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Another ‘operation’ in Karachi

September 17, 2013

ONCE again an ‘operation’ is meant to cure Karachi. We have been here before. In 1992, Nawaz Sharif’s first regime launched an ‘Operation Clean-up’, subsequently converted into ‘Operation Blue Fox’ under Naseerullah Babar.

The relief it provided was ephemeral. Today Karachi is, if anything, in the worst of circumstances for it. How will this new operation launched under the latest Nawaz government be any different?

We need solutions more durable than such firefighting. Such a solution is no mystery, as it starts with two words: police reform. The police is the force that can and must enforce the law in our cities. Not the Rangers, the army or any paramilitary. Yes, the police need training, equipment, better facilities, and better pay. But before all that what must be fixed is this disastrous arrangement where police officers are only effective servants of political leaders, civilian or otherwise. We need a new arrangement whereby the only masters of the police are the people whom they are meant to actually serve. We need elected police leaders.

Pakistan has 27 divisions. Each division should have a police commander, whose term in office should be limited. However, his incumbency should be subject to an annual referendum where the people would determine whether to keep him in office. A majority of the population in every district must vote to retain the commander; if not, he must resign and appoint his own successor from amongst the district commanders. In this way, district commanders will think twice before undermining their boss in the hope of gaining his office.

The Election Commission of Pakistan should endure the impartiality of the referendum. In all other ways, the divisional police commander should be king of his castle. No political leader should have the authority to transfer him, limit his term or in any way harm his interest.

In case of gross misconduct, he is answerable to our courts like all other citizens.

Elected police chiefs are hardly unheard of; many jurisdictions in the developed world have such arrangements.

Whether any leader in Pakistan will have the courage to change our police structure so radically is an entirely different matter.

SHEHZAD S. SHAH Karachi