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September 9, 2017

A step towards reforms

Editorial

 
September 9, 2017

The Sindh High Court’s restoration of AD Khawaja as the Sindh IG should be seen as the first step in long overdue police reforms around the country. Khawaja was removed from his posting early in his three-year tenure reportedly because the PPP government in Sindh was unhappy at his investigations into those close to the party. His dismissal was reflective of the attitude provincial governments have towards the police; they are there to serve the ruling party rather than the public. The Sindh High Court has now set the precedent – at least in one province – that police officials can only be relieved of their duties with cause. It has further said that any postings and transfers must be approved by the IG. This is particularly important in an election year, when ruling parties try to maximise their chances at the polls by placing loyal officers in important positions. The PPP has predictably criticised the decision as a political one by the judiciary, with party leader Saeed Ghani going so far as to say that the government should now not be held responsible for any law and order problems. This claim is disingenuous. The petition seeking Khawaja’s reinstatement was filed by concerned members of civil society and not political opponents of the PPP. And the only way to improve the law-and-order situation is with the police having the authority to take action against all criminal elements, no matter how influential they may be.

Khawaja’s return does not mean the many problems plaguing the police in Sindh will disappear overnight. The force has been wrecked by decades of corruption, postings that were not made on merit and politicisation, particularly in Karachi. This has led to a steady deterioration in the quality of policing, to the point where torture and bribery have become routine. Before his dismissal, Khawaja had tried to introduce a more transparent system of recruitment but that would only have been a small start. Now that his independence has been guaranteed by the Sindh High Court, he and those serving under him should have the freedom to operate without political pressure. But the political class needs to be part of the solution too. For years, the PPP government has promised police reforms to replace the outdated Police Act of 1861 but has failed to deliver. Inspiration could be taken from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Police Act of 2017, which has been widely praised but first the Sindh government will have to accept that the police force does not exist as its own private enforcer. Only then can a genuinely independent force emerge.