Enforcement, Encounters and Everyday Policing in Postcolonial KarachiPart of the Comparative Politics and International Studies Series Christophe Jaffrelot (ed.) series
An in-depth study of the policing practices of an insecure state, foregrounding the experiences of officers on the frontline of Pakistan’s armed conflicts.
The police force is one of the most distrusted institutions in Pakistan, notorious for its corruption and brutality. In both colonial and postcolonial contexts, directives to confront security threats have empowered law enforcement agents, while the lack of adequate reform has upheld institutional weaknesses.
This exploration of policing in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city and financial capital, reveals many colonial continuities. Both civilian and military regimes continue to ensure the suppression of the policed via this institution, itself established to militarily subjugate and exploit in the interests of the ruling class. However, contemporary policing practice is not a simple product of its colonial heritage: it has also evolved to confront new challenges and political realities.
Based on extensive fieldwork and almost 150 interviews, this ethnographic study reveals a distinctly ‘postcolonial condition of policing’. Mutually reinforcing phenomena of militarisation and informality have been exacerbated by an insecure state that routinely conflates combatting crime, maintaining public order and ensuring national security. This is evident not only in spectacular displays of violence and malpractice, but also in police officers’ routine work. Caught in the middle of the country’s armed conflicts, their encounters with both state and society are a story of insecurity and uncertainty.
Zoha Waseem is an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Warwick. Previously, she was a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Global City Policing, University College London; a teaching fellow at SOAS University of London; and a doctoral researcher at King's College London.