Police reform seems to be on every province’s agenda at the moment. Despite this shared goal, Punjab Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) – the three biggest provinces - are heading in different directions with their restructuring. Innovation and reform remain important tasks, especially in the police force, and a degree of difference between provincial law enforcement setup is acceptable, but not all changes are for the better.
The Sindh government was forced by the Sindh High Court (SHC) to reinstate AD Khawaja as the Inspector General of Police (IGP) for Sindh after being removed by political machinations. The forceful verdict – directing the police to look after its own affairs such as postings and transfers without political interference – will be instrumental in separating law enforcement from the government of the day.
In Punjab, in spite of this, or perhaps because of this, a draft law is being prepared by Rana Sanaullah Khan’s law ministry to formally and legally vest the powers of control and oversight of police into the hands of the Punjab Chief Minister and his cabinet. Another prominent proposal is to designate the Lahore urban area as a separate police zone with its own Chief Metropolitan Police Officer (CMPO) – separate from the rest of provincial policing and appointed directly by the government.
Unsurprisingly the Punjab police force is protesting against this draft law, rightly claiming that the hidden in this reform are moves that will erode the independence of the police making it subject to the whims of politicians. Senior police officers are pushing back against the bill in the assembly and a case regarding it has been filed in the Lahore High Court (LHC). With the Punjab provincial assembly dominated by Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML—N) lawmakers, the court seems to be the only forum through which the law enforcement can prevent their autonomy from being taken away.
KP’s reforms, creating a specialized narcotics investigation and prosecution wing under the tax and excise department – and taking powers away from the police and anti-narcotics force (ANF) – is also being met with pushback from the police department. However, this initiative, which seeks to specialise and not control, needs to be made law to streamline narcotics policing.
In the light of such divergent approaches, and some fundamental contradictions between provinces and their police departments, the federal government needs to intercede and set some uniform standards – at least as far as appointments and oversight of top police officials are concerned. Under the 8th amendment, policing has been devolved to the provinces, but it is the job of the federal government to keep policing standards consistent.