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Police: an isolated force


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RECENTLY, the Punjab Police established a model police station in the Vehari district under a provincial government programme to establish 51 such facilities. The thrust of the effort is to transform the ‘thana (police station) culture’ into a policing model where basic human rights are respected.

The term thana culture is used in Pakistan to refer to a general mindset on the part of the police which sees nothing wrong with abuses such as illegal detention, death in custody, corruption and the extraction of confessions through third-degree methods, all regular occurrences.

This is partly because when the police force was first set up by our colonial masters it was designed as a force to fight the public. It was not meant as a people-friendly agency.

Since independence, more than 20 commissions and committees have prepared reports about the ways to counter the thana culture, but we have yet to see any real change. These recommendations have tended to be general in nature, but hardly any effort has gone into translating even these into reality.

And yet, while the reality is that the thana culture is universally hated in this country, the police station remains the first step towards justice. Despite its flaws, it is still regarded as a symbol of the state that provides a sense of security.

There are some 325,000 male and female police personnel working in 1,544 police stations across the country. In more developed societies, policing is regarded as a service but here, it is regarded as an instrument of force. Are the police an isolated entity or a by-product of society?

Policing cannot be achieved in isolation from the public; the latter should expect service and security, while the police ought to be able to command cooperation, non-interference and respect.

The ideals of human rights cannot be achieved without communication between the police and the public. In much of the developing world, unfortunately, policing continues to be regarded as a non-developmental activity. On the other hand, developed countries have allocated resources to modernise their police forces.

Pakistan needs to give its police management some breathing space to present a realistic picture of the challenges and requirements of their profession. Where applicable, security of tenure, incorporated in the original text of the Police Order 2002, needs to be extended to the heads of police units, for this will result in the implementation of long-term projects.

In recent years the political and police leadership have realised that overall development in society is linked also to the capacity, development and image of the police force. Further, an autonomous police force should be fully accountable to democratic public bodies, not to individuals.

Nevertheless, in Pakistan policing remains a profession under stress and attacks are often carried out on police stations or personnel. When these are flashed across the media, the authority of the state is further eroded.

Here, unfortunately, setting up a police station is understood as erecting a building and providing it with a few men and a vehicle, when the force should be viewed as a specialised professional entity.

There are problems with the attitude of the public, too. Recently, crimes against certain high-profile people have put the police under tremendous pressure, but the public is reluctant to cooperate in the investigations, not realising that this might help the police to achieve success — and that success for the police translates to safety for the public.

Cooperation between the police and the public is essential for achieving arrests and conviction.

What are the other reasons the thana culture doesn’t change? One is that at the local level, police stations are used for political lobbying, thus becoming a source for strengthening already powerful individuals.

The stakes are high and for these individuals, status quo is the preferred option. They cannot afford a situation in which there is no room for nepotism, torture, inefficiency and so on — that is from where they draw their strength.

Change is possible, but only with cooperation between the police and the public. Policing needs to be made more adaptable, in line with changing technological and other developments.

Further, the police need persistent motivation from the public and the patronage of the government to stay committed to their task of combating crime; policemen need to feel themselves owned by and part of the public.

In this regard, the media can also play a role by focusing on those policemen killed in the line of duty, rather than constantly showing the force in a poor light.

An organised effort needs to be made to pay tribute to policemen such as Malik Saad, Safwat Ghayur, Iqbal Marwat, Sattar Khattak, Khan Raziq and Abid Ali. One of the ways to do this is by observing a special day of homage.

Policemen are expected to sacrifice their lives for society, but if society resists considering them a part of itself, how can a policeman maintain his dedication? In Pakistan, policemen are even assaulted in the streets.

As stated earlier, part of the problem is that provincial police departments have retained shades of imperialism. But the Motorway Police was conceived differently, with a service-oriented essence. Its success is proof that Pakistan can establish service-oriented and corruption-free police organisations.

Amendments to the law and the simplification of procedures cannot be achieved by the police; elected representatives need to do this. A policeman should be a symbol of security, and the police station of safety. With sufficient commitment, this can be achieved in Pakistan.

The writer is a deputy inspector general of the police.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (15) Closed

