The police law made in 1861 to serve the purpose of a colonial ruler cannot fit the conditions of the 21st century with a booming population, successive technical revolutions and other fundamental developments that have changed the society but not the central task of the state, that is, to provide security. Under this outdated law, conditions in the cities and rural areas of Sindh deteriorated to such an extent that the life of the people was endangered, private and communal property was lost due to criminal gangs and white-collar crimes. Karachi became the sixth-most dangerous city in the world.
In 2002, General Musharraf’s government initiated police reforms by introducing a new police law. Under the 1861 law, police powers rested with the Deputy Commissioner who united the powers of policing, justice and administration in one hand, whereas the new law in 2002, under the ‘devolution of power’ initiative, separated the police from the administrative and judicial powers but put it in the hands of the politicians, the power of postings and transfers in the hands of the ruling government. Unfortunately the Police Order 2002 didn’t work too well. Whether it was functioning under the Act of 1861 or the Order 2002 the police in Sindh became highly politicised and a tool in the hands of the PPP (and for some time in the hands of the MQM in Karachi). The ruling political parties recruited their political workers and relatives and politically-connected persons from Constable to Deputy Superintendent of Police. The feudal lords in different districts managed to handpick heads of district police and ruled their fiefdoms by suppressing all types of dissent and opposition. With the police itself a partner in crime they plundered resources like state land, forests and other natural resources in the process.
In 2017, the Sindh High Court (SHC) responded to a civil society petition in protest against the governmnet’s removal of IG Sindh by ruling that “there must be autonomy of command and independence of operation in the police force. The police hierarchy, acting through the IGP, must have control over its own affairs especially insofar as postings and transfers are concerned (but certainly not limited to that) and free from outside interference”. The judgment stipulated that within 30 days rules should be drafted to regulate how the IG would handle all postings and transfers, including the terms to be served at a post. According to the rules laid down by the SC in the Anita Turabi case, ie, civil servants owe their first and foremost allegiance to the law and the Constitution, they are not bound to obey orders from superiors which are illegal or are not in accordance with accepted practices and rule-based norms,” said the judgment authored by Justice Jawwad S Khwaja in 2012. The Sindh Government’s appeal was dismissed by the Supreme Court (SC) in March 2018. However, the SC entitled the Sindh Assembly to make new laws conforming to the modern needs keeping in view the observations made in the impugned judgment.
The IG Sindh drafted the rules and submitted them to the Sindh Government for notification. With their private interests endangered the politicians did what politicians can do best: they delayed this for 18 months by putting it before a committee. The committee recently proposed a new bill to be approved by the Sindh Assembly repealing the existing Police Act of 1861 and reviving the Police Order 2002 to bring the police “within the ambit of accountability and under proper supervision” meaning control of politicians. By deliberately disregarding the Sindh High Court judgment, they are trying to sideline the rules drafted by the IG stalled in the government offices for more than a year. This amounts to contempt of court.
The 2017 judgment ruled that “till such time as the rules are framed and approved in terms as stated above, the power of transfers and postings in the police force, at all levels and including that of PSP officers, shall be exercised only by the IG, and any orders issued by him in this regard shall be self-executing.” With the depoliticisation of the Sindh police force the first positive results of the court-ordered autonomy of the Sindh police are visible. Within 18 months Karachi dropped from the sixth-most dangerous city to 70th in global ranking, the murder rate in Sindh declining by 70% when compared to 2013. The discipline of the police force and its internal accountability improved considerably when the officers started looking up to their professional commanders rather than political mentors. The attack on the Chinese Consulate General notwithstanding no major incident of terrorism has taken place in the entire province; Muharram processions to PSL matches all were handled professionally and peacefully. The highways have become safe and kidnappings brought under control. Karachi has become business friendly with respect to security. Re-introducing political ‘executive overview’ will be a terrible mistake which the people of the province (and its economy) cannot afford.
For the Police Order 2002 to be revived, those articles in contradiction with the SHC and SC judgments must be amended. The revival must be compatible with the spirit of the superior courts‘ rulings. The government must notify transfers and postings under direct rules submitted by the IG as ordered by the Sindh High Court. An impartial, professional and depoliticised police service requires disciplined organisation and unity of command which are crucial for its efficient working.
The political elite have been regarding the Sindh police as their private army. Using the police for criminal purposes was developed into an art form during the period 2008-2013. The long struggle by civil society and much awaited intervention by the superior courts to reform the police have brought it to its present state. If vested interests succeed in getting control again through a manipulated legislation aimed at evading the judgments of the superior courts it will be a bad omen for all the citizens and their quest for the rule of law in the province. When criminals function in the name of justice, justice becomes a crime.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 10th, 2019.