Where the Pakistani Taliban have won sympathy, it has come largely as a result of the group’s promise to provide some semblance of law and order in areas that lacked what was popularly considered a fair and neutral arbiter of legal disputes. The Taliban’s form of “justice” might be harsh – even medieval – but it may be seen as a better alternative than banditry and corruption. This means that the key to undermining local sympathies with the Taliban may lie in strengthening the local law enforcement infrastructure so that the state is popularly viewed as the legitimate source of local law and order.
Two stories this week emphasize conclusions reached by a new report published by the United States Institute of Peace this week on the importance of reforming Pakistan’s police and law enforcement infrastructure.
The first story relates to a new US government report that suggests aid to Pakistan is not meeting its goals.
The report, which was released by the Inspectors General for the U.S. State Department, Defense Department and Agency for International Development (USAID), cites a number of reasons why the aid has proved ineffective. It says problems with staffing the programs, a hostile security environment and – in one case – fraud, have led to programs not being implemented.
The second story is this morning’s suicide bombing in Punjab, the latest in a series of attacks on police and security forces.
Militants have recently stepped up attacks across the country’s north western cites, mainly targeting police force, after a period of relative calm. Four police stations were attacked in Peshawar in a week. Bullet-riddled bodies of two tribal police officials and a villager were found on Thursday near Mir Ali town of North Waziristan with a note that they were American spies. The three men were kidnapped in January and their bodies showed signs of torture, officials said.
The Taliban have learned that their most effective approach to power is to undermine the state’s authority by creating chaos and then offering to step in and provide security and some form of neutral justice. As such, they operate as any other extortion racket, but with a goal of gaining a monopoly on police power and therefore superseding the authority of the state.
Meanwhile, the US is pumping billions of dollars in civilian aid into Pakistan, but is not able to achieve desired outcomes in large part due to a lack of law and order that prevents proper and timely delivery of aid resources and project implementation.
Against this backdrop, Dr. Hassan Abbas, Quaid-i-Azam Professer with the South Asia Institute, Columbia University, released his latest report, Reforming Pakistan‘s Police and Law Enforcement Infrastructure in which Dr. Abbas makes two important points related to this context:
1. Police effectiveness is inextricably linked with legitimacy of the state. At present, there is a systematic effort on part of extremist groups to target police & law enforcement because they have learned that most effective way to expand their own networks is to undermine the writ of the state.
2. US aid objectives cannot be achieved so long as law and order is not prioritized. There are serious issues of focus in US aid priorities – namely, a lack of resources and training for local civilian law enforcement.
Dr. Abbas makes very clear that civilian police are not military force multipliers, village defense forces, or lashkars (militias). Pakistan has an effective and capable military which can clear militant groups from an area. What it lacks is a well-organized, well-resourced civilian law enforcement system that can build trust and provide an ongoing sense of order among the local population.
US military aid is necessary, but not sufficient to countering the spread of extremist influence. As Dr. Abbas explained yesterday,
“Foreign donors should avoid framing everything in the context of counterterrorism, as Pakistani public opinion is likely to be more appreciative of international help in this arena if it is focused on enhancing the crime-fighting capacity of police.”
During a discussion on Pakistan’s future last week, Christine Fair pointed to a 2009 poll that showed that, when asked what people meant when they said they supported Sharia, most people answered “good governance.” Later in the program, Shuja Nawaz noted that good governance is key to countering the spread of militancy. The missing piece of the puzzle of good governance in Pakistan is effective and efficient civilian law enforcement.
If significant progress in Pakistan can be achieved by something as simple as increasing the pay of Pakistan’s civilian police, can the US afford not to do so? As the US examines outcomes from US aid investment in Pakistan, it should consider the findings of Dr. Abbas and the need for reforming Pakistan’s police and law enforcement infrastructure.