Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Institutionalizing Political Interference in Policing

Wednesday December 08, 2004-- Shawal 25, 1425 A.H.

Institutionalizing Political Interference in Policing

Afzal A Shigri

In the prize distribution ceremony of the Pakistan Motorway Police on November 30, 2004 Prime Minister Mr Shaukat Aziz in his address to police officials identified the involvement of police in politics as a major factor that compromised its professional neutrality. Surprisingly on November 25, 2004 an Ordinance amending Police Order was notified. This Ordinance introduces fundamental changes effectively institutionalizing political interference in law enforcement and negates the concept of a neutral police. Apparently he was not aware of the impact of the amendment that was publicized as a reform. When the government of General Pervez Musharraf took up police reforms, it was agreed that political interference in functioning of police was the single factor that was mainly responsible for a partisan and repressive police in the country. This was not some thing new; the world over the executive has historically misused the police for repression of its opponents and perpetuation of its rule. Desire to misuse police is inherent in any political system. The challenge was to find a solution in a political environment. National Reconstruction Bureau (NRB) was tasked to come up with a practical and imaginative answer to this baffling problem that called for a depoliticized police in political environment. NRB examined the systems introduced in a number of countries where political neutrality of police had been achieved despite a continuing political process in a democratic set up.

In order to achieve this, the new law provided a structure of Public Safety Commissions at all tiers of governments. The structure was designed after studying similar bodies in Japan, UK, Canada and USA where citizens are involved in these institutions for an external oversight by the civil society through police authorities, commissions and board at various levels. These Commissions were designed keeping in view the local conditions of Pakistan. The members of the District Councils, Provincial and National Assemblies along with independent members were included in these bodies to create an ownership and support for their sustainability and effectiveness. The inclusion of members from the civil society, district councils and the assemblies created a balance and an internal check on the members who could only function as a corporate body. The role of the government was confined to ensuring rule of law, internal security and laying down policy for this purpose.

The National Public Safety Commission (NPSC) comprised of twelve members that included six independent and six members of the National Assembly with three from the treasury and three from the opposition. The independent members could not be civil servants or politicians. The Minister of Interior was to chair the commission who only had a casting vote. The most important functions of this commission was selection of a panel for posting of heads of the Federal Law Enforcement agencies and the head of the Provincial police and approval of the Policing Plans of the Federal law Enforcement agencies and the monitoring of their implementation. This commission could also ask for the premature transfer of heads of Federal law Enforcement Agencies for ineffectiveness and misconduct. The composition provided a unique opportunity for an effective voice to the opposition in selection of officers for the police in the country. The presence of independent members made it a neutral and non-partisan body.

Similar arrangement was made in the Provincial Public Safety Commissions (PPSC). There too the opposition had a meaningful say in final selection and premature removal of the Provincial Police Officer and also had the responsibility of ensuring that the police acted strictly within the bounds of the laws. The PPSC was involved in preparation Annual Policing Plan and monitoring of its implementation on ground. The functions of the PPSC were so designed that these provided an oversight of the police without direct interference in its operational duties. The commission could not interfere in the management and accountability of the mid level or lower level staff. This was to discourage the development of collusive relationship between politicians and the police.

At the district level the commission included independent members from the civil society and the members of the District Council. The selection process of the members from the council guaranteed that all shades of political grouping in the district council are reflected in the selection of the members. Again after very careful consideration, the duties of the district commission was drafted and they were given the additional functions of attending to the complaints from the public within clearly laid down limitations. The purpose was to provide a check at the local level without compromising the operational and administrative authority of the DPO.

The law was drafted keeping in view the emerging challenges and complexities of a dynamic society in the twenty first century. It created a mechanism for a check on the executive ensuring professional neutrality of police. Unfortunately this did not suit some vested interests and all kinds of impediments were created in the implementation of the Police Order 2002. Even at very responsible political level this law was criticized for nonexistent provisions in the Police Order and an impression was created as if this was an anti-people law. Strangely the opposition parties have continued to be silent. Either they are unaware of the role of the opposition in the law or they do not want to create a check on the executive in the hope of forming a government or they do not have the magnanimity to accept that a military government could give a people friendly law.

The present political set up in the name of reform has amended the law through an Ordinance that in effect reverses the reform process and formalizes political interference in operational duties of police. According to the proposed amendment the government shall appoint one-third of the members from the Provincial and National Assembly of the district concerned to the District Public Safety Commission (DPSC). The number of the independent and council members has been reduced proportionally. The Chairperson of the district Public Safety Commission will be elected from amongst the members through a majority vote that will most likely be a member of the assembly. This practically makes the independent as well as the opposition members irrelevant as in the overbearing presence of the nominated assembly members from the treasury the rest of the commission will become irrelevant and it will also provide a formal role for the assembly members to interfere with the operational duties of police and create the dreaded nexus between the police and politicians.

In the PPSC the role of the opposition is also being diluted and equal membership of the treasury and the opposition is being disturbed and opposition membership is being reduced from three to two. Since the decision is by voting and the Home Minster is the Chairperson of the commission, the participation by the opposition will become ineffective. Similarly the number of opposition members in NPSC has been reduced from three to two. The most important function of the NPSC for selection of a panel of PPO has been deleted. On the other hand PPSC after restructuring it in line with the political requirement of the government has also been given the duties of the Complaint Authority. This is an extremely dangerous amendment, as the errant police officer with the right political connections will never be held accountable. The accountability by an essentially political body will never be credible and this will be used to suppress the voice of dissent instead of any accountability. By introducing amendments in the definitions, subjecting the DPO to Zila Nazim and eliminating the role of the immediate supervisory officer of the Regional Police Officer of the DPO the law has placed the police under a political boss locally and has dismantled the command structure of a disciplined force that would convert the district police into private militia of party in power. This police will neither be able to ensure rule of law nor will it be able to fight organized crime or terrorism weakening the capability of the state to guarantee internal security or the much-trumpeted good governance. It is unfortunate that this amendment has been made without any protest from the opposition or resistance by the police leadership. The people involved with the police reforms started with lofty ideals and came up with a progressive and modern law that is now being converted in to a black law that will tragically extinguish all hopes of an accountable and service oriented police with catastrophic impact on the entire criminal justice system in the country.

The writer is a retired senior police officer

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