Violent conflict has existed in Pakistan in various forms since its independence in 1947, including ongoing border disputes with India in Jammu and Kashmir stemming from the initial division of the two countries, to Taliban insurgency in the Northwest province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) from 2004. Pakistan’s major formal security providers, the armed forces and the police, have been regularly pulled into drawn-out military operations. Unfortunately, they are insufficiently trained and equipped for such operations, which sap security providers of their resources and undermine their efficacy.
Various types of non-state security providers exist alongside and occasionally cooperate with police. Among these is the traditional justice mechanism known as the ‘jirga’. Jirga are dispute resolution committees comprised of local (male) elders who meet to handle local disputes between citizens in accordance with the ethnic Pashtun tradition. There are also jirga that work on a wider scale which may operate out of and be accountable to the local police station. In KP, the jirga have historically played a larger role due to the strength of local structures. Although the jirga have been criticized for lacking a human rights approach or having connections to the Taliban, they retain legitimacy locally and for lack of a better alternative.
In other parts of Pakistan, the Taliban demand payment from businesses and individuals in exchange for security provision (albeit often without local consent). Private security companies are also hired for additional security by institutions and individuals.
Due to efforts by the army, police, and civilian organizations, Pakistan has seen a significant reduction in the level of terroristic activity in recent years. Still, physical insecurity remains a reality for much of the country’s population, with terror attacks, ransom kidnappings, extortion and killings. While there has been investment on the part of police to respond to these threats by modernizing police forces and supporting infrastructure, great discrepancies exist in the quality and degree of services provided to civilians depending upon social connection and power. Additionally, physical location plays a role in the extent of service provision – rural areas are often required to rely more heavily on traditional or non-state security providers.
Beyond physical threats, different groups face significant insecurities stemming largely from widespread unemployment, poverty, and other socioeconomic disparities, the availability of arms, ethnic conflict and religious fanaticism. These challenges put citizens, especially youth, at risk of being radicalized. As an example, in the Swat District in 2005, militants arrived with messages of justice, equal rights, and opportunities for unemployed youth, but were then conscripted to fight in conflicts based in religious jihad.
Pakistani women regularly face insecurities such as domestic and sexual violence, and other forms of gender-based violence, but there are challenges in reporting and responding to these crimes, as illustrated in our Digital Story:
Minorities and government personnel are also frequently targeted as a result of their religion or profession.
The Pakistan Police is provincially managed. The decentralized structure results in greater police independence, as well as disparities in access to resources, leading to broad variation in the policy including COP approaches. Although the decentralized nature of the police in Pakistan severely limits the degree of influence of national agencies like the National Police Bureau, many positive examples of reform and COP initiatives can be seen on the provincial level.
For instance, the KP government introduced the Police Act 2017 to reconstruct and regulate its police to strive towards an apolitical service, accountable to civilian oversight. Included in this measure is the establishment of committees called Public Liaison Committees (PLCs), to improve communications and relations between police and the public. These PLCs, within which 70% of members are selected from local village councils, may assist police in crime prevention and maintaining public order by informing the police of local tensions and new people entering the area. These PLCs, while effective, initially excluded groups like women and youth – in response to this, police in some areas are working to establish women PLCs, while others specifically recruit youth as active members.
Another important COP initiative introduced by police in KP are the Dispute Resolution Councils (DRCs). Launched in 2014, this initiative linked police with local jirga to allow for joint engagement of communities and to address petty cases, including intermarriage disputes, domestic violence, debts, issues of property or land, etc. By linking with pre-existing community mechanisms, the DRCs build upon structures with legitimacy, increasing the likelihood of their local acceptance, efficacy, and sustainability. However, like PLCs, these have been criticized for gender bias and low representation of women. Still, these efforts are generally acknowledged as a step in the right direction, and an effective example of COP being practiced in Pakistan.
Various ICT initiatives in Pakistan assist with COP, including the ‘online first information report’ which allows citizens to register criminal complaints against police over the phone, the citizens portal which allows for complaints to be registered about multiple sectors of service delivery, and other various initiatives that address domestic violence, child abuse and women’s empowerment. However, these ICT initiatives have faced issues – local communities are often unaware of these services, or lack the necessary knowledge, training, or technological access to utilize them. Our research has shown that for these solutions to have an impact, they must be developed with input from the community to ensure that context is taken into consideration and that widely accessible technology is included. Watch our Digital Story: