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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 around 200 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.

About the author

Dr Zoha Waseem

Zoha Waseem is an Assistant Professor in Criminology at the Department of Sociology, University of Warwick. She is also Co-Coordinator for the Urban Violence Research Network, which is an international platform that connects researchers and academics working on urban violence, security, and related issues.

She is author of the book, Insecure Guardians: Enforcement, Encounters and Everyday Policing in Postcolonial Karachi. She is currently researching on the politics and governance of policing, the geopolitics of security, the impact of urban transformations on public and private policing, and counterinsurgency in Pakistan.

About the chair

Christophe Jaffrelot

Christophe Jaffrelot is Avantha Chair and Professor of Indian Politics and Sociology at the King's India Institute and also the Research Lead for the Global Institutes, King’s College London. He teaches South Asian politics and history at Sciences Po, Paris and is an Overseas Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He was Director of Centre d’Etudes et de Recherches Internationales (CERI) at Sciences Po, between 2000 and 2008.


Dr Mahvish Ahmad

Mahvish Ahmad is an Assistant Professor in Human Rights and Politics at the London School of Economics. She is currently working on two monographs investigating shifting modalities of state violence in Balochistan, a southern Pakistani province, and the making and unmaking of the worlds of those who have been targeted in disappearances, extra-judicial killings, and army operations.

She is also the co-founder of Revolutionary Papers, a transnational research project investigating 20th century left and anti-colonial journals as sites of intellection, a board member of the South Asian Resource and Research Centre, an Islamabad-based library of Pakistan's democratic and socialist movements, a co-convener of Archives of the Disappeared which studies the challenges of documentation and the archive in sites of annihilation, and a co-founder of Tanqeed, a left-wing online zine that ran from 2012-'17 and specialised in the coverage of military violence in Pakistan.

Dr Kieran Mitton 

Kieran Mitton is a Reader in Conflict, Security and Development at the Department of War Studies, King’s College London, where he is also Research Director of the Conflict, Security & Development Research Group (CSDRG), co-Chair of the Africa Research Group.

In 2018, Kieran co-founded the Urban Violence Research Network. He is the author of the book, Rebels in a Rotten State: Understanding Atrocity in Sierra Leone (published by Hurst and Oxford University Press).

Kieran’s recent research has examined the causes and shaping dynamics of extreme violence during conflict and ‘situations other than war’, with a particular focus upon the role of emotions and psychology at both individual and group level. He is currently researching urban violence and youth marginality in Brazil, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, South Africa and the UK.

At this event

Professor Christophe Jaffrelot

Professor of Indian Politics and Sociology

Dr Kieran Mitton

Reader in Conflict, Security and Development

Event details

K.2.29 (Council Room)
Strand Campus
Strand, London, WC2R 2LS