POLICING TO COUNTER TERRORISM?
Is the post 9/11 experience a harbinger of a period where we shall encounter a perpetual state of war? In the Post-World War II era, has any conflict resulted in the emergence of a clear victor? These were just some of the questions raised at a talk held last month by senior journalist Ejaz Haider, titled 21st Century Hybrid Wars. The crux of the speaker’s argument was that non-conventional means, or ‘non-linear’ means, as he repeatedly referred to them as, are increasingly being employed in conflicts around the world; these are ones which do not necessarily use kinetic forces of energy.
However, non-conventional methods of warfare and their employment are not the focus of this piece. In fact, the statement that caught my fancy was part of the speaker’s response to an audience member’s question regarding the currently stretched resources of the military: that counter-terrorism must not be the sole responsibility of the army, and that the police too could, and thus should, play a crucial role towards countering terrorism. This particular point links very well to a project pertaining to crime across Punjab, which is currently in full swing at IDEAS.
The ongoing Operation Zarb-e-Azb may have many proponents, even more so in light of the recent atrocities committed in Peshawar, but its duration has now crossed the half-year mark. Let alone the fact that the Pakistani Army has traditionally not been trained in guerrilla warfare, this operation is certainly taking its toll on the Pakistan Army’s (vast) resources. Keep in mind that not only has the army had to conduct operations recently – most notably those in the Swat and South Waziristan regions of North-Western Pakistan – but it also, given the capriciousness of Indo-Pak relations and the general volatility plaguing the region, has to stay vigilant on both, the country’s Eastern and Western borders.
Consequently, the Army’s resources are being stretched. Even otherwise, there are many who argue that countering terrorism will require a multi-pronged strategy. While the onus to counter terrorism (by force/militarily) shall remain on the armed forces, at least in the short term, civilian institutions, the police force in particular, will also have to pitch in to the effort. This is where their effectiveness, particularly in teaming up with the other arms of the state, will come into play, to determine the success of the national counter-terrorism strategy.
So yes, the police needs to play a role in curbing terrorism. But how does it do so? Here, I feel we can borrow from the stream of literature available on effective counter-terrorism strategies, which argues that it is very important to win the ‘hearts and minds’ of the people, something that the terrorist organizations are (or were, until quite recently) seemingly quite adept at. As argued effectively over here and here , terrorist networks are supported by locals and are deeply entrenched within the social fabric. This allows them to not only recruit from amongst the locals but also, more crucially, to curb the flow of information towards the counter-terrorism forces.
This flow of information is critical. It is this suffocation of the intelligence gathering process of the security forces that then allows the terrorist organizations to compete effectively against opposition that, in most cases at least, is much superior militarily. The constant flow of this information before and during combat can very much tilt the balance; this is because a major chunk of any combat operation, the speaker asserted, constitutes of reconnaissance missions. And, in another gesture pointing towards the police, he pointed to how day-to-day policing is in many ways similar, and thus crucial, to intelligence gathering.
Thus, with the spotlight firmly on attainment of intelligence, cementing a place in the hearts and minds of people becomes an important conduit. Indeed, many have argued that better service delivery holds the key ; that improving people’s livelihoods can win their trust. From a strictly policing point of view, this is where the vast stream of criminology literature on procedural justice, with its focus on fair treatment of all citizens by the police, so as to increase legitimacy in the citizens’ eyes and in turn win their trust, can come in handy. Improved and fairer policing practices can increase citizens’ trust in the police, and can push them to start associating with the police, as opposed to seeing them as the ‘other,’ as is very much the case in Pakistan today. Such a strategy, as the literature from the developed countries suggests, can greatly improve intelligence gathering and, in turn, police effectiveness. To reiterate, better intelligence gathering could prove to be decisive in the efforts against terrorism.
Furthermore, and this may come as a surprise, results from a recent PEW survey suggest that Pakistanis feel that electricity shortages and crime are bigger concerns than corruption, the eradication of which has lately been made out to be a panacea for all that is wrong with Pakistan today. However, for a more nuanced understanding, one must keep in mind that the police force is very often seen as the most corrupt public institution in Pakistan, that crime and corruption are not as mutually exclusive as the Pew Report portrays them to be.
It is with this backdrop, given that the potential benefits of a police force that is trusted by the citizenry could be so far-reaching, that understanding crime and the factors that affect police legitimacy and citizens’ trust in the police, is of utmost importance. Thus, improving public perceptions of the police, perhaps even more than the actual crime statistics, could prove pivotal in determining the long term effectiveness of the institution and, to an extent, our national counter-terrorism strategy. Not only do determinants of crime and citizens’ trust in the police need to be understood at the individual level but also across all provinces. For it is only after we have understood the phenomenon that we shall be able to pull the police out of the shackles of the archaic institutional mechanism that dictates it at present and delineate effective crime control and counter terrorism strategies. The police, as it is right now, may signify all that is wrong with the system, but it could also act as a catalyst in solving many of the ills that plague the country today.
Mr. Ammar Khalid is a Research Assistant at IDEAS. He recently completed a BSc (Honors) in Economics from LUMS, with a minor in Political Science. Questions of political economy relating to governance, ethnic politics and urbanization greatly interest him. Ammar tweets @paharibakra
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Institute of Development and Economic Alternatives