We are in a pressing need to police the police
“When you have police officers who abuse citizens, you erode public confidence in law enforcement. That makes the job of good police officers unsafe” — Mary Frances Berry
Policing in Pakistan faces many of the problems affecting the whole Subcontinent. Adding to those is the deteriorating security situation in the country; threats of insurgency, fundamentalism and terrorism, all further compounding the constraints of the police. Under the country’s 1973 Constitution, policing is a provincial subject. All four provinces of the country, i.e. Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and Sindh, have their own police forces with jurisdiction extending only to their own respective territory – Islamabad Capital Territory has its own police force. Up till 2002, policing in the country was done under the Police Act of 1861. Several efforts were made to reform the outdated legal and institutional framework governing the police but they have been largely futile.
In Pakistan, police reforms had been undertaken at federal and provincial level in the past but were never implemented in letter and spirit. A peep into history suggests that almost immediately after independence of Pakistan, a bill was passed by the Sindh Assembly in February 1948 which called for the establishment of a modern police force in the city of Karachi. But, this proposal could not see the light of the day for various reasons, with the failure to secure the assent of the Governor-General Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah before his death (11 September 1948) being the most conspicuous one.
A number of commissions were later set up to carve out police reforms; starting from the one headed by Sir Oliver Gilbert Grace (1951) and including the one headed by Justice JB Constantine (1961) and another led by the then IG of Police Northwest Frontier Province, as well as one in 1985. Yet another addition to this was a commission established in 1997 under the Chairmanship of the then Interior Minister. But, recommendations presented by all these commissions were never implemented. Lack of political will, bureaucratic resistance and colonial legacy have all variously hampered reform initiatives. By the turn of the century, police had become extremely inefficient with growing interference in their day-to-day functioning by persons having some political clout. Recognizing that nothing short of a complete overhaul of the current policing system will do, a focus group on police reforms was set up in 1999 during the Musharraf regime. The recommendations of the group took the shape of the Police Order, 2002, that worked well but again political compulsions led civilian governments to tinker or do away with it.
During Musharraf era, the then Chief Minister Punjab Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi hired three retired military officers to organize recruitment of 25,000 police officials on merit. But a lot of pressure was exerted on them by the members of the Punjab Assembly to make appointments on their recommendations. However, they refused to do so and, thus, resigned.
Pakistani Police Force
In Pakistan, there is a mixed perception about police. Generally, police personnel are considered inhumane as they hardly take care of common people or of providing justice if one seeks police help. During a long spate of terrorism in Pakistan, the police force, like other law-enforcement and security agencies, suffered a lot in terms of lives, resources and infrastructure. This situation gives birth to a very pertinent question: is the police force too weak to meet up its job requirements or it is the denial of their rights somewhere in the system that police are not performing their job well? A cursory look reveals that despite having quality personnel in their force, police lack technological resources to combat miscreants. Although the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) was established, in 2009, to coordinate and integrate the counterterrorism efforts carried out by the military and the police, it failed to take off owing, mainly, to squabbling between and among political leaders.
Bridging the Trust Gap
To build a better image of police among the people, it is important to have good police-public relations. This is especially relevant with regard to the treatment of women, children and minorities. The average Pakistani citizen does not trust the police. To bridge this trust gap, media, with its potential of public networking, can be an effective tool. Several advertisements, documentaries and other public service message can help in building a better rapport. Apart from this, corruption, lethargy, incompetence and poor performance of police can be exposed by media. As we all know that many police officials have laid their lives in the line of duty while combating terrorism, therefore, such stories also need to be highlighted.
Today, we are in dire need of reforming the police and the policing. Any efforts for reforming the police require an improvement in working conditions and salaries, as well as a big change in organizational culture. Police must also be provided with technology that is most pressingly needed today to combat criminals and terrorists, and police personnel must have better tools of accessing terrorists’ communications, mobile-tracking systems and telephone call data analysis. The objective of police reform is largely achievable through implementation of Police Order, 2002, with minor amendments, throughout the country. In due course, the Order should be extended to the areas of erstwhile FATA as well so that the whole country is governed under a common set of rules. These elements would surely help to create a force that is respected by the people and thus is more effective in maintaining security and stability. Therefore, to regain public trust on police and improvement in the rule of law, the government needs to bring changes within the system and address improper influences.
There is also a need to address the issues of ineffective command and control, inefficiency, corruption, poor public dealing, trust deficit, arbitrary use of power, misuse of authority and political interference, which indeed is a daunting task. Addressing these concerns requires diagnostic approaches coupled with the establishment of public safety apparatus and independent complaint authorities. Though Police Order, 2002, ensured the tenure for senior police officers, public welfare and safety were compromised due to vested interests. Anyhow, there is need to depoliticize the police, equip them and train them properly to increase their effectiveness.
As the PTI-led government is gearing up for reforming the police, especially the Punjab police, it must pragmatically address the issue of thana culture that has ossified corruption and criminal behaviour within the police. This has severely challenged efforts that aim to bring relief and justice to those who continue to suffer, regardless of whether they live in urban or rural settings. The gruesome murder of over a dozen PAT workers in Model Town in 2014 had provoked serious questions about the conduct of the police and their pliant relationship with the political leadership. Similarly, the nexus between organized crime and the police can be easily gauged from the activities of the Chotu Gang, which operated with impunity in Rajanpur and Rahim Yar Khan till March 2016. And, more recently, the Sahiwal incident (2019) is still an eye-opener for the whole nation and the authorities as well. Police murdered innocent school-going girl along with her parents in front of the eyes of her siblings. This single incident is enough to understand, what is the performance and credibility of our police department.
Today, the demand for police accountability has become vociferous like never before. So, a robust and result-oriented accountability mechanism is a must for improving the performance as well as credibility of the police.