Islamabad: Safer than London, Paris and Sydney?

Islamabad in latest global surveys has emerged a city safer than London, Paris and Sydney; Editor GVS sits with IGP Islamabad to understand how he and his small team have achieved this in a city that is expanding in all possible directions.


With an ascension of 69 spots in the latest list of World Crime Index, Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad has now become one of the safest cities in the world rated above Sydney, Berlin, London, Moscow, Paris, and Shanghai. It stood at 232nd spot in the annual list last year but has steadily progressed to the 301st spot over the last 12 months. Abu Dhabi, at 374th position is considered the safest city in the world joined by Taipei, Quebec, Zurich, Dubai, Munich, Eskisehir, and Bern in the top ten list. Reports indicate that the Islamabad’s crime rate decreased from 32.88% to 28.63% in one year. Editor GVS sits with IGP Islamabad, Aamer Zulfiqar Khan, to understand how he and his small force have managed to achieve this when city’s fast expanding size, population, sprawling work force and country’s political fault lines are throwing up new challenges for policing.

GVS: Thank you so much for finding time for us. First of all, let us congratulate you that Islamabad, as a city has improved its standing, in both the Global Crime and Safety Index of the World. How was that made possible?

IGP: Thank you very much for giving me this opportunity to share my feelings with you. When I took over as IGP Islamabad, on the World Crime Index, we were at 148, and as per the latest score released in January 2020, we are now the 74th safest city in the world. We are grateful that this has been acknowledged not only locally but across the world; I have seen a tweet by a certain Prof. Ashok Swain, in Sweden, who mentioned that – meaning that it has gone international.

There were three four reasons for it; One reason was the team which was given to me by the Prime Minister consisted of some of the best officers of the Police Service of Pakistan and of the ranks. Another reason was that there was no political interference. We independently selected the best officers and kept adding them to our team.

GVS: You mean, in terms of placement, you were independent because there was no political influence…?

IGP: Absolutely, there was none. No interference! Thirdly, I believe we had a big advantage, it was a teamwork effort with all the stakeholders on board. And this is a very important aspect.

GVS: Stakeholders? Who are the stakeholders in Islamabad?

IGP: We have the army, rangers, agencies, police, media and the judiciary. All these stakeholders were on the same page and we worked as a team. Our political leadership including MNAs and Ministry of Interior was also on board. It is important to highlight this because the successes shouldn’t always be accredited to the police. It is the result of getting together and forming one body, and this is how we have made serious crime reductions. And not only this, there have been such great management challenges, for instance, Maulana’s Dharna, visits of the Turkish President, the UN Secretary-General, and the British Royal Couple.. I mention these, because these events were out of the ordinary; other than these, we handled over 8,500 law and order situations in the last year…

GVS: What were these law and order situations?

IGP: These were of all sorts; we had huge protests through September and October. Maulana’s Dharna was a very big challenge for Islamabad, because there were so many people with him. However contrary to the past experience, I think, this time, we, as a team (and I must again highlight this aspect) did pretty well. Not a single incident happened despite such large crowds.

GVS: But you had given Maulana Fazlur Rehman a location which was very strategic between Rawalpindi and Islamabad? He could have done anything to disrupt life between the twin cities…

IGP: No, if it was strategic because of location, then it was strategic for both of us. I think it was strategic for the administration and it was strategic for him maybe less for him. And the advantage to us was that it was away from the center of Islamabad – and we had depth to react, if we had to. We had alternate traffic routes available. And most importantly, when you’re

looking at numbers, crowds of several thousands, then one small incident can lead into a mega law and order situation. So, we were so careful in the postings of officers that we made sure that only those officers were posted closest to the Dharna who are cool and calm and were professional and who would be able to understand, not only the language but the body language of the protesters. So that was a great success.

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GVS: Ok! Let’s move on, Good! you mention these high profile visits, like that of the Saudi Crown Prince, British Royal Couple, and Turkish President, but the overall sense of security in the city has also risen, which I believe has been reflected in the World Safety Index and the World Crime Index; What steps have you taken to create this confidence?

