Guarding Islamabad

The way a lone gunman held our capital city hostage shows the collapse of the writ of the state. While the delaying tactics of the police may have some justification, the manner in which the police were deployed at the crime scene and the way they tackled the man, gave the impression of a mob rather than a disciplined force.
I cannot help but recall an initiative taken when I was the interior secretary (2001-2004). On October 7, 2003 former MNA and the head of the Sipah-e-Sahaba Maulana Azam Tariq was assassinated in Islamabad, which led to a mob descending on the capital. The Islamabad police were unable to handle the mob leading to a lot of criticism of the government.
In a meeting three days later, the cabinet decided to form a committee, which included eminent names like retired IG Abbas Khan, to come up with recommendations to revamp the Islamabad police force. Islamabad’s police then had a total strength of 7,246 men out of which only about 1300 or so were doing hardcore policing duties, while the bulk of the remaining force was mainly on static ground duties and used for route lining. There was no dedicated anti-riot unit or a counterterrorism squad.
The bulk of the force – which was not posted at police stations (where there was the potential to make an extra buck) was dejected – and still is – and constantly making efforts to get posted to the stations. Added to this – and apart from the total lack of training for the total force – was the obvious neglect of the department in providing accommodation or transport to the force, resulting in genuine fatigue and a drop in self-esteem.
I held long brainstorming sessions with my officers to evaluate and fine-tune the recommendations of the committee of experts and made a presentation to the then PM Zafarullah Khan Jamali on February 28, 2004 in the same committee where now PM Nawaz Sharif is taking presentations.
The main ingredients of the proposal were that since Islamabad has to call the Rangers and the FC at the drop of a hat to maintain law and order, why not set up a paramilitary wing within the Islamabad Police itself, which would be under the commanded of the IG. The new wing would be called the Islamabad Capital Guards. Additional posts and funds were approved by the PM.
This force would be set up under a new law, incorporating its own recruitment rules, which would be along the lines of the army – take the men young and retire them young, while they are still healthy and not with too many family liabilities. The men of this force would not be transferable to the Islamabad police and vice versa, in a bid to curb political manoeuvring.
It was proposed that the new Islamabad Capital Guards should be trained well, equipped well, and provided with accommodation, transport and a good salary.
The Capital City Guards Bill 2004 was drafted, incorporating all matters including systems of recruitment etc. It was to be the main force securing Islamabad with its anti-riot, anti-terrorism squads, along with guarding sensitive installations/buildings and important people including diplomats.
After the PM approved the proposal in February 2004, I was transferred immediately thereafter in May 2004 (on completion of my tenure – a thing almost unheard of now). My successor, Tariq Mahmud, moved a summary to the cabinet on the issue in September 2004 because the scheme could not overcome the usual bureaucratic hurdles, but then he was transferred from the ministry and the proposal lost steam.
The best that happened, to my knowledge, was the creation of a separate security division within the Islamabad police with the same old force and rules – something that recent events show proved ineffective.
Imagine if a properly trained and motivated force like the Islamabad Capital Guards existed, separate from the ordinary police but under the command of the IG, we would be feeling much more secure. But unfortunately, just like we were unable to handle the mob that descended on Islamabad in October 2003, we were unable to handle a lone mad gunman 10 years later. Pakistan truly reflects the good old saying: the more we move, the more we stay at the same place.
Even now it is not too late. The concept paper, along with the draft law for the Islamabad Capital Guards, must be lying somewhere in the Ministry of Interior. If not I can provide a copy – I was so convinced of the utility of the idea that I kept a copy!
The minister should look at it seriously. The 500 Rapid Deployment Force that he has announced, being akin to the existing Elite force, may not help. There is a need to set up a new institution to cater for the long-term future needs of Islamabad – and a similar force in other big cities of the country.