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EDITORIAL: Prime Minister Imran Khan, while chairing a meeting in Lahore on January 15, 2021 on police performance and reforms, stressed the use of modern technology to control crime. He directed Inspector General (IG) Police Punjab to utilise all resources to protect the life and property of citizens. Imran Khan regretted political appointments in the police in the past that adversely affected its performance. Reiterating the principle that no one is above the law, he advised the police not to succumb to any influence or pressure and argued that police performance on the basis of equality before the law would lead to citizens’ satisfaction. Last but not least, Imran Khan asked the IG Punjab to focus on improving the image of his force.

The prime minister’s intentions may be good, but, as the old adage goes, the road to hell is paved with those. Unlike his general confession the other day that he and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) team were not adequately prepared when they came to power, the PTI provincial government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) during 2013-18 earned kudos for its police’s performance against terrorism and crime. On that basis, Nasir Durrani, a former IG KP, was inducted as chief of a police reforms commission in Punjab soon after the PTI came to power in 2018, but resigned in October of that year, clearly unhappy at the ‘revolving door’ of appointments and removal of high police officials in Punjab, rendering him unable to do justice to his assignment. That ‘revolving door’ continues to operate ever since under Chief Minister Usman Buzdar, weakening continuity of command, let alone leaving little if any room for reforms.

It would not be out of place to mention that our police, including that of Punjab, owes its historical roots to British colonial times. Although the foreign occupiers set up the police with the main aim of suppressing any native resistance to their rule, even the colonial rulers imposed an executive magistracy over the police as a restraining factor. The use of force, whether a lathi charge or opening fire, could not be resorted to without the executive magistrate in control’s order. Perhaps in their wisdom our foreign rulers realised the negative consequences of allowing the police a free hand without restraint or fetters. We inherited that system at independence, but in 2002, military ruler Pervez Musharraf’s regime enacted the Police Ordinance 2002, whose abolition of the executive magistracy controlling the police was backed up by a Supreme Court decision stressing the constitutional division of powers and functions of the executive and judiciary. The end result was a police off the leash. This may have been an unintended consequence, but if the framers of the Police Ordinance 2002 had taken a little time to acquaint themselves (if not refresh their memories) with the character of our police, perhaps they would have hesitated or sought some alternative to restrain what is essentially a corrupt, brutal force (individual honourable exceptions notwithstanding). Who, after all, is not aware of the so-called thana (police station) culture; the resort, more often than not, by the police to extracting bribes and indulging in extortion; the ‘normal’ investigative technique of torture; in recent times the incremental militarisation of the police because of the threat of terrorism, which has turned it, on top of everything else, into a trigger-happy menace? The recent examples of Osama Satti’s murder in Islamabad, former police officer Rao Anwar’s alleged 400 ‘encounter’ victims in Karachi, the terrible killing of innocents in Sahiwal by the Counter Terrorism Department point to a widespread if not universal malaise associated with the police. How can this ‘image’ be improved, as the prime minister has instructed, without changing these facts on the ground and transforming the brutal and corrupt culture that permeates the police? If Imran Khan is serious about this and means what he says, the appointment of officers such as Nasir Durrani to oversee the complete overhaul of the deeply entrenched negative culture and practices of the police may be a sine qua non, but will still remain an uphill task.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021


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