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Don’t blame the police

With everysingle day passing, the criminal justice system in Pakistan appears to be failing in playing its role in internal security matrix. Courts and corrections, as the components of this system normally remain immune to public outcry and public out lash, while Police, the third important component of this justice system,literally becomes a punching bag for the media as well as the public at large.
While Police remains the principal institution to maintain order, it has clearly been outperformed by the novelty and dexterity of criminal networks and discrete terrorist organizations. Poor discipline of the force is another major issue which instigates public to call for bridling reforms to keep the perceived beast under control. On the other hand Police cannot defend itself against the charges levelled and propagated through an aggressive media as probably it has accepted the reputation and label awarded to it by masses. Due to this, the environment in which the police operates, remains hostile, aggressive and disapproving of the department. Thissetting is further complicated by religious and political activism which badly shake up maintenance of law and order from time to time meanwhile Police is left at its own to handle the issues for the government.
Recently a lot has been written and talked about much needed reforms in the Police. A “will” which lacked previously now seems to appear in political hierarchy to work towards a reformed and stronger police which is facing public wrath due to its poor public image. The apex court in the country is emphasizing the need for ensuring administrative autonomy of police terming it as important as the independence of judiciary.However, the reforms being talked about these days are restraining and restrictive in nature with an unwitting bias against the Police. At least this is how the Police as an institutions looks at these reforms. A negative pulse prevails amongst all the ranks of Police that the institution will be subjugated to Pakistan Administrative Serviceswhich the police has resisted fervently since long.
The history of reforms in Pakistan is old as the country itself which I have already explained in my previous column titled “Policing the Police”. The issue that could not be discussed in earlier columns was the inability of policy makers in Pakistan to understand the actual root causes of the problem that needs to be fixed. Nothing justifies the rough treatment of police with masses. Police as an institution has paid heavily in terms of trust-loss and its miserable reputation, but it needs to be explored if disciplining the police officers and putting them under Babos (name for the bureaucrats used by police officers) the only way left to persuade cops to maintain happy-going relations with the masses. Will the reforms introduced in this manner be acceptable to police which considers the bureaucracy as part of problem and not part of the solution? It is true that average Pakistani does not trust the police but does he trust the bureaucracy which remains unresponsive and unsympathetic to him? At least police is available to face his abuses, stones and batons on the roads while bureaucrats remained entrenched behind their desks during law and order situations. Is not the police most obvious institution of the state representing the government on the streets ever ready to face anger, abuses and bullets by mobs frustrated with the poor quality of governance? Is the police responsible for complacency by political governments in existing systems where the governments failed to invest enough in law enforcement capacity building of the force? Why police in Peshawar, Lahore, Islamabad or any other part of Pakistan be expected to behave like NYPD cops orFBI detectives in Quantico, Virginia while no constructive investment has ever been made to improve Pakistani law enforcement structure and its capacity? One may raise his hand and inquire that is not Pakistan amongst the top five police-contributing countries to the United Nations and over the past several years’ interaction with international police contingents should have groomed, trained and benefited hundreds of our cops? True, but does Pakistan’s Ministry of Interior has any mechanism to use those returning cops to utilize their experience in a way that benefits the police on the whole?
It would be easy to whip police and put them to face harsh criticism but it is a fact that not every shortcoming of the police can be attributed to the force and its officers. Internal professionalism and competence are the issues to be addressed by police but giving this force required strength to defy unlawful instructions that comes from the political and bureaucratic channels is more important.
Police cannot be blamed for the historical impediments in the way of institutions much needed reforms. It cannot be held responsible for the lack of funds, insufficient resources, their underprivileged training facilities and outdated equipment. I would never blame Police for political manipulation that has destroyed this institution and insatiable yearning of both the bureaucracy as well as the politicians to get full control over the law enforcement institutions. We need to see if the existing police rules and already worked out reforms by committeesare being pondered and followed. I feel that making more reforms, rules and SOPs will make the police job even more difficult since I have seen the police officers who try to stick to the rules often face stiff resistance, are often side-lined, transferred, made OSD (officer on special duty) and subjected to baseless proceedings of a disciplinary nature? Till the time the unwitting bias against the police and imperial mindset that prevails amongst the law makers, political government functionaries and bureaucrats is addressed, this very important pillar of criminal justice system will remain weak, corrupt and indifferent from the public it is supposed to serve.
It is high time to give police a new direction and orientation, assembling it more as a service provider and less of an instrument of suppression.Beyond any doubt exploitation, dishonesty and corruption blossoms in an environment, where police are used as an instrument of force, terror and clampdown. With better training, improved logistics, better career planning of police officers, freedom from all supervisory interferences in operational matters by bureaucrats and political office holders, any reforms introduced would be fruitful and productive. With halfhearted efforts in this regard, our dream for a peaceful, stable, prosperous and progressive Pakistan would remain an illusion.



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