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January 10, 2021

Death and the police

Editorial

 
January 10, 2021

It has been a week since the shooting to death or 22-year-old Usama Satti in Islamabad by anti-terrorism police in Islamabad apparently after he was asked to stop late in the night as he was driving along the Kashmir highway and then bullets fired at his car. The precise details are unknown. In the same month, another young man was killed in Karachi. It appears that the police and other law-enforcement personnel go by some other rule-book regarding use of force. Every year we see the same violence which is then wished away as 'encounters'. In 2018, Naqeebullah Mehsud was shot dead along with two others in Karachi. The following year in 2019, a couple, their friend and one child were killed by police in an ‘encounter’ while on their way out of Lahore for a wedding.

After the Usama Satti incident on January 2, five members of the police involved in the incident have now been fired. But this does not necessarily mean there will be any change in the pattern we have seen for so many years. While on the request of the family, the DC Islamabad has asked for the registrar of the Islamabad High Court to file a case so that a judicial commission can be set up, and while other inquiries are also continuing, most of us also know that the malaise is deeper and far more serious. We have a serious violence problem within our law-enforcement structure. And nothing is being done about it. This can only mean there will be more such deaths and that the protests that we saw for Usama, ironically a PTI supporter, outside the National Press Club in Islamabad will mean very little.

The fact is that we very urgently need the police reforms that the PTI government had spoken about so ardently before it came to power. Very little of these are in sight at the moment. In the first place, our police are badly trained and lack the resources to improve their situation. Police forces around the world need the highest level of excellence in the use of firearms so that they can avoid killing people. There also needs to be an independent mode of inquiry into police encounters, or acts of indiscipline as well as an improvement in the wages of the police force, so that corruption and the need to extort money from people can to some extent be checked. An untrained, low-paid, badly-regulated, and allowed to act with impunity police force needs deep-rooted reforms. It is only when these realities change that the deaths we see will come to an end. Until the government begins acting on these steps and the advice it has received from various committees in this regard over the years, more people will continue to die as a result of trigger-happy law-enforcers.