Policing The Police – Sabbahuddin

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Police in Pakistan is not only responsible for maintaining routine law and order but also shoulders additional responsibility of acting as the first line of fighting against terrorism and complex security situations. Sacrifices of this force in improving the overall security situation in the country are worthy to be mentioned and appreciated. However like many others, institution of Police has also inherited colonial legacy that carries an intimidating attitude and militarized customs which make it difficult for the institution to become people-centric and public friendly. Despite lot of deliberation and serious attempts, this main institution could not improve its repute in the eyes of common people. From very serious offences by police, like death due to torture in custody, to simple efficiency issues, this institution remains a punching bag for all criticism against it.

List of complaints against police is long yet genuine. Transgression of authority, harassment, extreme highhandedness, lethargic attitude, failure to respond in time, hesitation to register cases, acceptance of illegal gratification, financial corruption, moral turpitude, connivance and partnership with anti-social elements are few allegations rightly hurled at the Police department. Beside these, public grievances related to institutions professional inefficiency such as biased discretionary actions, misapplication of law, defective investigation and inability to submit evidence-based challans are few amongst a host of condemnations against the department. However these accusations seldom become formal complaints and see an exemplary disciplinary action unless it is highlighted by electronic or social media.

Under the 1973 constitutional framework, policing is a provincial subject. Each of its four provinces and two administered areas (Azad Jammu Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan) has its own police force responsible for the jurisdiction extending only to their own geographical territory. Additionally, Islamabad Capital Territory also has its own police force. After the 18th Constitutional Amendment, structure and system of police in each province has been altered as it pleased to the provincial governments. The reform efforts carried out during various regimes to improve the institution have so far remained short of achieving their objective probably for the reason that these could not be applied to all police structures in all the provinces.

Police accountability is as important as existence of department itself. A uniform standard Police Law for the entire country is unavoidable which should introduce a formal, efficient yet ruthless vigilance and accountability system

History of deliberations on police reforms is as old as the country itself. Several efforts were undertaken to reform the outdated legal and institutional framework governing the police in the form of 1861 Act. A bill was passed in the Sindh assembly in 1948 for establishing a modern police for Karachi, but the bill could not come into force due to sad demise of father of the nation. Later on, several commissions were notified to study the police reforms. First commission of this kind was established in 1951, second commission was assigned with the same responsibility in 1961, third commission was notified in 1985 and yet another one in 1997. These reforms sought to transform police force into a professional, service-oriented and accountable organization. However, lack of political will, bureaucratic conflict and various other factors never allowed implementation of recommendations submitted by these commissions. In 1999, an effort was made to initiate a complete overhaul of the policing system and these efforts took the shape of the Police Order 2002. Unfortunately this also fizzled out and it couldn’t be fully implemented in true spirit as required.

Despite the introduction of inquiry and discipline setups at CPOs (Central Police Offices) in the provinces, no efficient vigilance structures exist to detect, report and fix internal disciplinary issues. Redressal of citizen complaints against the department are handled at the district level where things are hushed up. Punishments on administrative issues are handled at District Police Officer and at times Regional Police Officer level. Special Branch at times tries to inquire into issues but often ends up in internal friction with one against whom report is initiated. Besides, such reports only reach till the Provincial Police Officer and never beyond that.

In today’s media savvy environment, breach of discipline and bad conduct by Police does not remain hidden and creates instant yet negative ripples in society. But government’s response on such incidents never go beyond an immediate dressing down of senior police officers by dictatorial Federal Ministers who take it as their right to bully and humiliate the officials while nothing concludes on legal front. No heads roll and no punishments are given which further increases distrust by common people on the institution.

Despite the inter-provincial differences in structure of the department, there is one thing common to Police in country’s all provinces i.e. the unquenchable craving and desire of political figures in Provincial Governments to control the police making their effort to brand department totally subservient to the sitting governments in each province. Provincial governments exercise complete discretion in using the manpower and resources of the force. A huge strength of police personnel remains struck-off the active strength being deputed on miscellaneous duties while Police Stations remains short of required manpower. A big strength of the force and police mechanical transport remains committed on heavy guard duties with scores of ministers, senior bureaucrats, politicians, judges and even religious clerics. Limited vehicles placed on the disposal of police station for patrolling as well as administrative duties, most of the time, remain either broken requiring serious repairs or at times remain off-road due to deficiency of fuel. Thus sometimes police has to use taxies and cabs to transport their under custody suspects to courts. Such scenes are often captured by media and then a wave of criticism is unleashed on the department.

The need for such a vigilance and accountability system is felt whenever the department attracts media attention to an unpleasant incident. But irony remains that no serious efforts are made to implement an inward looking vigilance mechanism. The efficient, fair and uniform enforceability of fundamental rights of people cannot be achieved unless Police performs its functions strictly in accordance with law. Police accountability is as important as existence of department itself. A uniform standard Police Law for the entire country is unavoidable which should introduce a formal, efficient yet ruthless vigilance and accountability system. This internal accountability mechanism should be able to identify issues within force and at same time be able to satisfactorily address the public grievances against the department. This disciplinary regime should be further strengthened through the internal accountability branches and units comprising dedicated honest officers. It is high time for the government to realize the need and take concrete steps which I am sure will not only transform the institution but also positively improve the entire society.

The writer is a versatile analyst and a speaker on contemporary issues