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Homepage > Regions / Countries > Asia > South Asia > Pakistan > Policing Urban Violence in Pakistan

Policing Urban Violence in Pakistan

Asia Report N°255 23 Jan 2014


Endemic violence in Pakistan’s urban centres signifies the challenges confronting the federal and provincial governments in restoring law and order and consolidating the state’s writ. The starkest example is Karachi, which experienced its deadliest year on record in 2013, with 2,700 casualties, mostly in targeted attacks, and possibly 40 per cent of businesses fleeing the city to avoid growing extortion rackets. However, all provincial capitals as well as the national capital suffer from similar problems and threats. A national rethink of overly militarised policy against crime and militancy is required. Islamabad and the four provincial governments need to develop a coherent policy framework, rooted in providing good governance and strengthening civilian law enforcement, to tackle criminality and the jihadi threat. Until then, criminal gangs and jihadi networks will continue to wreak havoc in the country’s big cities and put its stability and still fragile democratic transition at risk.

Some of the worst assaults on religious and sectarian minorities in 2013 occurred in Quetta and Peshawar, including the 10 January suicide and car bomb attack that killed over 100, mostly Shias, in Quetta; the 16 February terror attack that killed more than 80, again mostly Shias, in Quetta’s Hazara town; and the 22 September bombing of a Peshawar church that killed more than 80 people, mostly Christians.

The provincial capitals of Peshawar, Quetta, Karachi and Lahore are bases of operations and financing for a range of extremist groups and criminal gangs that exploit poor governance and failing public infrastructure to establish recruitment and patronage networks. As urban populations grow, the competition over resources, including land and water, has become increasingly violent.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK)’s capital, Peshawar, and Balochistan’s capital, Quetta, are hostage to broader regional security trends. The conflict in Afghanistan and cross-border ties between Pakistan and Afghan militants have undermined stability in KPK and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Military-dictated counter-insurgency policies, swinging between indiscriminate force and appeasement deals with tribal militants have failed to restore the peace, and instead further empowered violent extremists. Police in Peshawar, which has borne the brunt of militant violence and where violence is at an all-time high, lack political support and resources and appear increasingly incapable of meeting the challenge. Indeed, while militants and criminals frequently target that city, the force is powerless to act when they then seek haven in bordering FATA agencies, because its jurisdiction, according to the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) 1901, does not extend to these areas.

Balochistan’s location, bordering on southern Afghanistan, the Afghan Taliban’s homeland, and longstanding Pakistani policies of backing Afghan Islamist proxies are partly responsible for the growth of militancy and extremism that now threatens Quetta. Aided by a countrywide network, Sunni extremists have killed hundreds of Shias there, while their criminal allies have helped to fill jihadi coffers, and their own, through kidnappings for ransom. Civilian law enforcement agencies cannot counter this rising tide of sectarian violence and criminality, since they are marginalised by the military and its paramilitary arms. Continuing to dictate and implement security policy, the military remains focused on brutally supressing a province-wide Baloch insurgency, fuelled by the denial of political and economic autonomy. The end result is more Baloch alienation and more jihadi attacks undermining peace in the provincial capital.

In Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, which generates around 70 per cent of national GDP, much of the violence is driven by the state’s failure to meet the demands of a fast growing population and to enforce the law. Over the past decade, the competition over resources and turf has become increasingly violent. Criminals and militant groups attempt to lure youth by providing scarce services, work and a purpose in life. Demographic changes fuel ethno-political tensions and rivalries, accentuated by the main political parties: the mostly Sindhi Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) representing mohajirs and the predominately Pashtun Awami National Party (ANP) forging links with criminal gangs.

Like Quetta and Peshawar, Karachi is a major target of violent sectarian groups such as the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), which has its home base in Punjab. Since the LeJ and other major jihadi groups such as the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba/Jamaat-ud-Dawa (LeT/JD) and the Jaish-e-Mohammed conduct operations within and outside the country from bases in Punjab, the provincial government and police are central to any comprehensive counter-terrorism effort. It is imperative that both be reformed if the threat is to be addressed effectively. Countering jihadi networks also requires coordination and collaboration between the federal and provincial governments and law enforcement institutions.

