Power without principles
IN a move that is bound to demoralise the highly professional police command, the chief minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has asked the federal interior minister to provide Rangers for Peshawar's security. This requisition, made without taking the inspector general of police (IGP) on board, amounts to saying that the Peshawar police are unable to cope with law and order challenges.
As a nation, we have developed the habit of looking for short cuts. KP went through the worst of times in terms of terrorism between 2001 and 2013. Yet the police coped with the challenges heroically. Even then, no one called for the Rangers.
The letter written by the chief minister reflects a strange lack of clarity and coordination within the policymaking corridors of power in a province that has so far been projecting the mantra of good governance and effective policing. Credit had generally been given by the media and civil society where it was due, ie to the leadership of the nascent political party in power in that province. So, what is happening behind the scenes? Is it a power struggle amongst stakeholders who stand to lose authority? Is the corroded bureaucracy feeling powerless against an increasingly confident police command? Are the forces of status quo trying to reassert their control over the police? Through decades of misrule, politicians and bureaucrats have kept the police under their thumb to wield power without principles.
The call for the deployment of Rangers in Peshawar is yet another step towards the militarisation of the internal security apparatus. Instead of addressing the gaps and investing in improvements in urban policing structures, politicians are seeking short cuts in fixing a problem through a force that is not trained for community policing. To me, it amounts to a creeping coup against the criminal justice system as a whole.
Successive political and military governments are responsible for weakening the police as the frontline instrument of law. The trend started during the Ayub era in 1958, when the functions of border security were withdrawn from the police and handed over to a paramilitary force that was eventually named the Rangers. The then IGP West Pakistan, A.B. Awan, lodged a strong protest and quit his job.
A classic example of neglecting the development of professional urban policing is the case of Karachi. The Rangers were called in for a certain period and with limited objectives in the mid-1990s. Like the proverbial camel let into the tent, they have not left. Now, they even want to establish their own police station, register FIRs, investigate cases, apprehend criminals and submit charge sheets in courts. They were called in aid of the civilian police but have ended up being a parallel police force.
Karachi should have been introduced to a metropolitan policing model by raising the level of police command, enhancing professionalism and introducing specialisation. Instead, citizens have ended up with the perception of a politicised, corrupt and criminalised force, thanks to the highly controversial political set-up that has not allowed the federal government to post a professionally competent provincial police commander. Only yes-men are required by the politicians in general. This also reflects adversely on the prime minister who appoints the provincial chief secretary and IGP.
The interior ministry has let the Rangers take dominant patrolling and security roles in Islamabad, too. Similarly, we have seen the Frontier Corps in Balochistan being diverted from its original mandate of effective border control to a conventional policing role. Police jurisdiction has shrunk from the entire province in 2007 to about 5pc of the territory today. The myopic sardars prefer the Levies, a ragtag militia, over a professional police organisation.
There was some talk recently of the deployment of Rangers in south Punjab for an operation against terrorists and hardened criminals. The iron man heading the province is too experienced not to foresee the implications of such a move. While keeping the police under his thumb, he has provided resources to raise a state-of-the-art counterterrorism force and also aggressively, though selectively, launched the Counterterrorism Department. He has also kept the bureaucracy on a tight leash through effective monitoring.
Instead of building the capacity of the criminal justice system, politicians have repeatedly made the mistake of calling upon the civil armed forces and army. These forces have so far not developed the mindset of being subordinate to civilian authorities.
The chief minister of KP is advised not to induct civil armed forces in the urban policing role. The answer lies in enhancing the professionalism of the police department. They have done an admirable job over more than two years. The real issue is the tussle for power between an elite cadre of administrative services and the provincial police command.
For the sake of the citizens, who are their real masters, may I urge the bureaucracy and the police of KP to hold their horses and mend fences? They have to rise above their turf battles. The chief minister knows that it is the new draft police law that is the bone of contention. While agreeing to stringent accountability before elected forums, the police have sought administrative and operational autonomy that has been agreed to by the cabinet subcommittee and political leadership.
For the police, my advice is to reach out to those opposing their autonomy and work as a team for the larger benefit of the citizens they serve. Only their professionalism, competence, integrity, and dedication will gain them public trust and the political leadership would then not feel the need to induct Rangers for police functions.