THE Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial assembly was witness to an unusual spectacle on Friday — a meeting of minds between the treasury and opposition benches. Legislators across the aisle expressed their reservations about the provincial police force that, according to them, was abusing the powers it has recently acquired under an ordinance and committing excesses against ‘innocent’ people. The heated discussion came about after the deputy speaker referred two privilege motions, one moved by a cabinet member and the other by an opposition MPA, to the relevant committee of the house. A number of legislators threatened they would not support the passage in the assembly of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Police Ordinance 2016 which has further enhanced the powers of the police.
Nothing rankles with ‘VVIPs’ in our society quite as much as being reminded they are not above the law. After all, what is power unless accompanied by the privilege to bend the rules with impunity? One suspects that is largely the sentiment that animated the outcry against the KP Police Ordinance 2016 in the assembly. However, a more impartial view indicates that this legislation is a step in the right direction. A professional police force is an independent entity that upholds the law without fear or favour and serves the public rather than functioning as a handmaiden of the powers that be. Political interference in postings, procedures, etc is the main driver of corruption and inefficiency in police across the country. The 2016 ordinance addresses this problem by setting up transparent procedures of recruitment and promotion and, crucially, by giving the powers to post/transfer senior police personnel to the IGP, rather than to the chief minister as was the case earlier. The evolution of the KP police can be seen in the fact that Sindh and Balochistan police are still functioning under the colonial era Police Act 1861, while law-enforcement in Punjab is governed by the Police Order 2002 which was in force in KP too until the new ordinance. However, every law has room for improvement. Even though the legislation stipulates enhanced punishments for police officers guilty of various offences including unlawful entry and torture, there may well be shortcomings in some aspects of oversight and accountability that will emerge with time. These can be addressed without undermining the hard-won independence of the KP police, and which should be emulated by other provinces as well.
Published in Dawn, September 26th, 2016