KARACHI (AFP) - A spectacular commando-style assault on a Pakistani police training school and a wave of suicide attacks have exposed a cash-strapped force woefully incapable of fighting insurgents, experts say.
Most officers are ill-trained, poorly educated and badly paid -- a regular constable's salary is just US$100 a month, and his family is paid US$6,000 if he is killed in the line of duty.
They are also badly equipped, lacking the resources even for what in many countries would be regarded as basic police work.
"Our police have miserably inadequate resources for combatting terrorism," acknowledged Sharfuddin Memon, who heads the Citizen-Police Liaison Committee, a state-run crime watchdog.
"They have been in this war without proper equipment and skill."
Security forces, elite squads, the army and police took nearly eight hours Monday to overpower a group of attackers who stormed a police training school near the eastern city of Lahore.
Eight police recruits were killed in the fierce firefight, highlighting the particular dangers that security forces face.
Pakistan's regular police force numbers 383,000, according to figures from the National Police Bureau, out of a population of more than 160 million.
The country has been hammered by extremist violence blamed on Taliban- and Al-Qaeda-linked militants -- suicide and bomb blasts have killed nearly 1,700 people in the last two years.
Police are a favourite target. The Police Bureau says the number of attacks against officers soared from 113 in 2005 to 1,820 in 2007.
Last Friday a suicide bomber attacked a packed mosque in the northwest town of Jamrud whose main congregation was tribal police and paramilitary, killing around 50 people.
A top police official in the flashpoint North West Frontier Province said even the Islamic extremists paid better.
"Terrorists pay 15,000 rupees (S$284) each to their soldiers and pay the families of suicide bombers three times what a policeman's family gets," the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Yet the police are so technologically under-resourced that the military or intelligence agencies frequently need to be called in, even to trace a mobile phone call.
"This is a minimum requirement for police," the Liaison Committee's Memon admitted. "They lack adequate technological support, technical expertise and professional training."
Police estimate they need at least 75 forensic laboratories countrywide -- but currently have just six.
President Asif Ali Zardari told parliament last week that Pakistan had set up a special constabulary to fight terror, saying the country faced "security challenges that need to be addressed urgently."
He said that with the help of the Friends of Pakistan, the government would raise 20,000 additional police in each province with special equipment and pay packages.
The Friends of Pakistan group includes China, Western and Arab nations and is sponsored by the United Nations.
Like Pakistan's military and paramilitary troops, a lack of available cash has been identified as the key problem for police.
Four months ago, the International Monetary Fund approved a standby loan of US$7.6 billion to stop Islamabad defaulting on its debts.
Pakistan clings to the lifeline of US$7.5 billion of aid over the next five years which US President Barack Obama has urged Congress to approve, but it remains unclear what conditions will be attached to the money.
Interior ministry chief Rehman Malik said that on top of better technology, there was an urgent need for skilled policemen able to seize would-be suicide bombers and snuff out terror plots before they come to fruition.
"The threats are perpetual," he told AFP, but said they could be countered "with effective measures."
Memon said police should invest in security cameras inside and outside all important installations, sensitive areas and thoroughfares, though that would take money Pakistan can barely afford.
Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira said Islamabad had appealed for help from international donors to finance improvements to the police force.
"We are resolute to get our police modernised and well-equipped," he said.