From The News on Sunday: Where Pakistan Police Stands Today?

"Police need immense support from intelligence services"
The News on Sunday, May 10, 2009

Dr Hasan Abbas is a Research Fellow at Belfer Center's International Security Program at Harvard University and a former Police official who served in the administrations of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto (1995-1996) and President Pervez Musharraf (1999-2000). He is also the author of 'Pakistan's Drift into Extremism: Allah, the Army and America's War on Terror' and 'Sovereignty Belongs to Allah: Constitutionalism and Human Rights in the Islamic States'. His latest work is a research paper on Police reforms in Pakistan.

The News on Sunday: What prompted the compiling of the report on the police, in the first place?

Hassan Abbas: I was motivated to compile a report on the subject for two primary reasons: a)In my assessment, there was no report available on the topic that covered the issues relevant today (i.e. counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency angles and the importance of police; b)being a Pakistani former police officer I have a passion for the subject and I am proud of the days when I wore that uniform and served my homeland in a humble way; and c)I was distressed to see that there was no public discourse in Pakistan or in the policy circles of the United States about this critical issue -- especially in the light of the rising insecurity in Pakistan which is impacting the life of every citizen. I thought I must start 'lobbying' for the cause on my own even if no one else is interested initially -- because without major financial investment, Pakistan police cannot be reformed.

TNS: What were your main findings?

HA: The most important conclusion I reached was, 'a stitch in time saves nine' -- meaning an effective law enforcement action, as permitted by the law of the land, is a much better option than waging a war later on. For instance, I was able to access many files and records of the Lal Masjid (known as the Red Mosque globally) cases, from 2004-05 period, and after many interviews also in Islamabad (June 2008) I realised that the whole crisis could have been resolved well in time if the Islamabad Police had been permitted to pursue the cases through a due process of law. My study of other international cases also teaches me that well-trained, motivated and well-paid police are an utmost necessity to successfully fight terrorism and insurgency.

TNS: Why this sudden realisation in the US that police need reforms and training to counter terrorism?

HA: There was actually not much realisation about this till recently and even now it is low on the priority list (as far as I know). The emphasis is rather on training counter-insurgency tools to Pakistan army and Frontier Corps -- which is also important but cannot be a substitute for police reforms. Only a handful of organisations and individuals started writing on this. For instance, reports from International Crisis Group (July 2008) and Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (2008) are good. Many retired police officers in Pakistan are also writing on the subject and, in this age of internet, the message is spread globally. Many serving police officers are also committed and inspired to change the direction of police and there is no dearth of competent and dedicated officers, quite contrary to the general perception. Tariq Khosa, Tariq Pervez, Sarmad Saeed, Pervez Rathore, Zulfikar Hameed and Fasihuddin are some of the finest officers working for a real change in this direction. An excellent organisation by a police officer in Peshawar is one such example (see: I am sure there are many more.

Secondly, there is also a realisation in the US that the use of force alone creates attendant problems and armies cannot resolve everything.

TNS: What are the salient features of the expected US funding in terms of the police structure, training pattern and conditionalities?

HA: I think at the moment there is interest in the US and the European Union to focus on the NWFP police (for equipment, higher salaries and relevant training). But ultimately (and hopefully) there will be focus on better training for police throughout the country and the government of Pakistan will be encouraged to implement the 2002 Reforms in letter and spirit (minus the 2004 amendments in the Police Act of 2002). I seriously doubt if there will be any conditions attached to such support in this sphere.

TNS: Why do you think police are an important tool to counter insurgency and fight terrorism as compared to the military?

HA: Army's primary job is to defend the borders and not to fight crime inside the country. I believe terrorism and even insurgency is a law enforcement issue in essence. Yes, army is supposed to come to rescue law enforcement agencies when called upon under serious situations, but they are not the first line of defence in state's internal law and order issues. More importantly, army is trained to 'shoot to kill' -- whereas effective counter terrorism and counter insurgency requires sophisticated responses -- and use of force is but one component of such strategies. However, police certainly need immense support from country's intelligence services -- both ISI and IB -- and should also revamp and re-organise the various police departments related to intelligence gathering.

In this context, I must add that in Swat-like situations, army has to clean the area first and then the police can go in and hold the area so that civil institutions can start functioning again and people get a feeling of security. Only a professional police force can do that. But tragically, Pakistan has never invested in such a police force. It would have helped Pakistan more than long-range missiles, submarines and fighter aircrafts.

TNS: How can the police be effective in Pakistan's North Western Frontier, Balochistan and FATA, considering it's the paramilitary agency that has traditionally maintained law and order in most parts of these areas?

HA: In NWFP, police are the main crime-fighting and law-enforcing force. But it is true indeed that in parts of Balochistan and FATA, paramilitary forces (especially the Frontier Constabulary) is the primary agency tasked to maintain law and order, besides civilian levies, etc. This is a legacy from the British colonial times. They needed paramilitary outfits and Pakistan should have adopted a different approach from 1947 onwards. Even now it is not too late -- and my recommendation is that the FC should be converted into a police force for FATA in a gradual manner. Rather than army officers, police officers in a step-by-step fashion should be given commanding positions in the FC. Once the draconian Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) is completely discarded, it will be easy to make this conversion. Rule of law is a recipe for all the major ills Pakistan is afflicted with today.

TNS: Considering the existing infrastructure, how long will the police take before they are fully equipped/trained to meet the requirements?

HA: I think if funds are made available today and common sense is used while devising a reform strategy, it won't take them more than 3 to 5 years to transform. These things take time because we are also looking for changing the 'thana culture' and making police force an efficient and accountable force. There is a tendency in Pakistan to overemphasise the 'elite force' phenomenon which, in my assessment, is not the answer because reform of mainstream police is the real issue. Better counter terrorism capacity is only one of the intended goals whereas provision of security to everyone irrespective of one's status and influence is the larger objective. Militancy, terrorist tactics and violent methods succeed where lawlessness prevails and thrives.

TNS: How can intelligence-led policing be made effective in Pakistan?

HA: It will take Pakistan a while before forensic capacity and technological tools are more accessible. So in the meantime, better intelligence can fill in the gap, especially in the counter terrorism arena. For this to happen, police will need help from IB, ISI and the MI, etc.

For more articles on the status of police in Pakistan published in the The News, click here


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