According to Transparency International, the public of Pakistan consider the Police to be the most corrupt government institution in the country, and have done so for the past few decades. This will come as no surprise to anybody who has had the misfortune of interacting with the police in the past, and is an unfortunate part of Pakistani life that is taken for granted by the general populace. However, this state of affairs only leads to one question – why hasn’t anything been done to rectify this situation in the past?
While there are several reasons behind the institutionalized ineptitude displayed by the police force in this country, the one that has most credence is perhaps that the ruling elite are reluctant to change the status quo that keeps the balance of power firmly in their hands. This ensures that the powerful and well-connected continue to enjoy virtual immunity, while those lacking such links left to fight for justice in a system that is apparently stacked against them.
Stories of police brutality, indifference, incompetence and ineffectiveness can be found in the news every passing day; yet, other than a change of uniform and the introduction of new units, not much else has been accomplished over the past few years. Instead, they seem to be exhibiting an increasingly apathetic tendency towards upholding the rule of law and acting as the protectors of the state and society.
In recent months, the police have once again found themselves back in the limelight due to a series of high profile mishaps. Cases like the killing of the innocent 19-year-old, Intezar Ahmed of Karachi by plainclothes policemen, as well as their handling of the horrifying Kasur child abuse scandal, has left their reputation in tatters and has brought the conversation on police reform back into the public eye. The fiasco over the killing of Naqeeb by SSP Rao Anwar and the ensuing events has further eroded the public confidence. The Punjab Police department, in particular, has come in for a lot of criticism and fingers have been pointed at the provincial administration and politicians of the province for allegedly using the force as their veritable personal guards.
While many commentators believe that the entire Police network in Pakistan needs an overhaul in order to dispense with the established order currently in place; instead, it would perhaps be wiser to follow the example of the KPK Police department.
KP Police Act of 2017
During their 2013 election campaign, one of PTI’s most popular mandates was to bring necessary reforms to police departments around the country. As they only managed to secure a majority in the province of KPK, it was here that they decided to showcase their vision for the police force in Pakistan. On January 24, 2017, the KPK Assembly passed the KP Police Act of 2017 (KPPA), introducing several new provisions that would not only limit the influence of politicians and provincial leaders over the police, but would also result in more community outreach, as well as greater accountability for any personnel found abusing their power.
Since its introduction, the KPPA has been lauded by the media and the public alike as a positive step in improving the police system in the province, and ultimately the country. Under its many provisions, the Inspector General of the Police (IGP) has been given greater powers, including the authority to transfer and promote or demote police officers, which was previously under the control of the office of the Chief Minister. This ensures that no outside political forces have any influence over the functioning of the police department, and makes the IGP directly responsible for any systematic failures or successes they might incur.
The KPPA also includes a provision for the establishment of district safety commissions, provincial public safety commissions, and a capital public safety commission that will allow for greater public involvement. They will be tasked with keeping a check on police performance, investigating various injustices committed by the police, and suggesting new reforms to improve the system. A Regional Police Complaint Authority (RPCA) has also been set up, which consists of a retired judge, a civil servant, and an upstanding member of the public. They have been given the authority to punish police officers who abuse their power, including unlawful arrests, entry or torture. They can assign up to five years of jail time for any of these infringements and can also recommend a transfer or demotion for the offending police officers.
The KPK police department has also successfully introduced several helpful initiatives that have been met with quite a positive response. Police training methods have been improved, while there has been an increased investment in a forensic science lab. The public has also been provided with several alternate methods of contacting the police, which include a dedicated phone line, a text message service, as well as Police Assistance Lines, that have been established to deliver face to face, hassle free support to the community.
The KPPA was introduced over a year ago and whether it has been a success or a failure is still up for debate. While the provisions provided in the law have encouraging implications for the future, it is their implementation that poses a problem. Due diligence is required to ensure that all laws stipulated in the act are properly executed, and to certify that these reforms aren’t just cosmetic in nature. There should also be room for any future reforms that might be required, and the civil society, along with the judiciary, need to be consulted frequently in order to preserve a degree of order among the police force and the public.