Some one has at last had the courage to take a bold step towards police reform. Police is responsible for law enforcement in society, giving it a sense of discipline. The state holds them responsible for the protection of person and property. Law enforcement is not an easy thing to do in a developing country where being above the law is a popular ambition in the feudal tradition. Having deteriorated through years of misapplication and mismanagement, they are identified with the rulers. When the country is under a military regime, they take orders from the army. And when there is a civilian government, the police have to keep MNAs and MPAs in good humour. Almost never have they been responsible to the law. No government that I have seen in this country - and I have seen many - had the courage to develop the police as an institution responsible to the law. This is a complex issue that goes far back into our history and ethos. But critically, it is linked to the question of an absence of democracy. Military governments and military controlled, semi-democratic governments feel uncomfortable with an independent police force because of the problem of legitimacy that hangs over their heads. They would, considering their calibre in most cases, not be able to breath with a police that is responsible not to the government but to the law. Within this broad framework of reform, the police have had a serious problem of limited resources and poor, pathetic compensation packages for their services. There are many reasons for corruption in the police force besides political interference; but low pays, utterly disproportionate to their authority is a major reason. To know that they are not being given a living wage and expect them to display moral integrity and enforce the law fairly and honestly is - in my view - an immoral position governments have been taking for over 60 years. Reluctance to invest in a well-resourced and well-trained police force over the years has created the grim situation that we are in today. With the police going down as a corrupt and incompetent body of men and women, given a second rate departmental leadership, what else did we expect? The question as to how the resources were being allocated and why was the police not treated as the critical tool to maintain order (and keep the army at bay) and resourced accordingly is a question that needs to be asked at the national level and openly debated. Scores of commissions and committees have produced different police reform reports that are gathering dust in the archives of the Interior Division. Governments used police reforms as a slogan without really possessing the will to reform. Most of the committees identified the problem of scanty police resources and low pay of the personnel; but no government had the courage to do something about it in tangible terms. In 1969, I was associated with a police Reform Commission of gray head bureaucrats, headed by General Mitha, a remarkable man in many ways. Much as he admitted that the police was low paid, no amount of argument was enough to get him, like the gray heads sitting next to him, to recommend a living wage for the police. Financial managers too remained an impediment. For many years they treated expenditure on the police as non-developmental. Nobody was prepared to listen to the argument, proved valid subsequently, that development in an insecure environment with a demoralised, resource starved police force was a myth. How can you have development with the state lacking capacity to enforce contracts? In such a climate, corruption will flourish and the state structure will erode. But we are now going through momentous changes. One great change came through the restoration of a free judiciary the government was hell bent to resist. A massive turn out of people in favour of the deposed judiciary on March 16 this year forced the government to give in and bring them back. This, in my opinion, was a historic development in our political struggle. The people, in whom political authority truly vests, took to the streets and recovered some of the space they had lost to wily, scheming politicians, bureaucrats and the army. This development has given us a margin of direction in establishing the rule of law. The increase in the pay of the Punjab police announced recently by Mian Shahbaz Sharif, the dynamic Chief Minister of Punjab, is the other historic step towards the establishment of the rule of law. Rightly, it has been emulated in the NWFP a couple of days back where the CM announced a cent per cent raise in the police salaries. There is still a long way to go; but these two steps are bound to have a ripple effect on other democratic institutions as well. If we stay the course, I believe we shall get there, the problem of extremism and the Taliban notwithstanding. The writer is a former ambassador at large