Historic opportunity

Published July 21, 2020
The writer is former IGP Sindh.
The writer is former IGP Sindh.

A SOUND foundation for administrative structures necessitates administrative units which can be easily managed and closely supervised. To meet the requirements of a growing population and challenges of public administration, governments create new administrative units at all levels of governance structures. In a federation, these can take the form of new provinces. For instance, in India, the total number of states has increased from 17 provinces at the time of independence to 29 states today.

A similar demand — both muted and pronounced — for new provinces has been observed in Pakistan. However, due to political pressures and vested interests of the dominant political parties, these aspirations have been ignored. Because of pressure from the people, only Punjab has taken a half-hearted step towards establishing an autonomous administrative region in southernmost Punjab, whereby an additional chief secretary and additional IGP (located in Multan and Bahawalpur) will address local concerns while exercising the administrative powers of provincial-level functionaries.

Like many other departments, the increase and growth of police has been exponential owing to population growth, urbanisation, the addition of new areas and specialised law enforcement to meet modern challenges. The police force in Punjab is 200,000 strong, and deployed in every corner of a vast area. Police leadership has long known that a single force of this size is difficult to manage. In 2001, when Pakistan decided to reform civil administrative structures, a historic opportunity arose to reform and restructure police, following the complete separation of the judiciary from the executive and creation of an empowered, autonomous and elected district local government edifice.

The task for reform was entrusted to a think tank in the National Reconstruction Bureau comprising police officers including this writer. The think tank introduced new concepts of civilian oversight, independent accountability outside the department, police depoliticisation and operational autonomy, and addressed the key issue of restructuring the police department itself. This had to be achieved within the ambit of the existing provincial unit. So, the police law proposed a new structure to improve senior staff officer support to the provincial police office (PPO) creating autonomous command units for improved operational policing and upgrading the post of regional police officers to the rank of additional IGP in regions with over 10,000 personnel.

Police can set the direction in South Punjab.

In the urban areas, it adopted the concept of a ‘general police area’ for creating an independent police force from within the existing police departments, also placing the four provincial capitals under this definition. The posts of heads of the capital city and large cities were upgraded to additional IGP and DIG and empowered on par with the PPO.

The PPO was authorised to delegate all his powers to his field and staff officers in the other general police area. It was envisioned the PPO would delegate powers to regional police officers, enabling police at the regional level to function independently, laying the ground for creating new police forces. The Central Police Office was to act as the general headquarters and attend to more important common facets of policing and security policy.

Due to the obstacles presented by a single province, this has not happened. Thus one sees a tendency to downgrade field assignments, including those assigned to capital city police officers. On the other hand, senior police officers of the rank of additional IGP in particular have not been able to fully contribute to the Police Order 2002’s implementation. In Punjab, there is an opportunity to lay the basis for an independent police force for the southern region and work out power sharing with the PPO without compromising his command. This can ensure a smooth transition to multiple independent police departments.

The police leadership has an opportunity to change the course of governance. In fact, two of the best leaders in the Police Service have key positions in Punjab. Additional IGP Inam Ghani posted to South Punjab is an outstanding field officer with a brilliant track record. The other IGP Shoaib Dastgir, the pride of the Police Service of Pakistan, is a visionary who is most suited to understanding the potential of bringing a positive change to people’s lives by creating an autonomous, accountable force in this neglected region. This will not only provide relief to the common man in law enforcement but also expedite an efficient and accountable governance structure, bringing to an end centralised governance while devolving power to the local level. History rarely presents such an opportunity which if acted on can vastly improve the lives of the people. The Punjab police leadership is well-poised to seize this moment. The time to deliver and to set the direction for great changes is now.

The writer is former IGP Sindh.

Published in Dawn, July 21st, 2020

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