Police reforms in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa

Published: May 23, 2017
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The writer is a human rights activist and development practitioner. 
He tweets at @amahmood72

The writer is a human rights activist and development practitioner. He tweets at @amahmood72

The Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) Assembly passed the K-P Police Act of 2017 on January 24th with no media coverage. It was a historic moment as it is Pakistan’s first-ever provincial legislation related to the police. Credit goes to the PTI provincial government for adhering to their police reforms agenda and introducing the legislation to make the police operationally autonomous, politically neutral and democratically controlled.

The question, however, remains whether the legislation was adopted after a proper consultative process with the involvement of all stakeholders or not. And whether the myth that police reforms in Pakistan are usually initiated by the police themselves, leading to no logical conclusion, was proved right or wrong. There was much to be desired as far as consultations with the civil society are concerned. But it might have been overlooked keeping in mind the end result and with hope that the civil society will be actively involved in the implementation of the law and monitoring its implementation.

There is genuine political will for reforms in K-P and the provincial government and the police high-ups are open to accountability mechanisms under the new law at the provincial and district levels, and internally in the police. The issue of the representation of women and minorities in the proposed oversight mechanisms was a key question raised by the civil society, which has been addressed under Section 48 related to the membership of the Provincial Public Safety Commission. However, the membership of the minorities has not been assured under the Capital City Public Safety and District Public Safety Commissions.

Similarly, under Section 88 of the K-P Police Act of 2017, police has been empowered to erect barriers in the streets for one month. It is not clear, however, that if the barriers continue to exist, how the general public or community can raise their voice to remove such barriers.

Nonetheless, it is heartening to see that the district Criminal Justice Coordination Committee (CJCC) is a part of the Act of 2017. This is a major step towards ensuring coordination and cooperation among the key actors of the criminal justice system at the district level in the province. There is, however, a need to learn from the failures of the past: why could the CJCCs not be effective?

Due to various reasons, including a huge difference in the hierarchy and powers of the members, ie, an under resourced probation and reclamation department, lack of awareness about the probation and parole system among the stakeholders, probation and parole couldn’t get due attention and focus in the CJCC meetings. Therefore, under the new rules, this gap should be addressed and an oversight mechanism should be put in place at the provincial level to regularly review the progress of the CJCCs. Such a review mechanism could have the chief justice of Peshawar High Court, secretary home, inspectors general of police and prisons, etc, as its members.

It will be important for the K-P police to learn from the failures of the Police Order 2002. In my opinion, one of its failures was not being able to implement the provisions of the law related to oversight bodies and public involvement, ie, Public Safety Commissions, Citizen Police Liaison Committees and the Police Complaint Authorities. It is therefore very important for the K-P government to immediately start the process for the notification, activation and functioning of these bodies with full involvement of the relevant stakeholders.

Under Section 143, an implementation commissioner shall be appointed for one year soon after commencement of the Act for ensuring establishment of various bodies under the Act within a year. I am not sure if the commissioner has been appointed so far. It’s a positive step that the government is concerned about the implementation of the Act. However, it would have been better had a high level committee been established, comprising all the key stakeholders of the criminal justice system, to oversee the implementation, instead of appointing a commissioner only for one year just to establish the bodies. What if the bodies are established within a year but are not functional like the past?

In Sindh, the civil society under the banner of the Pakistan Forum for Democratic Policing took an initiative and supported the Sindh government in drafting the Sindh Police Bill, involving Justice Nasir Aslam Zahid. It was handed over to the provincial minister concerned and the speaker of the Sindh assembly but there has been no action by the government so far. The government should take this opportunity and enact the long awaited Bill. Balochistan and Punjab should also come up with their respective police reforms before the next general elections.

Whether the police reforms in K-P are successful or not, will only be proved in the years to come, largely depending on the implementation of the new Act. But there is a need to concentrate not only on the police but all other pillars of criminal justice system as well.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 23rd, 2017.

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