Civilian Force

October 25, 2020

The alleged abduction of a provincial IG reveals much about martial might

Dear All,

 An incident last week highlighted much about the real pressures the police in Pakistan work under: a provincial police chief was allegedly abducted from his home in the middle of the night and pressured into signing the paperwork relevant to the arrest of an opposition politician who happens to be the son-in-law of Nawaz Sharif, the former prime minister who is now at loggerheads with the establishment. The ‘very serious’ charges were that the son-in-law had raised slogans near the tomb of the country’s founding father. The slogans? They were essentially pro-democracy cries of”Vote ko izzat do!” i.e. ‘votes deserve respect’ i.e. the mandate of the people should be respected – a reference to army involvement in politics, decades of martial law and the ongoing undermining of parliamentary systems and democratic evolution.

Shocking though the incident may seem it has effectively revealed what has been going on for years all over the country – the bullying of all civilian authority by a military establishment whose generals have carried forward the thinking that they are the only ones who should be running the enterprise that is Pakistan. This thinking, now deeply embedded thanks to the early and continuing collusion of rightwing politicians, religious leaders and the military, has resulted in the reality of a might-is-right culture, where those who protest, demand their rights or challenge diktats originating in martial command are silenced, ruined, forced into exile or killed.

The bullying of the police has been ongoing for years, and these are the parameters that police officers are forced to work within. Karachi is an interesting example of this because of the continuing presence of the Rangers there. Although their tenure is technically renewable by the province every quarter, there is no question of it not being renewed as Karachi is a ‘rewarding’ place to function in. And, of course, they also serve as useful enforcers for the intelligence agency that devotes itself to curtailing politicians and freedom of thought.

The police chief’s abduction is not altogether surprising because police officers have always had to tread carefully and tiptoe around their military counterparts. The reality is that the police are routinely used as a front for all sorts of excesses…. Nobody really likes the police anyway so they are convenient scapegoats, for example often individuals are shown to have been arrested by the civilian agency but are actually being held by the military (which is a little awkward if they die in custody), and sometimes this is taken one step further by outsourcing detention/elimination work to rotten police officers (like a very controversial one whose actions sparked the birth of a political rights movement in recent years). And in nearly every single investigation there is the tension of investigations impinging somehow on the interests/proteges of military circles.

People who were surprised by the incident last week should be aware that this sort of pressure is not new. It manifests all the time and in the most bizarre ways: an officer in charge of an investigation is suddenly removed and made into an accused person in the very same investigation because he refused to fabricate a case, another officer is humiliated in a high profile case where the (wealthy) accused has the ear of the local military presence, police guards are beaten up by armed forces personnel etc. And it’s not just the might of the gun that is at work here it is also the might of money. For example, many years ago a doctor who was on the medical board looking at the case of an injury sustained by a police officer in a political case allegedly had a late-night visit by certain people (now known as ‘maloom afraad’). It was something like you might see on television, they brought with them a suitcase stuffed with cash. All the doctor had to do was rule (along with other board members) that the injury was self-inflicted (it was not)... The doctor refused but the visit did strike terror in his heart. And it is this terror, these night visits, the threat to life and safety that have now been revealed to all by the ham-handed abduction incident.

After all the uproar, the army chief has ordered an ‘enquiry’ into the abduction incident, so no doubt some scapegoats will be found in the ranks and punished but whether this actually curtails such interference is doubtful. What is encouraging though is the united action that was taken by the leadership of the Sindh Police. Following the incident when the IG was to take leave, nearly all officers of the Force also applied for leave, all citing the same reason: stress caused by the recent episode which had “ridiculed and mishandled the Police high command” and left “all ranks of Sindh Police demoralised and shocked”. The lower ranks also began filing identical applications - in other words the police would effectively have been on strike. This leave action has been put on hold while enquiries are conducted but this unprecedented show of solidarity within the civilian force will strengthen not just morale but also public support.

Best wishes,

Umber Khairi

Civilian Force