Issue 50 - Article 13

Partnering for security: the Citizens' Police Liaison Committee in Karachi, Pakistan

May 9, 2011
Roman Pryjomko

In the Pakistani city of Karachi, an innovative cross-sector partnership is incrementally improving public safety, security and social justice within the context of a highly complex emergency. In a city deeply affected by crime, violence and fear, the partnership creates ‘safer spaces’ for humanitarian activities. This approach may offer new insights for the humanitarian sector, which struggles worldwide with emergency response and longer-term recovery in situations with serious security challenges.

Karachi: complexity and chaos

Specific areas of Karachi are experiencing what amounts to a slow-onset complex emergency. Violence and conflict have caused social and economic disruption resulting in humanitarian crises of varying durations, types and intensities. Home to approximately 20 million people, Karachi’s security challenges have multiplied since Pakistan’s foundation in 1947. Ethnic violence reflects persistent and fractious cultural divides. This is aggravated by weapons proliferation, widespread poverty and unemployment, drug-trafficking and the influx of refugees and displaced people fleeing natural disasters and conflict in Afghanistan and the tribal borderlands. Not surprisingly, organised crime and terrorist groups have flourished in Karachi, exploiting the absence of stable governance, endemic corruption and the politicisation of key institutions such as the police.


The Citizens’ Police Liaison Committee (CPLC) is a pioneering cross-sector partnership and the single most trusted and effective public safety organisation in Karachi today. With roots in the business sector, the CPLC is supported largely by private donations and voluntary staff. A legal mandate under provincial law provides the organisation and its members with magisterial powers. Although the CPLC has not replaced the police, it has adopted and reformed core police functions and improved performance through technical support, partnering and supportive engagement with the community.

The CPLC maintains databases and communication infrastructures essential to police and public safety operations. It also provides specialised services including crime analysis, and the investigation of kidnapping and terrorism (often related incidents). In addition, by providing a range of support services the CPLC has created ‘safer spaces’ for humanitarian activities within the education and health sectors, for instance with a ‘Safer Schools’ initiative. Through its actions, the CPLC offers an alternative ‘hybrid’ service delivery mechanism especially where existing government structures or capacities are inadequate. This requires a long-term cross-sector partnership between government, business, NGOs and community groups, where all partners make contributions and share the risks posed by a deteriorating security environment.

Making a Difference

Since its creation two decades ago, the CPLC has made a positive difference to Karachi, and the model is now being replicated in other Pakistani cities and in neighbouring India. The CPLC has demonstrated considerable resilience, surviving national and local emergencies, frequent changes in government including military rule and occasional hostility from political and criminal interests. Tangible results are evident in the following areas:

  • Providing ‘safer spaces’ and enabling environments for humanitarian activities, including CPLC initiatives as well as independent work by community groups and NGOs.
  • Providing access to justice for the poorest and disenfranchised citizens.
  • Improving police effectiveness and accountability.
  • Providing essential information management, communications and analytical tools.
  • Monitoring law enforcement activities and police–community relations.
  • Maintaining professional integrity, transparency and effectiveness, internally and in external relations with diverse partners.

Partnering in complex emergencies

Improving security and reducing fear amongst the population are fundamental challenges in complex emergencies. To this end, a systematic investment in building cross-sector partnerships appears to have significant value. Such collaborative arrangements (as opposed to single-sector approaches) can lead to measurable security improvements, while strengthening the ability of humanitarian actors to deliver programmes.  In the case of the CPLC, the following factors were most significant:

Resources and incentives

First and foremost, the CPLC focused on police performance by providing the basic technical resources required to improve internal governance, routine operations and public perception, including community relations. Strategically targeted support with modest investments in infrastructure resulted in ‘quick wins’ and benefits for all partners, creating incentives for further collaboration. Spatial crime analysis in particular proved valuable in producing thematic maps of crime ‘hot spots’ and trends, thereby engaging key partners in the development of collaborative strategies. These outputs were also invaluable in public awareness campaigns and stimulated popular interest in crime prevention.