Agha Ata (USA) Jan 26, 2013 05:18pm
Vigilant Jan 26, 2013 03:42pm
I agree with author that we as a nation must recognize police scarifies to protect citizens and better people to police relationship is necessity of the day but i want to inquire how many times author who himself is high-ranking police officer was part of awareness campaign in schools or educational institutions??? During my whole student life never heard or saw awareness campaign regarding what police do & difficulties they face??? Pakistan police need grass root as well as policy & structural changes. All recently recruited police constables are graduates but some other lucky ones with similar education are CSP officers & constitute elite cadres of police force. Even-one must be hired as graduate & make his or her from constable to top positions.
shafiquk Jan 26, 2013 12:48pm
A very genuine assessment. In my view our police needs more in depth training and forensic support to be able to match the challenges of today.
G.A. Jan 26, 2013 03:28pm
There are good and bad cops even in Pakistan. Question is how many times have Pakistanis walked over to bunch of policemen standing in the heat and offered them cold water? How many times have people of a community gathered together and walked over to their local police station to offer food or medicine? They are humans too and dirt poor. Take care of them and they'll take care of your communities. Really doesn't take much and it's worth a try.
Sima Jan 26, 2013 11:09am
so to do, many things can be done. there are many policing models, besides UK, that are providing good services but who will do that?? The top bosses of Police force, in the first place, are themselves not interested to reform or restructure the force for they will have TO WORK to be promoted. For the time being they don't have to work and they still get promoted. In addition, the bureaucracy will never let the reforms take place for its vested interests. While, the current lot of myopic politicians neither have the vision of take appropriate decisions to ensure safety and security of the citizen of Pakistan nor are keen to withdraw sometime from doubling personal profits. Moreover, if the police is reformed and becomes public service oriented, politicians and bureaucrats will be its first catch. Lastly, Army Officers will also not be able to carry out any further attacks on Police Stations and conquer them. Bottom line is, INTRODUCE POLICE REFORMS by addressing its mother of malaise issue of the cadre system.
farmerdr Jan 25, 2013 09:48am
Is it feasible to re-organize the police on the lines of UK where they have Chief Constables working semi autonomously according to the need and funding by the county/division they serve. Every police officer including the Chief is enlisted as a foot constable and works his way up or not based on objective performance assessment?
farmerdr Jan 25, 2013 03:24pm
Thana culture can be abolished in a blink by senior Police officers if politicians do not intervene.
farmerdr Jan 25, 2013 03:20pm
Absolutely correct. Transparently fair and quick decision making on objective criteria by a mechanism whose due process cannot be influenced or perverted by personal whim of anyone whether PM, CM, IG, DIG, CS, General or Judge is highly desirable. Postings and deferred promotions on unfair grounds are highly demoralizing and lead to dis-affection from duty, inefficiency and submission to pressures against justice.
Walayat Malik Jan 25, 2013 01:45pm
The writer has missed one very important point of the structure of our police system. It is based on military pattern. It consists of men and officers. Hiring is at 3 levels: Policeman, ASI and PSP. In all Western countries the hiring is ONLY at bottom level. The constable (called police officer) rises up to become chief of police. The structure of police has to be changed. That is the solution.
Agha Ata (USA) Jan 25, 2013 03:00pm
You mentioned of colonial masters and police designed as a force to fight the public, but I may mention that police was at least hundred times better than it is now. If you were not against the government you were as safe as Zardari, all the times. You never heard of muk mukas, rishvat at such high scale, and killing opponents in police muqabla. The British did use police to maintain law and order when public created a problem for the rulers, but police was a lot better in many ways. One rule might help our leaders to keep in mind, authority and money in hands of illiterate or ignorant person is a deadly evil. He may be a policeman on petrol in a city or an MP. Solution: Recruit educated people in POLICE. Otherwise police would always be as isolated in the country as Pakistan is in the world.
Syed A, Zafar USA Jan 26, 2013 06:47pm
Although the writer has highlighted few policing problems quite honestly, but I differ from him on few things. We can not and should not compare motor way police from regular police, because of many reasons. 1. There is no doubt motorway police is relatively better but it is because of the founding efforts and brilliance of an exceptionally honest high ranking police officer, and of course it was primarily focused to secure the capital and provide safety to high ranking officers of the government, institutions and foreign diplomats who live in there. 2, it is true that there should be communication and co-operation between public and the police, but the society we live in, does not provide our public the opportunity to have a say or become partner of police. Public is only used when it is needed, and it is not provided full security in case it helps police in detecting crimes and criminals. I quite agree with the comments of Sima and other commentators. However, in order to identify the true problems and failure of our police, we have to find its true root causes and avoid giving traditional answers to our police's failure. Let me pin point few things which are major obstacle in the way of police reforms in my opinion. 1. The biggest obstacle in the way of police reforms in my opinion, is the federal control and command over local/provincial police besides its power of transferring, posting and promoting outside high ranking officers who neither know the culture and problems of other regions, nor sincere to resolve their problems. Also the unnecessary interference/influences of other institutions like our military, judiciary etc is a big factor behind the failure of our police system. The local police must be independent and served by the local people only. Because they are born there, know their problems, they can handle it better and they are more sincere than outsiders who are bound to serve the interests of their outside masters. 2. Our military officers must be barred from joining police through deputation or after their retirement. 3. All the police officers must start from bottom up and their promotions must depend on their performance, level of education and record of their good character. The last but not least, this Police Superior Service thing must be abolished because it is the mother of all problems in our police system. It provides chances of corruption, misuse of power, encourages to adopt culture of imperialism and sense of false superiority over general public and to become tool of rich and powerful politicians and feudal lords. It starts from top.
Afrem Jan 25, 2013 12:50pm
It is understood that the police's duty is to protect the communities. Why build special facilities and create more channels for corruption. What the government needs to do is to educate the existing force and some seriouis workout trainings to lessen some of the body load of our police jawans. The current force looks miserable and have a laid up mentality
Sarfraz Amjad Jan 25, 2013 05:46am
No matter what is done this thana culture will never change in Pakistan, just for the reason that all the things that this article write is on the top level they never get shifted to the lower tier. Secondly, police selection criteria is pathetic, all the constables and those gun men type policemen don't even have basic education. Respect is something that is earned not given, our police has never earned the respect of the people instead they have just looked at the ways of getting in to ordinary peoples pockets. Lastly, no ordinary person wants to get involve in the police saga, as most of us know you will be identified as person of interest or even main suspect in the cases before you were born (I have a personal experience with this).
Sima Jan 25, 2013 06:25am
Police needs to be reformed right from the recruitment process to service structure to post retirement. The biggest reason for its malaise, which Police Order 2002 failed to address as it was engineered by the individuals hailing from its elite class, is its current cadre system -patronage groups like PSP & Provincial- that devoids the force from espirit de corps and need to be abolished immediately. This can be achieved only if promotions in the service are made on the basis of performance instead of cadres currently in vogue. This will in turn, strengthen the Police Department and the officers will themselve struggle to make the force service-oriented. Without reforms implementation, it will continue to be the same no matter how many more MODEL POLICE STATION are established. It will degenerate eventually.
Afridi Jan 25, 2013 02:34pm
The precondition for the emergence of the police officer as a credible friendly figure is the professionalisation of the police,who could operate democratically ,without politicisation,with the community consent and according to the rule of law.