymakers are convinced, because plenty of donors remain available to provide initial financial assistance for such initiatives. The international donor community has its own limitations and believes in supporting local initiatives suggested by the same bureaucracy directly or by consultants serving the donor community during their deputations. The government does not appear to realise that eventually these new initiatives will become white elephants for the state.

Before it had put forward the idea of a Homeland Security structure in Pakistan, Nacta had sent a proposal to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif for setting up a `National Counter-Terrorism Department`.

The proposed department would be operated under Nacta at the federal level and would have the authority to conduct counterterrorism operations across the country.

Lackadaisical handling has stymied the functioning of Nacta. Even now, the authority is still in the process of determining its exact role coordinating among law-enforcement agencies or providing policy insights to the government. According to the Nacta Act, data collection and information processing and dissemination to the relevant authorities are its primary tasks. The law elaborates on the vital function of coordination among security agen-cies. Nacta had also established a Joint Intelligence Directorate consisting of hundreds of officers from the intelligence agencies and police. The department`s fate and progress are unknown, except that it is consuming most of Nacta budget.

Nacta should not have to demand an operational role to counter terrorism-related threats when provincial counterterrorism departments of police already exist and are performing well both in launching anti-militant operations and gathering information. The CTDs of the Sindh and Punjab police, especially, have done a commendable job.

If the federal and provincial governments introduce a few accountability and transparency reforms and improve their capacity, these departments can perform even better. So far, these CTDs have been operating along traditional police lines, meaning they also inherit all the institutional ills of the law-enforcing body. Nacta can develop better coordination among the CTDs and 1(eep feeding information, extracted from the Joint Intelligence Directorate, to them. It may need legislative changes.

It is interesting to note that Nacta itself was conceived in the context of the Homeland Security Department. However, establishing such an independent body will remain a dream from the Pakistani perspective. First, the Homeland Security Department has a specific background and evolved through a merger of different departments dealing with internal threats.

Second, this is a huge body, with 24 departments and an annual budget of $173 billion. Apart from the monetary and organisational aspects of such a huge institution, the nature of the threats the US is facing is different.

After some thought, Nacta was later patterned on the UK`s National Security Secretariat, which coordinates security and intelligence issues across the government and produces assessments on national security issues. In this context, Nacta should have been developed to provide strategic guidance and serve as a central node for all intelligence bodies.

But such a body cannot work in Pakistan because intelligence agencies remain reluctant to share information with a civilian body like Nacta. Theprovincial governments and the CTDs are evolving structures like Nacta. Last month, the CTD Sindh established a new cell called the `Anti-Extremism Enforcement Cell`. The KP government has already taken this step.

Indeed, Pakistan needs a federal body like Nacta, which should ensure the implementation of the National Internal Security Policy and the National Action Plan (NAP). However, the government and even Nacta`s bureaucracy and the interior ministry do not take internal security issues very seriously unless terrorism and extremism-related issues surface and people demand action. In this situation, Nacta suddenly becomes vital, but when the critical stage is over, the government forgets Nacta. The last meeting of the authority`s board of governors was held after a gap of two years, despite a legal obligation that the board should meet at least once in each quarter of the year.

Importantly, the last meeting also noted that the restructuring of Nacta is required, and several proposals have been discussed for this purpose.

However, transforming the body or creating a parallel body like the Homeland Security Department is not feasible in the Pakistani context because of the reasons discussed earlier. Pakistan needs to launch a critical inquiry into our security structures and the mindset they have created. The lawenforcement infrastructure that Pakistan inherited and that has evolved over the years has been failing, mainly because of the growing complexities and the challenges of internal security and the inability of the state to reform the system. Nacta can become effective if it focuses on its core coordination mandate and provides policy insights on internal threats.

If it diverts from its mandate, other agencies will continue encroaching on its space. Last year, the 20-point NAP was revised to become an abridged 14-point version of the original document. For its implementation, a new secretariat was established.

The body has to prove its relevance, while providing a concrete plan to counter the emerging terrorism threats from the TTP and the Baloch insurgency.• The writer is a security analyst.

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