ONE major obstacle standing in the way of police reform in Pakistan is political interference in the affairs of the force. It is routine for political bosses to remove or transfer ‘undesirable’ officers, who may not be toeing the party line, and replace them with more pliant policemen. Though this may serve the petty short-term interests of the political elite, it has a negative impact on effective policing, and demoralises those in the force who are determined to carry out their duties as responsible public servants. Sindh has in the past witnessed tussles between the provincial administration and the police’s top brass; the case of former IG A.D. Khowaja is a high-profile example of this, becoming a cause célèbre with civil society. The matter went to the Supreme Court, which dismissed the Sindh government’s appeal against the provincial high court’s order that allowed Mr Khowaja to continue as IGP. In recent days, it appears as if another confrontation may be brewing in Sindh, pitting the current IG Kaleem Imam against the provincial administration. In a letter to the Sindh chief secretary, as reported in this paper on Thursday, Mr Imam urged the provincial government to “respect the spirit of the judgements ... and let this office play its due role in ... transfer and postings of police officers serving in the province”.
The background to the letter is to be found in some recent shuffling of officers in Karachi and Shikarpur by the Sindh administration, apparently without consulting the provincial police chief. In the letter, Mr Imam said he learnt of the transfers through “media reports” and that such “sudden and unplanned” moves demoralised the police force and undermined the command of the IG. The IG has a point here. While the chief minister is the highest elected office holder in the province and needs to ensure that checks and balances are maintained in the departments under him, abrupt transfers and postings are, indeed, counterproductive and need to be avoided. Moreover, going over the head of the province’s top police official sends the wrong message and harms departmental discipline. Officers must be given security of tenure and the assurance that there will be no political meddling in their work. If any complaints arise against the conduct of officers, these should be handled as per standard operating procedures. The Sindh government needs to establish a more professional working relationship with the provincial police hierarchy and avoid micromanagement.
Published in Dawn, December 14th, 2019