News / Asia

Strong Pakistani Police Cited as Key to Stability

Pakistani police officers stand guard at the office of local electrical company attacked by angry protesters to condemn  electricity shortages in Lahore, March 2012. Pakistani police officers stand guard at the office of local electrical company attacked by angry protesters to condemn electricity shortages in Lahore, March 2012.
Pakistani police officers stand guard at the office of local electrical company attacked by angry protesters to condemn  electricity shortages in Lahore, March 2012.
Pakistani police officers stand guard at the office of local electrical company attacked by angry protesters to condemn electricity shortages in Lahore, March 2012.
Ira MellmanMatthew Hilburn
Pakistan’s fight against internal terrorism will be significantly bolstered by improving basic policing efforts throughout the country, according to a new study by the Asia Society.

The report officially released Tuesday cites Pakistan’s high crime rate, low conviction rates and concerns of instability spilling over from neighboring Afghanistan as “urgent” and “critical” reasons to invest and reform Pakistan’s law enforcement infrastructure.

Hassan Abbas, the report’s lead researcher and a professor of International Security Studies at the Washington-based National Defense University's College of International Security Affairs, says for the past 10 years, Pakistan has seen terrorism as a problem best solved through military means. But that needs to change, he says.

“In our viewpoint, there has to be a focus on law enforcement because [it is] is directly linked to rule of law, and rule of law is linked to a representational system of government or democracy,” said Abbas, a former Pakistani government official who served in the administrations of President Pervez Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto, the late prime minister.

“Our point of view is [that] to challenge terrorism, to tackle militancy and insurgency, it is the law enforcement model…which needs help,” he said. 

Abbas’ views were echoed by Sherry Rehman, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States.

"The building of police capacity is essential to degrading terrorist resources, and to protect citizens in a rule of law framework,” she wrote in an emailed statement. “As Pakistan transitions to democracy with the first civilian government completing its term, such discussions will spur change."

Rehman says given the level of emergent threats at multiple levels, "addressing police reform and flagging its centrality to the assertion of state writ is key." 

"Police service delivery is linked to core state functions of governance and policy, and Pakistan is headed towards taking some serious measures in order to face complex security challenges," she added.

The report, Stabilizing Pakistan through Police Reform, is the culmination of extensive interviews with police officials, security analysts and legal experts throughout Pakistan and the United States. It offers several recommendations to fortify Pakistan’s domestic police force, which Abbas said is largely seen as ineffective, corrupt and inefficient.

Those recommendations include increased training, better equipment, higher salaries and better oversight.

Specifically, Abbas says Pakistan would benefit greatly from the establishment of a witness protection program, which would encourage people to come forward with tips, and the creation of something like the U.S. Secret Service because, he says, Pakistan’s police force spends a disproportionate amount of time protecting officials rather than fighting crime.

“Within Pakistan, policing and law enforcement was never prioritized,” said Abbas. “And though Pakistan had gone through so many series and phases of instability, insurgency and violence in various parts of the country, it seems it would be common sense for the country’s leaders, political as well as military, to invest in law enforcement, but it has not happened.”

According to the report, Pakistan needs to clarify the role of police in maintaining internal security. Citing the 2009 National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA), as a promising step, the report says “the agency failed to take off as a result of political bickering over control.”

Furthermore, the report says anti-terrorism laws have “failed to give law enforcement agencies and civil law institutions the power to handle cases effectively.”

Building trust with ordinary people is also vital, says Abbas.

“Trust cannot be won through strong military actions type of things," he added. "It has to be done in a stable fashion where people think police are part of a larger, effective criminal justice system where people are getting justice.”

While the challenges are many, Abbas says they can be overcome.

He cited Pakistan’s National Highway and Motorway Police, which he says is known among Pakistanis for being competent and having high integrity.

“If [Pakistan] can develop one institution on these progressive, positive lines, why not others?” Abbas asked.

The report also recommends Pakistan look abroad for policing models it might be able to emulate. Abbas suggested Indonesia and Turkey are two of the most relevant largely because they have recently made strides in professionalizing and democratizing their police forces.

He says Indonesia has done a good job developing counterterrorism centers and Turkey invested heavily in training, going so far as to send police officers to the United States and the U.K. to learn law enforcement techniques.

Also, the report says there is huge untapped potential from among Pakistani police and military officers serving in United Nations peacekeeping operations around the world. The Ministry of of Interior, the report says, “has no mechanism in place to utilize the services of returning officers in a way that benefits the police.”

Pakistan is the number one contributor in the world to U.N. peacekeeping missions, with some 9,366 serving as of June 2012, according to the U.N.

Abbas says that in order for Pakistan to strengthen its police force, money must be reallocated from the military to law enforcement, and that foreign countries like the United States and Europe should do the same with their aid to Pakistan.

“For winning hearts and minds, from purely the American perspective, you need to do something for ordinary people on the street," he said. "Ordinary people want security because that is the best way for them to get more economic opportunities. We’re saying stop looking at Pakistan only from the lens of counterterrorism start thinking of doing things for the ordinary people.”

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Comment Sorting
by: Police Chief David Couper from: USA
July 25, 2012 1:00 PM
I agree. But what are we proposing they teach their police? I hope it is not what we are teaching in our country, nor in Iraq or Afghanistan. Instead, I would hope we all raise the bar and set a high standard for those who police a democracy. For more on this and some insights and direction, see my new book and visit my blog, “Arrested Development: A Veteran Police Chief Sounds Off About Protest, Racism, Corruption and the Seven Steps Necessary to Improve Our Nation’s Police.” My blog is at where I discuss these and other current police improvement issues. Good luck and may we all experience great policing!

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