Policing Pakistan


(Wall Street Journal Asia)

by C. Christine Fair

June 30, 2009

The army isn't well equipped to fight the insurgency.

The United States has spent some $12 billion trying to help Pakistan save itself. Unfortunately, Washington has lavished most of the aid on the Pakistan army. It is time to reconsider that decision and focus instead on improving the country's police force.

There are many reasons why the army can't fix what ails the nation. First, sustained use of the army against its own citizens goes against the grain. A number of Pakistani officers have told me that they did not join the army to kill Pakistanis; they joined to kill Indians. Officers themselves debate whether the army can successfully oust the militants, and even if it can, whether it could hold the area for long. The army's past and recent track record in clearing and holding territory is not encouraging.

Second, the army has resisted developing a counter-insurgency doctrine. It prefers to plan and train for conventional battles and views its struggle against insurgents as a "low-intensity" conventional conflict. Washington has been slow to understand that this is not a quibble over semantics but a serious difference in how the army intends to contend with the threat. The Pakistani army believes India is its principal nemesis, not the insurgents who have occupied the Swat valley and destabilized Pakistan and the region.

Third, the army's sledgehammer attempt to expel militants from their various redoubts has devastated much of Pakistan's Pashtun belt, flattening villages and forcing more than three million people to flee. The devastating blitzkrieg shows that the Pakistani army resists developing an effective counter-insurgency capability to secure, not dispossess, the local population.

A police force-led effort would be better than one led by the army, as the history of successful counterinsurgency movements in disparate theatres across the globe shows. Militants understand the potential power of the police even if Washington and Islamabad do not. Since 2005, insurgents and terrorists have killed about 400 police each year in suicide bombings, assassinations, and other heinous crimes, according to Hassan Abbas, a former police officer in Pakistan who is now a research fellow at Harvard University's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

The police make for easy targets because they are outgunned, under-resourced, inadequately equipped and poorly trained. Because most don't even have the same lucrative death benefits as army personnel, many have simply fled the fight to protect their families. Police officers in Swat have even taken out newspaper advertisements declaring that they have left the force in hopes that insurgents will spare them and their families. To take the lead in fighting the militants, Pakistan's police will need training, modern weaponry, personal-protection equipment, life insurance and access to civilian intelligence.

Police in Pakistan are admittedly widely reviled for being corrupt. However there are encouraging signs of change. Several policing organizations, such as the National Highways and Motorway Police, the Islamabad Police and the Lahore Traffic Police have all gained the trust of their citizenry through professional and courteous conduct. In these forces, police are paid a handsome salary and are subject to strict accountability for their performance. Their new salaries are too valuable to lose by taking small bribes.

Pakistan's police leadership seems up for the challenge. Since 2000, Pakistan's own police leadership has led the demand for police reform only to be stifled by military and civilian political leadership who benefit from a corrupt police force that does their bidding. It's time for the international community to support these unexpected reformers.

So far, only 2.2% of U.S. funding to Pakistan has gone to assisting the police — $268 million between 2002 and 2008 for narcotics control, law enforcement and border security. The U.S. has an enormous opportunity to help the one Pakistani institution that actually wants American help.

Should the Obama administration embrace this task, it will need to change its approach to police training, and it will need international partners. The State Department, which has traditional responsibility for this area, cannot do it alone. As the experience with police training in Afghanistan has shown, the Department of Defense has to step in to take the lead on police training. Unfortunately, the international community has resisted supplying trainers or resources to the Afghanistan effort and some contractors have not performed well.

Now more than ever, Pakistan's insecurity touches the shores of Europe and Asia. Washington and other friends of Pakistan should commit to helping Pakistan's police secure the country. It will take years. But it can only happen if preparations begin now.

Ms. Fair is a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation.

This commentary originally appeared in Wall Street Journal Asia on June 30, 2009. Commentary gives RAND researchers a platform to convey insights based on their professional expertise and often on their peer-reviewed research and analysis.