Thieves got to you. Call the cops. Cops got to you. Who to call?
And here then the biggest irony of all yawns at you like a lazy dinosaur: we’ll give you shiny rides and carpeted roads; we’ll give you wired gizmos and wireless loans; we shall even grant you budgetary wishes and wish you supplementary grants, but — yes here it comes — we shall not give you any guarantee of safety and security. No sire. We shall have the police gut you like a fresh water fish and throw your bones to that annoying neighbourhood cat.
What the police inflict on the public in this Islamic Republic is a crime. What the governments inflict on their police is perhaps a bigger crime. Law and order is a provincial subject, and the provinces are wholly and solely responsible for the good and bad that defines their respective police force. Police reform has now become an oxymoron. This force, many say, is beyond reform. It is a sick patient that has no chance of survival. The police is done for.
The Punjab police died in Model Town, Lahore, last June, along with 17 innocent men and women. Its ghost may still roam around the province but for all practical purposes, the force lies buried somewhere near the Minhajul Quran Secretariat.
The much-touted Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa police slashed its own veins the day it handcuffed Mian Iftikhar but dithered on nabbing PTI minister Ali Gandapur. The “model” force is now writhing in a pool of its own blood, gasping for life.
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall; Humpty Dumpty had a great fall; all the king’s horses, and all the king’s men; couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty together again.
I have a shockingly simple question to ask the governments: why can’t you give us a modern and efficient police force? The answer is even more shocking: Because we don’t want to. Too simplistic? Then why has no government ever been able to reform the basic thana? Why has no government — despite piles and piles of reports on police reform — not been able to execute the reform? Why has no government made any significant improvement in policing at all?
In Daska, an SHO picked up his automatic weapon and gunned down two lawyers. In the local body elections in K-P, the police watched helplessly as violence reigned supreme across the province. In Sindh, police killed a man in custody — again — and there was hell to pay. Top police officials tout cosmetic steps as revolutionary changes and then choke on their bile when the next disaster happens. From top to bottom, it is one rotten mess.
But no one cares. In Punjab, the police will get heavy motorbikes and fancy weapons, but the force will remain at the mercy of dishonest politicians and incompetent officers. The thana will not change. The mindset will not change. The attitude will not change. Cops will torture. Cops will kill. Cops will do whatever their masters tell them. They are, for all practical purposes, guns for hire.
Which is exactly what the point is. Keep them dishonest. Keep them incompetent. Keep them dependent on you. Shahbaz Sharif can put up a gigantic solar park, and a massive Metro project under a year. But the police is beyond him. He’s helpless. He’s incapable. He has no capacity to reform the police. He has no will for it. He cannot do this task. When it comes to reforming the police, he is a failure. Period.
In K-P, Imran Khan tried reform. He failed. His IG, Nasir Durrani, failed. He should have arrested Gandapur the same day as per the dictates of the law scribbled in the FIR. But he dithered. His force dithered. And waited. Yes waited till the media started shouting and building pressure. Only then did the police move in to nab him, and even then requested him to hand himself over. I wish the police could also request the Average Joe to court arrest, instead of picking up his relatives as hostages.
I believe Imran genuinely wants to reform the force, but he just is unable to make that decisive change that is required to cross a certain threshold. The police in K-P have undertaken some commendable steps but these are at best cosmetic. As long as the force and its officers remain beholden to the government, and as long as the enforcement of law suffers from duplicitous hypocrisy of the political kind, the police will remain a handmaiden of the rulers. It will remain a rotten institution.
There are a million and one ways that the police can be reformed. The best minds have mapped reform in great detail and handed the reports over to the political decision-makers. And there they lie, quietly gathering dust. It’s not that we do not know how to reform the police; it’s that no leader has the will to get it done. Yes, the political price he has to pay is too much for him to bear, public be damned.
So in this age of democratic delivery, all things may change, but the police will not. We will learn to live embrace the sickening contradictions that will define the future of this force. So we will have electronic FIRs as well as electric shocks in thanas; we will have friendly public officers in the front offices and the rod-wielding torturers in the backrooms; we will in fact have modern forensics as a perfect window dressing while the real investigations will remain dependent on brutality and abductions of relatives. That’s the future in store in Punjab, K-P and the other two provinces where, by the way, the rumours of governance are grossly exaggerated.
Pakistan it seems is one big crime scene and the perpetrator of the crime is the State itself. Living through the most violent of times, we are just not able to set right the one institution that will contribute the most to combating the menace of terrorism. Billions of rupees shall be spent on razzmatazz projects but the police will remain a medieval force capable of terrorising the population, and nothing more.
It is this one failure that will haunt us till our graves — or perhaps, expedite our journey there.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 7th, 2015.