IGP: Yes! I think this is a pertinent question. I started my discussion with these VVIP visits is because basically these visits were the end result of all the efforts which we have made. Because if the security situation did not improve to that level, we may not have seen such a large number of high-profile people coming in. The reason why crime has gone down and why the Crime Index ranking has improved, I think, in my professional opinion, as heard earlier, is due to our integrated teamwork which here in Islamabad consists of some of the best police officers.

Previously, there used to be very tight boxes that if the Security Division is doing something, they wouldn’t allow the Operations to go in and vice versa. I’ve been able to gel them in a body. Everybody is now doing their job in a very professional way. Secondly, we went after hard crime. When I took over in Punjab, a long time ago, almost 20 years ago, the lesson that I learned as an SSP Lahore, as DIG Multan and from other such challenging postings was that you cannot control crime until you don’t arrest the criminals.

So, we have arrested around 1,000 hardcore criminals during 2019. And that is also reflected in the performance bulletin. Besides that, we went on total revamp of the investigation. We posted a very good officer there, Mustafa Tanvir, as the SP investigation. We strengthened the CIA (Crime Investigation Agency) because CIA is backbone of investigation. It looks after the organized crime. And then you also have to understand that Islamabad is one of those cities which may appear very small in its size. But the quantum of threat, both in terms of traditional crime and terrorism is very huge. Anything happening in Islamabad can hold nation’s attention.

GVS: What is the size of your force?

IGP: Our last sanction was done in 2004. We are roughly 12000 at this point in time, around 1200 short. But I think we should now be around 20000 because size of Islamabad has expanded many times, population has increased, several new housing societies and schemes have come up. So, 2004 has no comparison to Pakistan of 2020. Islamabad is not only spreading, its spreading very fast. And then on top of that, you have around 5 to 7 lac people (0.5 mil to 0.7 mil) coming in every day and then going back. This feeding area into Islamabad is from Peshawar to Jhelum, and then from Murree up to Muzaffarabad…

GVS: What is the current population of Islamabad?

IGP: Islamabad census 2018 shows around 2.1 million. But if you include the daily in and out, then we are looking at around three million people who we have to cater to around the clock. So, it’s a mega challenge.

GVS: Are there any statistics on how many of these people live in the center of Islamabad, how many live in nearby locations, like Barah Kaho, Khanna Pull…

IGP: I think in the center from sectors F6 to F11 only 20-25 percent live. The rest of population spreads across the new societies. If you go down, to Naval Anchorage, Bahria Town, DHA, you see houses and houses and houses in all possible directions. But the police strength has not increased vis-a-vis the increase in population. Then you also have to understand that it’s now a huge area because if you’re looking at the Lohi Bher Thana, it alone is catering to around fifty societies…

GVS: How many Thanas, and how many officers do you have?

IGP: We have 22 thanas, (police stations) and we have around 150 officers or 250 including the DSP officers. The rest are in different ranks. So, I think that the prime minister was very gracious, that he gave us 1100 seats which were lying vacant for at least 6-7 years…

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GVS: What about the logistic infrastructure for the Islamabad Police?

IGP: Islamabad Police has been unfortunate in the way that the kind of infrastructural improvement which should have been there has not been granted. And now we have requested the government. Hopefully we’ll be getting that support. Our transport structure needs an overhaul. We have been able to get the approval from the government for some projects, which we have been requesting since 2008, like 15 houses for our SPs, and barracks for our constabulary, then four police stations had no buildings. Some stations had a structure, but no operations. We had to again request the government and the government has now approved it. So I think in the next six months, you will see a major improvement in infrastructure rules.

GVS: Now you have been the head of Islamabad Police for almost 18 months; what do you think are the three or four major challenges facing Islamabad?

IGP: I think the biggest challenge is to maintain public order, then crime. Obviously, in other parts of Pakistan, maybe, crime is number one. But in Islamabad, as I said earlier, dynamics are different with VVIP visits and high-profile activities; like this PSL coming up: it’s a huge challenge for Pakistan and for Islamabad because the teams are going to stay in one of the hotels in Islamabad. So that’s a huge challenge. And then for Islamabad, the size of police is small. So if it was in Lahore (since I was SSP Lahore) I know they have their resources. But for Islamabad, we have to divert from different sources to ensure that the security and the public order is maintained.

GVS: So how serious is the problem of crime, theft, mugging, car snatching in Islamabad?

