Making use of actionable intelligence

Pakistan is facing an existential threat, which cannot and should not be fought by the army alone.

Tariq Mahmud July 10, 2013
The writer is a public policy analyst and a former interior secretary

The deadly attack in the rarefied climes of Nanga Parbat was carried out not by any regular combatant but by non-state actors who displayed their extended outreach. Those who carried out the killings of the foreign tourists are angry with the Americans and the irony is that in retaliation, these terrorist squads are soaking the soil of Pakistan with blood. With the drawdown of US forces in Afghanistan approaching, there has been a sudden surge in terrorist attacks throughout the country from Karachi to the Northern Areas. This is a wake-up call for that breed of our leadership, which never tires of terming this as ‘not our war’. These leaders never mince words calling for dialogue with those who are killing our people. While drone attacks are condemnable as they violate our sovereignty, proponents of dialogue with the Taliban are yet to inform this beleaguered nation as to the measures in store to retrieve our sovereignty from militant outfits, which are stationed in our tribal areas from where they keep spawning lethal attacks all over the country. An analogy is drawn with the US-Taliban talks in Doha. We have witnessed the true intent of the negotiators in the Qatar capital where the Taliban delegates behaved as if they were the only representatives of the Emirate Republic, while their siblings back home were carrying out suicide attacks close to the seat of government. One does not see a different scenario when it comes to talking to the TTP in Pakistan.

Security lapses and intelligence failures in different parts of the country have raised serious questions about the efficacy of our intelligence operations. The interior minister, during his recent visit to Quetta, was reportedly appalled at the level of coordination among different agencies. The situation in Balochistan is complex — there is a movement launched by the so-called separatist nationalists and ultra-sectarian militants, while the issue of missing persons and mutilated bodies further aggravates the scene.

The FC holds the key to maintaining internal security in Balochistan. Its long and over-extended presence in matters of internal security is causing increasing wariness within the intelligentsia. However, it should be noted that the FC is performing its professional duties against heavy odds and that this arrangement has not been foisted on the province. The FC has been called in on the provincial government’s request. Balochistan’s leadership has often shown dichotomy on this issue. There has never been a concerted move to build indigenous resources to man the critical area of internal security. There was a programme to extend policing to ‘B’ areas of the province that are spread over a huge swathe of territory and population. It also included training and upgrading of the police force. The programme, however, was reversed on the persuasion of influentials of the province. After the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment, with more resources at its disposal, the newly-elected government should start working on a long-term plan in this regard.

Recent events are highlighting the failures of the intelligence agencies and their laidback response to actionable information. A closer look at intelligence gathering, collation and its use makes for some instructive reading. Such information may be timely but in essence, it is more often estimative in nature. The recipient of the information, at times, is not so well clued in to read between the lines. The timing of the likely occurrence of possible terrorist incidents is often not known. This indeterminate span of time draws an inert response from law enforcement agencies, especially as they are occupied with multiple tasks.

There are a host of agencies in the business, working in accordance with the ‘stove pipe' approach, where information flows vertically without lateral sharing with other agencies. Time is lost on account of turf battles.

Intelligence networks should not only concentrate on the actual occurrence but also should keep track over the supply chain spawning these deadly acts. In an attack on the Hazaras that took place earlier in the year in Quetta, for instance, chemicals for the explosives were procured from Akbari Mandi, Lahore, an unregulated market for bulk purchases of chemicals. One wonders whether the Punjab government took any instant remedial step to redress this situation. On a personal note, while conducting an inquiry in late 1999 into the serial killings by accused Javed Iqbal, who infamously murdered 100 children, it was found that he had been procuring drums of acid from this very market for dissolving the bodies of sedated children after sexually assaulting them.

Information sharing, at the same time, has to be fusion-based, more interactive and informal at the operational level. There is a need for continually upgrading skills of those who gather intelligence and those whose responsibility it is to make its use more actionable.

While reflecting on our efforts regarding counterterrorism, we lost precious years in deciding where to park the new set-up of the National Counterterrorism Authority. The matter had been vacillating between the Interior Division and the Prime Minister Secretariat. The president, in whose name the administration of the tribal areas is run, the prime minister and the ministers for interior and defence did not have time in the last five years to put their feet on the soil of the tribal areas. All this says a lot about our political leadership’s commitment to the war against terror.

We need to realise that Pakistan is facing an existential threat, which cannot and should not be fought by the army alone. Our political elite, waving an olive branch to these elements, need to have a broad sense of it. The war has to be fought with the same grit and firm resolve as was displayed by the valiant leadership and the brave, courageous people of Sri Lanka in their war against the Tamil Tigers. In the bargain, they were able to root out this most dreaded killing machine of the 20th century. Any hope of a permanent peace, short of that resolve, will be an elusive dream.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 11th, 2013.

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Tariq | 9 years ago | Reply

TM thanks once more for a wonderful article. With your experience of having served as interior secretary, no doubt you have very good perception on what are the root causes of our problems as well as a very well thought out line of action. If only our political leadership was had the same clear perception, resolve and will to eliminate terrorists from our country. A leadership demands that a good leader should be able to see though the fog and perceive a clear picture. Alas, so far there has been much condemnations but no positive action. Two major issues that have been very much ignored by the authorities and the press has done very little to investigate are Logistics and Finance. You have touched upon the supply chain in your article. Why do our intelligence gathering agencies not figure out from where and along which routes the sophisticated heavy weapon systems like the 12.7 mm HMG is coming from. Secondly, where is the money coming from to finance such purchases. In any gun battle with law enforcement agencies the terrorists fire of millions worth of ammunition. Why have we failed to unearth the money trail? If we can cut off the finances and locate the gun runners and block their approaches we will be able to starve off the terrorists.

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