In wake of the ghastly massacre of 146 school children, including teachers, at the Army Public School, Peshawar, the government responded well to the public clarion for action against the terrorists. To begin with moratorium on death sentence was removed and more than twenty-six convicted terrorists languishing in the jails were sent to gallows in less than a month. The civil and military authorities have shown resolve to put up a determined fight against the terrorists. But, true to the nature of asymmetrical wars, a long drawn battle is expected against the terrorists. Terrorists would play hide and seek, wait and strike. As expected terrorists have made multiple threats to attack vulnerable targets like schools etc. The government is on toes and has beefed up security arrangements wherever possible.
The researchers say, that as governments tighten security at public sites, businesses become more attractive terrorist targets, with important repercussions for the operations and performance of multinational firms.
Clearly the terrorist threat to multinational companies (MNCs) has increased. Terrorists would like to create dent in businesses to destabilize Pakistan by further undermining its weakened economy. The matter of concern is that despite the unprecedented resolve to annihilate terrorism, the government has limited capacity to provide fool proof security to all entities at all times. Therefore the matter of ensuring security to all cannot be left to the government alone. The MNCs have to join hands with the government to ward off the impact of terrorism, direct or indirect, on the businesses. The MNCs must not feel contented and secure by target hardening of their offices and buildings. Given the nature of terrorism, it is imperative for MNCs to adopt novel ways to preempt the terrorist attacks and to neutralize their impact.
First, the firms must disperse their manufacturing units. It will not only create resilience to bounce back after an attack but would lower the incentive for the terrorists to attack such arrangement. If all manufacturing takes place at one place a terrorist attack can have long lasting impact on manufacturing and operations of the firm. In case of scattered units, terrorist attack will fail to severely damage the routine operations of the firm. Other units will quickly fill the vacuum of less productivity caused by the damage to the targeted unit. Besides, terrorists have a lower incentive to attack when business buildings are decentralized rather than centralized.
Second, the administrative units must be scattered to secure firm’s decision-making and operational capabilities. The scattered units may not be placed far away from each other. Rather can be established at a deceivingly safe distance but in close proximity to each other. This decentralization also diminishes incentives for the terrorists to attack. Attack on smaller unit has smaller impact whereas the terrorists are interested in creating big impact.
Third, firms should indulge in corporate social responsibility that can have impact on the people who somehow have links with the terrorists and on whom they depend on for financial, material or political support. It is said the terrorists ‘swim in their people’ meaning thereby if they are isolated from their support pool, their strength depletes. In our case MNCs can launch initiatives for rehabilitation of FATA IDPs or madrasah students can be given scholarships etc. As a consequence of this support there is a strong likelihood that they will not support terrorist attacks and turn against the terrorists, or will at least make an effort to convince them not to attack the firm that helps them. A terrorist attack therefore would significantly raise the costs to terrorists.
Fourthly, quick response after a terror attack can considerably reduce the damage. It can enable the firm to save human lives and property to a large extent. Firms should be well prepared for such intervention. This preparation may cost extra money but might pay huge benefits at a crucial time in terms of saving lives and goods.
Fifth, bouncing back for swift reconstruction of physical capital not only decreases the losses in revenues but also deprives the terrorists of the satisfaction of causing devastating and permanent damage. Their aim to highlight their deed in media is frustrated if the company in question has ready plans and the will to rebuild destroyed structures quickly.
Sixth, MNCs should collaborate with the local firms to camouflage their supply system under the local firm’s names to avoid attacks on the trucks and carriers carrying their goods from the manufacturing units to the markets.
The US based MNCs’ executives rank terrorism as their number two concern. And it will remain a perplexing threat to business for a long time. The problem of perception is that, despite palpable presence of terrorism, the likelihood of attack is considered remote. Resultantly the firms tend to relax and lower their guards. Rather very few MNCs have formal programs to deal with a terrorist attack. This slackness can cost heavily. Preparation and continuing awareness is key to face the terrorist threat. Moreover fair appreciation of the nature and scope of varying faces of local conflict issues can help in ensuring safety and security to the business. In light of it the existing security plans must be fine tuned and made more robust, effective and comprehensive to counter terror attacks.
N.Elahi is Honorary Director Centre for Peace and Security Studies, (CPSS) University of the Punjab, Lahore