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EDITORIAL: The removal of Punjab Inspector General (IG) Police Shoaib Dastagir comes as the latest episode in what has become a perpetual revolving door. Dastagir is the fifth Punjab IG to be replaced in the two years the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) has been in power, a fact that speaks for itself. The former IG got embroiled in the controversy over the government's appointment of Umar Sheikh as the Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) of Lahore, apparently while bypassing the IG. Subsequently, it transpired that the newly-appointed CCPO held a meeting of police officers in which he is alleged to have told them not to obey the orders of the IG in 'sensitive matters' and to report only to Sheikh. He is also accused of passing disparaging remarks about the IG, his commanding officer. Naturally, IG Dastagir was very miffed at these developments and tried to persuade both, Prime Minister (PM) Imran Khan and Chief Minister (CM) Punjab Usman Buzdar, that a disciplinary inquiry should be conducted against the CCPO and appropriate punishment administered. However, the IG's pleas fell on deaf ears, after which he had no choice but to request his transfer elsewhere. This 'request' was almost immediately 'accepted' by the government, choosing to retain the controversial new CCPO on his seat. But there was worse to come. The replacement for IG Dastagir as IG Punjab, Inam Ghani, turned out to be a BPS-21 officer, although there are more than 10 BPS-22 police officers available for the post. One immediate consequence (and embarrassment) of IG Ghani's appointment was the refusal by the Additional IG Finance Tariq Masood Yaseen to work under him as Ghani was his junior. These goings on have helped deepen the factional divide amongst police officers in the province as 50 senior officers met to express their solidarity with outgoing IG Dastagir. CCPO Umar Sheikh tried to join this meeting to also express his 'solidarity', but was barred. Despite the rapid rate of change of IGs over the last two years, the present fiasco reflects the deep disciplinary and chain of command crisis in the Punjab police, fuelled, some would argue, by the PTI government playing ducks and drakes with merit and appointing 'favourites' to critical positions. Some would say this is meant to pursue the PTI's partisan agenda in Punjab, others, that it is a reflection of the PTI's penchant for using the police against the opposition, a la National Accountability Bureau (NAB). A petition has been moved on September 9, 2020 in the Lahore High Court against these latest appointments of the IG and CCPO.

The police is not the only institution that has suffered the 'revolving door' set in motion by the PTI government in Punjab. In its two years in power so far, the PTI government has changed four chief secretaries, five deputy commissioners, and now five IGs. Arguably, in the process to have 'favourite' or malleable (read unprincipled) officers at their beck and call, the PTI government has created a disciplinary and chain of command crisis across the police and bureaucracy's ranks. 'Rough' treatment of civil servants at the hands of the frequently visiting PM is reportedly sapping the morale of the bureaucracy, and leading to paralysis in its decision making and working (to add to the 'contribution' in this regard by NAB). Given the latest fiasco regarding the change of IG, it is not hard to imagine a similar atmosphere amongst the ranks of the police. Is all this politic, or even in the best interests of the government itself? After all, no political administration can function without the bureaucracy and police on board. The present state of affairs does not bode well for governance in Punjab (or the country as a whole), CM Buzdar's 'not to worry, sab achhahai (all is well)' damage control statement notwithstanding.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2020

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