The issue of police reforms is once again generating debate. It is no surprise that despite the failure of the Police Order 2002 on many counts, a partisan view of complete insulation of the police is being advanced. I have observed and evaluated the performance of the police department under both systems. Policing under the previous system was more inclusive, less-callous and more responsive to emergent situations. This was certainly due to the benign effect of district magistrate’s control. The Police Order 2002 has miserably failed on two counts: promptness of the police in emergent situations and responsiveness to public grievances. The situation is even starker in rural areas where human rights violations are common. I would like to narrate two incidents which are a telling comment on the working of police under the two systems. In 2004, a charged mob surrounded the office of the medical superintendent of DHQ Hospital Kasur. After frantic calls by the MS, the police did reach the site but refused to intervene and rescue him. When the DPO was requested to direct the police to take action, his reply was very apt: if the police intervened, the mob would get angrier and would retaliate against the police. Ultimately the help of the local notables was sought to defuse the situation and save the life of the MS, albeit after much damage to hospital property.

In the other incident that occurred in the year 2000 in Kasur – before the Police Order 2000 that is – the then district magistrate reached the scene of police encounter after hearing wireless communication. The police had by then shot dead three persons. The district magistrate saved the life of a school headmaster who had received four bullets. He was rushed to hospital. Later, a judicial enquiry was conducted into the matter and both the injured and the deceased turned out to be innocent. The second incident may be an isolated one but the reaction of the police discussed in the first incident is quite common and has been painfully witnessed during recent power riots. The police needs to be given reasonable measure of operational autonomy. However, in matters like illegal detention, police violence, refusal to register FIRs and in cases of riots there should be a strong and neutral institutional oversight of the police. Needless to say that the repetition of the folly of safety commissions will cost the public very dearly.

Muhammad Zaman,

Lahore, August 9.