Afzal Ali has served as Sindh IGP during the early 1990s. He has also headed the Frontier Constabulary, remained commandant of the NPA and served as DG of the NPB.
The News on Sunday: Police have always faced severe criticism for their public image and poor performance. Is this due to a lack of reforms or a lack of political will?
Afzal Ali Shigri: It is unfortunate that our governments have never been genuinely interested in reforming police. In its manifesto every party promises to reform police. It keeps on talking about thaana culture and all the ills in the law enforcement and criminal justice systems. But when it comes to doing something they do not want to do it. I think it is because a reformed police can be an impediment in the way they want to run the government and the way they would like to use the police force. But political intervention in the police system is not new. Unfortunately, there is more of it when there are political governments. During martial laws, it becomes less prominent because rulers have their own priorities. Countries all over the world have dealt with situations like these. They have gone through creating credible systems of appointing police and holding them responsible because you cannot give them responsibility and then take away the control. That is not possible.
TNS: Keeping in view the above mentioned situation, do you think making the police force independent is an easy task?
AAS: I think this is very easy but also very complex. I think if there is a desire to do this, it can be done because there is nothing inherently wrong with the police. It reflects social and political structure of the society. Therefore, if there is political will to correct its course it will be done. And again, I say, we have to follow three key principles – autonomy, resources, and accountability. You just can’t allow them to do whatever they want to do and not expect them to do anything illegal. Once you do this, it will become tainted.
TNS: What efforts have been made in the past to make police independent and accountable? How did they fare?
AAS: To make them independent, the Police Order 2002 is a very good document. That was the most serious and genuine effort to transform police in Pakistan. Those reforms were developed on basic principles – give police total operational autonomy; make them accountable through a credible and strong system; depoliticise police completely; and create a system of public oversight. This was a new concept which was developed in the world by Japan after World War II. Later, it was adopted all over the world. We took that concept in Police Order 2002 and tried to adapt it keeping in view the local requirements. People talk about that law and they say this was a foreign concept we just copied but we did not do this. We went over the entire process – everybody was invited to give views and then it was thoroughly discussed by members of the National Reconstruction Bureau. It was revised and redrafted 35 times before it was adopted as a consensus draft. It was not the perfect law but the point is that it should have been given a chance. It was not implemented in its letter and spirit because politicians did not want to lose control over police.
TNS: How can internal and external accountability of police be strengthened? Is there any resistance to applying such mechanisms?
AAS: When we talk about security of tenure do we give this security to our juniors too? What is the tenure of an SHO or a lower ranking official? It is always seen in months. And when we talk about political interventions there is also the role of civil bureaucracy which does not want an independent police. Police force was also not interested in the implementation of Police Order 2002. Police administrations did not give their best to implementing such laws/reforms because they did not want a strict, transparent accountability system. Actually, nobody wants to be held accountable in our culture. I think police and politicians are equally responsible for this situation. Politicians play a major role as ultimate authority. As far as an accountability system is concerned, we need to improve and make the existing structures transparent, particularly in the accountability of the command. We are already punishing lower rank officials on day to day basis. In the Police Order 2002, a Police Compliant Authority was also suggested to hold the force accountable but it never came about.
TNS: Do you think there is a need to reform existing police laws?
AAS: Our laws give a lot of power to police. And this creates a lot of impediments in their implementation too. It is not only the law but also the entire system and the culture that need to change. The Police Order 2002 was very good document but nobody implemented it. At least it should have been tried. It was suggested that the ratio of lower level officials versus mid-level be improved. It was suggested that in urban settings the ratio of mid-rank officials be increased up to 35 to 40 percent. Similarly, a process of accountability and oversight by civil society was introduced. An independent complaint authority was also suggested but never established.
TNS: How does the police force deal with its poor public image and the growing mistrust of people?
AAS: The police have a very unpleasant job. They deal with two parties and one party is always on the receiving end. This happens in any system when you arbitrate between two parties. This is inherent in the nature of the job. Secondly, if you are fair and do justice your image improves. And this varies from officer to officer and force to force. No doubt lodging an FIR is a challenge because of various factors like police being unwilling to do its work or trying to hide the crime rate because we have tied the performance of the police officer with the number of cases reported in his area. The state always gives responsibilities to police under certain laws but legislators do not think that this requires additional resources and without that getting a good result is not possible. They are overburdened too. Rather than linking the performance to number of registered cases we should see how many cases are solved by the officer. And most importantly, we have to see whether citizens are feeling safe and protected. One can only feel secure when there is justice and when there is fear of law.
TNS: Training of police is also considered an important factor in evaluating its performance. How do you view this aspect of police?
AAS: This police, with all its failing, whenever there has been a serious situation and when they have been allowed to work independently, have delivered whether it is fighting terrorism or street crime. I think in dealing with terrorism police have played a major role. It is not adequately recognised though. Maybe they deliver under pressure, and we have seen that they have delivered. Thousands of them have lost their lives in the line of duty. We must keep in mind that they have the capacity. And as far as training is concerned, over the years, there has been a tremendous awareness among the leadership to improve the training. And it has improved all over Pakistan. When I was posted police chief in Sindh my first priority was to build facilities for training. Today, Sindh has the capacity to train 10,000 policemen simultaneously. Similar progress has been made in the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Now, we hear, they are going to adopt modern techniques and training modules.