Political interference is often called the greatest factor in the instability of tenures for police officers, causing inefficiency and unaccountability
Recently, the government appointed its sixth police chief of the Punjab in two years. Given that the province is home to nearly 50 percent of the population, maintaining law and order on a day-to-day basis is vital for the country as a whole.
One of the incumbent government’s election promises was police reforms for a transparent, independent and accountable system. They faced their first set back in October 2018, when their handpicked head of the Punjab Police Reforms Commission, Nasir Durrani (a former KP Police IG) resigned after a few weeks allegedly over political interference in the placement of the then provincial police chief.
Most former police officers say the government’s inability to ensure that officers serve out their mandated terms is a major obstacle in bringing about police reforms. They blame it on a lack of political will. Frequent transfers, they say, cause institutional instability and do not allow officers to build efficient teams dedicated to carrying out organisational goals and implementing policies on-ground.
Moreover, “such a system makes police officers unaccountable, as they [can plausibly] blame instability for their sub-par performance”, says Tariq Pervez, a former senior officer Tariq Parvez. Parvez says while the Police Order 2002 protects the tenures of police chiefs, there is serious mechanism or serious effort to protect the tenure of other senior officers on regional and district police levels. According to the Police Order 2002, a government has to give strong reasons for removing a police chief before their prescribed three-year term is over. According to Parvez, the 2013-18 PTI-led government of KPK was commendable in terms of stable tenures and independence of the provincial police.
According to some reports on the past few years, Parvez recalls, the average tenure of a provincial police chief in Pakistan has been eight months. The average tenure for Sindh has been six months and for the Punjab, KP and Balochistan, nine months.
The tenure of those in charge of major cities is six months, with Karachi changing a police chief on average every four months over the past three years and Lahore four-and-a-half months. This brevity of tenure gets worse as we travel further down the police hierarchy.
An old study by Institute of Policy Reform (for January 2011 to December 2013) shows that average tenure of a provincial police chief was seven-and-a-half-months. Sindh and Balochistan both had six IGPs in these three years with an average tenure of six months, while KP and Punjab had four IGPs with an average tenure of nine-months each.
This shows that the policy for stability of the three-year tenure, stipulated in CSO tenure rules for police, isn’t being followed. The fact has grave implications for command and control of the major force responsible for law and order. A similar situation was observed in the capital city and on district levels.
The Institute for Policy Reform report notes that Allah Dino Khawaja was only the second Sindh IGP to complete his tenure (out of five dozen). Even this was made possible, by the efforts of the civil society that moved the Sindh High Court against a transfer request by the government in 2018.
Later that year, Punjab Police chief Syed Kaleem Imam also tried to ensure the stability of his term in his domain but failed. He admitted that frequent transfers seriously affected the force’s performance.
“Insecurity of tenure is not an issue for police limited to the top level. It is a problem at lower levels too. The average tenure of junior ranks of police in the country is also in months and not years,” says Afzal Ali Shigri, the former Sindh police chief.
A 2016 report on police reforms, by the international rights organisation Human Rights Watch, carried interviews with several police officers who indicated that “external interference (at all levels) undermines departmental authority.” Furthermore, a police officer stated “in his entire tenure of one-and-a-half-year in a certain province, he never appointed a district superintendent police, of his own choosing. They were all appointed on political grounds.” Another senior official from Balochistan said that “the local influential people want their own people appointed to all important local-level posts – city police officers, district police officers, district superintendents, station house officers – in short, everyone.”
Moreover the report highlighted that “A fixed tenure not only provides inspectors the requisite time to get acquainted with new areas and build bridges with local communities, it also enables them to enforce the law without fear of transfer. Many officers said that external influence, particularly political interference, undermines the public’s trust in police authority. A retired senior police officer said that, “these people, politicians and notables, view the police as a tool to be manipulated in order to either coerce their opponents or favour their loyalists and supporters, instead of as a state organization meant to strengthen the rule of law.”
Historically, the Police Act 1861, has provided the legal basis for how the police work. A major reform effort was made in 2002. This resulted in the promulgation of a new law, called the Police Order 2002 to make the police politically neutral and operationally autonomous. However, in 2004, a number of provisions of the law were done away with. Two provinces, Sindh and Balochistan, reverted back to the Police Act of 1861, with some amendments while the other two, the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, opted for the Police Order 2002, with certain amendments.
Parvez says that the judiciary and civil society have a big role in making the stability of tenure possible. “We have seen the difference in the past when these pillars of society have played their part,” he says.