LAHORE: Elite officers trained to purge Punjab’s police of corruption and brutality, are languishing idle in thanas throughout the province, The Nation has learned. The officers are among more than 400 selected last year from 70,000 candidates to lead a cultural revolution in policing in Pakistan’s largest law enforcement agency. The government planned to command local forces as Station House Officers and Heads of the Investigation Wing but almost all of them have been idle since they were posted to local thanas earlier this month.

Officials said the government’s plans for a policing revolution are being sabotaged by senior officers at the central police office. The Punjab government has invested heavily in training the officers who were posted to police stations throughout the province earlier this month to kick-start the reforms.

Since they arrived, however, not a single trainee has been given command of a thana or put in charge of an investigation wing. Instead, most have been given only minor assignments and been left without any significant police work to do, several of the new recruits said yesterday. “We are shocked since we have no work to do. We are here just to assist visitors and complainants,” said a 25-year-old sub-inspector who asked not to be identified. “We were given the training to command the local police but we have no powers to take initiatives. The top police leadership’s decision has given us a set back,” he said.

A 26 year old woman recruit voiced her disappointment that despite promises of command, she had been assigned only minor crimes to investigate. “We have no space to work freely and independently. We can’t make decisions to improve the policing because we are working under the command of the old guys. We come to the police station in the morning and go back home in the evening. We are told just to watch how things work,” she said.

Some of the recruits said broken promises of command had raised questions over the government’s sincerity in reforming the police. Their deployment was announced with great fanfare earlier this summer when chief minister Shahbaz Sharif presided over their passing out parade at Sihala College, the country’s most prestigious police training institute. His government had tried to change the traditional working of police in 1998, he said, but the reforms were later abandoned after General Musharraf’s military coup.

The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz government, he said, had now decided to inject fresh blood to improve efficiency and replace the old thana culture in which uneducated staff treats underdogs as criminals. Insiders said the chief minister’s plans are being thwarted by a strong ‘mafia’ of corrupt and lawless officers who feel threatened by the deployment of highly-trained officers selected on merit. “There are several police officers who enjoy bad reputation and still lead the local police. They are considered as experts in fake police encounters. They have become a symbol of police terror and the top officers need them,” one officer told The Nation.

A number of station house officers dismissed for corruption, misuse of power, and negligence in recent years have later been reinstated following political pressure. One officer said the fate of these elite new officers was a test of the government’s will to change the police. “It depends upon the police leadership to decide. If they are sincere and want a positive change at grass root level, these guys should be given a chance,” he said. A spokeswoman for the Punjab Police however rejected the complaints and said the new recruits were still in the process of being trained and will be “posted as SHOs and heads of investigation wings once they complete the (required) A, B, and C courses”.

This statement was challenged by some of the recruits who said the PML-N government had recruited and posted new recruits as SHOs in 1998. The module of training given to the new recruits was the same which had been devised for the directly recruited inspectors in 1998. Their syllabus included crime scene investigation and forensic science training, human rights, and international standards, victim handling, and witness interview techniques. These recruits have also learnt anger and stress management through psychological counseling, protection of their self-esteem, public speaking, human rights, and all laws relating to their job including the Protection against Harassment of Women at the Work Place Act. If they wait for the new recruits to complete their A, B, C, and D courses, it will be two years before they are given command. And perhaps, it will happen in the last days of the present regime and ahead of next general elections in 2018.

Certainly, it is a big investment which the present government had made possible with an aim to reform the policing. Changing thana culture was also part of the PML-N’s election manifesto in 2013 and 2008.