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EDITORIAL: In a country reeling from the shock and horror of the gang-rape of a mother in front of her children on the motorway, Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Gulzar Ahmad has weighed in with his concern. Addressing the closing ceremony of a training workshop for judges of the district commercial courts, at the Punjab Judicial Academy, Lahore on September 11, 2020; the CJP ascribed the failure of the police to protect the lives and property of the people to having been politicised as an institution. He said even innocent travellers on the highways suffer serious crimes like the one mentioned above and it is shameful to note that there was neither a security system nor any safety mechanism on the Lahore-Sialkot Motorway (LSM-M11). The CJP reminded his audience that maintaining law and order was the prime function of a government, for which effective policing was indispensable. He said the government needed to wake up and restore the credibility of the police (never very high, one might add) by allowing the department to exercise initiative and settle its affairs on its own. There should be no interference by the government or any political person in the affairs and functioning of the police, the CJP stated. The autonomy envisaged in the Police Order 2002, whatever its lacunae and flaws, was precisely intended to bring about this result. But not much has changed in the sense that the 'politicisation' referred to by the CJP originates in governments' predilection to appoint officers to critical positions in police not on the basis of merit but political favouritism and objectives. The latest example of this is the recent row over the transfer of senior police officials in Punjab, the CJP reminded us, a development that was a reflection of the deteriorated system and political interference in the police department. CJP Gulzar Ahmad concluded on the despairing note that policing appeared to be in the hands of unprofessional, inept persons, which had seriously eroded law and order.

Terrible as the incident of gang rape on LSM-M11 is, it is noteworthy that the authorities were aware of the missing security and safety protocols and arrangements on this motorway. It transpires that the now transferred (because of the row over the appointment of CCPO Lahore Umar Sheikh) IG Punjab Shoaib Dastagir had made multiple requests to the Ministry of Communications headed by Murad Saeed to deploy the National Highway and Motorway Police along the LSM-M11, but to no avail. As if this were not bad enough, CCPO Umar Sheikh's stupid and abhorrent remarks regarding the victim of the gang-rape, essentially shifting the blame for the incident onto the victim, have aroused a firestorm of indignation, condemnation, disgust and calls for his removal. In the usual fashion of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted, in the wake of the incident and its fallout on political and citizen opinion, officials have gone into a flurry of activity to ensure motorways are safe. However, this has not prevented a robbery on the Lahore-Islamabad motorway near Sheikhupura on September 11, 2020. Reports say patrolling on this motorway has been reduced in recent times. This shows our bad habit of letting even good arrangements slip through sheer inertia with time. Many stretches of relatively new motorways throughout the country lack even basic facilities such as rest stops and filling stations, what to speak of security and safety. The government should review all these arrangements throughout the country and plug any inadequacies and gaps to ensure citizens, particularly women, can travel on these roads and highways without fear or insecurity. Last but not least, the federal and Punjab governments should pay heed to the CJP's words regarding avoiding politicising the police (or other departments, one might add) in the interests of good policing and governance, which after all would redound to the credit of none other than the government itself.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2020