Khyber Pukhtunkhwa (KP) has seen unprecedented death, destruction of infrastructure, and trauma since 2004, which became especially pronounced between 2008 and 2013. This period saw the state institutions and law enforcement agencies conceding ground to terrorists and criminals, retreating into the urban centers. The military offensives have struck a lethal blow to the ever-expanding nexus of this militant enterprise, regaining lost territory and establishing government writ in these areas. Additionally, under Inspector General Nasir Durrani, the pro-active policing in KP has concurrently resulted in a demonstrable decrease in terrorism and related deaths. The turnaround in the last 18 months is nothing short of remarkable.
This police-military combination is effective at the moment, but it is not sustainable. The military is extremely capable of surgical strikes and methodically removing the terrorist threat in a theater of war. However, the military has no place (or responsibility) to ensure long-term peace in settled areas. Under the autonomous direction of IG Durrani, the continued role of the police in the province is necessary for long-term peace, but must be reinforced through the civil structures.
The recent local body elections in the KP, the final phase of which is underway today, saw Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf (PTI) emerge victorious in several district councils. This devolution of powers presents with a golden opportunity to not only strengthen community-led local governments, but also to aid in the creation and monitoring of safe neighborhoods at the grassroots level. Municipal and communal policing, monitoring and grievance addressal are crucial tiers missing from KP’s governance structures, and proper implementation can build upon and accelerate this momentum. The counter-terrorism experience in KP is instructive. It proves that despite legal handicaps, a politically empowered and operationally independent police can stand up to terrorist gangs and criminal syndicates. Similarly, a politically empowered local government system can help reinforce the police work, aiding the effort to curb terrorism in a variety of ways.
As an example, foot intelligence if crucial for any local law enforcement initiative or counter-terrorism operation. The federal government, being the highest tier of the federation cannot aid in building foot intelligence networks in communities. However, the lowest tier, that of the local government, can. They play a crucial, working alongside law enforcement officials in creating a community-centered intelligence network at the union council level, thus helping curb crime at the lowest rung.
This is not without caveats, as holding elections is merely the first step towards creating an able local government system. Powers must be successfully and unobtrusively devolved. The union councils must be properly funded and given relative autonomy in their respective areas. In short, the local bodies must enjoy the same governance self-sufficiency and lack of political interference that the police have been afforded, resulting in an exceptional turnaround. This is a unique opportunity, one that must be capitalized upon, to ensure long-term, sustainable peace in the region.
Zeeshan Salahuddin is a Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Research and Security Studies, an Islamabad-based think tank.