Mishandling protests

Published December 7, 2017

THERE was no justification to keep the judicial inquiry report hidden from the public, other than the reason that it is a vast and devastating indictment of the Punjab government and police.

Under court order, and having recognised that the report could no longer be kept secret, the Punjab government on Tuesday released the report of Lahore High Court Justice Baqar Najafi on the Model Town killings in June 2014.

At the very outset, indeed in the midst of the horrifying violence that was broadcast live on television on June 17, 2014, it was obvious that unacceptable actions were perpetrated by the police on the relatively defenceless supporters of Tahirul Qadri. There are no legitimate circumstances in which 14 citizens can be killed and scores others injured by the police in an operation that was unnecessary and appeared to be politically motivated.

Almost certainly crimes were committed by officials that June day three years ago and there must be justice and accountability.

The recent debacle at Faizabad has underlined another worrying aspect of the Model Town incident: the politics of protest is growing in the country and with it the risk of violence in the streets is increasing.

That creates a new, twin challenge for law-enforcement and authorities: creating clear rules and chains of command for the use of force by the police and giving the police the resources and legal cover necessary to enforce order. The Model Town report suggests that ambiguous chains of command and unofficial orders allow responsibility for mistakes and errors to be evaded.

At its core, that is the problem of the politicisation of the police. No government, federal or provincial, current or past, has ever allowed the police to function independently. In Lahore, a specialised anti-riot police force has been created, but as long as its deployment is politically decided, there will always be the possibility of misuse of the anti-riot force.

An anti-riot force with clear rules of deployment and legally binding lines of authority is what is needed — something all governments have resisted, but that must eventually be implemented.

Of course, in dealing with violent protesters and other threats to law and order, the legitimate needs of the police must also be addressed. From adequate training and resources to legal indemnity for actions lawfully undertaken against violent protesters and other threats to law and order, the police force needs serious and sustained investments. In Punjab, the Anti-Riot Police Force Bill, 2017, has been proposed and it may have many sensible protections for the police.

A bill properly vetted by the Punjab Assembly, the police and representatives of civil society could go some way in addressing the current confusion and may become a template for other provinces to emulate.

The shocking events from Model Town to Faizabad have made clear that business as usual is no longer an option.

Published in Dawn, December 7th, 2017

Opinion

Editorial

1971 in retrospect
Updated 28 Nov, 2022

1971 in retrospect

The point of no return came when the military launched Operation Searchlight in March 1971.
Gender-based violence
28 Nov, 2022

Gender-based violence

IT is a war without boundaries and seemingly without end. A UN report on femicide released on Nov 25, the...
Battle against dacoits
28 Nov, 2022

Battle against dacoits

THE Punjab police is clearly fighting a formidable, and so far losing, battle against the criminal gangs based in ...
Policy rate hike
Updated 27 Nov, 2022

Policy rate hike

The decision to hike the policy rate by 100bps is a step in the right direction, even if intended to appease the IMF.
Vawda’s reprieve
27 Nov, 2022

Vawda’s reprieve

FAISAL Vawda should be relieved. After years of running from a reckoning for submitting a false declaration in his...
Gujarat’s ghosts
27 Nov, 2022

Gujarat’s ghosts

TWO decades have passed since the bloody Gujarat riots, one of the worst spasms of anti-Muslim violence witnessed in...