It is obvious to most Pakistanis and has been for a long time that our police forces have a serious culture problem. In particular, the most alarming manifestation of this toxic police culture is the brutality with which law enforcers treat citizens, be they suspects or not. But where police authorities should be embarking on some intense soul searching, their higher-ups have instead settled on a different approach. The force, in their eyes, does not have any culture or brutality problem. It merely has an ‘image problem’ – at least that is what it seems, going by one police wing’s recent policy decision.
In recent days, the public has been confronted by three cases of severe police brutality. There is the case of Salahuddin Ayubi, a suspected ATM robber thought to be mentally disabled, who died in police custody in Rahim Yar Khan. The same day reports of Gujjarpura police allegedly torturing another man to death emerged as well. And then there is the case of gardener Amir Masih, who also died after being illegally detained by police in Lahore. These are by no means isolated incidents. Nor are they limited solely to the Punjab police. Look through police history in Pakistan and you will find numerous other deaths in police custody. The only thing new in recent times is that social media has allowed the public to vent their condemnations more visibly.
This happened particularly in response to the Salahuddin case. After a video of him being interrogated by police went viral, Pakistanis on social media minced no words in lambasting our law enforcement authorities and the culture they perpetuate within their ranks. However, instead of taking stock of these justified criticisms, the IG Punjab Office issued a puzzling policy directive. “No officer below the rank of SHO or in-charge of deployed duty will use a cellphone while on duty,” a policy memo stated. With priorities like these, it is no wonder police forces in Pakistan suffer from an image problem in the first place.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 10th, 2019.