Forgotten heroes

On the 4th of August Pakistan observes Police Martyrs Day

Hassan Niazi August 07, 2018
The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore and also teaches at the Lahore University of Management Sciences. He holds an LL M from New York University where he was a Hauser Global Scholar. He tweets @HNiaziii

On the 4th of August Pakistan observes Police Martyrs Day. Or at least it is supposed to, but such is the lot of the police force of Pakistan that even on a day specifically designated to remember their sacrifices there is barely a ripple in the national discourse regarding them. The unfortunate truth is that Pakistan’s police force is often the subject of ridicule and negative stereotyping rather than admiration. Some of this criticism is no doubt justified. Living in this country, nearly everyone has had a distasteful experience with the police, but much of the blame for this lies on the lack of attention given to police reform by successive governments. The image of the sleazy police officer trying to manoeuver a bribe obscures the image of the police officers who have sacrificed their lives for this country. It is about time this changed.

Take Safwat Ghayyur, an Additional Inspector General of Police serving in K-P. On the 4th of August 2010, Ghayyur was martyred in a suicide blast in Peshawar. He was known for having little tolerance for militants in his area, continuously working to root them out at great danger to himself and his men. Ghayyur did so much damage to militants that the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan would later claim he topped their hit list because of his relentless operations against them. According to Umar Riaz’s touching tribute penned for Ghayyur, he was actively involved in rooting out the group that would eventually target the Army Public School in Peshawar. Had Ghayyur lived he might have succeeded in saving Pakistan from one of the most terrible tragedies in its history.

Yet, few know about Ghayyur. Ask someone in Pakistan about which institution is sacrificing the most in the war on terror and they will tell you, with glowing praise, that it’s the army. Of course, the army has been invaluable in this bloody war to cleanse Pakistan of extremism, but so has Pakistan’s police force — but you’ll have to search far and wide to find the same praise for them.

The State of Pakistan is complicit in the dwindling respect for the police in the eyes of its people. Consider how the State delegitimised the actions of the police in trying to disperse the TLP protestors in Faizabad. As the police charged in on the instructions of the government, putting their lives at risk for a cause that they themselves must have felt increasingly conflicted about, the military intervened and signed an agreement accepting the TLP’s demands. Forget the legality of this agreement, what impact did this have on the morale of the police officers who were part of the Faizabad operation? Apart from seeing the military legitimise the TLP further, the police were blamed for botching the entire operation. The unrewarding task of being a police officer was subject to further ridicule; their work panned by the very politicians who had given them the go-ahead in the first place. The TLP stood triumphant while the police skulked off into the background, no doubt with a bitter taste in their mouth.

Instances like this do make one wonder why anyone would want to join the police force of Pakistan in the first place? Clearly there isn’t a lot of money involved (at least not through any legitimate means); the amount of respect you get is negligible; you are forced to put your life at risk with little chance of getting recognition; and, you are automatically labelled corrupt by the people you are supposed to protect and serve. Hardly a tantalising job prospect. This cannot be the image that we want such a vital institution of state to have. The PTI now has the chance to rectify this, since there is little doubt that the police service of Pakistan needs monumental reform. This shouldn’t be a priority just because of the sacrifices that have been made by them, but also, because it is the police that ultimately must be the first line of defence against the menace of terrorism within Pakistan — not the army. The army cannot be everywhere.

The new government must restore respect for the police by highlighting the sacrifices made by officers such as Safwat Ghayyur. It must seriously consider reforming the police as a key goal in its five-year tenure. Until we have a strong police force the existing civil-military imbalance that plagues this country will only continue.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 7th, 2018.

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