Home Articles War against terror (Pakistan): Fighting terrorism with remote sensing

War against terror (Pakistan): Fighting terrorism with remote sensing

<< The use of remote sensing (RS) in the exploration and monitoring of natural resources as well as planning and development is not new to the geospatial community. However, using RS to fight terrorism can be an innovative approach for many countries such as Pakistan >>

Geospatial technologies such as GIS and remote sensing (RS) are being used for identification, monitoring, tracking, exploration, extraction, planning and analysis in addition to environmental protection and sustainable development. Sustainable development, which aims at improving the quality of life, is one of the main goals of many countries around the world. Therefore, various national planning and development processes in different countries are based on such achievement. However, terrorism would present a major threat to sustainable development. Appropriate security measures can reduce the impact of terrorism and consequently facilitating development in countries like Pakistan. In this respect, given the crucial nature of geospatial data for security measures as well as rescue efforts and considering current problems on availability, accessibility and usage of latest geospatial data for security measures, RS can be an appropriate instrument for facilitating antiterrorism and rescue activities with provision of updated geoinformation. The conceptual, practical and instrumental aspects of RS were and are still the areas of interest for scientific and research communities. However, using RS to fight terrorism is an innovative approach for many countries like Pakistan as well as geospatial scientific and research communities working throughout the world.

The growing number of attacks in recent years in Pakistan, as displayed in Figure 1, has necessitated the use of geospatial technologies. The fact is that terrorist activities are hard to forecast and very difficult to counter, especially suicidal attacks. However, the real challenge is to quickly adopt methodologies that facilitate the development of prompt as well as operational strategies for saving life and property in real-time. This is where RS and geospatial data play a critical role. Also, in order to save loss of human lives, rescue workers and teams need timely geospatial data and information of the targeted area. A solution to this problem could be the use of geospatial knowledge and technologies such as RS for providing updated geospatial information to the needy teams.

Figure 1. Growing terror-related incidents in Pakistan since 2001


Ground realities in Pakistan
Decisions, strategies and action plans are outcome of analysis that is based upon data. Therefore, to make sound decisions, objective, reliable, accessible and usable (Asmat, 2009) data is needed. Data that is outdated cannot be treated as reliable. As such updated data is inevitable for sound and efficient decision making. Remote sensing has emerged as one of the top data collection technologies for acquiring updated data in realtime. Survey of Pakistan, being the national mapping organisation, is responsible for collection, maintenance and delivery of geospatial data and services. Land survey through obsolete methods like Plane Tabling was and is still in use to collect geodata. Such data is then converted into digital vector format. This takes months. The fact that topographic and social landscape of the country is changing so rapidly that by the time the map is prepared, it is already outdated. A comparison of existing data collection methodologies and RS is listed in Table 1.

From Table 1, it is obvious that RS is the right technology to be used for data collection or updation of data in the current scenario of Pakistan. It is recommended that Survey of Pakistan should make use of its resources such as human, satellite imagery of entire country at 1 meter resolution and technologies for geoinformation extraction and its updation through RS technologies that fortunately exist in the department.

Table 1: Comparison of Plane Tabling and Remote Sensing Data Collection Methods


For counter terrorism
From Figure 1, it can be interpreted that out of 322 terrorist attacks, 202 incidents that make up more than 62 per cent of the total number of attacks took place in areas of Quetta, FATA/Lower and Upper Dir, Peshawar as well as Swat. Some of the common factors in all these locations are:

  • These areas are relatively less developed
  • The areas are dominated by mountain ranges
  • The law and order situation in these areas is poor
  • Maps available of these areas with Survey of Pakistan are mostly outdated
  • Communication infrastructure in these areas is poor
  • The areas are located near Afghanistan border

Figure 2.: Areas mostly hit by terrorists in Pakistan since 2001

From Figure 2, it is evident that since they are mountaineous areas, the administrative bodies, security agencies and rescue teams may have faced great difficulties to access them as no updated information is available since 2001. In this scenario, the use of RS to generate and extract information from satellite images is the only viable solution. Moreover, trenches and underground bankers are also reported in media (https:// pakobserver.net/detailnews. asp?id=21126) that were and are still being used by terrorists as hideouts. Identifying such underground locations is only possible with the help of these technologies (as described in Table 1). Therefore, the arguments and real-life example presented so far, proves and underscores the supportive role of RS for anti-terrorism and rescue efforts. A brief summary of the importance of RS for anti-terrorism and rescue efforts is given in Table 2.

Table 2.: Supportive role of Remote Sensing for counter terrorism activities

The use of RS technologies, knowledge and data for exploration, understanding, determination and monitoring of environment, sustainable development and natural resources is not new to the scientific and research communities. There is nothing new about it. However, research should be geared towards benefitting from RS to fight against terrorism that affects the environment, economy and sustainable development activities of a country. One of the important aspects and after myth of terror related incidents is availability and provision of updated geoinformation of the affected area. Remote sensing technology, knowledge and data can be used substantially to identify terrorist hideouts over ground, underground as well as for rescue efforts to save precious human lives and property. RS, which has played a significant role in symmetric warfare, can also be an effective tool in counter-terrorism.


  • Asmat Ali (2009), “What does Spatial Data Infrastructure mean to Pakistan?” Proceedings of the GSDI 11 World Conference: Spatial data infrastructure convergence: building SDI bridges to address global challenges, June 15-19, 2009, Rotterdam, The Netherlands. 20 p.
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  • Huyck CK and Adams BJ (2002) , “Emergency Response in the Wake of the World Trade Center Attack: The Remote Sensing Perspective,” MCEER Special Report Series Engineering and Organizational Issues Relating to the World Trade Center Terrorist Attack Volume 3, MCEER-02-SP05, Buffalo, New York.
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The paper was presented at ISPRS Technical Commission VII Symposium – 100 Years ISPRS in 2010 and has been republished with the permission of ISPRS and the author Asmat Ali. Asmat Ali is Assistant Director, Survey of Pakistan.