Role of intelligence in coronavirus control

In Pakistan, the intelligence agencies, civil and military, have an important role to play in coronavirus control.

Faisal Ali Raja April 15, 2020
A Reuters illustrative image.

Historically it has been observed that an army, inferior in number and less capable in equipment and technology, can overcome a stronger adversary if the commander of the force is adequately equipped with better information. Therefore, actionable intelligence, in warfare, is a force multiplier which can magnify the tactical action to produce impressive results in battle. Moreover, it is a grave mistake if one looks only at the numbers, gadgets and the technology without taking into account the local intelligence to guide individuals in the right direction. As we have been fighting against an unseen enemy, the top leadership should have exact information about the situation unfolding in the field. It may also help them in taking the right decisions and timely measures to minimise the death toll and control the virus spread.

In Pakistan, the intelligence agencies, civil and military, have an important role to play in coronavirus control. They operate at the grassroots level to collect information on an array of issues — including counter-intelligence, data on dengue larva incidence, wheat procurement, and disbursement of any financial package to the poor — therefore it becomes expedient to utilise the tentacles of these intelligence agencies in our fight against coronavirus.

There are probably four levels on which the provincial and federal intelligence agencies can complement the anti-coronavirus measures of provincial and central administrative structures. First, the agencies operating at sub-national level need to collect data at union council and sub-division levels to check the situation of virus spread. This can be done through surveys with the participation of members of other departments and active involvement of union council representatives. Moreover, a system of direct and indirect information collection should be maintained in every town or village so in case there is a presence of any coronavirus suspect, the information can be disseminated to the district or provincial departments for quick and swift action. A dynamic predictive template should be made at the sub-division or district level which updates daily projections for the probable cases and the availability of equipment or other protective gadgets in the administrative units. Moreover, it should also project which union councils require immediate-and-complete, immediate-and-incomplete or neither-immediate-nor-complete lockdowns, respectively.

Second, the provincial intelligence agencies must coordinate their efforts through a system at the federal level. Preferably, NDMA should coordinate with all intelligence agencies in the provinces to streamline their data for predictive analysis to get a complete picture of deficiencies in a district, region or a province. The incompatibility between the number of corona cases and testing capability may also be highlighted through a similar mechanism. Such a process should be dynamic since it requires continuous data up-gradation and a daily projection of future scenarios.

Third, many federal intelligence agencies have their establishments in selective foreign countries and an effort may be made to understand the virus spread phenomena abroad. These agencies may also record the best practices adopted and exercised by these countries keeping in mind our social circumstances. Moreover, such intelligence units may utilise their resources in expediting procurement and transportation of any medical equipment directly to the place of its urgent utility. This may not only save time but also lives that require immediate medical assistance.

Lastly, coronavirus is attacking our country on multiple levels. It is impacting its economy, pushing people into psychological and physical discomfort, disrupting communication lines between provinces and above all, creating a situation of uncertainty. Hence, intelligence agencies must energise all possible resources to reduce these threats to the national security of Pakistan.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 15th, 2020.

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