IGP: Car snatching is not a challenge in Islamabad. I think we had only 1-2 cases last year. Murder last year was down by 11 percent. Usually, there’s a crib against the police that it does not register the FIR. (First Information Report). While that may be partially true, we have now adopted a zero-tolerance policy against that. If you’ve gone to the police station and the police has not registered a FIR for you, drastic action is taken against the police officers. Similarly, kidnapping for ransom. We had only one case in the entire calendar year. We had only one case and that was also traced. Dacoity, that was again a heinous offense, it went down by 30%. It’s a huge achievement for Islamabad police. Robbery was down by 8 percent. Burglary is 23 percent down.

GVS: In central Islamabad, you definitely have less of burglary, breaking-in but you have more of the problem in the outlying areas, which usually are towards Pindi or towards Murree?

IGP: But there are two reasons for that. One, the extension of Islamabad by the different societies and Second: people coming in from Pindi and from other adjoining areas to Islamabad. They commit a crime and then go back. Then there are also some legal issues; Islamabad police cannot operate outside of Islamabad territory without following the CRPs. For example, if somebody commits a crime in Sargodha, Sargodha Police can raid in Lahore because it is the same provincial territory. But we have to follow certain procedures, and also the criminal rules. We have also been hit by criminals coming from across the border, although not very large in number, but heinous offences have been taking place.

Facing that challenge, we had to operate in KP; both Punjab Police and KP Police were helping us out. And we have been able to trace a large number of cases. For example, 19 blind murders were traced last year, in 2019. These were murders which had no clue and tracing was possible only because of hard work of our officers. Some murders were traced from a DNA sample, some were traced from an eyewitness account. Some murders we traced by reaching out to the place of happening from where the body came.

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GVS: What is the principal crime in Islamabad?

IGP: It is car theft. There is no car snatching as such in Islamabad – though in numbers, even car theft is not that much of a serious issue, but it is our top priority. Second is motor cycle theft. Then we have theft-burglary; 2019 saw an increase of about 24 percent. But overall its car theft, motorcycle theft, and then some street crime. And in those areas that are connected to the GT Road and the IGP road, people come from Pindi come and snatch mobiles and other belongings and then they run back to Pindi and hide there. So, there are three or four major challenges. Organized crime, no, there has not been a single instance.

Land Mafia was there when I came and that has been nearly finished. We however had this drug issue, very serious.

GVS: Yes! Some time ago, a lot was being talked about, the youth suffering from drug problem in colleges and schools. I think even PM Iman Khan was very concerned when he took over; So, what have you done in this regard?

IGP: I have addressed around 8000 students in Islamabad on separate occasions. I have gone to, I think, all the major universities. Tomorrow, I’m going to Air University. I’m addressing around 1000 students. We held a major conference with Roots

GVS: How are these addresses helping?

IGP: I think the parents were shocked. They were stunned when I told them that I am the IGP and I’m telling you if you don’t control it. This is going to destroy your children’s lives.

Islamabad Safer than London

GVS: Did you address the students or their parents?

IGP: These 8000 include students, parents, and faculty members. This was last year, 2018 and 19. And now we are starting again with these lectures. This initiative has helped because we then formed some WhatsApp groups. The parents responded well, because one of the questions was that how much pocket money do you give? And I was horrified to learn that at times parents give 50,000 or 100,000 pocket money to an O-level or A-level boy or girl per month. So, what are you going to do with 50,000 per month? So, once we showed the movie to them, we had made this movie from our own resource, it had impact. And tomorrow, I’m going to Air University and I will show that movie there. That has a lot of effect on the younger generation and also on the faculty.

GVS: Have you also cracked down on some of these sellers and the drug gangs.

IGP: Yes. Yes, that was what I was telling you about. We have recovered around $125 million worth of drugs in 2019, which was only $84 million in 2018.

GVS: What was the principal drug that was being abused?

IGP: It was chars (cannabis), heroine, ice and liquor. Cocaine is not one of them, but fake liquor has emerged as a trend. These drug suppliers are making fake liquor, including Black Label and Chivas.

GVS: Good! Let’s move forward; One important area for the police is to maintain the highways, and the city traffic. So, when you look at the Blue Area, on the side of Jinnah Avenue, you find these massive service roads on both sides, and yet you notice this congestion. Why don’t you take some measures like ordering one-way traffic?

