The Federal and Punjab governments are planning to reinvent the wheel.
Confused? Let me explain.
To enhance Punjab’s counterterrorism capacity, a commendable objective in and of itself, insiders say the Brothers Sharif are close to disbanding the department that has the highest number of experienced staff and the largest database on banned organisations and their cadres.
It was called the Criminal Investigation Department until 2010, when it was renamed the Counterterrorism Department (CTD).
CTD has some 1,700 personnel, about one per cent of the total strength of the Punjab Police.
The story has more to it than is revealed by the summaries — written in poor officialese — I have with me.
The lead in this ‘reform’ exercise is being taken by the District Management Group (DMG) officers who, much like army officers, tend to think that they can store and reproduce the entire repository of human knowledge. Don’t get me wrong. Some of them are brilliant. Most aren’t. The world has moved to specialisation, and to think that DMG officers can deal with counterterrorism while the police officers’ capacity needs to be enhanced is a joke.
The reform exercise for CID was undertaken in 2010. A notification dated July 21, 2010 reads: No. SO (IS-II) 3-24/2009(P-1). In pursuance of powers conferred u/s 7 (1) of Police order 2002 and in suppression of Criminal Investigation Department Manual 1937, Criminal Investigation Department is hereby re-constituted as “Counter Terrorism Department” (CTD).
Good! At least the 2010 exercise was not about reinventing the wheel. In fact, the summary from that period identified, correctly, seven important areas: Intelligence Wing; Operations Wing; Investigation Wing; Prosecution Wing; Research and Analysis Wing; Technical Wing and Training Wing.
Each specialisation also identified sub-areas. It was a fairly comprehensive exercise — at least on paper. The notification was signed by the then home secretary, Nadeem Hassan Asif. The models studied then and listed in the summary for the Punjab chief minister were Sri Lanka, the United Kingdom and the United States. There was to be a Provincial Executive Board for “taking policy decisions and devising [sic] strategic planning” and a Provincial Strategic Tasking Committee for “Implementation of Action Plan”.
As part of the summary, there was also an immediate plan which required creating four SSP/SP level posts, transport, equipment, interrogation rooms, SS fund, research and analysis and training. The funds required for this immediate exercise were Rs72.58 million. This was signed on June 26, 2010 by Secretary to the CM Tauqir Shah.
For operations, it was proposed that the “existing manpower, logistics alongwith [sic] arms and ammunition of Elite Police Force including Quick Response Force, snipers and respective contingent [sic] of District Force (presently being utilised for anti terrorist operation [sic]) may be transferred and placed under the exclusive command and control of CID for its utilisation in anti terrorism [sic] operations.”
Other areas also sought to establish an important principle of CT: coordination. The CID became CTD but that was about it. Nothing further happened beyond some cosmetic measures. The CTD, however, kept working within its many constraints. It is the only department that actually has a database. It did get some software for analysis and link charts, courtesy the British government.
Now, we are on to yet another exercise. This time, though, the government plans to send the CTD personnel ‘back to their parent wings/arms/departments’. It now wants to create a new force and has already put out an advert for inducting ‘corporals’ in the CTD. In other words, the experienced personnel of the CTD are to be sent back to whence they came while newbies are to be recruited who, presumably, will be able to grasp the complex web of terrorism in Punjab and somehow pre-empt urban terrorism better than the existing CTD.
This is naive. The CTD definitely needs to be reformed. I have said this for a long time. But the way to do that is not to uproot existing capacity. The 2010 summary and notification were far more comprehensive than what has been proposed to the PM this time round, last signatures on that summary being November 11, 2013.
Four Turkish police officers/experts have been invited for consultation. They are stationed in the Central Police Office in Lahore. I spoke with the delegation’s chief, Mustafa Ozgular. Mr Ozgular correctly said that he could not speak on the political decisions that the government might take but agreed that the organisation should be strengthened by developing existing capacity.
I have bundles of information on this exercise which cannot be placed here. What is obvious to me, after studying the documents and talking to insiders, is the fact that the reform is being undertaken without much thought — or perhaps, little intelligent thought. The desire is there but if desire alone could help much, the world wouldn’t have had unhappy people in such large numbers.
Among many other things, two are prerequisites. One, any reform exercise must build on strengths and address weaknesses. Two, because serving police officers cannot publicly speak, the governments should create advisory boards of external experts/monitors who can judge how the issue is being addressed. This auditing is important. There are a number of experienced police officers who are retired but who can be consulted at a time when expertise is rare to come by and the threat is clear and present.
Critics say the CTD hasn’t performed well. Yes and no. It has done fairly well given the lack of resources but it can be made to do better. Also, let it be placed on record here that for the most part, it has been the lack of political will by the PML-N government which, for the past five years, swept the problem of terrorism in Punjab under the carpet even as the CTD kept building its database and adding potential threats to the 4th Schedule of ATA.
Today, Punjab is the only province with some CT capacity. If the CTD personnel are repatriated to their parent wings/departments, this expertise will be lost and Punjab, like the other three provinces, will be left groping in the dark after every terrorist attack. Given how the TTP and their affiliate groups are going to operate now, especially targeting Punjab — yes, PML-N, the honeymoon is over — sans the CTD’s experienced personnel, it will be a disaster.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 20th, 2013.
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