Tuesday July 05, 2022

Police brutality

By Editorial Board
December 09, 2021

In yet another case of police brutality, a college student was allegedly shot dead by policemen in plain clothes in Karachi. According to reports, Arsalan Mehsud was returning from his studies with his friend in Orangi Town on Monday night. Arsalan’s friend was injured in the firing incident. The accused police officer was on plain-clothes duty in the area; he has since been arrested and suspended from duty, but the incident once again raises some serious questions regarding the frequency of such cases across Pakistan. In January this year, five police officers of Counter Terrorism Force killed a student in Islamabad. The same month in Faisalabad at a check post the police killed one man and injured three others for failing to stop their car. In May 2021, a 22-year-old student was killed in Quetta after officials of the Eagle Squad allegedly opened fire on his car on Sariab Road. The very next month, a policeman killed an 18-year-old in Lahore after a minor altercation. The brutal shooting of a family in Sahiwal in 2019 is still fresh in people’s memory. And we remember all too well the Naqeebullah Mehsud case, and how it led to no real justice for the deceased, with Rao Anwar – accused of hundreds of extrajudicial killings – slipping away from the much-famed but rather ineffectual hands of the law.

None of these cases resulted in any major revamping of the police or any noticeable improvement in their behaviour. The police still appear to be trigger-happy and perhaps no training or behaviour-change communication has taken place in the past many years. Had there been some improvement, such incidents would have ceased to happen or the police would have changed their behaviour in dealing with people. Even if there is a case of suspicion, the suspect should be arrested or in an extreme case a careful shot fired that is not fatal.

Such repeated incidents call for a complete overhaul of the police force across Pakistan. This needs first of all a thorough screening at the time of recruitment and then after initial training a series of refresher courses may help change their behaviour. It is true that the police have rendered tremendous sacrifices in the line of duty and they deserve all praise for their service but these sacrifices cannot absolve extrajudicial killings. Any margin of doubt has its limits and such murders cannot be brushed aside or downplayed under any excuse. Fake police encounters have also become a bane in the country and such quick dispensation of ‘justice’ cannot and should not be condoned in any circumstances. It is about time the federal and provincial governments took this matter seriously and devised a comprehensive plan to stop such murders by their personnel. There is clearly something rotten in the state of our police. And as important as justice is in any one case, there really needs to be a root-and-branch reform of the police. The Naqeebullah case was a test to see if anything could change in the culture of the police. Unfortunately, the state failed that very important test – and here we are with yet another dead young man.