Security and intelligence
Hassan Abbas, The News, February 25, 2008
The gravest challenge that will stare the new government in the face is going to be in the realm of internal security, law enforcement and the safety of the state’s top functionaries. Indeed, establishing a stable national government, revival of independent judiciary, and restoring the spirit of the 1973 Constitution are critical for Pakistan, and the new political leadership of the country should pursue these laudable goals. However, simultaneously, and preferably within the first hundred days of its inauguration, the new government should focus on the reform of the intelligence agencies and law enforcement to equip the state of Pakistan with sufficient tools to secure its future and that of the people. Given the nature of crisis in Pakistan, effective internal security will drive political as well as economic stability.
The Pakistani Army positively contributed towards the holding of free elections on Feb 18, but it cannot be expected to do the job of law enforcement endlessly. Dependence on the military for such tasks ultimately persuades its leadership to increase the army’s involvement in the political domain, and in the process that follows such thinking, Pakistan loses many years. Generals like Waheed Kakar and Jahangir Karamat are rare, and given some recent developments it seems that Pakistan is lucky to have another of their kind in the form of the new chief, Ashfaq Pervez Kayani. This golden opportunity should not be lost (like before) to nurture and groom civilian institutions to stand on their own feet.
First and foremost, a new organisation on the pattern of the US Secret Service should be commissioned for managing the personal security of the president, the prime minister, the governors, the chief ministers and the chief justices of the Supreme Court and High Courts, besides former heads of government and other senior functionaries, if that is deemed necessary. In the US, all former presidents and even major presidential and vice presidential candidates and nominees are provided security cover by the secret service. No strong case needs to be built for such an organisation in Pakistan, as a mere glance at the history of Pakistan reminds us how many valuable leaders we have lost through assassinations and murders. In almost all high-profile murders — Liaquat Ali Khan, Zia-ul-Haq, (possibly) Asif Nawaz and Benazir Bhutto — we are still unclear who was behind the deaths. Though all national and provincial chief executives in Pakistan have designated chief security officers (CSOs) deputed to organise and plan for their safety, they are dependent on various law-enforcement and intelligence agencies to implement the security plans and assess the nature of threats. President Pervez Musharraf is an exception, being a former army chief who is still guarded by SSG commandos due to the nature of threats to his life. Ordinary mortals are not that lucky.
The US Secret Service, a part of the Department of Homeland Security, also has additional responsibilities (related to criminal investigations and financial crimes), but the proposed Pakistan Secret Service should be primarily focused on the security of VVIPs and completely independent of the Ministries of Interior or Defence. Additionally, it should be an autonomous body led by a person with a fixed tenure (and possibly with a constitutional cover). It should also have a separate training academy and related facilities, and, last but not least, its own analytical and intelligence wings to evaluate threat assessments to high-profile officials of the state. This organisation can also be made responsible for the safety of visiting heads of state, and for foreign missions and other buildings within Islamabad, and for plans and security designs for designated national events, such as the March 23 and Aug 14 programmes where hundreds of VVIPs are present.
The purpose of a specialised security force is to develop expertise for a task that has gained critical importance. Rather than deputing people from the police service of Pakistan or the military (who in many cases aspire to go back to their institutions or field jobs), a dedicated security organisation for the purpose is likely to perform much better and more responsibly. Any perceptions about loyalty to one’s parent department will also be discounted this way. Besides eliminating coordination failure risks, it will make available many resources and manpower to the local police and law enforcement which is often stretched to provide for the security and movements of VVIPs and foreign heads of state.
The highest functionaries of the state should be comfortable and confident that they and their families are safe and that they will continue to get security cover even when they retire (in case of the judiciary) or are out of office. Given the deteriorating law-and-order situation in the country and the threat of terrorism, such an institution is a necessity of the times. It will take at least two to three years for a professional service to be raised on these lines, and hence a quick decision by the new government is highly recommended. If such an institution is deemed viable, then the government should look for professionalism and competence in its search for people to build this institution. Establishing new institutions require vision, exposure and dedication. There is a lot of expertise available in the country to undertake such a project. And as for financial provision for the project, a chunk of what Pakistan annually receives as aid for anti-terror operations should suffice. Ideally, though, Pakistan should make provision for this plan from its defence budget, as securing its leadership is at the least as important as defending the borders.
(Next week’s article will be on police reforms).
The writer, a former government official, is a fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and author of Pakistan’s Drift into Extremism: Allah, the Army and America’s War on Terror. He also runs a blog by the name of Watandost. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org