Police reform

Feb 04, 2019

IT is ironic that a signature achievement of the PTI during the past five years while running Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is in danger of being watered down by the party itself.

The KP police during the PTI’s first provincial government is the closest that Pakistan has come to having an independent police in any part of the country. Eschewing political interference, strengthening accountability mechanisms and enabling the provincial IG to exercise his authority to appoint and transfer officers on merit have resulted in a force that serves the people rather than its political masters.

The PTI chairman himself has reminded us of this time and again. However, with greater power, different priorities are beginning to assert themselves.

Prime Minister Imran Khan’s new ToRs for a committee tasked with suggesting amendments to the KP Police Act, 2017, and to the Punjab Police Rules, indicate a shift towards rolling back the operational independence granted to the police. In fact, rather than any reference to enhancing that independence, the ToRs speak of a ‘police for the government’.

Ominous signs of this changing approach came days after PTI took power at the centre. There was the overnight abrupt transfer of the Pakpattan DPO on orders that a Nacta inquiry concluded came from the new Punjab chief minister’s office. Not long after that fiasco, the Islamabad IG was transferred, this time on the prime minister’s orders and again without giving any reason. When the highly regarded former IG KP, Nasir Durrani — whose services Mr Khan has often lauded — suddenly resigned as head of the Punjab Police Reforms Commission, it could only be surmised that it was for lack of confidence in the government’s intentions.

If the PTI’s campaign promises of reform in law enforcement along the lines of what it had achieved in KP have not quite unravelled, they have certainly lost their shine.

The police have long been an instrument of state oppression, whether it be to illegally seize land, facilitate criminal enterprises, assuage politicians’ bruised egos by instituting false cases on their say-so, etc. Political interference in promotions, postings and transfers results in a ‘police for the government’, fuels corruption in the force, destroys internal discipline and demoralises upright, competent officers.

Some particularly heinous incidents recently have further tarnished the reputation of law-enforcement agencies and increased the clamour for reform. The premier has quite rightly also directed the committee to come up with amendments to prevent the gross abuse of power that can result in incidents like the Sahiwal killings. However, the answer to reining in an out-of-control police is not to clip their wings further but to replicate the KP reforms and improve on them.

The report of the Police Reforms Committee — which included some stellar names and was set up by retired chief justice Saqib Nisar — was launched last month; the PTI government should take direction from their recommendations.

(Daily Dawn)