The CPLC has made sustained efforts to build trust, consensus and confidence, especially with key partners such as the police as well as the wider community. For example, even though the CPLC has legal oversight over police performance and misconduct, rather than simply ‘policing the police’ it has also sought to resolve underlying institutional problems, including poor pay and inadequate housing and welfare policies. Building mutual trust through proactive cooperation at the operational level is a priority.

Partnership culture

As a largely voluntary organisation the CPLC has developed a partnering culture both internally and externally. The integrity of the organisation is paramount and embodied in a Code of Conduct, which is publicised and universally applied. Members exercise discretion, authority and expertise, with considerable autonomy. Small teams address issues such as carjacking, kidnapping and terrorism, where individuals with local knowledge and expertise can demonstrate leadership and innovation. The principles of equity, transparency and the sharing of benefits are at the heart of CPLC’s institutional culture. Although members are drawn from Karachi’s business elite the organisation is careful to protect its ethos of public service to all regardless of caste, creed, status or wealth. This includes proactive outreach and openness to the widest range of partners, large and small. From the outset, the CPLC’s leadership has actively engaged in operational activities, often at great personal risk.

Engaging the business sector

The business community in Karachi remains the largest contributors of resources and financial backing to the CPLC. As a key partner, the private sector provides technical and logistical resources, know-how, supporting technology and infrastructure, as well as project management support, which are simply unavailable or inaccessible to most government and non-governmental entities. By collaborating with the CPLC the private sector has in turn extended the reach of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programmes, including health and education services.

The essential ingredient: partnership brokering 

The CPLC has established working partnerships with a range of entities including governmental departments, some of which are more amenable than others. As a result, it has developed and institutionalised a powerful, independent ‘brokering’ capacity. The CPLC maintains a balanced and non-exclusive relationship with overlapping and sometimes conflicting partners (for example in law enforcement), notwithstanding occasional pressure to do otherwise.

Growing evidence worldwide suggests that cross-sector partnerships perform better when the partnering process is applied together with change management skills. Individual leadership is essential, especially from those with the ability to convene, coach and build the capacity of partners and organisations so that they collaborate effectively. This change management role, exemplified by the CPLC as a brokering organisation, is possibly the critical success factor.

The operational and organisational sustainability of the CPLC hinges upon the maintenance of a complex and at times highly sensitive cross-sector partnership. This partnership must work within a politically-charged, unpredictable and changeable environment. Building, managing and maintaining this essential partnership requires dedication, sensitivity, persistence and political savvy. Although the CPLC partnership appears complex and awkward at times, there are clear channels of interdependence and mutual benefits.

Time is a critical factor and constraint in the partnering process, and in sudden-onset emergencies, the pressure to respond quickly certainly limits the available options. However, within the context of complex emergencies and longer-term recovery, the humanitarian sector should consider key elements of the ‘hybrid’ cross-sector partnering approach illustrated by the CPLC, in particular the strengthening, institutionalising and routine deployment of partnership brokering capabilities. In situations fraught with insecurity, fear and mistrust, this offers the possibility of a more stable and secure operational environment.


Notwithstanding the scale and complexity of the challenges confronting Karachi, the CPLC has demonstrated how a relatively small group of committed and resourceful citizens can make significant progress under the auspices of a cross-sector partnership. It has shown that ordinary people – working together – can confront extraordinary challenges and incrementally improve the security and welfare of a deeply troubled community. The CPLC has demonstrated that, even in situations of widespread despair, partnerships can be created – strengthened by personal courage and commitment, they offer hope for a better, more peaceful future.


Roman Pryjomko has worked for over 20 years in international development with a focus on governance reform and violence prevention. He has also provided the CPLC in Karachi with technical assistance. He is an accredited partnership broker, mentor and trainer, and Associate of the IBLF’s Partnership Brokers Project ( For more information about the CPLC, visit


Comments are available for logged in members only.