Monday, March 3, 2008

Why Police Reforms Failed in Pakistan

MAY 22, 2007

Why Police Rreforms Failed

By Afzal A Shigri
Article 4 of the Constitution of Pakistan gives the right to an individual to be dealt with in accordance with the law: "To enjoy the protection of law and to be treated in accordance with the law is the inalienable right of every citizen, wherever he may be, and of every other person for the time being within Pakistan." Clause 2 (b) of this article elaborates: "no action detrimental to the life, liberty, body, reputation or property of any person shall be taken except in accordance with the law".It was in this spirit that the Police Order 2002 was promulgated and in the preamble it was categorically stated: "The police has an obligation and duty to function according to the constitution, law and democratic aspirations of the people". The Police Order accordingly redefined the role, duties and responsibilities of the police, breaking free of the colonial past and the Police Act of 1861. The Police Act 1861 was very focused as it emphasised the maintenance of order above every other consideration. This law served the empire well for 86 years and saw it through two world wars during which time maintenance of order and suppression of dissent was of paramount importance for the war effort.Even after independence the successive governments found the law very useful as it effectively stifled any dissent and in the short run it was an ideal tool for perpetuation of their rule. However the highhandedness of the police mostly at the behest of the executive invited a lot of criticism from the political parties that were at the receiving end and the civil society at large. Tragically these very parties when in power were reluctant to reform the system as they too felt secure with repressive machinery at their disposal.It is rather ironic that it was a military ruler who genuinely initiated police reforms to bring about fundamental changes in law enforcement along with the devolution of governance at the local level. A complete blueprint for police reforms was approved in August 2000 that was followed by the Police Order of 2002. This new law comprehensively addressed all aspects of policing and for the first time introduced modern concepts of an external check on the law enforcement agencies.
It was hoped that after the promulgation of the new law the common person will get some relief, policemen will be held accountable for their misdeeds and there will be an effective check on political interference in the functioning of the police that will break the nexus between the politicians and the police. Five years down the road there is no change and despite repeated statements by senior leadership the thana culture has not changed. Harassment of innocent citizens has not stopped and the police continue to be a tool to suppress dissent. These very political leaders who are responsible for the continuation of this rot have conveniently blamed the new police law for the inefficiency, corruption and the so-called thana culture.
The Police Order addressed three major areas to reform the police namely a neutral external check on the police, credible accountability and its professional/operational autonomy.In order to create an institution that insulates the police as well as subjects it to civilian oversight a system of public safety commissions at all the operational levels were created i.e. district, provincial and the national. These commissions comprise independent members from civil society and elected members of assemblies/councils from the treasury as well as the opposition benches.The commissions are required to monitor and assess the implementation of the annual policing plan to ensure professionalism and focused attention on the issues identified by the police in consultation with all the stakeholders in advance. Honest and professional police officers at various levels also had recourse to the appropriate commission in case of motivated or illegal orders issued by any authority and the orders of the commission were to prevail. Persistent complaints of abuse and maltreatment of those in police custody called for swift, transparent and an effective mechanism for accountability of the force. The existing legal provision was not satisfactory. Once arrested, a person was at the mercy of the police and had to endure harsh treatment. An aggrieved person could take his complaint to senior police officers or the district magistrate who was essentially part of the executive responsible for law and order. Allegations of false police encounters, death, gang rape and serious injuries to people in police custody made sensational stories in the media. The NGOs held their seminars and workshops on these issues while politicians gained political mileage from them. But the aggrieved person was denied any meaningful redressal of his/her grievance. The magisterial enquiry was fundamentally an administrative process to defuse a situation and was never meant to dispense justice.
In order to address this very vital issue through an institutional arrangement, an independent professional structure of the Police Complaint Authorities at the National and Provincial levels was created (articles 97 to 107 Police Order 2002). These complaint authorities were given vast powers to initiate enquires against the police that could lead to criminal proceedings or departmental action. The police was given functional autonomy and enabling provisions were made in the new law to delegate all necessary powers to the police command that was now fully responsible for its actions. Functionally the police was made completely independent but was accountable to the people and solely responsible for all its actions as a consequence of carrying out any unlawful orders. The authority and the responsibility were combined to remove any ambiguity in holding the police accountable who under the old police act shared this responsibility with the magistracy an inherently flawed arrangement that had persistently failed to deliver.Once the present political governments were installed in the provinces the implementation of the police order was stalled and an organised campaign was launched to criticise the new law and attribute the failures in law enforcement to the new law while the credit for any successes was owned and trumpeted by the provinces.
There are three major players who had the responsibility to implement the Police Order 2002 namely politicians, bureaucracy and the police. Everyone had its own agenda to demolish this law for different reasons. Politicians without the option of unbridled powers to use the police to deal with their political opponents felt weakened and therefore were averse to external oversight by civil society through public safety commissions or accountability by an independent body outside their ambit of authority, and the bureaucracy without the control over the police through a system of executive magistracy was uncomfortable and saw a way in restoration of the all powerful District Magistrate through failure of police reforms and the police just did not like the stringent provisions of swift and meaningful accountability without the magisterial cover to whitewash their sins. Unfortunately through political manoeuvring and dubious drafting of the amendments in the police order massive changes were introduced in the law in 2004 that practically hit at the foundation on which this law was structured conceptually. Sadly police officers at the command level barring a few honourable exceptions collaborated to destroy this people-friendly law that was completely changed at the provincial level even before its implementation. It is a miracle that despite this formidable opposition some provisions of the law have been implemented, but without political will and ownership by police leadership, police reforms will not be able to deliver and the hapless people of this country will continue to suffer at the hands of the 'police' and their mentors. The amended ordinance of the Police Order of 2002 is now before the National Assembly for enactment and one hopes that the members of the assembly will play their role and strike down the amendments that are against public interest.
The writer is a former inspector-general of police. Email:

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