Policing Terrorism in Pakistan


Policing Terrorism in Pakistan

SHO Mohib Ullah served in one of the most volatile cities infamous for the presence of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. But Mohib Ullah was little known outside his station of duty. Perhaps his name would not have appeared on the front pages of our newspapers had his funeral not tragically led to a ploy fixed by militants to target his colleagues and superiors. Amongst the 38 killed in Quetta on the eve of Eid, was DIG Operations Fayyaz Sumbul, an officer respected for speaking out against and identifying terrorists in Balochistan, especially those linked to Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.

Examining previous attacks on law enforcement agency (LEA) officials in urban centres of Pakistan alone gives a vivid picture of the threat on security officials. Amongst these have been the 2009 attack on Manawan Police Academy in Lahore; on CID lines in Karachi in 2010; the suicide attack on former CCPO Peshawar Safwat Ghayyur, well-respected for his efforts against terrorism; on SSP Chaudhry Aslam’s house in Karachi in 2011; and the attack on officers from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa training in Lahore in 2012.

National Counter-terrorism Policy for LEA’s

Which brings us to the much-debated discussion in Pakistani political spheres: devising a national counter-terrorism policy. Any comprehensive policy has to incorporate LEAs to prevent re-occurrences of aforementioned incidents and must encompass intelligence-led policing, protection of vulnerable targets, de-weaponisation and rehabilitation.

a) Intelligence-led policing:

Currently, there is a level of distrust between members of Pakistani intelligence agencies, but monopolising over intelligence-gathering and possession is counter-productive. Intelligence-led policing must entail both community policing, i.e. talking to key members in a given community (Islamic leaders, tribal elders, prominent business owners, etc.), and immigration policing, including internally displaced peoples. In both instances, local police officers have a situational advantage to collect on-ground information and cross-check it with that given by other agencies. Intelligence-led policing must take into account conclusively human intelligence, signal intelligence, intelligence investigators, and cyber investigations.

 b) Understanding terrorism:
Protection is only possible through the identification of various targets, partnership with public and private agencies, understanding the threat posed by various terrorist groups and treating ‘terrorism’ as a ‘crime’. The latter two enable LEAs to understand the transnational nature of terrorism, its nexus with militants and criminals within Pakistan, and the local roots and implications of this conflict in the grander scheme of international affairs.

c) Disarming Party activists:
De-weaponisation of criminal actors demands that all political parties work together. Their commitment entails disarming party activists who engage with criminal syndicates, booming our arms industry further. Unfortunately, in this regard, politicians have taken a laidback, uncommitted approach to further their own political agendas.

d) De-radicalisation measures:

Rehabilitation efforts should be coupled with de-radicalisation measures but should cater to detainees and security officials alike. Adequate training must be provided to enable security officials to distinguish between a militant and civilian and take appropriate action, but adequate provisions also need be available to help security officials through any psychological trauma they may suffer in the line of duty.

Evolution of Terrorist Tactics

Suicide bombers and IEDs have targeted civilians from Bali to Madrid, London to Kabul. Direct attacks or guerrilla tactics, such as in the case of the Mumbai attacks of 2008, the Lahore police academy attacks, or the PNS Mehran attack in 2011, represent an evolution in terrorist tactics.

Los Angeles Police Department’s Convergence Strategy paper of 2009 explains how the agency uses a crime-fighting model that follows convergence tactics. They investigate organized crime, such as narcotics and human trafficking, applying findings to the investigations of terrorist networks. This enables LAPD to consider the influence of traditional crimes on terrorist activities. Convergence allows policing efforts to evolve alongside terrorism.

Lessons from Mumbai

Simon O’Rourke’s study ‘The Emergent Challenges for Policing Terrorism’ is useful to consider. O’Rourke, of Western Australia Police, explains how the ‘culture of competitive analysis’ within intelligence spheres leads to restricting input from other agencies, making it difficult for the police to address information shortfalls. He further explains two key difficulties facing LEAs today: responding to active shooters and managing media.

The first represents a scenario where policemen are faced with multiple well-trained shooters who are better armed and less afraid, putting security officials in a vulnerable and overwhelming environment. It is a primary responsibility of our government to equip police forces with the capability and ammunition required to confront such an armed assault, which is what the UK implemented in its policies following the Mumbai attacks.

The second refers to police management of media during real-time coverage of attacks as they unfold. Media and communication technology during the events of 26/11 allowed terrorists to utilize satellite navigators to reach their targets. Their handlers watched through live broadcasts, improvised their tactics as the assault unfolded, and communicated commands to terrorists via Voice-Over-Internet Protocols. Much of this technology was unfamiliar to our police forces.

Capacity Building

Essentially, LEA’s in Pakistan urgently require capacity building on local levels, the commitment for which needs to be undertaken by federal players conclusively. The judiciary too needs to depoliticize itself in order try the likes of Hafiz Saeed, who has been released from ‘house arrest’ numerous times despite being the subject of an Interpol Red Notice. Similarly, the release of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi’s Malik Ishaq symbolizes a failure on the judiciary’s part and a morale-diminishing move for law enforcement officials.

We face a bitter reality: some counter-terrorism operations will always remain beyond the scope and capacity of the police. Counter-terrorism is a mulch-dimensional, multi-faceted task and may take several years if not decades to complete. How strongly institutionalized and accommodating (or unaccommodating) a state is in the face of resistance, determines how long a phase of terrorism will last and how successfully it can be suppressed. But how we equip, train, and teach our police force will ultimately determine the nature of that success.



Zoha Waseem

A freelance writer with a post-graduate degree from King's College London in MA Terrorism and Security'.


  • Jamal

    Terrorism can be eradicated just by one thing. i.e JUSTICE in all levels…if our previous president like zardari can get immunity in all of his criminal activities then why other small criminals will not break the jail ? Breaking jails are fully justified due to the injustices being done all over by elite class….
    Also, I wonder that you didn’t mentioned DRONE even once in your intellectual blog which is the root cause of all terrorism in our country…

  • Peter Pan

    Good article