By Imtiaz Gul
The News, July 18, 2014
The removal early July of the Sindh police chief Iqbal Mehmood after a mere three-months in office makes a perfect case study for the need to revamp the police force across Pakistan and liberate it from political-bureaucratic clutches.
Following weeks of squabbles among aspirants and their patrons, Iqbal Mehmood had assumed the charge as the new IGP Sindh in the first week of April 2014. Mehmood’s removal is shrouded in mystery. More recently, the re-appointment as AIG of Naeem Sheikh, who was replaced by Tahir Tanveer for a short period, has raised more eyebrows. While no plausible explanation is available from the centre, official sources in Karachi attribute the demobilisation of the IGP to two controversial issues – procurement of armoured personnel carriers (APCs) for the Sindh Police and the trimming of the IG’s administrative powers.
Officials insist that Mehmood had left the post of the IGP Sindh on his own and was not attending office over the last five days. These officials, quoted by the media, insist that “the Sindh government basically wanted kick-backs in the procurement deal of the APCs for the Karachi police. They simply wanted the IG to sign the procurement papers.”
Iqbal Mehmood resisted pressure for signing the APC deal, and wanted to constitute a panel comprising ministers of the Sindh government, the home department and the police department to scrutinise and oversee the deal.
He probably remembers that one of his colleagues, Malik Naveed, indulged in a similar APC deal and is now facing trial for corruption worth hundreds of millions. Naveed is currently facing a National Accountability Bureau (NAB) reference for having allegedly been instrumental in a RsRs1.8 billion procurements’ scam in 2008-09.
As for the IG Sindh, the chief minister had stripped the police chief of certain powers, including the authority to transfer officers of SP and SSP ranks, and passed this on to the provincial chief secretary.
The Sindh IG could now only transfer and post officers of the DSP rank, which he apparently saw as an assault on the primary role of a provincial police chief. He had reportedly transferred several officers of the SP and SSP cadre and replaced them with officers he considered fit and deserving.
This episode is a classic case of how the police function in Pakistan in general, and this also explains why the absence of a unified service structure has rendered this force partially dysfunctional in cities like Karachi.
A few considerations to understand what happened, what is happening and what could be the way out:
In Pakistan in general, and in Sindh in particular, the problem begins with recruitment and goes up to transfers, posting and promotions. Background interviews with senior serving and retired police officers and bureaucrats in Sindh clearly suggest that most of the lofty talk on merit and transparency is mere eyewash for public consumption, and is hardly helpful in bringing about institutional reform.
Reversal of the Police Order 2002 presents perhaps the best example; the law was meant to empower people on the local level, making police independent of the political and bureaucratic influences with a strong accountability system.
Instead of using the Police Order 2002 to reform the system, it was scrapped altogether in Sindh because the ruling elites tend to use and abuse police to their advantage and not for the benefit of the public – and hence the department suffers from inefficiency, capacity deficiency and rampant corruption.
A cursory look at the Sindh Police is instructive; out of a little over 100,000 personnel for the entire province some 34,000 policemen are deployed across Karachi. Over 4,000 are on protocol/VIP security duty, while about 12,000 are working as drivers, gardeners etc. That means only 18,000 are available for city policing, fighting crime and controlling law and order in a city of roughly 20 million. About 3,000 of the police are deployed for investigation purposes.
These figures paint a grim picture; the future of the 20 million population of Karachi city lies in the hands of a force of 18,000. Ironically, though not unexpected, this force, however frightening it may look with its tough looks, attires and weapons, remains ineffective and inefficient to enforce law, protect citizens’ rights and liberties, limit civil disorder and counter terrorist activities. What else could be expected from a force that lacks the basic equipment to carry its responsibilities?
A CPLC report revealed that out of 112 police stations in Karachi 17 do not have toilets. There are no police vehicles in four police stations, while in eight police stations there is not even a motorcycle. The furniture in over 50 police stations is damaged and not worth using. In addition, the police lack investigation skills and training and basic on-job security equipment including bulletproof jackets and helmets, and so, still resort to traditional extracting confessions through torture, creating false witnesses and evidence.
The next looming question is how and what could drive the police force to work effectively and efficiently in the provided unfortunate circumstances? One possible answer is their personal and professional growth. Lower salary is another big obstacle in the way of honest discharge of duty against terrorism and criminal mafias in the province. The absence of any or little welfare incentives leaves the police with not many options but to welcome bribery and corruption with open hands – thus facilitating an atmosphere more prone to politicization.
The way out of this situation is not a convenient one. Through targeted intervention, both short and long term, the whole department needs to be restructured, reconstituted and reformed. First of all, the system should get rid of the inherited and centuries-old legislations and revamp itself with fresh laws, transparency, accountability, trainings on modern technological lines, ethics, merit-based recruitments, gender balance, basic legal education, latest arms, and without overlooking incentives for the officers.
Ostensibly, the reform and restructuring of the Sindh police department is hardly on the agenda of the ruling elites. Most probably because this existing handicapped police structure best suits their interests. The cases of IGs Iqbal Mehmood and former AIG Tahir Tanvir pretty much explain the prevailing predicament of the police department and only underscore the need for substantial reforms to turn the police into a community-focused, law-abiding, independent and efficient force in Sindh as well as elsewhere in Pakistan.
Imtiaz Gul is the executive director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies