Do away with the police

We don’t have to do away with the system, only remove the cancer that has plagued it

Kamal Siddiqi February 05, 2018

While we look all over the world for him, don’t be surprised if one day Rao Anwar emerges from one of the city’s streets. At this point it seems that he has disappeared into thin air. But Anwar is not one to run away. It is some others that would want him removed from the scene.

Being touted as a absconder and criminal today, Rao Anwar was once hailed by police chiefs as a super cop for the manner in which he tracked and killed the bad guys. Whether the operation against the MQM or the current operation to restore law and order in Karachi, Anwar was usually an integral part of it. He would deliver results and then a bit more. It was the bit more that got him into trouble.

Rao Anwar is not the problem. The system that produced him is. To many police officials even today Rao Anwar is a hero - at a time when police officials were being targeted for their role in the Karachi operation, it was the likes of Rao Anwar who fought back.

Karachi’s super cops apparently style themselves after Bollywood’s characters of similar fame. They are bold and brash and do not take a minute to shoot the bad guys.  People who protest the extra-judicial killings are seen more as a nuisance than anything else.

While some members of the Karachi police have been immortalized in the series of books written by Omar Shahid Hamid, himself a respected police officer, there is dark underside to the force that nobody wants to talk about.

Over the years, the Karachi police has transformed itself into a shake-down operation of sorts. It is staffed largely by poorly paid, semi-literate men, most of whom have little or no training in their areas of work.  Almost all of those recruited in the lower ranks have come after paying bribes. One cannot expect that these men suddenly transform into honest and capable policemen overnight.

There is a chain of corruption that leads to the top. The foot soldiers - who routinely stop vehicles, demand bribes at police stations or get involved in disputes or kidnappings only to make a percentage for themselves are the ones that are caught - if at all. Those who end up receiving the largest chunks are untouched. When we hear of our politicians being caught at home with billions in cash - guess where some of that money came from?

The police system in most parts of Pakistan is now rotten to the core.  We might as well do away with it. Dissolve the force. Let the Rangers handle public complaints and devise a system under which crime can be investigated and criminals arrested. The public presence of hundreds of policemen all over the city - who seem to have a cut in all criminal activities taking place, only helps crime and does not hinder it. Take the case of the number of rapes that have been publicly highlighted over the past couple of months. In almost all cases, the police did nothing. In fact. it aided the perpetrators through its inaction. But it is an election year so politicians were forced to put pressure. And results they finally did get. Which means that they can deliver, given the right push.

But any police reform will fail because it will face a wall of opposition. Honest attempts to reform the police force, which took place when General Musharraf was in power, were supported by the police officials themselves. But like most good initiatives in Pakistan, it was our all-powerful bureaucracy that thwarted this. The un-elected un-accountable bureaucracy has the most to lose if the police is placed under the supervision of elected officials like is done all over the world. Today there are more police officials at the beck and call of the bureaucrats than there are of any other group, including politicians.

For us to reform the police, or for that matter any other department, we need to understand the problem. The police has deliberately been allowed to remain a medieval force which only believes in the harassment and torture to get its way. They have to be taken out of the grip of bureaucrats.  If we do this, the reforms can get under way. We don’t have to do away with the system. Only remove the cancer that has plagued it.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 5th, 2018.

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