May Issue 2019

By | Newsbeat National | Published 3 months ago

Mounted members of the Sindh Police in Karachi.

The involvement of police officials in a series of unfortunate incidents in Karachi has raised serious questions about the performance, capability, administration and control of the law enforcement agency. Senior police officials abusing their powers against civilians, and trigger-happy policemen using high-powered weapons in areas of public commute, have drawn criticism from various circles.

The incumbent Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP), governing the province for the third consecutive term, is quick in shifting all the blame on the concerned department, absolving itself of any responsibility in these acts of utter negligence on the part of the law enforcement agency. The provincial government has, instead, found an opportunity to take jabs at senior police officials and the judiciary for obstructing its bid to exercise greater control over the department, and preventing it from influencing the transfers and postings of officials and manipulating the recruitment and induction process.

In recent weeks, three tragic incidents of the deaths of minor children invited the ire of the public against police officials and the way they operate. In the first incident, a minor named  Mohammad Ahsan Sheikh was caught in a crossfire between the police and muggers on Karachi University road. The child was travelling in a rickshaw with his parents when he was hit by a bullet fired by the police. He was rushed to the hospital but he succumbed to the bullet wound and died.

The family refuted police accounts of the incident, that it was in the midst of an encounter, and alleged that an altercation between the policemen on duty resulted in one of them firing random shots that claimed the life of the child. A spent bullet casing found at the crime scene and its forensic examination confirmed the bullet was fired from a gun belonging to the policeman in question.

In another incident in Karachi, a minor girl named Nishwa was administered a wrong dose of an injection at Darul Sehat Hospital that deteriorated her condition. She was moved to the intensive care unit and placed on a ventilator and died April 22. Qaiser Ali, the father of the girl, lodged a complaint against the hospital administration and staff, but he was threatened by Superintendent of Police (SP), Gulshan Tahir Noorani, to withdraw the case against the administration of the hospital. He was caught on camera and a video footage of him interacting with Qaiser in the presence of other people, reportedly inside the hospital’s ICU unit, went viral on the internet, leading to another blow to the image of the Sindh Police.

On April 5, policemen in plain clothes were involved in an exchange of fire with an absconder in Sherpao Colony, in which two young boys aged 10 and 12 years were caught in the crossfire. They were shifted to Jinnah Hospital where one of them succumbed to a bullet wound to his head and died.

In another incident in North Karachi involving an exchange of fire between robbers and the police, on February 23, Nimra Baig, 20, a first-year medical student, died after she was shot in the head by what was believed to be a police sub-machine gun.

In August last year, 10-year-old Amal Umar was killed in a similar incident, when she was hit by a bullet during an encounter between the police and robbers. Amal was taken to the hospital, but due to a delay in adequate medical treatment, she died. The case led to a suo moto notice by the then Chief Justice of Pakistan, Mian Saqib Nisar, who constituted a committee that held the hospital administration, the ambulance service and the police, responsible for the incident. Eminent lawyer Faisal Siddiqui, who was part of the investigation, noted that potent ammunition provided to the police without adequate training resulted in such incidents, and contended that police officials also admitted to behaving irresponsibly.

Incidents involving innocent bystanders catching stray bullets fired by the police have become routine, in recent months. While all the incidents have been followed by senior police officials admitting their mistakes and the IG or DIGs taking action, they are soon forgotten and even the media stops reporting them.

In the wake of the two recent incidents involving Ahsan and Nisha, Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah took notice of the problem and, while talking to the media during visits to the families of the victims, criticised the police for its lack of professional training. Additionally, he did not forget to bring the Sindh government’s own grievances regarding the way the police force has been operating and taking decisions on its own. “Though the police are independent, they must make decisions after consulting with the government,” he is reported to have said, underlining that the independence of the police does not mean that they have “a licence to kill innocent people.”

Saeed Ghani, the Minister for Local Governments, went a step further and declared that the police department had spiralled out of control. Referring to the controversies regarding the removal of former IGP Sindh, AD Khawaja, and orders by the Sindh High Court and the Supreme Court of Pakistan, he reiterated the provincial government’s stance and said that the “Sindh government has no control over the police department and cannot even transfer a station head officer (SHO) for poor performance.”

The remarks of both, the Chief Minister and the Minister for Local Governments, stirred a debate over the old row between the provincial government and the then IGP AD Khawaja, in which members of civil society organisations went to court against the provincial government, to prevent Khawaja’s transfer. The debate was aggravated by news of the transfer of the third IGP in Punjab by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government (the decision to replace Amjad Javed Saleemi as IG Punjab with Arif Nawaz has been challenged in the Lahore High Court). Bakhtawar Bhutto-Zardari tweeted that the PTI government had removed three Punjab IGs in eight months without providing any explanation while the PPP government in Sindh was unable to do the same. Legal practitioners, journalists and political analysts too criticised the PTI government for its erratic approach towards bureaucratic changes and transfers.

The police have unfettered access to heavy artillery.

The PTI government has also been criticised for violating the directives of the Supreme Court of Pakistan in the Anita Turab case of 2012 (a petition filed by Turab, a civil servant, for the protection of civil servants) in which the apex court had given clear directives on appointments, postings, tenures, transfers, promotions and the removal of officers or posting them as OSDs. According to the court’s directives, the government cannot exercise absolute or unfettered discretion.

In Sindh, meanwhile, the problem is not solely regarding the provincial government’s discretion in transferring, appointing or removing a chief of police. The issue started with the Sindh government repealing the Police Order 2002 and reviving the Police Act of 1861, in July 2011, drawing criticism from civic rights organisations which had opposed the move. Civil society organisations stressed on the need for reforms to make the police people-friendly, and argued that the police law should reflect the modern concept of community policing and should not be administered through a colonial law applied in the aftermath of the 1857 rebellion.

A petition was filed in the Sindh High Court by civic rights organisations against the repeal of the Police Order 2002 and included a demand to reinstate A D Khawaja, who had been removed by the Sindh government as chief of police. The court ruled against the government move, saying that it could not transfer the IG before he had completed his three-year tenure. In the detailed judgment, the court ordered that the police be given “functional and operational autonomy” and asked the provincial government to enact police rules for transfers and postings of officers of the Sindh police. Khawaja was asked to prepare a draft of the rules and submit it before the provincial cabinet for approval. After more than a year of the proposed rules having been submitted to the cabinet, the provincial government has yet to implement them. All it has done is to request more time in the court hearings to avoid contempt of court proceedings initiated against it. In the last hearing, on April 17, the court adjourned the proceedings until May 14.

The Sindh government is dragging its feet because it intends to introduce a new police act and so does not consider it necessary to formulate the rules for transfers, postings and tenures, proposed by the former IG. Responding to the criticism of the PPP government’s unwillingness to introduce reforms and its bid to acquire greater control of the police department and assert its influence in transfers, postings and the recruitment process, CM Shah said, “Whenever the provincial government suggests any administrative change for better policing, someone raises a hue and cry and terms it ‘political interference.’ What’s so wrong about that?” he questioned. “This is a political government; we are elected to power through a political process and we have to take political decisions in the interest of the people. Talking about the court’s intervention, he said, “Some insertions and deletions in the law have upset the control of the provincial government over the police.”

CM Shah’s remarks were a clear indication that the new police act the PPP wants to introduce may enable it to exercise tight control over the affairs of the police force. However, to address criticism from civic rights groups, it may bring about some amendments to set up a Public Safety Commission through the new act.

Political detractors link it to the power police officials tend to use during elections at the tehsil and taluqa levels. “They cannot afford to let the police department operate on its own, especially at a time when local government elections are expected to be held at the end of the year, or at the beginning of next year,” says a political analyst who has covered local government elections.

Police laws Old and New

In the aftermath of colonial rule, Pakistan’s police departments have been used by the ruling elites as instruments of control in suppressing dissent and taming the political opposition. The Police Act of 1861 (and the Police Rules of 1934) had been very effective in serving that purpose since it was formulated in the aftermath of the 1857 rebellion against colonial rule. The aim was to maintain order through coercion and to help the administration in collecting land revenue. Under the 1861 act, the police was under dual control. In administrative, organisational, financial and professional matters, it was under the Inspector General of Police, in operational matters – such as the collection of revenue – it would serve under the District Magistrate or Deputy Commissioner.

After independence, the bureaucratisation of the state, authoritarian rule and political manipulation by the ruling elites have left little room for reform. The 1861 Police Act remained a central law (with a few modifications) until the military rule of General (R) Pervez Musharraf brought in the new Police Order 2002. This new act tried to address the issue by enabling civilian oversight of the police and external accountability through complaint authorities, Criminal Justice Coordination Committees (CJCC), and public safety commissions at the federal, provincial, regional, and district levels.

The new act attempted to prevent political influence by formulating laws for postings, transfers, promotions and the tenure of officers. It followed the concept of community policing through Citizen Police Liaison Committees (CPLC). The new law introduced functional segregation, or separation between the arm of the police responsible for the maintenance of public order and that which specialised in investigation. The aim was to enable a continuity in investigations, develop the necessary expertise, promote greater efficiency, and to keep the police’s high-handedness in check. Additionally, a mechanism was streamlined to register complaints against police officials for misconduct.

But political interests of the lawmakers (and Musharraf’s alignment with various political quarters in an attempt to extend his rule) was at odds with the new law. As a result, the law remained ineffective and later went through series of amendments. After the 18th Amendment, when the provincial legislature got the powers to amend the law, Sindh and Balochistan repealed Police Order 2002 and went back to the antiquated colonial law, while Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) continued with the 2002 law, albeit with many amendments.

Civil Society for Police Reforms

Sindh government’s repeal of the Police Order 2002 and revival of the colonial Police Act of 1861, was met with criticism from human rights bodies and civil society organisations. They moved the courts through a petition filed by Karamat Ali, Executive Director of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER), Shehzad Roy, singer and humanitarian, and others in the Sindh High Court (SHC), in December 2016.

The Sindh government had, at the time, removed AD Khawaja as IG Sindh. And so, the petition against the colonial act and the repeal of a better police law, included in its demands the reinstatement of Khawaja, since the rules set for transfers, postings, and tenure in a Supreme Court Judgment (Anita Turab case) did not allow for his transfer. The court issued a stay order against Khawaja’s transfer and asked him to propose amendments in the police law to be presented to the provincial government. He was also provided with the Citizen’s Charter of Demands for police reforms. Khawaja appreciated the efforts of the human rights bodies and civil society organisations, and constituted a committee headed by then DIG Muneer Sheikh to work on the charter.

The document was split in two parts that included a set of demands: the first part was for the common citizens and the second talked of steps for the benefit of police personnel. Below is the list of the proposed reforms in the charter.

For Citizens

1. A Provincial Public Safety Commission/Ombudsman should be established.

2. A Human Rights Cell (established under Standing Order 235/2009) should be activated in each district; it should issue monthly reports (special focus on extra judicial killings and enforced disappearances); citizens (a minimum of five) should be made members of the cell.

3. E-filing for the launching of complaints should be allowed and a reference number be issued to the complainants.

4. All investigations should be conducted in a transparent and efficient manner and all funds allocated should be made available to the investigating officers, who should be made accountable.

5. Foot patrolling and women and minorities should be inducted in the police force at all levels, as per the five per cent quota allocated to them under the law. Every citizen arrested has a right to dignity and privacy under the Constitution. Conditions of lock ups, including sanitary services, should be improved.

6. The assets of Police officers and the outcome of inquiries against police officers should be posted on the official website of the police.

7. A special unit should be created to monitor progress in all cases relating to complaints of violence against women, children and minorities.

8. Security should be provided to the minorities’ places of worship by police officers belonging to the same minority. As per the Supreme Court judgement of Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani regarding the safety of the Minorities’ Places of worship. (PLD 2014 SC 699)

For the Police

1. The police budget for each police station should be put up on the official website of the police.

2. Issues regarding the Annual Confidential Report (ACR) should be addressed, as police officers take little or no interest in writing the ACRs of their subordinates. Delayed ACRs bring down morale.

3. Retired police personnel and the families of martyred police officers should be paid, their dues on time. Living conditions of police personnel must be at par with other government service departments. Working conditions of police personnel should be brought in conformity with Pakistan’s law and international standards.

4. The dignity of police personnel and their families should be upheld; there must be access to education, healthcare and decent living conditions for their families; all injured police personnel should have access to the best healthcare at par with that which is available to the armed forces. All police personnel should undergo regular medical check-ups.

5. The concept of community policing must be promoted at police station level. The performance of community policing will be part of the ACR of the SHO.

The civil society petition is in the courts and the petitioners have requested the SHC to issue contempt of court notices to the provincial government, which has deliberately been delaying the process of implementing the rules proposed by the former IG Sindh.

Karamat Ali, the petitioner says, “All efforts [by members of civil society] and the petition in court emphasise the need for reforms in the law. [Members of civil society] acknowledge that after the 18th Amendment the provincial assembly has the powers to legislate and make laws. Provincial autonomy, however, doesn’t mean that they should concentrate all the powers at the province and not devolve it to the local government level.

“When it comes to policing, the Sindh government shouldn’t insist on a law for colonial times, or have a police force that works on the whims of political representatives,” he continues. “The police should be free of all political influences, and should be made accountable at the district and town level through human rights cells and public safety commissions.”

Jibran Nasir, a lawyer and prominent human rights activist, referred to the recent incidents involving the misconduct of police officials and said, “If there was a better police law, like the Police Order 2002, the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) Karachi Additional Inspector General (AIG) Kamran Afzal, who was caught on camera harassing a family, would have been punished with five years’ imprisonment.”

Ali Arqam main domain is Karachi: Its politics, security and law and order