The Punjab Police is a notorious institution; inept, behind the times and with its constables working primarily to generate petty bribes. The Model town incident confirmed a few other facts for us. Seeing that the ‘operation’ against Tahir-ul-Qadri commenced in tandem with the beginnings of his revolutionary intentions, it is safe to say that the actions of the police are dictated by the ruling party and not by its own operation procedures. The non-registration of a FIR against the government did nothing to dispel this belief either, and the narrative against the police was strengthened by the brutal and barbaric beatings of captured activists as well as indiscriminate shootings; all of which confirmed the idea that the police is an ill-trained, ill-managed, trigger happy force with little institutional accountability and little disconnect from politics.

However, with Shahbaz Sharif distancing himself from the police in the aftermath of the incident, there is a rather unplanned, almost accidental change in the narrative towards and from within the police. With rumours that the Judicial Commission implicates the police and not the government, police ranks at every level feel like they are being made convenient scapegoats for government folly. So much so that allegedly the IG of Islamabad was removed for asking for written instructions before proceeding against protesters. Additionally, police behaviour at the Islamabad sit-in has been rather dormant, good natured and even helpful to protestors as reports confirm. Though this stems largely from the fact that it is the very first we have seen of a demonised (now meeker) police force post- Model Town, one could, rather optimistically ask if the event made room for serious reflection. Could it be that the institution is finally feeling the weight of public scrutiny? Is it rebelling against its own politicisation? Would such restraint continue to exist once the county’s cameras and attention are focused elsewhere? And could it be the best thing anybody could have expected to come out of this tragedy?

However, when all is said and done, there seems to be little to support such a view. The police will not lightly give up the privileges it enjoys under political patronage, and even then, its restraint might be attributed to a shift in the government’s strategy regarding the marches. Yet, there seems to be some hope. Perhaps increased scrutiny and condemnation can be used to push for reforms that bring the police in Pakistan to the 21st century. It is high time someone turns its attention to our esteemed guardians of the peace.