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Private protocols

Updated May 10, 2018

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THE chief justice of Pakistan’s recent order to withdraw 12,600 officers deputed for the security of unauthorised persons was met with mixed reactions: the police administration and common folk welcomed it, the elites did not. As usual, the media interpreted the news at face value, flashing the names of prominent recipients.

Several questions were not raised: under which law are these people entitled to police protection? are there credible threats to their safety and how are these assessed? are the assessors competent, neutral? what is the distinction between ‘entitled’ and ‘non-entitled’ security? what is the line between security and protocol? What was lost in the coverage was a debate on the police’s prime function of ensuring public safety.

Article 9 of the Constitution guarantees the right to life and hence makes no distinction between individuals. Article 1(a) of the Police Order, 2002, states that the police’s mandate is to ensure collective security. Post 9/11, counterterrorism and security were added to its primary functions of preventing and detecting crimes. This, along with a growing population, has led to a substantial increase in personnel. While this has resulted in more employment — and free security for the privileged — it has reduced the police’s functions mainly to security, and compromised its credibility in the public’s eye.

Chapter 18 of Police Rules, 1934, outlines the procedure, entitlement and quantification for personal guards to senior police officers, district judges and deputy commissioners, but over the years new stakeholders have entered the corridors of power. In the absence of an exclusive law or procedure for the provision of police guards, those who are in need of free security are often at daggers drawn.

The police should exist to ensure collective, not personal, security.

There is no classification of levels of security in Pakistan, for example, unlike in India, which has five levels, and through which federal forces provide protection.

Editorial: Withdrawal of police security

To protect VVIPs through an act of parliament, the Special Protection Group, India’s most expensive protection agency, was created. After Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination in 1991, the SPG Act was amended to also include protection for former prime ministers and their immediate families for 10 years after leaving office. Security needs of the heads of national and regional parties are also assessed and accordingly provided for.

In our case, many politicians face real threats, and protections should be provided according to the gravity of security concerns. Pakistan has witnessed multiple assassinations and attempts on political figures, yet we have neither enacted a law nor created a dedicated agency. Although VVIP security is covered in our Blue Book, there’s no formal procedure for security to be provided based on defined threat levels, therefore inevitably making such provisions random – or based on one’s social status.

And while Mumbai performs quarterly reviews on security needs, no such assessment takes place here, and security once provided is assumed to continue indefinitely. Nor are their defined rules regarding scaling security measures up or down, or withdrawing them altogether. While VVIP motorcades are defined in our Blue Book, there are no rules to check inconvenience caused to the public by armed motorcades used by private, influential individuals.

Practically speaking, the absence of centralised vetting and resources has resulted in blatant misuse of the police. For security, we still rely on district-level police, who are not trained or assessed for such tasks, and who become complacent and lose out on career progression while assigned for years to an individual’s security detail. These mounting security functions have resultantly compromised the police’s ability to maintain law and order and conduct investigations.

Nor is there any concept of paying for security in Pakistan. The state of Maharashtra, for example, recently modified its rules to require a private individual to submit a bank guarantee, after which a determination of whether one is eligible for paid security would be made. The protection fee will not exceed 15 per cent of one’s gross income; those with incomes below INR50,000 per month, and parliamentarians performing official duties, are exempted.

Influential persons must realise that free police protection is neither a right nor a privilege. Indian business magnate Mukesh Ambani, for example, pays for his state security detail. It is important to note that it is not only politicians, judges and bureaucrats who have legitimate security needs, which is why protection is given in India to Bollywood actors and high-profile members of other professions too.

Implementing a similar fee structure for Pakistan’s influentials to avail of will earn dividends, perhaps finally freeing up the police to do their intended jobs.

The writer is the author of Pakistan: In Between Extremism and Peace.

Twitter: @alibabakhel

Published in Dawn, May 10th, 2018