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Police’s political restructuring

November 14, 2017

AN organisation with large human resources can only function proficiently if a proper service structure has been provisioned for its members. This factor attains greater importance if the organisation supervises a disciplined force responsible for law enforcement. For such an institution, induction at different levels is determined by its size and the nature of the duties of the members of the organisation along with sound career progression.

The police departments in Pakistan perform important functions. Therefore the establishment of a structure based on internationally recognised standards is essential for their efficacy as a force. The police that we inherited at the time of Independence met the benchmarks of that period. To maintain order in Pakistan at the time of its inception, it was, therefore, possible to revive police functionality with the existing colonial structure, although this was not an ideal arrangement.

The police structure that was inherited had multiple layers of induction at three levels. At the entry level, a constable with elementary education was recruited and put through rigorous militarised training with the basics of policing and criminal law.

The middle level allowed the selection of educated candidates at the rank of assistant sub-inspector/sub-inspector. At the mid level, they were recruited through a selection process of candidates who possessed specified educational quali­fications.

At the senior level of supervision, assistant superintendents of police (ASPs) were recruited centrally from amongst the cohort of graduate candidates through a countrywide competitive examination. The bulk of the force comprised the lowest rung of the structure, performing routine duties of maintaining order and preventing the commission of offences. Only selected literate members of this level were imparted in-service training for promotion to higher levels, and the system allowed these police officers to rise to the rank of inspector.

The situation will take decades to reset even if such inductions are stopped.

A combination of these directly inducted officers and promoted officers from the lower level formed the backbone of the police department. They were directly involved in day-to-day and on-ground policing. They manned the police stations, supervised the constabulary, investigated the cases, performed watch-and-ward duties and maintained order.

At the third and highest tier, the assistant superintendents of police (ASPs) were recruited for command and control assignments of the police department.

This three-tiered induction had evolved on the basis of experience that called for the provision of a smooth promotion system that did not create distortions or conflict. For instance, lower-tier officers would be nearing retirement when they were promoted to the next level.

This was a neat arrangement for police officers progressing through various levels of induction and who did not end up in posts that were principally meant for officers recruited for a specific level of responsibility. It not only ensured a smooth transition but also combined fresh blood with experience at different levels.

Before Independence, there were some exceptions with the direct recruitment to the level of inspectors and deputy superintendent of police (DSPs) from the public at large. This was done purely out of political considerations, but the number was so restricted that it did not have any impact on the structure of the police department. These officers were absorbed by the system and accepted by their colleagues; as such, these inductions did not create any serious distortion or anomalies in the department.

The need to enact structural reforms to meet the new challenges of changing environments prompted governments of the time to exploit the system for furthering political opportunities rather than improve it. Governments with the stated intention of reforming the police started making exceptions to existing functioning police structures.

In the name of changing the thana culture, recruitment was done at the level of inspectors, and for engineered shortages DSPs were inducted. Then in the name of special requirements, officers from other institutions, including the armed forces, were inducted as superintendent of police and even deputy inspectors general. The results of these whimsical decisions caused opaque induction, violation of merit, conflicting/ competing claims on vacancies and administrative distortions with promotion blocks for juniors and groupings at command levels.

These also gave rise to litigation and a number of rulings that had a very negative impact on the discipline of the police forces. Some of these politically motivated decisions were set aside by the courts, but continuing multiple inductions have damaged the department, which is now facing very serious challenges in maintaining discipline within the force.

The situation will take decades to reset even if such inductions are stopped. The political leadership must understand the implications of interference in human resource management and realise that the key to good governance lies in merit-based human resource management for every department/ institution of the government, and more so for the police force that has the vital responsibility of maintaining order.

Police Order 2002 was an attempt to address this problem and provided induction through a transparent procedure. Its provisions ensure transparency and recognise the importance of harmony in an organisation that exercises the coercive powers of the state. Unfortunately, this attempt was frustrated in the name of the 18th Constitutional Amendment, and this law stands repealed by three provinces, with Punjab set to change it.

Police forces all over the world have a unique status as each is answerable to its own hierarchy, but each member of the force also has an inherent role that is independent of this hierarchy and all officers have legal powers that they exercise for which they are answerable to the courts.

This exclusive status of the police presents a complex and challenging dilemma vis-à-vis its management structure. This peculiar position, therefore, needs to be managed, supervised, guided and controlled through an intricate process.

Political interference in such a delicately calibrated management system can be fatal as the outcome will be chaos and anarchy that inevitably derails democratic governance. We are in the midst of such a chaotic situation, thanks to tinkering with the police organisation and the equally unwise decision to ask the army to take up policing. It is no surprise then that complaints of ‘institutional conflict’ follow when policing powers are given to other security forces.

The writer is a former IGP Sindh.

Published in Dawn, November 14th, 2017