Perilous policing pitfalls

As the armed forces made progress in Mingora and beyond, Lahore, Peshawar and D. I. Khan were rocked by terrorist attacks. May God bless all those who got martyred. Hats off to all those who fought back even after taking casualties amid destruction. The police all over the country have done well despite suffering from serious handicaps in terms of, generally, numbers, arms and infrastructure. Despite the sacrifices rendered by the brave policemen, their 'detection and arrests' claims are taken with a pinch of salt by the people as the political milieu also tends to inspire the same. However, the police as such have given, so far, a laudable account of performance, generally, in the line of duty. As sense of honour dictates such complimentary conduct, the image of police has improved despite the negative rumblings in the society against the institution. In a, generally, corrupt society, the police function becomes even more challenging. Given their latest credit, the police could easily claim to be 'more sinned against than sinning' like Shakespeare' King Lear. Policing has always remained a trying job. It has become even more so in societies living, generally, under the Rule of Law. Pakistanis have spent more than 30 years under the Law of Necessity duly upheld by the Judiciary following the original sin of J Munir. Unfortunately the rest of our brief history also, generally, remains controversial which appears to have led us to the current cliffhanger. As all institutions have suffered, the loss of credibility/integrity of police, generally, tends to trump most callings. This is due to systemic failures at the government level as well as organizational levels within the agency. Both these factors undermine the working/image of the force which aims at providing security of person/property etc. Having to fight against the terror whose prototype is rare to find in rich societies of the West, Bader Mien Hoff Gang/Germany, IRA and Japanese cults and WACO/US notwithstanding, raises the stakes drastically. Prudence demands that we invest in Police now so that it can fully take on the threat to Pakistan. Our Police, generally, is badly hit by the runaway population increase. For the last 30 years we have had to play host to the refugees from Afghanistan whose numbers have been high. Given our shoddy handling, some of them have even managed to get our NICs. However, the government's attitude towards opening new police stations etc has remained tactical. Moreover lack of security of tenure, tendency to try micro-management, dominance of political/personal considerations etc have also tended to thwart the process of expansion of key units in the department. At times, the financial crunch also has hampered holistic approach. Likewise, setting up of police training schools/police lines etc tend to become macro-economic projects at the hands of the bureaucrats in routine. The police recruit training centres are, generally, sub-human habitats which house these poor guys. I can't forget that way back, as DIG in NWFP, I visited one such fixture. The make-believe building was fractured in many places; even the roof appeared to be caving in at some points. As there was no water supply, the recruits were obliged to drink water from a small canal which flowed on the fringe. Feeling greatly embarrassed, I asked the Principal if he had reported to the CPO. He affirmed that it was duly reported to the higher ups in writing. I was so upset that I started all possible efforts to ameliorate the lot of the trainees. The DMLA, a Major General was an honest gentleman, who got chucked out by Zia for refusing to kill civilians in the MRD demonstrations in a subsequent posting, so I persuaded him to pay a visit to the shocking premises. He was also dumb-founded to see the misery writ large all over but told me frankly that he could do little to help us out. One of my classmates was an influential secretary so I asked him to provide material to set up a small tubewell from his department. He obliged me on the condition that my department would pay a nominal cost for labour charges. I ordered that the same may be paid from our regimental fund which was lawful and within my powers. Within a week of my first visit, there was running water for the trainees available all the time. Thereafter I got transferred to FIA/Islamabad. One day I got a call from the principal informing me that the audit had objected to the cost of labour defrayed by him, under my orders, and he was being threatened with departmental action by the Provincial government. I asked him to write back that the then-DIG now DIR/FIA had authorized the payment as per the enclosed record. On being informed of the issue, the Director had asked the concerned authority to initiate action against the sanctioning officer. Only then the matter got resolved. It appears that during the last ten years things have changed. Moreover the much-vaunted police reforms of 2002 gave brave concepts borrowed from Japan etc. The real change rested on the performance of the National Public Safety Commission. It was to ensure that police enjoyed functional autonomy and no political interference in its working. Unfortunately so far its contribution remains dismal despite the fact that it has some honest/experienced members. The Q-league/MMA governments wanted to, as usual, control the police for their political ends and the 'President' looked the other way at amendments added to the basic order. Old order appears to be prevailing, more or less, despite a new democracy. The burgeoning threat of terrorism pushes the police further in to a corner. Being conscious of the stakes, the President yesterday in a high level meeting decided to raise a new force whose focus would be fighting terrorism. This is a step in the right direction but this will have to be supplemented by considerable planning, execution with integrity and deployment under an autonomous command. If this force is subjected to political pressures in recruitment, routine training by retired military officers and casual approach to discipline, then it could be another lost cause with consequences which only time can define. In recent combat in Swat, the terrorists were far better equipped, particularly in terms of arms/ communication hardware. The latest US arms were seized by the army which ISAF claimed to have been stolen from the forces in Afghanistan. Some Indian arms have also recovered from the terrorist-hideouts. To train such a force we must seek the active help of UK, Germany, Japan, Turkey if possible as their forces have handled harsh situations of sort. Moreover we should give the police incentives in terms of comfortable living conditions, like the army, since they have to function, from now on, under the shadow of surprise attack. They do not have Police hospitals which obliges them to count on the public-hospitals. Facing the on-going threat they amply deserve departmental hospitals. The intelligence agencies have to work on a war-footing to empower the police fighting in Tennyson' "valley of Death" for quite a while. US etc must provide the latest equipment etc for our success. Our government will have to ensure transparency, integrity and accountability in all operations. Many complaints about 'misappropriation' of wheat etc meant for IDP by a 'powerful cabal' are around. If we can't fix the same, victory may become a mirage. The writer is a former Interior Secretary E-mail:

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