At least for the last three decades, one of the most discussed topics in social sciences is terrorism and national security.

However, social sciences lack a logical justification of why terrorism occurs? Why it escalates and de-escalates? Why certain types of victims are selected? And, what determines the choice of weapons? Despite some contributions by scholars from security and regional geopolitics, political science, law and international relations, the state of hypothesis, data and facts about causes of terrorism remains in hysteria.

Justifiably, terrorism remains one of the security challenges of the modern world – together with organized crime, extremism, religious, ethnic and social conflicts. Identifying that terrorism is an artifact of an amalgamation of demographic, economic, and political determinants, a panel of National Research Council observes that “regions most likely to generate terrorist threats have a history of colonialist exploitation by Western interests, and of postcolonial economic and cultural penetration. Particularly in nondemocratic societies, conflicts generally reflect class, ethnic, racial, or religious divisions”.

Since 9/11 attacks and its causes and consequences, the terror events have sparked transformed concern in the deployment of technologies in the fight against terror and national security. Despite the characterization and dimension of terrorism changing over the decades, GIS has been found to be a very effective contrivance. It has the potential of preventing, predicting or countering terrorist attacks, while helping to strategize and support ground level combat operations. GIS application in the fight against terror begins with monitoring and surveillance of terror activity.

It moves on to disseminate critical information through the various public service agencies, law enforcement agencies, intelligence departments and homeland security system. In the event of a terror attack, geospatial tools and technologies not only help to secure citizens and property but also, support the ground combat operations.

An act of terrorism does not happen in the vacuum usually has a planning cycle thus, displays distinct temporal trends. At the same time, the planning exposes a bimodal spatial pattern of preparation and target selection. The bimodal geospatial platform is capable to project the terrorist’s pre-attack behavior in a space-time trajectory and the information may available in real time for a decision support system. GIS technology enables a seamless flow of information between intelligence and law enforcement agencies for monitoring and combat operations not only at the local but also, neighborhood level. GIS and related geospatial technologies can be applied to national security and counterterrorism in five principle manners. Firstly, GIS can serve as a tool for intelligence analysis. Secondly, GIS can be employed to simulate scenarios for terrorist attacks to identify and harden targets. Thirdly, GIS can be used to coordinate the immediate response to an actual attack by providing information on the proximity of attacked sites to first responders – police, fire, medical and other resources. Fourthly, GIS as well as GPS, aerial videography, laser detection and ranging (LiDAR) can be used to assess the short-term and intermediate-term effect of an attack and aid in establishing the boundaries of evacuation zones, locating evidence, locating and rescuing victims, building collapse, and so on. Lastly, GIS and satellite remote sensing or digital aerial imagery can be used to coordinate retaliation in the form of air strikes and to assist a whole range of more subtle military, paramilitary and law enforcement responses.

Areas of GIS Application in National Security and Counterterrorism:

  • Terror Group Surveillance
  • Intelligence Gathering and Visualization
  • Contingency Planning
  • Military/Police Operations
  • Timely Decision Support
  • Real-time management of field operations
  • Monitoring of Potential Targets
  • Area Assessment – terrain, layout, location, roadmap
  • Countering Terrorist Financing
  • Geospatial Intelligence

In the Pakistan context, volatile neighborhood necessitate that the Pakistan Armed Forces have to be prepared for operations across the spectrum of conflict – sub-conventional, conventional and nuclear. Such a threat scenario can only be effectively addressed by the efficient use of modern technologies and systems using GIS tools. The fight against terrorism cannot be efficient without cooperation and coordination of activities and actors.

Apart from an adequate legislative framework, which is indispensable for the security system to run smoothly, it is also important to keep the right channels for a swift and reliable exchange of relevant information. It is thus necessary to constantly review the communication and cooperation equipment and processes and make sure they are fit for purpose both in terms of current and long-term needs.

This  article is written by Mirza A.A. Baig is CAS-TWAS President’s Fellow at USTC.