Sisyphean task

July 21, 2019


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

THE Sindh Assembly after repealing Police Act 1861 has revived Police Order 2002 as it stood on July 13, 2011. The chronology of police reforms in the subcontinent is one of maintaining the status quo and effecting reversals. Prior to PO 2002, PA 1861 was in force for 55 years.

Next door, the Indian National Police Commission of 1979-81 recommended depoliticisation and reforms, but failed to garner political will. In 2005, the central government mandated the Soli Sorabjee Committee to draft a new model police act to act as a template for state legislation. The Justice Verma Committee Report 2013 also recommended police reforms.

In Pakistan, the police are perceived as inefficient, corrupt, brutal, unprofessional and politicised, but has there been any real effort at reform? Reforms have largely been cosmetic. Instead of structural readjustments, capacity building and financing, the focus has been on increasing the force’s numerical strength.

Police reforms are piecemeal and inconsistent.

In the subcontinent, the law-enforcement agency is yet to be transformed into a service provider. Moreover, though its legal framework is colonial, the police are part of a democratic polity. The Pakistan-India policing model is based on the Irish Constabulary that resembled an occupation force. The British, however, designed the police on the “Peelian model”, based on public safety and consent.

In 1902, the Indian Police Commission found that “the police force is … defective in training and organisation … it is generally regarded as corrupt and oppressive; and it has utterly failed to secure the confidence and cordial cooperation of the people”. Though the authors of the report admitted the ineffectiveness of their own policing model, we are still in a romance with our colonial legacy.

In 2005, the Indian supreme court ordered central and state governments to ensure operational reforms in the police and their functional autonomy. The judgement is based on seven directives including the constitution of a state security commission and police complaints authorities, two-year tenures for officers, and separation of investigation and operation functions. The directives have still not been complied with.

In Pakistan, Punjab recently sought comments to declare police a full-fledged department (which is not the case yet, despite police being the second largest government establishment in the provinces after education), an act that requires amendments in the Rules of Business 2011.

In May, Balochistan merged the levies with the police in three districts, which were then notified as ‘A-areas’. Such a merger also took place in 2005 but was reversed in 2008. Thus, police reforms here are a one-step-forward, two-steps-back process.

Under the PA 1861, the tenure of police chiefs is at the discretion of the chief ministers. Police chiefs may be removed without any reason. The new Sindh police law transfers administrative powers back to the Sindh government. Thus in the subcontinent as a whole, issues of functional autonomy, public safety, superintendence, depoliticisation and decolonisation are yet to be addressed.

The Sindh governor refused to give his assent to the revived PO 2002 on the grounds that it was inconsistent with the original legislation. In the bill, no less than 82 out of 190 sections of the original were deleted, making it in essence a new enactment.

In 2017, the Sindh High Court established the principle that the government’s superintendence of police be confined to policymaking, leaving internal administration to the inspector general of police. However, the new bill proposed that superintendence be with the provincial setup. Although the law as passed provides for public safety commissions, such bodies previously have been mostly dysfunctional. The prerogative to remove the IGP also clashes with the security of tenure principle. In a practical sense, law enforcement is effective teamwork. But the newly enacted law may hinder the IGP in transferring officers, thereby posing problems in building up his team.

Ambiguity about the validity of PO 2002 was also intentionally created after the 18th Amendment in order to explore justification for reversals. In 2011, Sindh and Balochistan repealed PO 2002 and re-adopted PA 1861, while Punjab with certain amendments adopted PO 2002 and KP enacted Police Act 2017.

For a strong federation, provincial autonomy in policing is necessary. However, the centre has a role to play in terms of internal security challenges, and issues of standardisation, hierarchy, police chiefs’ security of tenure, structure of police organisations, national public safety and institutional coordination. Effectiveness of the criminal justice system depends much on the quality of policing. Hence, issues related to the police law need in-depth parliamentary deliberations at the federal and provincial levels.

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

Published in Dawn, July 21st, 2019