By: Gulmina Bilal Ahmad
Police in Pakistan have always been considered as an organisation surrounded by controversies and allegations
Today, I write about outsourcing of a different kind. Over the years, with the mushrooming of non-governmental organisations, governance it seems has been outsourced to NGOs. On any given day, hotels are booked by NGOs conducting ‘capacity building workshops’ for government departments. Be it the finance ministry, civil defence, human rights ministry or the police. Let me take up the last.
The police operate as a force to maintain law and order. In the now obsolete Police Order 2002, it was considered a service to provide security to citizens. While some may dismiss it as mere semantics, there is an important difference between being a force and service. What kind of mindset the police has is also directly relevant to the question of whether it is a force or a service and what its purpose should be.
Given that legally today it is still a force, citizen groups engage with police to conduct trainings on human rights. Over the years, a number of NGOs have engaged with the police all across Pakistan with some reasonable results. The establishment of human rights desks in Islamabad is the result of one such effort, facilitated and supported by the Islamabad police department. Training and development of police is the responsibility of the police department. However, due to lack of funds and resources it has failed to do so. In such a scenario, non-governmental organisations have assumed the role of providing training to policemen from across the country on human rights, constitution and even on amendments in the constitution, which police personnel should be aware of.
However, it seems that while NGOs can conduct human rights training for police personnel, something which the department should do, NGOs cannot address the elephant in the room: police reforms. While police personnel from Balochistan, Punjab, Sindh, the federal capital and Khyber Pakhthunkwa can be hosted by NGOs in hotels, senior officers can distribute certificates to the participants of NGO-conducted workshops, it is tantamount to ‘interference in the internal affairs of the police department’ if citizens pinpoint that reforms in the police service, structure and performance are needed. Let me also pinpoint that this ‘interference’ is considered unacceptable if taxpaying citizens do it. However, political interference for postings of even head constables, of course, is not considered interference. Attempting to engage with senior police officers for the welfare of junior police personnel apparently is.
Police in Pakistan have always been considered as an organisation surrounded by controversies and allegations. There are very few individuals and organisations that seek to bridge the trust and communication deficit between citizens in uniform and without. In fact, let me go as far as concluding on the basis of my experience of working on the issue of police reforms for so long and having conducted numerous civilian-police dialogue forums that there are very few who are willing to consider that the police is not a rogue force. There are not many who are sympathetic to the problems of the police. The few organisations that attempt to highlight the problems of the police department and, particularly, of police personnel in the media and at parliamentary committees, get support as long as they do not pinpoint to senior police officers the gaps in the management. Once they do so, apparently, it is interference.
All of us are evaluated, from the housewife whose family rejects the dinner she has prepared, to the bank manager whose senior writes a performance report. The police are no exception. The Annual Confidential Report is just that: to be submitted annually and to be confidential. It is neither. The ACRs of many years are completed simultaneously after the person chases his superior officer all over Pakistan, usually accompanied by a ‘small present’. Sadly, the process of handling of these ACRs is not only flawed but it also involves massive delays. This further leads to delays in promotions. This question was raised in almost every consultation conducted by an NGO with policemen from every corner of the country. It was further added that the process could be expedited by ‘taking care’ of the clerk in charge of these ACRs, who sometimes allows the respective policeman to fill his/her own report. The process is further delayed if the clerk does not ‘cooperate’ or if the senior is posted. This flawed process results in delays in promotions of thousands of policemen every year.
These ACRs should be completed every year in December. When citizens wrote to the police department reminding them of their duty in December, it was labelled interference. It was not interference in the affairs as long as the organisation was advocating the rights of policemen. Interference it was not when the citizens’ group ensured compensation for families of policemen who died in the line of duty. The organisation was not interfering when the group was pleading for respect for the sacrifices of police in harsh circumstances in front of the media and parliamentary groups. Then the officers agreed with and commended the efforts. However, when foolishly, the citizens group turned the gun around, pinpointing departmental mismanagement, it was considered interference. It was not meddling at all when the organisation trained a total of 632 police personnel in six years, something that the department should have done but failed to do.
Interference perhaps needs to be defined in the light of the concept of citizenship in Pakistan. When subordinates tell their seniors not to ask them questions, not to evaluate their performance, there is something rotten in the State of Pakistan.