RECENTLY, during a routine patrol near Bahawalnagar, police officials encountered a few unruly, drunk individuals. When they tried to book them for possession of liquor, they beat up the police officials. The matter was reported to the SHO for registering an FIR, but he ignored it.
District Police Officer (DPO) Bahawalnagar Shariq Kamal got to know about the incident through police informers and suspended the SHO. He also made sure an FIR was registered against the culprits — who were henchmen of the local MNA from the ruling party — and arrests were made. This particularly irked the MNA as letting his henchmen get arrested meant admitting the limitation of his power and influence. It became a matter of ego for the politician and he demanded that the DPO pay a visit to his dera and apologise in the presence of his cronies or be ready to face the consequences.
The DPO obviously ignored the absurd demand and refused any such apology. He stood his ground and believed that the department would back him. To cut a long story short, the DPO has been made officer on special duty. Reportedly, the orders for his demotion to OSD were issued in light of directions by the prime minister. The chief minister of Punjab, who ever so often during his ‘surprise visits’ to the victims of various crimes is seen insulting police officers for their reluctance to register cases against influential people, was nowhere to be seen appreciating the DPO for doing the right thing. The reason behind his absence must be lack of media attention on the issue.
The MNA carried the day against the all-powerful Punjab police and gave the masses another reason to vote for him because now he was somebody who could get his way even against the notorious force. Nobody cares if such decisions dilute the state’s writ: what matters is that the ruling party retains an electable for many future elections. This give-and-take is the trick to win elections fair and square; the sooner other competitors learn it, the better.
If action is not ‘politically correct’, the state will not stand by you.
The Chotoo gang which made headlines recently and required an army operation to force their surrender was on the run back in 2011, thanks to the efforts of DPO Sohail Zafar Chattha. The gang members including their leader crossed over to Balochistan and dispersed. However, as soon as the DPO was transferred, the gang regrouped and within 15 days reoccupied the abandoned posts. The outgoing DPO’s recommendation that police check posts should be established in the area to avoid the gang’s resurgence fell on deaf ears.
The reason why police officers did not take action as prescribed by the transferred DPO can be attributed to political influence and a general lack of motivation. Police officers know that if action is not ‘politically correct’, the state will not be found standing by you. You are on your own, so better save your skin before going on a crusade.
The police end up in a spot of bother only when they lock horns with a mightier opponent. When it comes to the general public they rule the roost. Recently, a district superintendent of police accused of rape was allowed to talk to the media as if he was some sort of a celebrity. Despite being in police custody, he was given full opportunity to address the media and appeal for compassion.
No doubt that he is innocent until proven guilty but under what law was an accused allowed to present his case before the media? When his colleagues can show such leniency towards him, how can the same personnel
be expected to carry out an impartial investigation against him? Needless to say, no action was taken against those who allowed him that latitude.
Next time when there is a case in the media spotlight and the chief minister goes blue in the face decrying the negligence of police officers or their preferential treatment of a more influential wrongdoer as compared to the poor victim, I hope someone would remind him of cases similar to that of the Bahawalnagar DPO who has been sent packing for taking a stand.
Lastly, it would be clichéd to suggest that the Punjab police force needs some major reform, but what is even more important is for the government to stand by its police force and encourage professional and principled decision-making rather than punishing the same. The practice of using police for personal gain and to win political loyalties must come to an end.
KP has shown some progress in reforming its police, but the rest of the country lacks competent police forces despite having plenty of competent officers on board. I hope the leadership recognises the merits of institution-building, for institutions last much longer than concrete structures.
The writer is a former civil servant.
Published in Dawn, May 17th, 2016