LAHORE - Punjab top cop Mushtaq Ahmed Sukhera, who by virtue of his office is supposed to be the top law-abiding official, appears to be making mockery of the Lahore High Court’s orders by reappointing sub-inspectors as station house officers (SHOs) across the province.

The induction of sub-inspectors as SHOs is also sheer violation of sub-article (4) of Article 21 of the Police Order-2002, according to which the post of an SHO is meant for an official of the rank of an inspector.

A former IGP Javed Iqbal had decided on July 04, 2011, to go by the Lahore High Court order. For this purpose, he directed commanders of Lahore Police and District Police Officers (DPOs) to appoint inspectors as SHOs. The then IGP had given one week to the authorities concerned to remove all sub-inspectors serving as SHOs and appoint inspectors in their place.

In June last year, Sukhera had especially been called from Quetta not only to lead the country’s largest law enforcement agency but also to reform the corruption-riddled police department. The day Sukhera reached the Central Police Office (CPO) to take over as Punjab Inspector General of Police (IGP), the police killed 14 protesters in clashes outside Minhaj-ul-Quran Secretariat in Model Town.

The police brutality brought widespread condemnations besides triggering a national debate about the "politicized" force. The opposition had come down hard on the government, urging the regime to reform the age-old Thana culture.

IGP Sukhera immediately jumped into the political debate and tried his best to defend the police. Also, he announced different initiatives regarding police training to bring positive changes in the police department. The IGP claimed that the postings and transfers of policemen would be made on merit and merit only.

Addressing the Regional Police Officers (RPOs) conference at the Central Police Office, the IGP had also stated that the Elite Police personnel would be removed from the VVIP security duties. Likewise, he said the policemen deployed on the security duties of the serving and retired police officers would be withdrawn.

But as the nine-month old Model Town massacre has gone into the background, the provincial police chief has started backtracking from the initiatives he himself had announced. Throwing the orders of the courts into the dustbin, the IGP is now doing what his predecessors have been doing and what he had committed to reform.  Interestingly, having spent some three quarters of the year into the new slot, he is now defending the ostensible 'aberration'.

During an informal chat recently, the IGP told this reporter that only selected officers (SIs) having good repute and extraordinary performance are being posted as SHOs. However, the ground realities tell the other side of the story. As a matter of fact, only influential policemen are being posted as SHOs. Even notorious and corruption-tainted policemen have been appointed as SHO in the various police stations of the province.

The IGP also admitted that junior officers are being posted as SHOs because of shortage of staff. On the other hand, the police chief also admitted that he asked the officers to accommodate politicians. “I have told the officers that when they accept the recommendations of their batch mates they should also entertain the MNAs or MPAs.”

More than 50 inspectors are currently posted in Police Lines Qila Gujjar Singh on different assignments and they could be appointed as SHOs but no such effort has been observed for the last several months. Once an inspector is removed from the slot of SHO, sub-inspector takes charge.

In Lahore, many influential sub-inspectors are serving as SHOs. Either they are close relatives of powerful politicians or they are enjoying the backing of pressure groups. Such ‘well-connected’ SHOs, when suspended or dismissed from service on corruption charges, mostly, get posted again on the same positions.  

A police spokesperson admitted that sub-inspectors are also being appointed as SHOs as per “new policy.” The IGP has approved the new policy and has asked the field officers to appoint sub-inspectors as SHOs, keeping in view their eligibility, track-record, and performance.

Some police officers have termed this move as an outcome of political pressure while many others are of the view that Inspectors were removed because they were not delivering the desired results. However, most of the inspectors claimed that sub-inspectors (SIs) were being appointed under political pressure as sub-inspectors obey political orders without any reluctance as compared to inspectors.

IGP Sukhera had also ordered the department to withdraw police commandos deployed on the security of VIPs so that they could be deputed on operational duties. Ironically, the IGP bowed to political pressure within months of his posting and now he has asked the field officers to deploy policemen with the VIPs for security duties. Similarly, most of the lower staff earlier withdrawn from the residences of retired and serving officers is again being attached with them, thanks to the shift in the top cop's thinking.  

Only clean and dead-honest officers should be appointed on important slots right from the post of SHO to the DPO to ensure justice at the grassroots level. The influential groups always back the officers who are more loyal to the politicians rather than the department. The governance cannot be improved and the government cannot succeed in ensuring justice at grass root level until and unless crime fighters and honest officers are posted on merit. The Police Order 2002 must be followed in letter and spirit to ensure merit-based postings and the police force should also be depoliticized.