Police politicisation

Published March 16, 2020
The writer is former IGP Sindh and convener of the Police Reforms Committee, Law and Justice Commission.
The writer is former IGP Sindh and convener of the Police Reforms Committee, Law and Justice Commission.

IN the wake of the industrial revolution, London transformed from a bucolic setting into a busy commercial metropolis. Taking advantage of the anonymity conferred by a large city and the economic opportunities it created, criminals from all over flocked to this bustling city, triggering unprecedented crimes and disorder.

To maintain the peace, Sir Robert Peele introduced the concept of civilian police tasked exclusively with crime prevention in 1829, thus laying the foundation of the present-day policing system. It was only in 1842 that criminal investigation was entrusted to the police. Since then, London’s metropolitan police has pioneered and refined police systems that are followed by modern forces around the world. In the years that followed, it was British politicians who initiated and nurtured the concept of an autonomous and depoliticised police accountable to the public.

Maintained religiously for more than a century, the police chief’s security of tenure is the pivot of this system. Police commissioners are appointed for a five-year tenure, which gives them sufficient time to determine and implement the force’s objectives in line with the government’s political vision. Despite its share of blame and even scandal, the chief’s security of tenure has strengthened London’s metropolitan police, allowing it to evolve into a strong and professional institution.

In Pakistan, every political party has included police reforms in their manifestos. And in the National Action Plan aimed at dealing with terrorism, all parties agreed to revamp the criminal justice system. True to their manifestos, all new governments have initiated police reforms, resulting in 30 quality reports proffering excellent recommendations. These reports have repeatedly linked the effectiveness of meaningful reforms to the security of tenure of the police chief.

It is baffling that political parties have uniformly acted to obstruct reforms.

In view of this, it is baffling that despite their consensus on reforming the police, political parties have uniformly acted to obstruct the recommended reforms. The police structure is routinely destabilised through whimsical decisions related to the posting of provincial inspectors general. Obsessed with direct control of the police to influence constituency politics, the political leadership is totally oblivious to on-ground conditions and fails to realise the destructive domino effect of arbitrary IGP postings on the entire governance structure.

In recent decades, Pakistan has experienced rapid urbanisation and a phenomenal increase in the population, thus transforming societal behaviour. These changing dynamics have necessitated a substantial rise in the number of police personnel, thus expanding the command of the IGPs. Punjab has a force of about 180,000, while Sindh has 150,000 personnel, followed by 80,000 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (including erstwhile Fata) and 40,000 in Balochistan.

Armed and disciplined men tasked with preventing and detecting crime, these personnel also maintain order in society and, most importantly, provide security to senior government functionaries including the political leadership. Police in Pakistan have also been at the forefront of countering terrorism. They look up to their chief for protection, support and stability.

Arbitrary decision-making in the posting of police chiefs serves to demoralise the forces under their command and is a major reason for the wayward attitude of the police. It is common knowledge that IGPs are posted without proper process and that every appointment is made in haste without any safeguard for the tenure of this senior assignment. This unpredictable and fragile arrangement creates insecurity for the commanders, an experiential state which permeates to the lower ranks.

The posting of provincial police chiefs is serious business, and it needs to be processed and decided transparently. Despite Police Order, 2002, providing a proper procedure of consultation with a neutral institution to ensure suitable selection based on sound professional input, the procedure has been repeatedly ignored. There are Supreme Court rulings about the process and protection of the tenure of civil servants that have also been disregarded. The situation has progressively deteriorated with successive political governments.

Recently, the transfer of IGPs in the three large provinces has heralded new records of erratic decision-making, with extremely negative ramifications for law enforcement during a challenging period of transition in the country.

In the past two years, five IGPs have been posted in Punjab, whereas in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the number of postings has totalled four. In Sindh, due to resistance by civil society and political parties at the centre, IGP postings have been less frequent, but the provincial government seems to be in perpetual conflict with its own police chief, thus creating chaos in law enforcement. The government must realise that such confusion and disarray in governance is the outcome of flawed decisions that breed uncertainty and are inimical to economic activity.

The much-trumpeted police reforms and rule of law will remain elusive until and unless the government decides to post IGPs in accordance with considerations of merit and professional capabilities. It has to understand that police officers are not the personal servants of the ruling party but rather servants of the state who are mandated to strictly follow the law. The police must be held accountable for any deviation in implementation of these laws. This is achievable, and all that needs to be done is to follow the clearly delineated path of the rule of law.

As an exemplar, London’s metropolitan police have managed this superbly. In our context, the government too should strictly follow the principle of fixed tenure of IGPs. British politicians have done this for more than a century despite the challenges of two world wars and ensuing societal upheavals. If they can do it, our political leadership — which professes commitment to the rule of law and the parliamentary system — can surely follow suit, thus earning the gratitude of the people who have suffered for more than seven decades due to a flawed, compromised and fractured policing system.

The writer is former IGP Sindh and convener of the Police Reforms Committee, Law and Justice Commission.

Published in Dawn, March 16th, 2020

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