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Law and order

 

 

By Imtiaz Gul

Friday Times, August 8, 2014

 

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is abuzz with the debate as to whether the provincial police is poised to become a model law enforcement agency under Nasir Durrani, the inspector general. Durrani claims that the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police is free of political influence and is undergoing a radical transformation that is required to battle the non-traditional security challenges such as ideologically-driven militancy, political terrorism and the increasing nexus of militants and criminal syndicates.

This collusion of crime and terrorism has claimed the lives of 1,015 police officials and wounded some 2,000 in attacks throughout Khyber Pakhtunkhwa since 2006. The string of major attacks including the ones on the Peshawar airport, the electricity grid station on the outskirts of the city, and a PIA passenger aircraft, represent the security threats to the greater Peshawar region. Abductions for ransom and extortion and surreptitious illegal activities by organized crime syndicates in unison with religious militants represent another type of looming threat.

Official statistics show a more than 18 percent decrease in civilian and police casualties between July 2013 and June 2014. During the said period, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police managed to repulse 77 terrorist attacks and arrested 260 suspected terrorists.

It was also able to work out 626 cases of terrorism in the past year, and arrest 70 suspects in abduction cases, of which 43 were convicted by courts. More importantly, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police resolved 78 cases of extortion and secured convictions for 109 terrorists in Anti-Terrorism Courts. Seventy-seven terror suspects were killed in police encounters.

Does this make the police chief happier? Not really, says Durrani. Look at the enormity of the challenges that surround the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police. The adjacent territories, such as FATA and PATA, stand out as the biggest hurdles in anti-crime and anti-terror operations. They serve as safe havens for fugitives. But Durrani is not despondent. He believes that despite the tardy, expensive criminal justice system, several administrative steps such as intelligence-led search-and-strike operations, surprise snap checking, vehicle verification system, raising of the K-9 unit, employment of android-based geo-tagging for identification of crime hotspots, as well as IT based capacity building of police personnel will hopefully improve the collective efficiency of the department, which has a strength of 65,000 in total, backed up by an Investigating Wing of 3,000 officers responsible for criminal investigation management, a Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL), an Elite Force of 6,000 men for high risk security operations and counter terrorism, and the 10,000-strong Frontier Reserved Police.

A Special Anti-Terrorism Force and a Special Prisons Force were set up in October 2013. A number of uniformed forces including the army, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), the Anti-Narcotics Force, and the Excise Police Force also operate in the province.

While the police death toll this year might be lower, more of them were killed in targeted attacks. Targeted attacks on individuals, including cops, went up from 99 to 129, nearly 30.3% more.

“As the security in Peshawar increased, the police became more vulnerable to terrorists,” said Nasir Durrani. He was candid in admitting that lack of coordination among various security institutions, particularly between the civilian and the military outfits, multiplicity of laws, and a lack of access to live data and call facilities were some of the major factors undermining timely operations against terrorists and criminal mafias.

He pointed out that despite the introduction of online FIR registration, complaint management remains a major problem because of limited internet availability. Complainants, however, have been given access to phone numbers to lodge complaints through their cellphones.

Durrani said informal style of governance was a key socio-cultural barrier in the way of effective law enforcement. Compassion and consideration for near and dear ones severely undermines merit and transparency.

Despite several socio-political handicaps and capacity issues, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police has still managed to brave adverse circumstances while staying the course of reforms. It now maintains a Police Assistance Line to deal with issues such as character certificate verifications. Under the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Restriction of Rented Buildings Ordinance 2014, one of the three legislations pushed by the police, all landlords and hostel owners must provide complete details of their tenants to the police. As a result, 75,000 tenants have already been registered. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police is now also connected with the excise department to keep track of all registered vehicles. Criminal records of last year have already been digitized, and those of the last five years are being digitized to be made available to police officers via mobile phones.

For security, police have identified 15 villages in critical areas and have geo-tagged them. All homes and all male members above 14 in these areas are being documented, and the police have asked the villagers to seek permission for any new constructions.

Similarly, under the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Hotel Restriction (Security) Ordinance 2014, hotel owners are to register themselves with police, verify the CNICs of the guests through Nadra’s Verisys system, maintain their record and credentials, and update the police on a daily basis.

According to The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Sensitive and Vulnerable Establishment and Places (Security) Ordinance 2014, all profit-making and government institutions are asked to ensure, on their own expense, proper security arrangements for their premises. Noncompliance in all these laws is a cognizable offence.

Capacity deficits are also being addressed through an accelerated programme, which includes establishment of a School of Investigation at Hayatabad, a School of Intelligence at Abbottabad and new training centres to cope with the annual demand of at least 2,000 new recruits.

Interestingly, as a first step to minimize patronage and interference in recruitment of constables, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police outsourced the process to the National Testing Service (NTS).

“A positive change in the police force and thana culture can only be brought by those officials who are recruited through a transparent and merit-based process,” said Nasir Durani. He insisted that “there is zero political influence” on him. “I enjoy operational autonomy to the extent that I nominate even the additional IGs.” He said nobody interfered even when he dismissed 450 officials and personnel on disciplinary charges.

Durrani is an advocate for reforms in the CrPC. “If I don’t pay my servant, what options does he have? Police can register his complaint and tell him to file a civil lawsuit through a lawyer. The common man cannot afford this at all, and that is why aggrieved poor people often went to Taliban courts,” he said.

That is why the police has pushed dispute resolution councils (DRCs), consisting of 21 members for every district. A three-member bench nominated by these DRCs, consisting of civil society representatives and retired generals, police officials, professors, bureaucrats and judges will sit in a designated court room at their respective police stations to facilitate alternative dispute resolution.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police also suggests a task force consisting of other civilian law enforcement agencies and the services sector for effective coordination and timely crackdown on criminals and terrorists. “The new challenges and the unprecedented quantum of work requires us to be more hands-on, agile and closely coordinated,” he said.

Durrani has also requested the federal government to allow recruitment of up to 4,000 policemen from FATA. “This way we can win hearts and minds of people from the embattled and neglected region. Secondly, these recruits can provide the strategic access into the community that the police and other law-enforcing agencies need to penetrate,” he said.

Whether Durrani’s commitment, the improved technical and human capacity, more resources, and political non-interference will help boost the performance of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police remains to be seen. It also remains to be soon that for how long the ruling elites can tolerate an autonomous police.

Imtiaz Gul is the executive director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk