The Rawalpindi incident: A case study of state and society

Published: November 26, 2013
The writer is Editor, National Security Affairs at Capital TV and a visiting fellow at SDPI

The writer is Editor, National Security Affairs at Capital TV and a visiting fellow at SDPI

The events at Raja Bazaar in Rawalpindi on 10th Muharram make a good case study for what is wrong with this state and society.

There is an obvious need to look into the conduct of the administration at both the bureaucratic and political levels, but that’s only half the story. It is equally important to notice the degree of difficulty for a state to uphold the rule of law in a society where an increasing number of people want to shape their lives according to exclusionary concepts of social order that inevitably conflict with pluralism, the glue that holds together a modern state in all its diversity.

Let’s consider the Rawalpindi case.

Contrary to false and expedient assertions by religio-political leaders of all denominations, differences in the interpretation of Islam, as well as political and other events since its inception, have created more differences than similarities and consistencies. These differences, at various stages in the history of Islam, have resulted in much bloodshed and deep acrimonies. Talk to any cleric and he will parrot the usual line that everyone agrees on the Holy Quran and Sunnah. Blatantly dishonest, this statement is employed by clerics to block real inquiry into their own conduct and to perpetuate the myth that there was some golden era of Islam which has been killed by modernity.

There wasn’t. There’s too much evidence to the contrary, penned by historians, Muslim and others. Also, take any Muslim society close to the application of faith as a political tool and the warts begin to appear like a bad case of eczema.

Therefore, to say Rawalpindi has always been quiet and there have never been any sectarian tensions is hogwash. The fact is that Madrassa Taleem-ul-Quran and the passing of the Muharram procession from this route has been a problem for many decades.

This is where administrative efficiency comes in. Clashes were averted previously because senior police officers would handle the route, especially this flashpoint, through careful planning, coordination and, when required, negotiations with leaders of both sects.

That planning was missing this year. Reason: the police officers posted to Rawalpindi — RPO/CPO/SSP Operations — are not the sharpest knives in the drawer. That raises two other questions: if they are not professionally competent, who posted them to Rawalpindi and so close to the sensitive month of Muharram; two, how exactly is the performance of civil service officers evaluated and who does it?

Both questions are important. The RPO and the CPO, insiders tell me, got these posts because of links with what is euphemistically referred to as the ‘Lahore Group’, while the SSP is close to Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan through a confidant of the Chaudhry.

Which is why, when we speak of administrative inefficiency, we also have to focus on political interference in police work as also on the absurd fact that police officers have to rely on secretaries who are invariably DMG officers, the know-it-all cadre of civil services in a world that has long recognised the merit in specialisation.

Where does this leave the Inspector General Punjab Police, Khan Beg?

In a rather unenviable position. The man who is supposed to lead the Punjab Police, a 170,000-strong force, is rendered ineffective because he cannot, allegedly, post even a DSP. That has become the remit either of the DMG officer or a powerful politico.

Given this situation, merely throwing out the RPO/CPO and SSP Operations is not going to make a difference. They will remain in limbo for a while, keep drawing their salaries and perks, and when the dust settles, will be back in action.

It will be a good study to take the last 10 years and see how many officers were removed for being inefficient, which officers were posted in their place and by whom, what good it did and where are the removed/suspended officers now. I have a hunch the results will make all of us feel like idiots taken for a ride.

The inquiry into the Rawalpindi incident must also go beyond these obviously inefficient officers to those in the bureaucracy and the political masters who gave them their assignments.

This is where the issue of performance evaluation comes in. If the IG’s office has become a post office, what can possibly be expected from the police? Is the army chief or any commander answerable to anyone outside the force for the working of the service? No.

The interior minister, as also the prime minister and the Punjab chief minister do not tire of talking about police reform. Here’s a suggestion, one which I gave to the Chaudhry, to improve the police at zero cost: stop political and bureaucratic interference in the functioning of the police; let the force purge dead wood, allow officers to function independently, create internal affairs for accountability, and a complaints commission. Additionally, understand the difference between urban and rural policing. Bring in the police commissionerate system for the major urban centres, a step that should have been taken years ago but for objections from quarters that want to maintain the status quo because it works to their advantage.

Taking these steps will improve police efficiency without spending too much money. These steps will also create the necessary conditions for the government to then do the sufficient. The sufficient, of course, deals with modernising the police and making it an effective force for policing and counterterrorism.

All of this must be done and is crucial. Equally important is the point about the society we have created. No state can survive the mischief of its own society. Imagine the United States. Could the US, with all its CT and law-enforcement capacity, tackle the lunacy of its society if increasing numbers were to take to some supra-state idea? It couldn’t.

We have a bigger, more menacing problem of a society gone awry.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 27th, 2013.

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Reader Comments (19)

  • MSS
    Nov 26, 2013 - 11:17PM

    Ejaz Haider you are right. However, you can only raise questions and suggest solutions but there are no takers in the government. It must be clear to you by now that these ‘leaders’ from all political parties are not there to lead the population to become a nation but enhance their own riches and establish their progeny as future power holders. The country could go to dogs for all they care. Accountability is an alien concept in Pakistan.


  • Ejaaz
    Nov 26, 2013 - 11:20PM

    Could not agree more.
    It really should not be a surprise to anyone. Read the warnings when Liauqet Ali was imposing the Objectives Resolution back in 1949, or the discussions on the 1953 Munir Report on the inability of defining an acceptable definition of a Muslim to all sects. Now with thousands of Madrassas in Al-Bakistan and a Salafi Chief Minister of Bunjab, who is going to set the society gone awry? It took us at least 67 years to get here. It is going to take us longer than that to set it right.