IGP: We did. Initially, when I took charge here and we had a detailed meeting with the business community; we all requested the Blue Area Anjuman-e-Tajiraan for giving us some cameras and other things to enforce one way traffic; but then when we were enforcing it, they started complaining about their business going down. So, now, what we have done to ease traffic is to hold continuous interactions with them. And we are conducting operations to remove the cars that are illegally parked and double-parked.

GVS: In this age of technology and modernity, why is the police not sending tickets to addresses? Why the licenses are not connected with the posted addresses like it happens in any major western city? The police still has to stop the people.

IGP: We had some problems with the Safe City Project and in last June we were able to get appointed DIG Sarfaraz Falki as the DG Safe City. But there were some technical problems with the Safe City project right from the start and the quality of cameras was not up to the mark. You have to understand that it was 2009 technology and today it is 2020. We have now requested the government that we need very heavy cameras to read the number plate on.

GVS: You have served all across the country. There are a lot of questions regarding policing in general. Why the Pakistan police culture hasn’t taken the kind of specialization the way it has even started to develop in India and many other Asian countries in terms of specially trained homicide units and rape units. Your officers, across Pakistan police, find themselves working in a criminal branch one day, next time they’re in traffic and then they’re doing something else?

IGP: As far as Islamabad is concerned, we have set up a homicide unit headed by an inspector. All murders are being handled by this unit. So, when SHO reports, a FIR is launched, and that investigation is shifted to the homicide unit.

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GVS: But why it is being headed by a junior officer like an inspector, why not a SP Homicide?

IGP: But SP cannot be posted at that level because SP is supposed to be posted at any sort of policing. Inspector Homicide stays there for around two-three years. After that, he is changed and a new one is brought.

GVS: There cannot be an allocation of officers to various departments, such as homicide.

IGP: One, you have to have a lot of manpower for that. Secondly, you also have to basically dovetail the resource with the incidents of crime. We have only 100 murders in Islamabad, in a year, so that means around a 10 per month or eight per month. And we have to manage our resources proportionately. We do not have that luxury. I would love to have it, but then you have to have more resources.

GVS: It has been seen that police officers, when they get the opportunity to study the Britannia Chevening’s or other programs in the UK or the US they end up studying anything. The police department hasn’t really set up guidelines and direction that they should study something like criminology or criminal law?

IGP: I think most of the officers from police, they are either doing criminology, human rights, terrorism, rape investigation, public policy. Because after 20, when he is the DG, public policy also become very important for us. Because we become part of the APUG. (All Pakistan Unified Group); tomorrow I can be posted as Secretary Labor…

Islamabad Safer than London

GVS: Is there an APEX authority for the Police, like the Army has the GHQ?

IGP: It’s the Ministry of Interior for Islamabad, and for the provincial police forces, it is the Home Department and the Chief Minister basically is responsible for them.

GVS: Is it the same in every country across the world? Do they not have police secretariats?

IGP: They have. But if you look at India again, India is 29 police forces for 29 states. So every state has its own police force. Like we have the FIA, it has jurisdiction all across Pakistan. But police is a provincial force. Provincial police cannot be overseen by a national police. It’s not here. And certain countries have that. But even in America, every county has its own police.

GVS: My last question, if resources were not so constrained, what would you like to do for the policing in Pakistan?

IGP: First, welfare of the police. At this time, in my force, only 3 percent are living in their official quarters, 97 percent of the force has no official quarters. Medical cover is also insufficient. I would also like to see major computerization, major influx of technology. Like we started this “Camera on Body” initiative in December. So now the officers, we have more than 10 cameras from our own sources and we have now deployed them at the checkpoints.

These are body cams. So, if a police officer stops you and he has that camera, it is written on the left side that your audio and video is being recorded. So it works both ways. If you later make an allegation that police has been abusive to you, or some other complaint. It’s not your word against mine. Now there is proof of the interaction that took place. So that again, all public service at the doorstep of the common man. That is what the police is doing in Islamabad. Similarly, we have requested the government to give us some resources to further increase our technological progress. And with new resources coming in, especially with these 1100 police officers also coming in, you will see a major change in Islamabad, Insha Allah!

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