Police, Crime and Terrorism
By Imtiaz Gul
Express Tribune, August 31, 2016
On August 4, the chief of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) Police, Nasir Khan Durrani, walked a few dozen steps to the venue of an event being held on Youm-e-Shuhada (Police Martyrs’ Day) in Peshawar. The reason — special security arrangements that required all vehicles to park at a decent distance from the venue. But one of his deputies, in-charge of a special police force, huffed and puffed when his vehicle was stopped at the red line. He simply swept everybody aside and drove over the red line. This episode explains the paradoxes that result from the conduct of the privileged. On the one hand, the chief of the provincial police obeyed the standard operating procedures (SOP) laid down for the occasion. On the other hand, one of his senior colleagues snubbed his juniors and brazenly flouted the SOPs. The latter found following the SOPs below his dignity — as much as most of the ruling elite and those in positions of power in Pakistan do, where a culture of privileges, permits and perks continues to thrive at the expense of the blood and sweat of ordinary citizens.
No surprise then that institutional reform has been difficult to come by in a system that is anchored in political and financial patronage, and pillage of national resources. It is also evident in the absence of political will for meaningful police reform in Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan. Police forces in these provinces remain very much in the clutches of the chief ministers. We have excellent, discerning and sincere individuals in the Police Service of Pakistan, but the predominance of political power simply trumps their good work and the desire to improve their service. The 1861 Police Act (Sindh and Balochistan) and the Police Order 2002 (Punjab) continue to be the service frameworks for the police in these provinces, which means there is little operational autonomy, emphasis on fear rather than on serving the people and little deterrence for law-violators, and hardly any merit or accountability mechanisms. At the same time, despite being embroiled in so many battles against crime and terror because of its proximity to Fata, FR regions and Pata, K-P has taken the lead in addressing some of these issues through the K-P Police Ordinance (KPPO) 2016 in conjunction with the ideals laid down in the Constitution. The ordinance provides the IGP autonomy over postings, transfers, tenures, promotions and accountability of mid to senior level police officers — a power which rests with the chief minister in other provinces. Ancillary clauses give legal coverage to already operational police units, such as the counterterrorism and the K-9 squads. It also empowers Public Safety Commissions and regional authorities to keep a check on police officers. The ordinance delinks the police from the bureaucracy when it comes to accountability and policy decision-making, a big departure from the 1861 Act or the Police Order 2002. It takes care of one of the most frequent complaints i.e., politically motivated police action — or inaction.
This ordinance sets new principles of authority in tandem with accountability. The police are now also required to assist the local bodies in law enforcement. The law separates the investigation function from operations. It also makes internal accountability an integral component though its enforcement would require zero tolerance of corruption and inefficiency. The relative security of tenure and oversight responsibilities to regional authorities under the new arrangement are likely to bridge the trust gap between the police and public.
Critics fear that the KPPO 2016 may turn the IGP into a czar but if the IGP embodies sincerity and commitment to the rule of law, as demonstrated by some of his recent actions, he can transform at least the officer cadre into a real public-focused force. One must not, however, attach unrealistic expectations with the new law. The generally corrupt socio-political environment represents the biggest hurdle in the way of its enforcement. After all, the police, too, are a microcosm of larger society, reeling from acute moral and financial weaknesses. Implementation of the KPPO, therefore, will remain problematic in the short term. There is no quick fix for deeply entrenched social behaviours. But for a start, the K-P government and the police hierarchy deserve credit for at least taking the first big step in a direction that we all have been pointing towards for ages. The key to long-term success though lies in the commitment and integrity of officers, an honest and responsible citizenry and non-interference by the political elite.
Imtiaz Gul is the executive director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies