Policing Urban Violence in Pakistan
Policing Urban Violence in Pakistan
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Pakistan After Imran Khan’s Ouster: Tests at Home and Away
Pakistan After Imran Khan’s Ouster: Tests at Home and Away
Report 255 / Asia

Policing Urban Violence in Pakistan

Jihadi and criminal violence is wreaking havoc in Pakistan’s provincial capitals, eroding stability and public confidence in the government’s ability to restore law and order and enforce the writ of the state, while exposing Pakistan’s religious minorities to ever intensifying confessionally-driven violence.

Executive Summary

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.

Podcast / Asia

Pakistan After Imran Khan’s Ouster: Tests at Home and Away

This week on Hold Your Fire! Richard Atwood and Crisis Group trustee and leading South Asia expert Ahmed Rashid talk about Prime Minister Imran Khan’s ouster, and the domestic and foreign policy challenges facing his successor, Shahbaz Sharif. 

On 10 April, Pakistani legislators passed a no-confidence vote that ousted Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government. The vote capped weeks of political turbulence, as a coalition of rival parties accused Khan’s government of chronic mismanagement amidst an intense economic crisis fuelled by soaring inflation. Khan has not gone quietly. Parliamentarians from his party walked out of the National Assembly in protest at the vote and thousands of furious supporters have taken to the streets. Khan accuses his successor Shahbaz Sharif of abetting a foreign conspiracy aimed at toppling him. 

This week on Hold Your Fire! Richard Atwood is joined from Lahore by acclaimed author, journalist and Crisis Group trustee Ahmed Rashid to talk about Pakistan’s political crisis, what it might mean for the country's stability and challenges for the Sharif government. They discuss Khan’s response to his ouster and how disruptive a force his movement might be in the months ahead. They look at his apparent fall from grace with the chiefs of Pakistan’s powerful military. They discuss the dilemmas facing Sharif, particularly, reviving a floundering economy, navigating relations with the military and containing rising Islamist militancy, all the while managing coalition politics. They also talk about the fallout from Russia’s war in Ukraine and its impact on a difficult foreign policy agenda: repairing relations with Western capitals, keeping China on board and managing what appeared to be warming ties to Moscow, alongside the traditionally bitter rivalry with India and complicated relations with the Taliban in Afghanistan. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, explore Crisis Group’s analysis on our Pakistan country page and make sure to read our recent Q&A, “Imran Khan’s Fall: Political and Security Implications for Pakistan” , and our report, “Pakistan’s Hard Policy Choices in Afghanistan”.