General MacArther once stated that all wars in history were lost because of two words: “too late”; too late in gauging the threat, too late in formulating a proper response to the threat and too late in responding to the threat. In our efforts to counter terrorism we too succumb to this adage; first, we were too late to recognize terrorism and particularly terrorist ideology as a real threat; second, we were ambivalent and confused to chalk out a policy and third, we failed to arrange an institutional mechanism to respond to this threat timely and effectively.
Hitherto the bogey of terrorism is still present, though precipitously declined, at some place in varied degrees; and the worrying concern is the proliferation of extremist thoughts in the fabric of the society. These putrefying ideas are not only inimical to the individuals but detrimental for the society as well. After realizing the gravity of the situation, an institution was envisaged.
NACTA as an institution was conceived to counter terrorism after wasting crucial and significant time, resources and sacrificing countless lives in the year 2008. This organization, right from the outset, was in limbo; as the very act that defines its legal structure was enacted in 2013 after the lapse of five years. It was mandated to prepare a comprehensive national terrorism plan, to develop strategies to prevent the insidious flow of extremism, collect intelligence based information and establish liaison with different organizations for its execution, to carry out research and review and propose amendments in the relevant laws.
Even at the beginning, it was a battlefield to wage turf wars among different organizations; the provincial police administration was weary to accept an institution that will oversee and at times dictate them. The overarching structure with its widest jurisdiction was viewed as a threat. They feared that in consequence of this, their functional autonomy will be compromised. Besides this, the intelligence agencies of the armed forces were reluctant to play a second fiddle role. This unease was ensued when the meetings of Board of Governors were frequently postponed. On account of all these predicaments, it is necessary to bring out structural changes so as to make this body a platform that can positively contribute.
First, the composition of Board of Governors (BOG), though all encompassing, is too large to make it a viable platform to deliberate upon vital matters of national significance. It is heterogeneous in nature; it’s a representative body of top brass managerial leaders both from civil and military institutions. On paper, it looks fancy but practically it is an uphill task to complete the requisite quorum to convene a meeting. Given the civil-military dissonance, the underlying objective of institutional coordination seems a far-fetched dream. For all practical purposes it is more feasible to shrink the present composition and retain heads of only those institutions which are practically involved in a war against terrorism and matters related to internal security and external defence.
Second, one of the purposes of establishment of this institution was to construct a counter narrative against the onslaught of terrorism and brewing nefarious ideology of extremism. In this regard, the institution is undertaking certain ventures to play its part. But the dilemma is that it works solo, this isolated approach debars it to establish a working relationship with the mainstream think tanks. This solitary approach results into churning up the same literature that is already available. Besides this, the intellectual capacity of any public sector organization is not adequate to produce a piece of intellect. It is, by and large forte of the academicians and intellectuals, housed in universities and think tanks. Therefore, to effectively contribute, the organization is required to make close liaison by entering into memorandums of understanding (MOUs) with such institutions so as to carry forward this intellectual pursuit and produce an effective counter narrative that can withstand the torrents of extremism and terrorism.
Third, the pitfall with this nascent organization is that its inherent capacity to collect intelligence based information is woefully inadequate, which is its one of its core functions. This results into vague and relative information not specific, exact and required intelligence. Such deficiencies invite terrorist spree. In this regard, the federal government is required to generously doll out resources so as to purchase cutting edge gadgetry, corresponding with modern international standards, which will be instrumental in the collection of information.
Fourth, the predicament with this organization is heightened expectations; it is expected to carry out the work that strictly speaking does not fall in its legal ambit. Operational activities which involve undertaking actions on the ground by entering into the arena, is not surprisingly mandated but ironically expected. Its mandate is counter-terrorism which is a war waged on ideological grounds than anti-terrorism, that is launching battles on operational level. Whenever any unfortunate terrorist activity takes place, the performance of NACTA is question marked. This evaluation is partly right but simultaneously partly wrong as well. To provide specific target oriented intelligence is the responsibility of NACTA but to execute the operational mechanisms is the duty of respective provincial police administration.
Fifth, prima facie, the duality of command acts as a straitjacket in the smooth functioning of the organization; according to NACTA act section 3(2), which states: the authority should be independent body directly answerable to the Prime Minister. But the body has to rely heavily for logistic, financial and at times administrative functions on the Ministry of Interior. This overbearing and outstretching creates impediments. It stirs a sense of confusion which leads towards turf wars and ultimately affects the performance. It is necessary that NACTA as a body wholly and solely be under the office of Prime Minister for all necessary and auxiliary functions. The National Coordinator of NACTA; who acts as a principal functionary of the organization, should be included as a member in the National Security Committee.
In the end, instead of lamenting the past and waiting for messiah, we need to make our house in order by taking practical steps. It is high time to revamp the obsolete and out-dated criminal justice system. Terrorism was neither a phenomenon nor a potent threat when our now anachronistic criminal justice system was conceived. According to an estimation almost 70 percent cases pertaining to terrorist incidents that are attributed to NACTA fall some way or the other in the domain of criminal justice system. This will lessen the burden and improve its performance.
Source: Daily Nation