Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Internal Security and Role of Police

Published in The News Pakistan on May 6,2005

Internal security and the role of police

Afzal A Shigri

The primary objective of a state is to ensure internal security and defence against any external aggression. Historically speaking, the functions of police and army were common and it was the armed forces that defended the country and maintained order internally. Since large urban centres required specially designated force for maintaining order, police in its elementary form was created but continued to be an extension of the army. As society developed and the concepts of due process of law and an independent judiciary took root, there arose the need to raise a specialised force that could arrest the offenders, collect evidence and place it before the courts for adjudication. The 20th century saw the birth of a highly professional civilian police. With awareness about human rights in the post Second World War era, internal and external checks were introduced in policing to ensure that it works strictly within the laid down parameters of law.

Following the collapse of USSR, new challenges confronted the concept of law enforcement as violence against civilians by the groups fighting for their cause and their linkages with organised crime presented a complex situation that defied the emergence of lasting solutions. Involvement of the intelligence agencies to use these groups to defeat the enemy without fighting a regular war added new dimensions to the scenario. Nine-eleven however gave a new twist to the situation internationally. Now the world, specially the developed world, is confronted with the demons that it had created and nurtured to destabilise the adversary.

Pakistan had its share of these problems and these have emerged as ethnic, sectarian and regional conflicts. Due to this, we lost half the country. The subversion was from within and once the internal security was compromised, the external aggression resulted in defeat. No army could defend a part of the country that was hostile to it. Even after this tragedy we continue to be plagued by such conflicts. While some of these were the result of flawed policies of corrupt governments, many problems were the outcome of the geopolitical developments in the region and involvement of Pakistan as a frontline state.

These conflicts led to terrorism in the country -- bombings, mass murders, arson and target killing of the opponents and government functionaries. Hardened criminals found their way into political parties as "political workers," also becoming a source of funding for them. Protection money, kidnapping for ransom and multi billion rupees racket of vehicle thefts are some of the new aspects of crime that is the direct outcome of this nexus between the organised crime and the so-called political entities fighting for a "cause".

Due to political expediency, governments were hesitant to take action against them. As militancy graduated into insurgency, threatening the very existence of the state, action had to be taken. In order to control large-scale disorder army was also called in for long durations of time. Detection of cases of terrorism and all associated crimes was the responsibility of police. Amid this situation, the line between normal crime and terrorism becomes blurred and truth and linkages can be established only through painstaking investigation.

Police despite immense constraints on its freedom to take action across the board has done a remarkable job and stopped the country from slipping into anarchy. It has arrested terrorists and collected evidence for their trial. Police in NWFP and Balochistan in seventies tracked down those involved in bombing civilian targets and brought them to justice. With the army's support , it crushed gangs of dacoits that had destabilised all of Sindh.

While the sacrifices offered by the police force are commendable, there are also many complaints of police involvement in harassing political opponents of the government in power, rampant corruption and lack of accountability of the errant police officers. Unquestioningly following the executive's orders has become the norm, leading to politicisation of police and turning it into a tool in the hands of successive governments. This is a major factor in derailing the democratic process in the country.

General Pervez Musharraf made a genuine effort to rectify this and was able to give a law (Police Order 2002) that provided institutions that would have ensured a certain level of political neutrality of the police. This law has now been completely distorted and is in fact formalising political interference in policing in the country. Police leadership can rightly blame the present political set up for bulldozing the amendments in this law but a more critical analysis brings out the sad fact that police command is equally responsible for this development.

If we compare the police force with other forces, it is clear that unlike these other forces, it has been unable to guard its autonomy and has become the instrument for destabilising a transparent democratic process. This collusion has resulted in bad governance, political instability and chaos with resultant intervention by the armed forces. There is, therefore, an urgent need to address this fundamental issue. Pakistan today is standing at the threshold of development opportunities and failure to address the security issues will condemn it to a perpetual cycle of violence.

The police force in Pakistan is essentially a provincial establishment. Police Service of Pakistan (PSP) is only a service structure that establishes a link between the provinces and the federation. Unfortunately, day-to-day interference by the executive in police matters has restrained its capability to deal with powerful elements. The destruction of the Police Order shows that the provinces are not prepared to accept any curbs on their authority over police.

The existing arrangement is flawed and cannot meet the emerging threats to internal security and we need to look into the fundamentals. If the political parties cannot build consensus on establishing a neutral and professional police force, we have to consider radical changes that would call for departure from the existing legal framework.

One option could be to declare police the fourth service of the armed forces under the umbrella of Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee. Secretary Interior should be given a new designation with ex-officio status of secretary and the PSP should be headed by a senior police officer in uniform with a special grade. He should be responsible for management of PSP and exclusively deal with the internal security nationally. Provinces should only be responsible for maintenance of peace and crime control. This will not only allow police to function without any interference in dealing with internal security issues but also relieve the army from police duties pertaining to narcotics control, anti-corruption and general law and order.

The proposed arrangement will also ensure de-politicisation of police and pave the way for reform. It is clearly time to think out of the box given that all previous attempts to reform the police have failed Only a clean, professional, impartial and efficient police operating from a high moral ground and enjoying the people's trust can deal with the vital issues of internal security.

The writer is a former IG Police.