As Afghanistan continues to spiral into chaos, the fate of neighboring Pakistan is a growing source of concern.
But there is one area that Western governments often overlook in developing a response to regional instability and the threat of terrorism: a weak and corrupt criminal justice system.
Pakistan’s modern slavery problem, combined with violence that continues to blight the lives of women and girls, has strained the capacity of the police service to cope with the demands of a population that is set to reach 227 million in the coming years.
Modernizing the country’s justice system should be a priority for Washington policymakers. It’s equally critical for the UK.
Both of our countries arguably should take the lead, because of their significant ties with the region, thanks to decades of immigration. Over 520,00 individuals of Pakistani descent live in the United States, and some 1.7 million are residents in the UK.
The diaspora of Pakistanis in the U.S. and UK remits almost $2 billion annually to Pakistan in support of their families who remain there.
By helping to reduce threats to the international community that may emanate from Pakistan linked to extremism, illegal migration, and foreign national offenders of Pakistan origin, we can ensure the stability and security of the region and protect our interests.
A major concern for the international community has always been the tacit support that Pakistan has provided to terrorist groups, and the funding that assisted the Pakistani government in its efforts to fight terrorism.
Accordingly, there has been an influx of experts who have advised, guided, trained and supported the police, scientists, prosecutors and the courts in the past ten years.
But a lot more needs to be done.
As recently as 2013, levels of literacy in the police were poor. Corruption was rife, forensic awareness was poor, and eyewitness testimony was largely the only evidence to be relied upon.
Confessions were unreliable. Often witnesses wouldn’t appear in the courts due to interference and bribery.
It’s long been clear that in order to tackle the extremism a multifaceted approach was required.
There have been significant results from some of the initial interventions.
A project known as the Counter Terrorism Prosecutorial Reform Initiative ( CAPRI), as part of the UK‘s wider global counterterrorism strategy, was set up to work with regional authorities in the Punjab, an area the size of Germany.
CAPRI invested in a state-of-the-art forensic science facility, known as the Punjab Forensic Science Agency (PFSA). The facility created an end-to-end process that would investigate and prosecute acts of terrorism to recognised international standards.
It was a great place to start.
Slowly but surely, the CAPRI team built the capacity and capability of the judicial process. Special anti-terrorism courts established in the region had largely failed to secure convictions.
Experts on the team, together with resources from the UK, trained Punjabi police in crime scene forensic recovery methods and investigative and evidential standards. Thirteen special anti-terrorism prosecutors were appointed, and were trained together with judges in understanding forensic evidence.
To drive the PFSA forward and to bring forensic science into the mainstream of counter terrorism and wider criminal investigation, the Punjabi regional government head-hunted an eminent Pakistan-American scientist, Dr. Muhammad Ashraf Tahir, to head up and develop the laboratory and its services.
Dr. Tahir, a dual national, served for 36 years in U.S. law enforcement agencies, providing expert opinion and analysis in forensic science, and directing the work of those laboratories. He testified in more than 2,000 criminal cases in the U.S, and including the Mike Tyson rape case, and the case involving serial killer John Wayne Gacy. He served on the FBI Director’s DNA Advisory Board to write up the Quality Assurance Standards for DNA Analysis.
In an interview last year with the Pakistan Daily Times, Dr. Tahir outlined the growth of the PFSA and the work he has led from within the PFSA to bring leading edge forensic science to criminal investigation.
He pointed most of all to the incorruptibility and transparency of the work the agency has done.
“Every person here abides by the law,” he told the interviewer. “Nothing can influence the record and report generated by Punjab forensic science agency. Merit is all that matters.”
The work has been remarkable. The PFSA has now achieved accreditation to ISO 17025 standard in firearms, fingerprints, questioned documents, DNA and toxicology; no mean achievement in such a difficult operating environment.
A Quality Management System has been developed that supports the ongoing assessment of both the science and scientists together with ongoing validation and peer review that will maintain 17025 accreditation in the future.
Andy Williams, the lead technical development scientist from the UK on the CAPRI team who worked closely with Dr. Tahir, said in an interview with The Crime Report:
Over a three-year period, the laboratory reduced DNA turnaround times from 12 weeks to 48 hours making it a successful investigative tool. We up-skilled the laboratory’s latent fingerprint unit, to carry out fingermarks enhancement and comparison work. Counter-terrorism scene attendance submissions to the laboratory rose from just 3 to over 150 in twelve months.
The CAPRI team supported the procurement of an Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) and a new ballistics data base and these investments have shown remarkable results. Ballistics work has linked together over 500 cases including a series of 16 shootings that had tragically culminated in the assassination in 2016 of Bilal Anwar Kasi a special anti terrorism prosecutor, and the suicide bombing at the hospital he was taken to.
The work of the CAPRI project with Dr. Tahir in the Punjab has now gained significant traction across Pakistan, with the awareness of the contribution of forensic science to criminal justice in the Punjab continuing to grow.
Andy Williams continued:
We now have the attention of the Supreme Court, the Prosecutor General and key stakeholders across the country, with landmark cases driving public interest. In the past twelve months we have been engaged on ISO accreditation for the National Forensic Science Agency in Islamabad and working toward readiness for its assessment by the Pakistan National Accreditation Council in March 2022.
Indeed, the success of the CAPRI project has seen the growth of the use of specialist forensic sciences in the investigation of serial crimes including sexual crimes and homicides, not just in tackling terrorism cases.
High-profile Pakistan cases attracting international media attention across the Asian subcontinent have been cracked using investigative strategies, crime scene recovery methods and forensic techniques that investigators across the globe would be proud of.
It is probable that cases such as the serial rape and homicide of young girls in Kasur Minor between 2015 and 2018, and the abduction rape and murder of 4 young boys in the Chunian District in 2019 would not have been solved without the capacity-building work that the CAPRI project, working with the PFSA and law enforcement, introduced.
The funding for CAPRI ceased this year, but the building blocks for significant criminal justice reform in Pakistan have been firmly set in motion, with Dr. Tahir and the PFSA leading the way.
There is still a long way to go to stamp out the endemic corruption within Pakistan institutions that impacts upon criminal justice.
But the successes in the Punjab are a blueprint for the future, if policymakers are willing to take up the challenge.
Gareth Bryon is a former Detective Chief Superintendent who worked as a senior officer in the South Wales Police and the British Transport Police, where he led major crime investigation and forensic science services for over 30 years.