  • xenia
    Nov 26, 2013 - 11:23PM

    Simply Brilliant!


  • Ejaaz
    Nov 26, 2013 - 11:32PM

    Could not agree more.

    It should not be a surprise. Objectives Resolution of 1948, Munir report of 1953 ( no two sect could agree on who was a Mussalman), and the declaring of Ahemdiyya as kafirs in 1974 all presaged where we are. It took us 67 years to get here, a society gone awry, it is going to take us much longer to get back. Who is going to take the first step? Who is going to bell the cat? Salman Taseers example is in front of everyone.


  • Babloo
    Nov 26, 2013 - 11:42PM

    The first large scale massacre of minorities , about 5000 killed, happened in March 1947 when Sikhs and Hindus were butchered in Rawal Pindi. That was the 1st mass carnage , in the west , before partition.


  • Amanat Ali Chaudhry
    Nov 26, 2013 - 11:49PM

    This is an apt analysis. The point to ponder is that situation has come to such a pass where routine, bureaucratic solutions do not provide the kind of antidote we need to reverse the tide of malaise afflicting us. Every instance that emerges in the wake of breakdown of law and order has an in-built strand i.e. a desire and a struggle to bring down the state and if this is not possible for the time being then trying to reshape it in accordance with a predetermined sectarian ideology. Unfortunately the state is losing out a very robust attack against its integrity, while politicos continue to play petty political games aimed at point scoring. Reform of police and justice system is the last thing on their table as doing so would deprive them of their grip on the levers of power. Hence, the rot continues to eat into the vitals of our state and society. If they allow police to become neutral and independent, it would herald the end of their politics.


  • F Khan
    Nov 26, 2013 - 11:59PM

    Spot on.


  • Zayyad
    Nov 27, 2013 - 12:09AM

    So between 7th and 13th centuries the First 4 caliphs, Ummayads, Abbasids-and between 14th to 18th centuries Safavids,Mughals(at one time carrying 20%of world GDP) and Ottomans were living in dark ages along with rest of the world??


  • Babloo
    Nov 27, 2013 - 12:41AM

    My previous link is erroneous. Here is the correct link.


  • Arifq
    Nov 27, 2013 - 2:06AM

    Ejaz Sahib

    We are all Muslims, when will you understand that simple fact? Singular identity of Pakistan is paramount while corpses of intolerance are minor irritants that can be ignored and brushed aside.


  • gp65
    Nov 27, 2013 - 2:53AM

    @Ejaaz – It would make no difference whatsoever who thinks who else is a mussalman if people were not taught to hate kafirs and religion was something between an individual and God. Initially the hate for kaffirs was directed towards Hindus and Sikhs and then of course the idea took a life of its own. SO now tell me is this problem 67 years old – or older?Recommend

  • LOK
    Nov 27, 2013 - 4:49AM

    Administration in general and Punjab administration is always managed by the party in power – thats one of the must haves, not seeing this changing. I agree that accountability must be there and Ch Nisar must review if he had done the postings.


  • piddler
    Nov 27, 2013 - 10:02AM

    Your assertion is defective. There is no need for a factory certified ISO 1400 Islam in this country.


  • Aamir
    Nov 27, 2013 - 7:33PM

    Yes, correct. I agree 100%. This is a catastrophic failure of the Govt. We just missed a chain reaction which could have led to breakup of the country if handled the same way.


  • observer
    Nov 27, 2013 - 8:55PM

    We have a bigger, more menacing problem of a society gone awry.

    Yes Sir.

    No matter how much money ‘Waar’ makes- The problem is not a bunch of yahoos ‘some where in North Pakistan’, inspired by the Hanood. The problem is the whole ‘Violent Majority’.


  • Afzal Shigri
    Nov 27, 2013 - 9:37PM

    Incisive accurate and addresses the fundamental issues of governance. But will any one list?


  • Aysha M
    Nov 28, 2013 - 3:35AM

    People played and prayed together until the clerics ran amok and legislators caved in. In 1974 religion was brought into public domain. Unprecedented and unparalleled in the history of modern legislation, faith of the citizens of Pakistan was identified by national assembly proceedings. Once the state took on the responsibility of categorizing muslims and non-muslims. The toxic clergy went on to identify citizens of Pakistan as the right kind of muslims and not the right kind of muslims and of course the natural progression was to decide the fate of the not the right kind of muslims, hence killers made out of ordinary people. There are perhaps only two kinds of people in Pakistan, the QADRIS and the TASEERS


  • Omar
    Dec 1, 2013 - 8:11PM

    Spot on Ijaz, Police officers are selected by DMG or Politicians so why blame the IG for any failure!


  • Imran
    Dec 17, 2013 - 7:40PM

    What an incompetent analysis!! Police has all the powers under the Police Order 2002. All officers are posted by IG office as well, if it cant ensure its writ and has to blame others (politicians or civil servants) for its failures, the office isn’t worth the powers then. Police wants an ideal world where they have access to unlimited resources, enough manpower to be cooks and guards and drivers and gardeners (and ofcourse armed men to accompany in the rear vehicle for showoff), no civil service, political or media or judicial check and a society where there’s no crime on its own and if there’s any, no one comes forward for FIR. Ejaz, try getting into a police station (without any reference) where IG has posted officer his own choice even and you will have an experience of your life. Only thing that can put them right is rigorous monitoring and strict accountability.


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