"Policing is a community service, citizens their real masters"

October 9, 2016

-- Interview with Tariq Khosa, former IG Police and Director General FIA

The News on Sunday: The recent HRW report on police has once again brought into sharp focus the issue of police reforms. But don’t you think now the question is who will effect this reform, considering the governments are not really pushed.

Tariq Khosa: The HRW recent report is yet another reminder that hitherto ignored but crucial justice sector reforms must be undertaken if we have to establish rule of law in our society.

Police is the foundation on which a sound justice system should be based. Unfortunately, it has for far too long been misused by successive civilian and military governments as an instrument of oppression and control. It was conceived as a force by colonial masters and that legacy continues as the mindset of rulers revolves around arbitrariness. The politicians, the military and the bureaucracy must adopt democratic norms of responsibility to the public they serve and should be accountable for their actions. Till then, any meaningful reforms would remain elusive.

However, it must be acknowledged that civil society and media are raising a constant voice for change. The black-coat revolution of 2007-09 resulted in restoration of independent judiciary. But that independence is of no use if police remains politicised, corrupt, inefficient and unaccountable.

It took 25 police commissions and committees to finally arrive at the realisation that politically neutral, operationally autonomous, highly accountable and professionally sound police services are vital for democracy and rule of law. That resulted in the promulgation of Police Order in 2002. But the forces of status quo and vested interests never allowed the implementation of that progressive law. In fact, the reform process was reversed in Sindh and Balochistan by reverting to the 19th century policing model. Islamabad, AJK and GB never attempted to reform. And Punjab and KP paid lip-service by retaining the statute but failing to establish the institutional structures required for a neutral and accountable police.

Thus, it has been a saga of lack of political will to reform the police. The public has been the victim of this criminal negligence on the part of policy makers who sit in the governments and legislature.

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A public debate and rule of law movement is gradually building up and I hope will put pressure on the governments to bring about meaningful police reforms. Some developments are encouraging. The KP Government has recently promulgated a law that is an improvement upon Police Order 2002 in terms of operational autonomy and accountability of police. The Punjab Government is actively considering establishment of Public Safety Commissions and independent Police Complaints Authority as part of police-reform agenda. We have a new and relatively progressive chief minister in Sindh who wants merit-oriented recruitments in police and hopefully will also bring up changes in police legislation. These are good signs and I remain an optimist.

The most effective form of accountability is internal accountability set in motion by the police command. For that the police services world over have internal affairs divisions or accountability branches. This aspect has been sadly ignored by police commanders in Pakistan.

TNS: You seem to think that the Police Order 2002 had a lot of value. Now in 2016 and after the Eighteenth Amendment, would you advise going back to the original 2002 police order or does a new reform agenda need to be undertaken. Should it have a national stamp? Why can’t the provinces do it alone?

TK: While law and order is a provincial subject, policing is an extension of the criminal procedure code and that remains within the ambit of the federal government. Police Order 2002 stands restored in its original letter and spirit from 2010 when its amended version since 2004 kept on getting new lease of life through promulgation of ordinances. That cannot be done any more.

Therefore, it is incumbent upon the federal government to take the lead and ensure uniform standardisation of this law in all the federating units. The provinces can bring about minor changes according to local needs but the basic structure and spirit of law cannot and should not be changed. The current terrorism and crime challenges also require uniformity in laws and their implementation. This in no way is violation of the provincial autonomy under the 18th constitutional amendment. In fact, it would be equitable and fair for the provinces like Balochistan and Sindh that have not kept pace with reforms and requirements of modern policing.

TNS: With the police personnel being poorly educated, badly-trained and equipped and underpaid with long hours, how can we move to a service that is meant to serve the community, since police is a brutalised force in the public mind?

TK: Policing is essentially a community service. The entire ethos of public service and culture of police must change to make them realise that citizens are their real masters. Police is also an instrument of law while retaining its primary role as the symbol of the state.

It has for far too long acted as servants of the ruling political parties or military governments. That is why the public perception about the police is so negative. Unfortunately, the rulers have used this institution for patronage and politics. Merit in recruitments was hardly the criterion. Postings and transfers were another leverage of influence. Thus, every sphere of administrative and operational role of policing was tempered with.

The result has been a fractured command of the police that tend to adopt the role of courtiers of rulers rather than being true public servants. It is therefore, imperative for good governance that police recruitments are based on merit, their training is totally professional and promotions systems encourage only the best to rise to the top. This will also require proper investment in training and equipping the police services to come up to the expectations of public and face daunting challenges of present-day world of organised crime.

