Delayed or no response

Prime Minister Imran Khan, in his recent tour of Lahore, showed his annoyance at the delayed response of the Police to deal with the mob attack on TikTokers at the Greater Iqbal Park on August 14, 2021. I am sure the PM was speaking his mind based on the feedback given to him by the local administration.

The entire police force up until the DSP level consists of their inductees while the officers of the Police Service of Pakistan (PSP) come through the Federal Public Service Commission (FPSC) and are inducted as ASPs. There is a clear divide between the political appointees and those who come through open competition and merit. A PSP officer, Abbas Khan, had the unique distinction of heading the force in all the four provinces of Pakistan. During his stint as Inspector General (IG) Punjab, he held a press conference in which he revealed that criminals had been recruited in the province after the 1985 party-less elections. The very next day, he was removed by Shehbaz Sharif, the Chief Minister (CM).

In order to improve their image, Shehbaz Sharif spent a lot of money in changing the police uniform. It proved to be the proverbial, ‘Old wine in new bottles’. Like most other civilian departments, their services have been privatised. While all expenses are borne by the people, the force operates on the principle of ‘no payment, no service’. There is no visible chain of command or monitoring and no response unless there is a potential of financial rewards. Instead of law enforcement, the Police acts as an intermediary, forcing agreements under duress between the accused and the accuser. Challans and FIRs are prepared at will. Every police station is autonomous under the Station House Officer (SHO). Occasionally, the SHO’s are removed when their conduct becomes indefensible but eventually, they usually manage to spring a comeback. In the famous ‘Justice Cornelius Administrative Reforms Commission’ report, the unlimited powers of the SHO were discussed at length. Over the years, despite consuming increased financial resources of the nation, their performance has declined.

A few years back, I had a unique encounter with the men in uniform. Across from our ancestral house, there was an Imambargah where two constables were posted for the maintenance of law. My mother was abroad so the house was unattended. Every morning I drove up to the property for a quick check-up. One day my arrival was delayed, it was a sweltering afternoon. Considering the security of the posted Police Constables, I left the car and AC running while I walked inside the gate. Very soon I noticed that someone was trying to move my car. By the time I came out, the car was being driven away. My shouts paid off and the car was stopped by the intervention of the neighbours. To our surprise the person on the wheels was one of the Constables on duty. He was caught red handed. In his defence he came up with an excuse, his narrative was that it was just to teach me a lesson not to leave the running car unattended. Public opinion was divided, some wanted him to be taken to the Police station as a criminal while others wanted him let go. I took all his details and forwarded it to my friend who was then an SP, investigating crimes committed by men in uniform.

I remember the days gone by when we visited the Civil Lines Police Station almost every day as my father’s childhood friend, Muhammad Sharif Chandi, was posted there. In those days police officers were given titles like Halaku Khan, Boxer, Chandi, Chitta etc. Almost the entire force resided within the premises with complete boarding and lodging facilities. The officers lived in apartments, while the constables in barracks. The most beloved police officer of his times, L R Niblett also resided there with his two sons, Larry and Gary. No one could slip away as their activities were accounted for.

Currently despite all the budgetary allocations, no one lives within the station of duty. The messes are non-operative, food is mostly usurped from the nearby vendors. On my last visit to a prison, I was offered fresh orange juice which I took for sugarcane extract and excused myself. On inquiry, I was told that now the environment had changed but then there were complaints as well. The Investigating Officers complained that there are no allocations for travel or stay for purposes of investigation. The entire transport fleet was ill kept with massive pilferage of fuel and parts. So for any investigation to take place, food and travel has to be covered by the aggrieved party or otherwise, they may pray for heavenly intervention.

Now coming back to the issue of delayed response, with no enforceable SOPs, transport, fuel, monitoring, checks and accountability, only a very devoted and conscientious saint could be expected to perform. Unless the ground realities are understood, improved performance or good governance will remain a pipe dream. It is not only the police, the entire bureaucracy is non-functional. Even officer hours are not kept and letters remain unanswered. Responsiveness does not exist at any level. There has to be a wakeup call to jolt everyone into action. In 1985, the Police was only corrupt. Today, even criminals are within its fold. A massive re-entrenchment all the way up to the rank of the DSP is needed to restore it.

Dr Farid A Malik
The writer is Ex-Chairman Pakistan Science Foundation, email: fmaliks@hotmail.com

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