Time to restore public confidence in police

Crackdown on political workers leaves department’s image-building in tatters

Muhammad Shahzad February 19, 2024


The Punjab Police top brass for the past over two decades has been struggling to build a positive, soft image of the department.

Other than official pronouncements and meetings, “Changing the thana (policing) culture” has been a slogan of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) during all these years.

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), even before forming its government in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), had been eagerly vowing “de-politicisation of police stations and making them public-friendly”.

Billions of rupees have been pumped over the years into different projects -- the most recent one of turning over 700 police stations in Punjab into lucratively designed, well-furnished Special Initiative Police Stations (SIPS) with a motive described as promoting community policing.

However, all the efforts seem to have been lost after involvement in a targeted crackdown against the workers of a political party since May last year.

The acts of blatant abuse of power, violating the sanctity of home and person, harassment of women, children and other family members, illegal detentions, even horrific allegations of sexual harassment, were initially justified as necessary to create deterrence for the protection of institutions and symbols of national integration.

Post May 9, initially the law enforcement agencies enjoyed a moral high ground.

As Hegel’s dialectics describes in “unity of opposites”, after a certain saturation point, a thing, idea or value loses its essence and transforms into its opposite.

As the details of gruesome acts of violence and inhumane treatment in the guise of manhunt for the perpetrators came into public eyes, thanks to a party’s vibrant social media cell, the moral grounds were lost.

At a polling booth on February 8, a constable lamented that they too were fed up with the immoral acts deemed cultural taboo that they had been forced to do.

An SP said he had closely witnessed a transformation in police’s behaviour after the raids on homes and feared that nothing in his house, from household items to family members, would remain safe.

After the General Elections 2024 were announced, the same issue was used to block the PTI from launching a campaign, a fundamental, constitutional right, and the party’s political gatherings were dispersed

People were targeted even in remote villages. In an incident, an advocate of Lahore High Court, Khalid Khan Ranjha’s house was raided by over three dozen unidentified officials and allegedly taken to an undisclosed location along with 70-year-old ailing father in Koray Koth, a small village of Sargodha district.

Their crime allegedly was of launching a door-to-door campaign for a PTI-supported candidate.

The home of another LHC advocate, Rai Faisal, was raided multiple times in Syed Wala, a village in Nankana Sahib.

A large number of activists were allegedly abducted before the election day.

The election day has passed but the police’s targeting political activists has not come to a halt. Two days back, a video went viral of a man being dragged out of his car at Liberty Roundabout in front of his children and wife for carrying a flag.

A philosopher said that the people at large do not have opportunities of high formal learning but they learn from their experiences.

Development of public consciousness is a tedious process but hard to transform or dodge.

The Punjab Police cannot build a trustworthy, public-friendly image after acting as a tool of coercion to curb political dissent.

Even if it starts once again the quest for changing its culture and continues for the next two decades, a few months of a role similar to that experienced during the past year will bring it back to the square one.

The departments, especially the police command, must sit together and decide at once never to trespass their role defined in the constitution and laws.

In the long run, this is the only way to win public goodwill.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 19th 2024.


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