TNS: Is there a budgetary constraint that keeps the police force the way it is, or is it the budget being wrongly spent. Are you satisfied with the spending on administrative cost in relation to training?

TK: While the police budgets require to be enhanced considerably, the entire structure of investing in police must be revisited. Expenditure on police cannot any longer be treated as non-developmental expense. Maintenance of peace and order is crucial for economic development. Therefore, the police budgets must meet the criteria of modern-day needs of a highly professional organisation.

The bulk of the budget of police goes to salaries while the operational costs are ignored. A balance needs to be created in the administrative and operational expenses. Financial incentives and rewards must go to high achievers and performance should be duly recognised. Police budgeting and financial allocations must get out of the hackneyed bureaucratic mode and modern concepts of performance-based audits and allocations should now be encouraged with a greater say of the police commanders rather than bureaucrats.

TNS: There is a distinction between provinces when it comes to the use of torture or extrajudicial killings. For instance, one doesn’t hear much of this from KP. Why do you think is that?

TK: Use of torture and extra-judicial killings are unfortunate manifestations of a socio-political and cultural dynamics of the society and the state of Pakistan. Historically, the Punjab Police was notorious for the use of torture and fake encounters. Gradually, with the militarisation of the internal security strategies, staged encounters have become rife in other provinces also. This state brutality is now quite visible in Sindh and Balochistan.

Fake encounters in Punjab remain a cause of concern, though the public tolerance and tacit approval for such extra-judicial killings plays a major part as well in continuation of such state brutality.  Without the policy and a nod from the political executive and police command, such illegal and brutal practices cannot be sustained. In KP too, in the past, staged encounters were resorted to. However, it is the police command there that has resisted the temptation for going in for such a short-term and patently illegal option.

These undesirable practices can only be stopped by firm interventions of the higher judiciary, media and civil society. The chief executives and police commanders should also forsake the militarisation of policing tactics. The trend to establish rule of law has to be set by the policy makers and institutions of accountability.

TNS: In your articles, you have indicated that terrorism cannot be solved without the involvement and empowerment of police who are best equipped to control urban centres for instance. Do we need specific trainings for the police to be able to do that?

TK: Terrorism is a phenomenon of organised crime and thus a law enforcement and criminal justice approach will succeed in the long run. By military methods of killing the criminals, we will not be able to eliminate the crime or terrorism. Therefore, the police must play the role of a frontline agency in this concerted struggle.

The civil armed forces like Rangers and Frontier Corps, along with the intelligence agencies must play a support role. In insurgencies, the military usually takes the lead. But in urban areas, only intelligence-based policing, arrests, investigations and prosecutions can make a difference.

For that to happen, we will have to restructure urban policing. Instead of small-scale police stations headed by Inspectors, we must have a police division as the basic unit of policing under the command of an SP. This will result in better management; and by raising the level of supervision, the resultant public satisfaction and support will also be achieved. This would require massive retraining and quality intake of personnel. Simply put, we must come out of the 19th century concept of policing large cities and adopt modern 21st century tried and tested models in accordance with international best practice.

TNS: In terms of accountability for the police, you suggest non-political oversight institutions. How is this going to be different from the existing self-accountability which is believed to have been largely unsuccessful? Elaborate.

TK: The most effective form of accountability is internal accountability set in motion by the police command. For that the police services world over have internal affairs divisions or accountability branches.

This aspect has been sadly ignored by police commanders in Pakistan. Therefore, corruption, misuse of authority, illegal detentions, torture and partial investigations are rife in the culture of our police. It will require will and commitment at political level to choose such IGs who are willing to set their house in order first. Ruthless and across the board accountability is required to cleanse the police of black sheep.

However, external accountability or oversight institutions are part of a democratic framework of governance. Sadly, good governance has not been the priority of our rulers. They act like authoritarian and arbitrary governors. Consequently, not a single independent accountability institution has so far been established despite the provision in Police Order 2002.

It is pleasing to note that the Punjab Government has decided to set up an independent Police Complaints Authority under Article 103 of Police Order that would be the first type of police ombudsman in the country. The judiciary and the public at large would invariably welcome this move as the burden on high courts in respect of large-scale transgressions and malpractices would now be dealt by an independent institution.

I see the light finally at the end of a long tunnel of highhandedness. Let this be start of meaningful police reforms in Punjab at least. 

(The interview was conducted via email)