Pakistani policymakers must acknowledge and address the socio-economic disparities that lead to crime and militancy in the urban centres. Stemming the spread of urban violence also requires efficient, accountable, civilian-led policing. Yet, the forces in all four provincial capitals are hampered by lack of professional and operational autonomy, inadequate personnel and resources and poor working conditions. Instead of relying on the military or paramilitary forces to restore order, the provincial governments should guarantee security of tenure for police officers, end all interference in police operations and raise police morale, including by acknowledging and supporting a force that has been repeatedly targeted by terrorists. It is equally important for all four provinces to reform and modernise the urban policing system to meet present needs.

Above all, the state must adopt a policy of zero tolerance toward all forms of militancy. Proposed plans by the federal and KPK governments to negotiate with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), without preconditions or a roadmap, are unwise. Such a strategy is bound to fail, as have successive military-devised peace deals with tribal militants in recent years that only expanded the space for jihadi networks in FATA, KPK and countrywide.


To reorient the state toward zero tolerance for all violent groups

To the Federal and Provincial Governments:

1.  Withdraw the offer of any talks, absent preconditions that tribal militants renounce violence and abide by the constitution, and instead develop a coherent policy framework to tackle the jihadi threat that is rooted in strengthening civilian law enforcement institutions.

2.  Prevent any banned militant jihadi organisation, including the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, from fundraising, recruiting and otherwise operating freely in all four provinces and FATA.

To the Political Parties:

3.  End all links with criminal gangs in Karachi and jihadi groups in Punjab.

To expand the jurisdiction of police and bolster their law enforcement mandate

To the Federal and Provincial Governments:

4.  Reverse the militarisation of law enforcement in urban centres by:

a) withdrawing all orders granting paramilitary units shoot-to-kill authority; ensure that any such actions adhere strictly to conditions specified in the Criminal Procedure Code; and hold any security personnel who violate the law to account;

b) withdrawing paramilitary units from policing duties, confining their mandate to border areas; and

c) investigating all reported cases of extrajudicial killing, torture and abduction by state actors, assigning responsibility and holding all officials involved to account.

5.  Empower the KPK police to tackle militant and criminal safe havens by repealing the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) 1901 in its entirety, incorporating the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) into the constitutional and legal mainstream and incorporating Peshawar’s Frontier Region (FR Peshawar) into the rest of the district, thus ending its status as part of FATA.

6.  Restore the state’s monopoly over the use of force by:

a) disbanding all state-supported militias; and

b) ending all links between political parties and criminal gangs or militant sects and taking action against party members, paramilitary personnel and others providing logistical, financial or other support to such groups.

To boost police effectiveness in the urban centres

To the Provincial Governments:

7.  Make the protection of all police officers closely involved in terrorist and major criminal cases a top policy priority.

8.  In the case of Sindh and Balochistan:

a) abolish the 1861 Police Act and pass a new police order that ensures operational autonomy and effectiveness; and

b) abolish the status of “B” areas, streamlining all rural and urban areas, and extending the jurisdiction of the police to the entire province.

9.  Revamp policing in the provincial capitals by:

a) establishing the subdivision as the basic policing unit, headed by an additional or district superintendent of police;

b) improving the subdivision’s ability for rapid response and multiple actions by providing adequate transport and other logistical resources, as well as forensics and other technological resources; and

c) increasing personnel to maintain a ratio of one officer for every 260 residents.

10.  Establish provincial and district public safety commissions and complaints authorities, along the lines of Police Order 2002, to oversee police functioning.

11.  Give police the necessary operational autonomy by:

a) making senior appointments subject to approval by a provincial public safety commission;

b) guaranteeing senior officers and the rank and file secure tenure and requiring that any premature transfer or dismissal be subject to approval by a provincial public safety commission;

c) giving the inspector general of police authority to appoint the senior district police officials, subject to approval by the provincial public safety commission; giving these officials secure tenure; and requiring the same process for a premature transfer or dismissal; and

d) giving district-level superintendents authority to appoint their subordinates, subject to approval by a district public safety commission, with secure tenure and any premature transfers or dismissals being subject to approval by the district public safety commission.

To the Federal Government:

12.  Devote the necessary resources to enable the National Counter-Terrorism Authority (NACTA) to function, as intended, as a central data bank on terrorist groups, including voice matching, fingerprinting, DNA analysis and other forensic-related information.

Islamabad/Brussels, 23 January 2014
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