The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) government in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) had made an improved policing system one of the key elements of its “Naya” Pakistan doctrine, and as a result we saw a steady stream of small – mostly superficial – changes being made to the KP police; such as the introduction of electronically submitted FIRs. Yet the Police Ordinance 2016 – which replaces the federal Police Order 2002 – is the most meaningful change made yet, one that underlines the party’s commitment to reform in the area.

As such, before we examine the contents of the ordinance, the effort must be commended. Examination of the ordinance reveals that it is restricted to a relatively small area of police matters; the appointment, tenure, transfer and accountability of mid to senior level police officers. Ancillary clauses give legal coverage to already operational police units – such as the counter terrorism squad and the K-9 squad – and promotion quotas. It isn’t the comprehensive restructuring of the police department along modern lines that we need – but it is a start.

The salient features of the ordinance are the clauses giving the Inspector General Police (IGP) autonomy over postings of officers – a power which rested with the Chief Minister before – and the ones empowering the Public Safety Commissions and the regional authorities to keep a check on the police officers.

Delinking the police from the bureaucracy in both the accountability and policy decisions is an important step; as politically motivated police action – or inaction – had been the biggest complaint against police forces in Pakistan. Officers now have relative security of tenure to go after crimes that might have landed them in trouble before. The responsibility given to regional authorities will also increase the contact between the police and the policed – minimising red tape and delay.

However, it must be stated that these measures may end up being double-edged. Empowering the IGP and removing the provincial government from direct accountability means that there is no politically strong source to whip an errant police officer into order. Safety of tenure is also a limited illusion – unfettered power now rests with the IGP, who can do as he wishes.

We will have to wait and see whether the apparent benefits of the ordinance will accrue in practice. We must also keep in mind the fact that the reason this law was passed as an executive ordinance rather than a bill in the provincial assembly is because many MPA oppose the forfeiture of their powers. The ultimate test of this law lies in the KP assembly, and that may yet prove to be its downfall.