LAHORE - Twenty-eight-year-old Ghulam Mustafa did his Masters in English before joining the Punjab police as Constable. Six months earlier, the resident of Kasur district had tied his knot with a 22-year-old girl. A rare degree-holder in the provincial police, Mustafa, was fully enjoying his life while working as a subordinate at Lahore’s Faisal Town police station.

On Friday, he was on patrol in the streets on his two-wheeler along with another police constable when he signaled two suspected motorcyclists to stop for checking.

The motorcyclists took out pistols and opened straight fire on the cops, leaving no chance for the policemen to retaliate. As a result, Ghulam Mustafa received three bullets in his chest and died instantly. His unarmed colleague also fell on road and sustained injuries. Instead of fleeing from the crime scene, the motorcyclists approached Mustafa who was lying in a pool of blood and took out his official assault rifle.

They pumped the bullets, available in the magazine, into the air to create panic and terror and then fled away.

Police reached the spot when the killers had escaped. The wife of Mustafa was busy in cooking at their apartment in Faisal Town when she was notified by the police department that her husband was martyred while fighting against criminals.

Police encounters are common in this crime-prone society. In cases of genuine encounters with armed bandits police often remain looser. Apparently, because the poorly-trained police force are unable to repel sudden gun attacks. Then, the police have to trace and chase the cops-killers. If arrested, such accused are killed in staged encounters to settle the score. This is a normal practice in our society.

In Mustafa’s case, the Lahore police are desperately hunting for his killers. The outcome is a matter of a few days since a massive search operation is underway to track down the gunmen.

From January to July, as many as 167 criminals are killed in police encounters while 21 cops also lost their lives in the line of duty.

According to experts, the police force needs proper operational and investigation training not only to hunt down the criminals by using modern and scientific techniques but also to repel the abrupt gun attacks.

Apart from the Punjab, the police in other provinces are also poorly trained and unable to repulse the gun attack. For an instance, hundreds of policemen are targeted and killed in abrupt gun attacks in Karachi every year.

After decades of misuse and neglect, Pakistan’s police force is incapable of combating crime, organized criminals, upholding the law or protecting citizens and the state against militant violence. With democracy becoming stronger after many years of military rules, the importance of reforming this dysfunctional force has assumed new importance.

The police remained a political pawn, with transfers and promotions used to reward those willing to follow orders, no matter how illegal, and to punish the few professional officers who dared to challenge their ‘masters.’

Some seasoned police officers say they believe deweaponisation is a must to maintain peace in the most populous province. Peace in the Punjab province is linked to deweaponisation since search and targeted operations involving police and intelligence operatives are a temporary solution of the problem.

During background interviews, they said that the current situation warrants political will and a comprehensive action plan to eliminate the criminals. The government should also introduce legislations by proposing harsher punishment for those keeping illegal or unlicensed firearms. For example, keeping illegal weapon is a bailable offense in Pakistan, where a pistol is available at Rs 10,000 to Rs 4000 in the black market. In order to control the gun crimes, the authorities must control the trade of illegal weapons and deweaponisation is the best solution of the problem.

The major reason behind very low crime rate in the developed countries is the well-trained and more skilled police force. In big economies, the cops are given firearm training, CID training, forensic training, personal safety training, and conflict management training apart from several other refresher and training courses.

Unfortunately, after joining the largest law enforcing agency – the Punjab Police – the cops are given only nine months training at the police schools. Simple drill or physical exercise is the major component of their training.  With public confidence in the police at an all-time low, reform will be difficult and require time, patience and resources, yet it is a task the new government at the centre and in the provinces will ignore at their peril.

Elected representatives should be held accountable if citizens continue to see the police, the public face of government, as brutal and corrupt. Major reforms and reallocation of resources are required to create an effective and accountable police service.