Young educated women are being trained alongside men to counter terrorism. Certainly, the exercise is extraordinary
On a sunny autumn morning, as a middle-aged instructor shouts loudly, a batch of 40 young women -- under training sub-inspectors of Punjab police, clad in newly introduced uniform similar to the male counterparts, stand in eight organised lines. Carrying AK-47 assault rifles, they start blindfolding themselves. On the next orders, all of them bend on one knee on the brown grass under the leafless trees of the sprawling lawns of Sihala Police College, situated in the outskirts of Islamabad. The instructor shouts once more and suddenly a strange noise, as if several pieces of steel have collided with each other, starts rising. They are dismantling AK-47. The first hand rises exactly after seven seconds and in next three seconds all of them are done with the task.
Several pieces of the rifle lie on grey mats in front of them.
Once again, same voice rises, and they start to reassemble these pieces into world’s most dangerous assault rifle - they are done in 12 seconds.
Their 40 male batch mates also go through the same exercise.
"This exercise is meant to give them self confidence as well as skill in handling arms. During encounters if bullet gets stuck in the chamber, they will not have the chance to get the bullet out of the chamber while looking at the gun. They need to keep their eyes on the attacker and at the same time keep their arms functional," says Amir Zulfiqar Khan, a senior police officer and commandant of the Sihala Police College.
This is the largest batch of female mid-level police officers being trained. "It was a strange feeling when I handled AK-47 for the first time. It made me feel empowered and proud," says Iram Hanif, who has done masters in English literature. "I am committed to fight terrorism and respect people who will come to the police station where I will be posted," says Hanif.
A few blocks away another batch of 10 girls and 30 boys are going through martial arts lessons. They show their skills in self-defence, jumping, kicking and breaking bricks. "I saw female traffic police officers a few years back in my city Lahore. I was impressed and thought that I would become a police officer one day. There is also dearth of female police officers," says Sonia Naheed, clad in grey tracksuit and black headscarf.
When Naheed joined the College, she was not expecting such a tough training routine. "We get up around 5am, go through physical training, arms training, classwork, evidence collection training, investigation techniques and behavioural training and sometimes psychological trainings as well. They keep us busy all the time. We are also needed to complete a research paper and review a book during one term."
This is the first ever batch of 76 females, of a total of 411 sub-inspectors, hired by Punjab police through a competitive process. The basic qualification is BA/BSc but the batch has diverse educational qualifications with one PhD scholar, 22 M.Phils, 35 M.Sc, 17 MBA, 34 LLB and 32 engineers.
Chief Minister of Punjab and IG police have been taking special interest in the training of this batch. The total duration of the training is 12 months out of which cadets will spend nine months at Sihala College, while they will go through Elite police training in the last three months.
A team of competent officers under the leadership of Amir Zulfiqar Khan will be imparting training to them.
The trainers were first trained by United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
"This is Chief Minister Punjab’s dream project. The basic objective is to produce professionally competent, socially responsive and service oriented police officers, who will play an active role in changing the thana culture," says Khan.
Fighting terrorism is a major objective of the training. The purpose is to produce ‘people-friendly police officers’, who will take charge of police stations in the coming days. The model of training is the same as for directly recruited inspectors in 1998. Human rights and international standards along with victimology and witness interview techniques have been incorporated into the training curriculum.
"For the first time, we have introduced a module on law and order and they will also get operational training of one week with Rescue 1122," Khan says.
One of the major issues with the image of police is bad conduct of its mid-level officers. "Inspector General of Police is clear that first we need to change our behaviour. We need to treat people with respect and that is what I have been trying to teach these new officers. They are our hope. Prominent guest speakers like senior serving and retired police officers, bureaucrats, media persons, religious scholars of different school of thoughts and human rights activists are invited for special lectures. For the first time, two psychologists have been hired for counseling and profiling of the trainees," he says.
A few hundred yards away from the commandant’s office, both male and female are listening carefully to their instructor who has been teaching them about different injuries and relevant sections of Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) for registration of an FIR.
In the classes, a major focus is on crime investigation. "They all have to prepare case files of 14 heinous crimes," says SSP Ali Mohsin, course commander at the school. "This is my first job in a training school and believe me I learn new things every day," he says. "Even if they will apply 50 per cent of the knowledge and skills, they will definitely make a difference."
The trainees were sent to collect copies of cases from different police stations as part of an assignment, and what they experienced there was shocking. They were asked to wait for hours, bullied and even harassed in some cases to get a document which is public property. "We did this exercise to give them a reality check. They need to know the department and its people beforehand. There are problems and challenges and lack of facilities but they need to learn how to make their way," says Mohsin.
Spread over 350 acres, Sihala Police School, the largest police training school in Pakistan was established in the late 1950s in the outskirts of Islamabad. The under-training sub-inspectors are being trained on the state-of-the-art technology to gather evidence and conduct investigations. A team of four investigation officers has been working on a murder case. The crime scene is well protected with yellow tapes while investigators, clad in white dresses, carry cameras to take photographs, brushes to collect evidence and black powder to lift fingerprints. This whole exercise may put them in a state of illusion as ground realities are totally different.
I.A. Rehman, veteran human right activists, who was invited to deliver a special lecture at the College, notes that it is the first time he was invited to deliver lecture on human rights to mid-level under training police officers. "They are well-educated and open minded but the problem is the service structure which corrupts a majority of officers. We should hope against hope that this batch would make some difference in police’s behaviour towards people," he says.
The other good aspect of this batch is presence of over 70 female officers, he says. "Women always have fewer tendencies to become ruthless."
Expert on policing term hiring of sub-inspectors a step in the right direction. "They will definitely improve efficiency of police stations but they can do nothing to change the thana culture," says Shaukat Javed, former IG of Punjab police. "You need to de-politicise police to change the thana culture. All over the world police comes to the complainant but here complainant goes to police. We need to change the system. We need to make appointments on merit. Thana culture will automatically change," he says.