What’s the role of the police in a community? Is it to serve the citizens by ensuring their security or to maintain public order by coercive power?
Lawyers, human rights activists, journalists and citizen-based groups deliberated over these vital questions on Monday in a seminar where they presented a draft of the Sindh Police Act 2014, a preliminary dossier based on the aspirations of the citizens in the province and drafted by legal experts.
The event was organised by the Pakistan Forum on Democratic Policing, a consortium of civil rights groups working to improve community governance.
The draft is aimed at meeting the needs and challenges of policing in the present era. It notes a number of key guidelines, including depoliticisation of the police, financial autonomy, gender responsiveness, focus on vulnerable groups (especially women, children and minorities) and structural reforms to make the police more people-friendly and citizen-centric.
Justice (retd) Nasir Aslam Zahid, former Sindh High Court chief justice, oversaw the making of the draft. A number of lawmakers and senior police officials were also present on the occasion.
Muttahida Qaumi Movement leader Haider Abbas Rizvi said the problem lay with the centralised approach to policy for a city like Karachi.
“Until and unless we introduce community policing along with local administration, you cannot expect the police to perform,” he said.
Rizvi also stressed the need to recruit locals in the police force, who could take the ownership of their city or town.
Hamdard University Associate Prof Muhammad Akmal Wasim criticised the government’s decision to roll back the police ordinance of 2002 after the passage of the 18th amendment. He said the Sindh government was currently following the Police Act 1861, which was promulgated by the British government to clamp down on the natives after the 1857 munity.
“The current police act defines the role of the department as a force, intended to maintain public order in a colony.”
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf lawmaker Samar Ali Khan said the provincial government was based on nepotism, adding that the lawlessness in Karachi proved the administration’s failure.
He said various political parties had employed their own cronies to perpetuate their influence, which was unfortunate.
Representing the police department at the seminar, DIG Abdul Khalid Sheikh agreed that politicians had historically abused their powers and influenced the police to further their ulterior motives.
“No political party in power ever showed the sincerity to make the police department autonomous,” he said.
The DIG underlined the importance of operational autonomy for the police, an end to political interference and structural reforms in the police department.
The lack of resources in the police department was also highlighted by some of the speakers.
Citizens-Police Liaison Committee chief Ahmed Chinoy said: “A policeman begins his day early in the morning. He travels all the way to the station from his home far away. He is not allowed to carry guns or wear a uniform.”
He said that compared to the paramilitary forces like the Rangers, who were provided with accommodation and pick-and-drop facilities, the policemen in Karachi were not even provided with food.
Former National Commission on the Status of Women chairperson Anis Haroon, Rozan Managing Director Babar Bashir, Shehri representative Khateeb Ahmed, The News Editor Amir Zia and Aurat Foundation’s Mahnaz Rahman also spoke on the occasion.
Sindh Information Minister Sharjeel Inam Memon was invited to the seminar, but he did not show up.