An unbridled force

January 26, 2020

There is a tug of war going on over the control of the police between the administrative and police services

Even after having been in power for more than 18 months, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government’s much-trumpeted agenda of police reforms has yet to be implemented. Meanwhile, the tug of war between the Pakistan Administrative Services (PAS) and Police Services of Pakistan (PSP) over the control of the latter continues to intensify.

With both sides up in arms and sticking to their guns, the PAS (ex-DMG) officials vigorously advocate the necessity of having a strong check-and-balance system over what they call an unbridled police force. Simultaneously, in order to accomplish their goal of bringing the Police Department under their control, the PAS officials have come up with a new modus operandi – seeking friends not foes among senior policemen.

In a bid to achieve their goal, the PAS (ex- DMG) officials are trying their best to convince the PSPs not to oppose their plan of getting the police force placed under the district management. Instead, they propose that the PSPs should see the control of PAS (ex-DMG) over the Police Department as a blessing. The assurance is categorical: if the police authorities join hands with them, they (ex-DMGs) will go to any extent protect the police from the government’s wrath – together, through thick and thin.

Meanwhile, because of an ongoing tug of war over the control of the police between the administrative and police services, the future of the present government’s initiative to introduce new police reforms hangs in the balance. This translates into a situation where the public continue to suffer.

Additional Secretary Mehboob Akram, a senior bureaucrat, posted in the Punjab, says a third party oversight of the police force is vital since the society is mostly influenced by a rural culture. In such a culture, he says, making the police force an independent entity would prove detrimental to not only to the society but also the state. Akram says, the concept of a police force as an independent entity is feasible only in societies that have a largely urban culture.

He goes on to question: how can a police officer ensure an effective check on his fellow policemen or on all those who fall under his supervision when they are all complicit in corruption and highhandedness? He believes that only administrative officers can ensure an effective check on them. “We should all support the supremacy of the civil bureaucracy over the Police Department. If the district management takes over the police once again, it will not only enhance their performance but also make the police more accountable,” Akram explains.

Akram says that after the exclusion of the Police Department from the district management control through the Civil Administration Act 2017, the police have become arrogant and egoistic, lacking interest in acting upon orders from the civilian administration. The additional secretary says that senior police officers are now answerable to no one.

The bureaucrat says that from his personal experience he has gathered that these days the police no longer act on the call of a deputy commissioner of a district. He says he has witnessed this on several occasions in the recent past. While posted in Jhang some years ago it came to his knowledge, he says, that the police did not lodge an FIR against the members of a qabza group even though they had resorted to heavy firing when the district management initiated action against them.

The concerned department brought the incident to the knowledge of the DC, but even then the police did not register the FIR. “Being civil servants we all work to establish the writ of the government and it is practically impossible if the Police Department works outside the ambit of the district management. Whether it is a campaign against land grabbers, profiteers or encroachers, the concerned government departments cannot function in an environment where the police are uncooperative.”

“It has been my personal experience during several postings across the country, especially in the province of the Punjab, that after the promulgation of the Civil Administration Act 2017, even in routine matters such as conducting anti-encroachment operations, actions against land grabbers or campaigns against profiteers by the district management, the police act on their own sweet will – as if it were doing a favour to the district management.”

Another bureaucrat posted in Hyderabad, Sindh, said on the condition of anonymity, that despite efforts made by successive governments to bring reforms in the Police Department, none had borne results. “The police remain one of the most ill-reputed and unbridled institutions in Pakistan. The Police Department is marred with rampant corruption and irregularities,” he adds.

Even in the presence of the Police Order 2002, he said the excesses, irregularities, and anomalies of the Police Department ranged from illegal detentions, extrajudicial killings and lodging of false FIRs to taking bribes on various counts and offering money for transfers and postings to particular police stations.

Shumail Ahmed Khawaja, a former federal secretary, is of the view that there is no way out now except to bring police under strong district management control. He says it is easy for the public to have access to the deputy commissioner, who sits in the office in civilian dress, compared to police officials who are inaccessible and frequently mistreat people. “It is quite unfortunate to see that senior police officers have also become a pressure group. That’s why the government, despite having good intentions, has not succeeded in fulfilling its promise of reforming the police.”

Inam Waheed, the Lahore Investigation DIG, opposes the notion of administrative services controlling the police. The DIG says the civil bureaucracy wants to keep the police in their hands as a tool to establish their power over other segments of the society. The bureaucracy doesn’t want to relinquish their authority in any case, he says, adding it still wants to run the affairs of the state as the British did in the sub-continent before the partition. “But they have to understand that times have changed,” he adds. “It’s not the colonial days any longer. It’s the year 2020. The British had formed coercive laws like the 1861 Police Act after the 1857 War of Independence to ensure that no such uprising takes place again. It was a colonial mindset that gave so many powers and authority to the police besides putting it under the control of the district bureaucracy, which at the time mostly consisted of the British.”

In 2002, after intense deliberations a new police order was passed, says the DIG. However, he says, it is unfortunate that the Police Order has never been implemented in letter and spirit. If the Police Order 2002 had been implemented in toto, he says, it could have solved all problems including corruption and misuse of authority. “If a government wants to introduce check and balance on the police force then it has to set up the complaints authorities and public safety commissions mentioned in the Police Order 2002 and make them functional.”

If the government seeks an assurance of good results from the police, then it has to give authority and autonomy to the police as envisaged in the Police Order 2002, Inam Waheed concludes.

The writer is a journalist based in Lahore. He has worked both for the print and broadcast media.

An unbridled force: Tug of war continues for control over Pakistani police