Food For Thought

False Sense of Security

In punitive days of 1971 War, 2/Lt Shafaat, in forward concentration area on Western Border, asked his Battalion Commander, ”Sir in East Pakistan our Army is virtually surrounded and their capitulation looks imminent, what will we do?” The Battalion Commander replied, “Do not believe what you hear on radio? We have a strategy – the defence of East Pakistan lies in West Pakistan. Once we launch our offensive from here, the Indians will be forced to recoil.” The rest is history; though we have hardly learnt from it.

Sixty seven years on, we are yet to develop a nationalistic thinking. Most of our actions are for demonstration, devoid of intellectual honesty and earnest implementation. Security is gauged in terms of visibility but not effectiveness: barbed wire fences around sensitive installations, soldiers at barriers unaware of what to check for, and route lining by police for VIPs, thereby indicating their route, to and fro destinations and likely time of movement are cases in point. Few years ago I was walking on Sixth Avenue of Manhattan during an afternoon and the convoy of the most powerful and threatened person in the world whiffed past me in three GMCs with tinted glasses. There was no traffic blockage, route lining or police escorts. The West has learnt their lessons since 9/11 and 7/7. There has been no terrorist attack on mainland USA, though this happens to be the prime target for the terrorists the world over. What is the difference then? In my view it is a combination of commitment, sincerity of purpose, national pride, and a system of accountability.

Since 2003, Pakistan is faced with asymmetrical warfare. Our urban landscape has been transformed into fortress cities and our future generations are being raised in an environment of violence, sectarian strife, extremism and terrorism. Has our security paradigm also undergone a change to face these threats besides a conventional threat? The answer may be in the negative. Some of the recent incidents like the attack on GHQ, Mehran and Kamra bases, and at Karachi Airport provide interesting analysis. In all these and many other incidents, despite layers of security, terrorists were able to breech the inner cordons and entered the premises disguised mostly in uniform of respective security forces. Bismarck, the sage of warfare had remarked, “Everybody learns from mistakes, but clever is the one who learns from others' mistakes.”

If we study the modus operandi of the terrorists' operations, it is clear that there is a mastermind who allocates mission and funds, planners who prepare for the assigned task, and executers who reconnoiter and launch terrorists, and finally plain sloggers, who execute the tasks. Various tiers of terrorists are unaware of the identity of upper echelons which makes it easy for foreign intelligence agencies to infiltrate the ranks of terrorists, despite ideological differences, mostly by assigning target(s) and funding these operations. Economic and military targets are generally selected on the behest of foreign masters to degrade military potentials while attacks on the Parade Lane mosque etc are manifestations of a cultic ideology. Potential targets are carefully selected, visited well in advance, and attacks are implemented in a planned manner with backup plans. Execution is mostly in radio silence.

Terrorists with exposure of more than a decade to armed forces pattern of operations are also aware of our weaknesses in quick movement, centralized control, lack of initiative at lower levels and religious orientation.

The best way to beat these tactics of terrorists is through technology, superior training and discipline, motivation, and an element of surprise. In the security paradigm of today, each soldier on duty counts; which is a departure from norms of an army trained to fight in an organizational edifice. To thwart these threats, while some of the traditional norms of military training will equip a soldier with firing skills – quick reaction to the unexpected, discipline, a sense of commitment, and environment-specific traits will have to be inculcated. Foremost amongst these is sense of duty, self-discipline, and training of mind, besides skills, rapid movement and above all, anticipation. I am tempted to cite an example of self discipline and dutifulness. In FIFA World Cup 2006 held in Germany, the host country was playing the final with Italy. There was an inner cordon of security personnel guarding the field against a possible terrorist threat, facing the crowd. We all know how popular football is in Europe and how tempting it is to watch the national team by just a turn of gaze. During the 100 minutes of the game, I watched on TV, not a single soldier turned his head sideways, even while goals were being scored. This is the commitment and sense of duty, which few of us can emulate.

In response to the security concerns and guarding sensitive installations, the first line of defence is authentic intelligence which can forearm and equip the security apparatus.  We all are aware of lack of coordination amongst intelligence agencies and repeatedly iterate this fact but have done nothing to avoid the duplication of effort and ensure harmony.

The faultiest tendency in our security apparatus is to visibly guard right at the site, surrounded by tentative tiers. Most of our functions are performed for display, not for results. To ensure proper security, unless the attacker is identified and tackled away from the site, even the most determined effort by guards in position would yield limited dividends. This is because the inner breach, even if the ultimate objective is not attained, communicates a sense of insecurity and vulnerability. In such situations, there is a case for using technology to identify disguised terrorists on monitoring screens through installed cameras, determine ID through chip-based tags, target intruders from hidden emplacements, snipers or Rapid Reaction Forces. Prior detection would also give more reaction time to security personnel in inner cordons and for earmarked reserves. Unfortunately, our psyche and record of use of cameras leaves much to be desired. We do not have an aptitude for this invisible line of security vis-a-vis visible presence. Cameras are installed mostly for showmanship and cannot operate at night, in fog and rain. They cannot recognize the face of the intruder or vehicle license plates, and to top it all, we do not monitor these cameras from a control room. A metropolitan city like London is monitored and regulated by approximately 500,000 cameras controlled from two rooms which cover traffic violations, crimes, and terrorism.  Some of these cameras are even 'shouting cameras', which warn passerbys of violating traffic laws. Similarly in Dubai, New York and Beijing for instance, cameras hidden in street lights not only discreetly monitor activities but also record violations.

In environments infested with terrorism which is a clear and present danger, it is imperative that security is accorded prime importance and resource allocation. Security should be viewed as a collective responsibility of every citizen and not merely the domain of forces. To improve the situation, the following recommendations are offered:

• Change in mindset to take security seriously by talks, actions, strict punishment, sporadic checks, media projection and motivation.

• Training of minds instead of skills through simulators, computer games, depicting situations, videos of terrorist operations etc.

• Reliance on technology, video cameras, jammers, gradually replacing National ID cards with chip based cards, aerial platforms even in urban areas to monitor movements, and target the terrorists.

• Inculcating initiative at individual and lower levels by rewards, delegations and good example.

• Coordination of intelligence by assigning each major intelligence agency a lead role for a particular field, de- politicisation, sharing intelligence with those on the ground instead of their superiors only, developing authentic tentacles, posting officers with better profiles are some of the measures.

• As first line of defence, our police require radical changes. We should either follow a Metropolitan Police model or place the police under the Federation or Army when assisting in security duties. A system of accountability, possibly by making the Army Act applicable, as in the case of ASF, could be instituted. At present their orientation is only to serve the rulers.

• Purchase of special guns like stun, ammunition, grenades, area jammers, smoke generators, sniper rifles, barbed wires that indicate tampering, sniffer dogs etc.

• Creating forums to handle security related issues and crises at Federal, Provincial and Administrative Division levels with appropriate membership.

• Imposition of strict guidelines on media in discussing security related issues by PEMRA and a time lag of 10–15 minutes on the live coverage of security situations.

• Reducing the size of cavalcades, abolishing route lining, curtailing the size of guards at personal residences – thus freeing police, CAFs for their prime duties. The elimination of the VIP culture as in the Western countries.

• Toll plazas at highways and motorways to be used for dual purposes of security checks and toll collection, accordingly equipped and staffed.


The writer has been Commander Lahore Corps and Military Secretary to the President. He is also author of ‘Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan’ (published 1983).

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