RECENTLY, the Punjab Police established a model police station in the Vehari district under a provincial government programme to establish 51 such facilities. The thrust of the effort is to transform the ‘thana (police station) culture’ into a policing model where basic human rights are respected.
The term thana culture is used in Pakistan to refer to a general mindset on the part of the police which sees nothing wrong with abuses such as illegal detention, death in custody, corruption and the extraction of confessions through third-degree methods, all regular occurrences.
This is partly because when the police force was first set up by our colonial masters it was designed as a force to fight the public. It was not meant as a people-friendly agency.
Since independence, more than 20 commissions and committees have prepared reports about the ways to counter the thana culture, but we have yet to see any real change. These recommendations have tended to be general in nature, but hardly any effort has gone into translating even these into reality.
And yet, while the reality is that the thana culture is universally hated in this country, the police station remains the first step towards justice. Despite its flaws, it is still regarded as a symbol of the state that provides a sense of security.
There are some 325,000 male and female police personnel working in 1,544 police stations across the country. In more developed societies, policing is regarded as a service but here, it is regarded as an instrument of force. Are the police an isolated entity or a by-product of society?
Policing cannot be achieved in isolation from the public; the latter should expect service and security, while the police ought to be able to command cooperation, non-interference and respect.
The ideals of human rights cannot be achieved without communication between the police and the public. In much of the developing world, unfortunately, policing continues to be regarded as a non-developmental activity. On the other hand, developed countries have allocated resources to modernise their police forces.
Pakistan needs to give its police management some breathing space to present a realistic picture of the challenges and requirements of their profession. Where applicable, security of tenure, incorporated in the original text of the Police Order 2002, needs to be extended to the heads of police units, for this will result in the implementation of long-term projects.
In recent years the political and police leadership have realised that overall development in society is linked also to the capacity, development and image of the police force. Further, an autonomous police force should be fully accountable to democratic public bodies, not to individuals.
Nevertheless, in Pakistan policing remains a profession under stress and attacks are often carried out on police stations or personnel. When these are flashed across the media, the authority of the state is further eroded.
Here, unfortunately, setting up a police station is understood as erecting a building and providing it with a few men and a vehicle, when the force should be viewed as a specialised professional entity.
There are problems with the attitude of the public, too. Recently, crimes against certain high-profile people have put the police under tremendous pressure, but the public is reluctant to cooperate in the investigations, not realising that this might help the police to achieve success — and that success for the police translates to safety for the public.
Cooperation between the police and the public is essential for achieving arrests and conviction.
What are the other reasons the thana culture doesn’t change? One is that at the local level, police stations are used for political lobbying, thus becoming a source for strengthening already powerful individuals.
The stakes are high and for these individuals, status quo is the preferred option. They cannot afford a situation in which there is no room for nepotism, torture, inefficiency and so on — that is from where they draw their strength.
Change is possible, but only with cooperation between the police and the public. Policing needs to be made more adaptable, in line with changing technological and other developments.
Further, the police need persistent motivation from the public and the patronage of the government to stay committed to their task of combating crime; policemen need to feel themselves owned by and part of the public.
In this regard, the media can also play a role by focusing on those policemen killed in the line of duty, rather than constantly showing the force in a poor light.
An organised effort needs to be made to pay tribute to policemen such as Malik Saad, Safwat Ghayur, Iqbal Marwat, Sattar Khattak, Khan Raziq and Abid Ali. One of the ways to do this is by observing a special day of homage.
Policemen are expected to sacrifice their lives for society, but if society resists considering them a part of itself, how can a policeman maintain his dedication? In Pakistan, policemen are even assaulted in the streets.
As stated earlier, part of the problem is that provincial police departments have retained shades of imperialism. But the Motorway Police was conceived differently, with a service-oriented essence. Its success is proof that Pakistan can establish service-oriented and corruption-free police organisations.
Amendments to the law and the simplification of procedures cannot be achieved by the police; elected representatives need to do this. A policeman should be a symbol of security, and the police station of safety. With sufficient commitment, this can be achieved in Pakistan.
The writer is a deputy inspector general of the police.