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October 7, 2017

The police and the Rangers


October 7, 2017

The police force is a civilian entity, which mostly comes under the provincial government and reports to the provincial home minister and chief minister. When a police officer misbehaves or does something that is beyond the pale of his duties, normally a suspension order is issued pending a departmental inquiry.

Despite an overwhelming popular perception of police corruption, it is the police that keep whatever order there is in towns and cities. True, the law and order situation is not ideal even when the police are there but you remove them and see what happens.

The conditions under which the police operate are much worse compared to some other security agencies that came under the purview of the federal interior ministry. The living conditions of police personnel are extremely disturbing. Have you ever wondered who gives water to the traffic police constable sweating under the sun? When nature calls, where does he find a toilet to relieve himself? Who washes and irons his uniform? How is he unable to excuse himself from duty even if he is ill? How does he reach his post of duty?

The training that is provided to the police is substandard, to say the least. Government after government has neglected their proper capacity development. In case of an encounter with dacoits and robbers they lack accurate retaliation skills and get killed while the criminals escape. The police are blamed for cowardice even if they sacrifice their lives but fail to apprehend offenders, not because they are scared but due to a lack of appropriate leadership. Their weapons are mostly outdated in the face of an adversary with much more advanced weaponry.

The police are assigned VIP duties and a large segment is not available for public protection. Be it     Eid,          Ashura or other public holidays, especially religious ones, police personnel are never with their families. If something untoward happens they are blamed for negligence and their continued presence is forgotten. They are outnumbered by criminals by a large margin yet most crimes are blamed on them. Police personnel are repeatedly humiliated and scoffed at not only by the public but also by other security forces that operate under the federal command.

Now think about what happened in Islamabad this past week. The Rangers are reported to have left their duties at parliament and sought a written request from the civilian authorities. This was in retaliation to the outburst of Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal after he was stopped – along with other ministers and journalists – by the Rangers at the gate of the accountability court. When Ahsan Iqbal talked about ‘a state within a state’ he was simply repeating what the former prime minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, had mentioned on the floor of the National Assembly around six or seven years back.

The sheer arrogance within subordinate institutions regarding civilian authorities and political leaders has become legendary in Pakistan. Be it General Ayub Khan humiliating and swearing against leaders such as Suharwardy and Fatima Jinnah, or the worst possible treatment meted out to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto by General Zia’s state machinery, the list of such humiliations is long. Who can forget Nawaz Sharif being handcuffed and tied to the airplane seat in 1999-2000? Who doesn’t remember Kulsoom Nawaz being lifted by a crane when she was in her car? Now in this litany of incidences another act has been added.

Had it been a police officer misbehaving with, or not listening to the interior minister, the entire police high command would have been suspended immediately. And here, in this case, the interior minister kept shouting and didn’t have the courage or power to issue at a least a suspension order to the officials concerned.       His authority appears to be on paper alone. Writing letters and calling for an explanation is good but much more rigorous action is needed at the parliamentary level. If a police officer annoys a member of parliament, the issue is raised on the house floor. But here? Just murmurs.

When you give policing powers to the forces that are tasked to guard our borders, you end up with an imbalance: a mutilated police force and a mammoth non-civilian security force. It       appears that just like other civilian institutions, the police too have been marginalised and kept undertrained and underequipped so that perpetual non-civilian supremacy can be imposed on the nation. The question why civilian governments did not improve the police service is misplaced when half of the time the country has been ruled by military dictators.

Now, what is the way forward? What happened with Ahsan Iqbal should not be taken lightly. He and his party were accomplices when the federal agencies victimised PPP leaders and the government of Sindh was virtually paralysed at the behest of the former interior minister.  Now, however, is the time to take a collective stand. Rather than scoring points against a civilian government, all political forces should voice their concern..’

The time to upgrade the police force is now. If you keep neglecting the civilian security apparatus by not providing them high levels of training and weapons and depriving them of the benefits that other security forces enjoy, you will end up in similar situations, Mr Ahsan Iqbal.


The writer holds a PhD from theUniversity of Birmingham, UK and works in Islamabad.

Email: [email protected]


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