Praetorian rule of law

Updated 07 Oct 2017


The question many are asking these days is: ‘Who is running the country?’ The political headquarters of the federal government in ‘Punjab House’ from where a disqualified former prime minister is calling the shots or GHQ? The answer lies in who said what recently.

An annoyed interior minister said, “we will not let anybody challenge the writ of the civilian government and there cannot be a state within a state”, after being denied entry to an accountability court by the Rangers. As their boss and minister in charge, he was furious. His remarks were based on the fact that the Rangers are deployed by the government in aid of the capital city’s civil administration. They draw their internal security allowance from the interior ministry’s budget. They are supposed to be deployed by the chief commissioner, or his deputy, of the capital administration and work with the police in counterterrorism, patrolling and maintaining law and order when called upon to do so.

The minister is on a strong footing as far as the Constitution and the law are concerned. However, he knows that the military and civil armed forces under the command of serving army officers follow the praetorian rule of law under their own chain of command.

As aptly put by Christopher Eisgruber, president of Princeton University, “the art of disagreement is not only about confrontation, but also about learning. It requires that we defend our views and, at the same time, consider whether our views might be mistaken.”

So, Mr Minister, please reflect on the conduct of your own ministry, civil administration and the capital city police department serving under you. Ask yourself why the Rangers appeared on the scene in the first place. Can’t you recall the chaos inside and outside the accountability court during the former prime minister’s first appearance? Some journalists were manhandled; a security breach could have resulted in a terrorist attack. Who failed to maintain order then?

It was sensible of the SSP Operations to ask the deputy commissioner to deploy a Rangers contingent.

The police appeared helpless against the show of political muscle by your party workers and even ministers. So, it was sensible of the SSP Operations, Islamabad Police, to ask the deputy commissioner to deploy a 200-strong Rangers contingent to help the local police maintain order. What was wrong with that written request? Who asked the DC not to accept the request of the police for additional force? Did the chief commissioner consult you before turning down the police demand? If so, why did you deny this facility to the police and court?

The judge wanted foolproof security. He had been let down by the capital police at the previous hearing. Did you want to browbeat the judge by a show of political force? The brazen attack on the Supreme Court by your colleagues and party workers in 1997 has not been forgotten.

The SSP’s letter of requisition of Rangers was endorsed to the Rangers’ command in Islamabad. Shouldn’t the Rangers have been informed in time that the police request for their deployment had been turned down? The reasons should have been given. It was incumbent on interior ministry officials, the civil administration headed by the chief commissioner and the IG, capital police to properly coordinate and keep the contingent in reserve for any emergency. The accountability court judge reportedly said he did not order the Rangers’ deployment. However, in the court order of the day, he had words of appreciation for the civil armed force and the government for maintaining court decorum thanks to stringent security measures.

The minister, instead of fuming, could have considered the lack of proper coordination between police, civil administration and Rangers. His outbursts and lack of effectiveness of the capital administration have led to an outcry among serving and retired police officers. The interior minister must ponder over what the Panjnad Rangers are doing in the capital instead of guarding the Punjab border with India. Successive military and civilian governments have contributed to the militarisation of internal security.

A senior retired IGP Punjab pointed out the following: The politicians are not capable of comprehending the battle tactics of the military mindset and its internal and external war games. One of Ayub Khan’s first acts after imposing martial law in 1958 was to abolish the Punjab Border Police — a strike force at the disposal of the Punjab government to meet any emergency without depending on the army.

No civilian federal or provincial government can help succumbing to military pressures and arm-twisting unless they have strong, well-equipped, well-trained strike forces of their own. Gen Zia disbanded the FSF for this very reason instead of remedying its shortcomings and preventing its misuse. The civil governments and senior police command, especially provincial IGs, must act jointly to reduce their dependence on the army and stop ‘Rangerisation’ for maintaining order. This would require strengthening and depoliticisng the police, preventing interference in its professional duties and making its command effective. Unfortunately, there are no signs of this in view of policymakers’ myopic and self-centred attitude.

Another senior officer believes the politicians do not want the police at a level where they may face the same situation as with the Rangers recently. The interior minister should face these inconvenient truths. Can he send the Punjab Rangers back to the border? Like the proverbial camel in the tent, they are in the capital to stay. The Karachi and Quetta examples are before us. You asked for them in the capital and they did not need your permission to be deployed, civilian supremacy notwithstanding.

What if the ‘fiasco’ of not allowing VIPs into the court had been due to police deployment, police officers wonder. Many heads would have rolled instantly without any formal probe. Let’s see what will happen to the army officers who deployed the Rangers without taking the minister’s permission.

Please listen to a serving DIG police who says that civilian governments are short-sighted. They must invest in the police to develop the force into a neutral, law-compliant and operationally independent organisation which enjoys the public’s trust. This is the only way forward.

The writer is a former IG police.

Published in Dawn, October 7th, 2017