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Opinion

January 4, 2017

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Police, politics and the public

Police, politics and the public

A couple of smart cops greeted me and led me to a big room with multiple screens on the wall inside a Victorian gothic style building – the Central Police Office – near the chief minister secretariat on Sahibzada Road in Peshawar cantonment.

It is the room of the newly-established data analysis facility under the police access services by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police.

The data analysis section is actually a control room where the identity of citizens is verified and then sent to constables who check the national identity cards from everywhere in the province. It is connected with Nadra. Besides this, vehicles on the roads and criminal records are also clarified by this system. One of the main functions of this facility is to preserve and protect the crime scene which is very important during the course of investigations. There is also a database of pictures of crime scenes in the system – whenever a crime or accident happens, the police present at the spot send pictures to the room. During my first ten minutes in the control room, I noticed alerts of crimes in Nowshera district.

Another feature of this kind of e-policing is the police access service. This service is available to every citizen and complaints can be lodged through an SMS. The moment an SMS is sent to one of these numbers from anywhere in the province, it instantly appears on the screen in the system. A deadline of 24 hours is given to redress the complaint if it is complete. In the online presentation, I counted more than 159,000 complaints addressed. The much-trumpeted online FIR is not an FIR in the legal sense. I was told that any FIR registered online using the system is considered a complaint and sent back to the concerned police station for further inquiry and action.

The officers on duty told me that all the IT initiatives have been carried out within the limitations of the usual annual budget for the police department. They further said that it was the vision of the incumbent police chief, Nasir Khan Durrani, who was appointed inspector general of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in September 2013.

Though very commendable, these measures have not yet reached out to the faraway districts and villages. In one of the presentations, I saw that Peshawar district was the major beneficiary of this e-policing followed by Mardan district.

A number of factors are involved in the minimum utilisation of IT-based access to police initiatives. The public still seems disillusioned with the police given the latter’s historical baggage of corruption, nepotism, political affiliation and lethargy. At the basic unit – the police station – people are still haunted by the same colonial rod. Most of the police station in-charges still favour the locally and politically powerful. The public is also unaware of all these reforms in the police system in their province. The local police station never bothers to educate people as how they can avail these facilities. The police stations also shy away from being involved in rigorous investigation of crimes.

These initiatives appear to be a one-man’s vision. I asked what would happen to these initiatives after Nasir Khan Durrani’s retirement after six months. I was told that these and other initiatives need permanent legal cover from the government.

As for the legal cover and police reforms, the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa made a temporary arrangement in August 2016 by passing the KP Police Ordinance 2016. Inspired by Police Order of 2002, the ordinance is perhaps the first attempt by any province to have a law for the police in the wake of the devolution plan in the form of the 18th Amendment to the constitution in 2010. This ordinance has greatly reduced the political interference of the in-government-politicians by giving tenure security to the provincial police chief and by fully empowering him to transfer and post officers of his choice.

This is commendable and is rightly touted by the PTI, which governs the province. Furthermore, the ordinance has created a number of commissions and bodies in an attempt to make the police more accountable to the public.          

A number of questions are, however, left unresolved in the ordinance. The chief minister’s discretion in appointing the provincial police chief was removed by giving autonomy to the inspector general on the presumption of fairness and integrity on his part so as to counter the meddling of the political representatives in the affairs of the police. It seems that it has been done while keeping in mind the incumbent police chief.

The ordinance has made internal accountability an integral component, but its practical implementation needs zero tolerance of complicity and corruption.

However, there are a number of measures taken in the form of commissions to address this question. The commissions that were proposed in the ordinance need not be mere advisory bodies. They need to be fully empowered to hold the police accountable to the public. However, these commissions introduced in the ordinance must ensure capacity-building of members so as to minimise their interference in the internal administration and operational matters of the police.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has been the worst victim of terrorism for the last several decades. Military offensives cannot be a permanent panacea. It is the police that becomes the first victim of any terror attack and is also the long-term force to meet this hydra permanently. In order to bring consistency in the performance, efficiency, training, outreach and accountability of the police, the KP Police Ordinance must be enacted as an act before the date of its expiry on January 26 this year.

 

The writer heads an independent
organisation dealing with education and development in Swat.

Email: [email protected]

 

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