THE sheer scale of the problem is evident from the numbers: 12,600 policemen across the four provinces and the federal capital deputed to provide security for unauthorised individuals.

Among the unauthorised individuals enjoying police security at the taxpayers’ expense are politicians, judges, police officers, bureaucrats, foreigners and well-connected civilians. Chief Justice of Pakistan Saqib Nisar has demonstrated the power of the law by issuing a seemingly straightforward order to inspectors general of police across the country to withdraw police security from individuals not authorised by the rules to receive such security. The effect has been immediate and massively disruptive. It is hoped that the right lessons will be learned from the exercise.

To begin with, two competing sets of realities ought to be acknowledged. A great many of the 12,600 policemen deputed on security duty were likely protecting individuals who did not need such protection and may have only sought police security as a status symbol. However, there are also surely cases where such security was necessary and merited. The problem is that no government, provincial or federal, has made it a priority to update and rationalise the rules under which police security is provided so as to objectively determine which individuals need it.

Perhaps it can be argued that the chief justice’s order ought to have taken into consideration the legitimate security needs of some individuals. The approach to be adopted in Islamabad, as announced by IGP Azam Temuri, may be a sensible middle ground: creating a committee headed by the DIG police security and including representatives from Nacta and intelligence agencies to deal with requests for police security. The wrong way forward may be the one opted for in Sindh. To seemingly circumvent the chief justice’s order, the home department in Sindh has simply issued an order to increase the categories of individuals who are entitled to receive police security.

A tug of war between institutions is unnecessary and will reflect poorly on everyone involved. The long fight against militancy and extremism has clearly created a security threat for some individuals and they deserve state protection. But police forces across the country are under-resourced and overstretched, and it is vital that police duties are streamlined and rationalised with a view to maximising public safety and security. Too often the decision to provide police security is a highly politicised and personalised process. Such decisions need to be taken by professionals exercising their best judgement. Perhaps the Supreme Court itself can seek advice and relevant opinion on the matter and suggest a path ahead for police forces across the country. VIP culture needs to be discouraged, but the state’s responsibilities need to be factored in too.

Published in Dawn, April 23rd, 2018

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