70 years of effort to reform the police has persistently failed because we perpetually neglected to address the real problems Raising the Motorway Police was a singular experience having no parallel in the policing history of the world. During this hands-on endeavor, many a myth was torpedoed or cut to size and Rule of Law was established for the first time in Pakistan. Intriguingly no committee or commission was set up for this.

Over the past seventy years almost thirty police commissions were setup to reform the police. All these bodies were headed by outstanding people. Similarly, half a dozen attempts to reform the Traffic Police ended in smoke. Concurrently there were workshops with injection of foreign funds, yet most bafflingly we only witnessed a continuous decline of the department in all spheres.

Were we oblivious to the ground realties or blind to the operational impediments that the police had to work against? Or was our focus mainly on the enabling factors like pay and emoluments, recruitment, training, accountability, working conditions and the ‘thana culture’.

Without doubt it was all three.

I also firmly believed that all the enabling factors were fundamental to any reforms. Much later in service, it dawned upon me that factors listed above only enable and facilitate. They do not really empower and equip the police to deal with capricious situations and the dynamic operational forces at work.

As the famous proverb goes “You can take a horse to water but cannot make it drink”. It is here that the police leadership, including I, failed for decades on end due to a one-sided approach.

Factors enumerated above are prerequisites for establishing any force and is not unique to the police alone. Therefore, per force these have to be taken as the obvious first measures. The second part relates to how we galvanise and animate and spur the police in to action. Throughout, we have been neglecting critical issues of policing, which is how to electrify motivate and move the force.

We have contracted some serious ailments which include, fancy foreign ideas without considering their relevance, blind belief that once a law, report or plan is completed we have actually delivered as well as cut and paste artists whose reports are but only sound and fury signifying nothing.

The government tasked me to raise a modern, efficient and honest force for the Motorway in 8 months in 1997. As fresh recruitment in this time frame was not possible, the government notified nearly 3 times the pay package and asked the provinces and Azad Jammu and Kashmir to provide serving policemen. Shockingly only 3 volunteered from the entire country. With more perks and one step promotion, the provinces could muster only 50 percent. With great difficulty the number was made up. It should be no surprise that a majority were semi-literate discarded and disgruntled policemen, with an average service of 15 years. It is they who pioneered a unique culture of efficiency honesty, public service and established rule and law on the Motorway which has weathered the vicissitudes and turmoil of the last 25 years.

Six months of training started at Sihala in June with four foreign trainers assisting. Law, rules and modern management techniques for Traffic Control were taught. With only 8 weeks of training completed, the government sent me to see the California Highway Police (CHIPS).

My journey was fateful. After takeoff, my co-passengers barraged me with incidents of how CHIPS helped them. Strangely, none of these stories pertained to integrity or competence. All related to help, scour and prompt response. I was stupefied but after thorough contemplation, my thoughts crystallised and I made up my mind.

While returning, I drove straight to Sihala Academy and announced that all training in law, rules management techniques of traffic shall be stopped forthwith. It was a big gamble for which the staff arraigned me and the public chided me.

I further ordered that the only subject to be taught would be public service. Besides lectures and discussions, practical training will be given to all in first aid, minor repair of vehicles, rescue procedures, saving lives, and handling all conceivable situations where a commuter in distress needed help. Exhaustive SOPs were prepared for all these tasks. When training concluded in November all officers of the Motorway Police were fully proficient in first aid, rescue, repair of vehicle etc.

Commuters thought they were dreaming when they saw the Motorway police providing them with all kinds of service and help including saluting them. This practical demonstration of complete metamorphosis completely shatters to bits and pieces all theories of reforming police through giving better pay, good recruitment, resources and training. When handsome pay was notified only 3 volunteered. Secondly, could just eight weeks of training make any difference? Thirdly, no fresh recruitment was made and last but not the least, a majority were semi-literate.

Attempting to reform the police without addressing the real issues will take us nowhere as has been demonstrated historically. A complete break with the past 70 years and a holistic approach is crucial. Our focus has to shift the operational problems by factorising in the ground realities. It is sad that a majority of stake holders are still treading on the age-old hackneyed path.

Why did efforts at the highest levels and through many exceptional and able people go down the drain? The simple answer is “barking up at the wrong tree”. The crucial problems addressed include unity of command, public hatred and mistrust, management issues, no authority with nearly 90% force, nepotism, command failure at most levels and impractical laws. If we even partially address these it will make a significant difference and entail less than 10% funds required for recruiting, training and pay.

Iftikhar Rashid

The writer is the Former IG, Federal Secretary, Chairman and President of the AFIGP. He can be contacted at iftirashid@yahoo.com