Pakistani police underfunded, overwhelmed - USA Today

Pakistani police underfunded, overwhelmed
By Paul Wiseman and Zafar M. Sheikh, USA TODAY, May 6, 2009

ISLAMABAD — Just how underfunded are Pakistan's police?
• Police barricades in the city of Lahore carry the logo of the snack-food company, Tasty, that sponsors the local force. The police academy is brought to you in part by the U-Fone telecommunication company.

• New recruits are limited to 40 bullets on the firing range before they're put on active duty — a quarter of what they need, says Mubashar Ullah, Lahore's senior police superintendent.

• Even veteran cops often earn $200 a month — less than half as much as foot soldiers for the Taliban and other militant groups, according to Nasir Aftab, superintendent of police in western Islamabad.

The lack of money, abysmal morale and a high desertion rate help explain why Taliban and al-Qaeda insurgents have recently been able to gain strength and grab territory from Pakistan's government, say experts such as Hassan Abbas, a former police official who is a research fellow at Harvard University.

He calls the police one of the country's "most poorly managed organizations," even though they are often closer to the front lines in combating terrorism, and better at collecting intelligence, than their counterparts in Pakistan's powerful — and much better-funded — military.

President Obama, who will meet Wednesday in Washington with his Pakistani counterpart, Asif Ali Zardari, has cited improving Pakistan's police as a top priority as security there deteriorates.

Police have repeatedly fled in the face of the Taliban's advance to within 60 miles of the capital, a threat to the stability of Zardari's government and the safety of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal. The Taliban has used its safe havens in Pakistan to launch attacks in neighboring Afghanistan, which it once controlled, causing a spike in deaths of U.S. and NATO troops there.

A bill put before Congress this week seeks to raise funding for Pakistan's police to as much as $100 million a year, largely to create an elite anti-terrorism force. U.S.-sponsored police training programs have recently expanded from the tribal areas along the Afghan border to the entire North West Frontier province, says Gerald Feierstein, deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad.

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