Crimes and punishment
By Abdul Khalique Shaikh, Dawn, October 22, 2008
THE new government has immense challenges to meet. The most formidable of these myriad tasks is combating terrorism, which the president and the prime minister say is their administration’s top priority.
The internal, regional and international situation also makes it imperative for the government to successfully eliminate terrorism.However, the drive against terrorism is intrinsically linked to the government’s ability to establish the rule of law and to restore the writ of the state in various parts of the country.
No government which fails to control day-to-day conventional crime can expect to succeed at the enormous task of breaking the back of terrorism. The ongoing fierce battle against a highly organised network of terrorists cannot be won if the state apparatus is allowed to become too weak to defeat an ordinary criminal in the street.
Rule of law and writ of the government are prerequisites for attracting foreign investment, encouraging remittances from expatriates, halting the brain drain and preventing flight of capital. Thus even the economic woes of the country cannot be effectively handled without an unflinching commitment to maintenance of law and order. This cannot be achieved without putting in the kind of effort and resources needed to establish a professional, meritorious, well-paid, well-trained and motivated police organisation capable of rising to the occasion.
The writ of law can be established if the law enforcers successfully open up no-go areas, control illicit arms, regulate illegal immigrants and effectively stop the menace of land-grabbing, encroachments, traffic violations, day-to-day incidents of street crime and highway robbery. This must be coupled with concerted efforts aimed at addressing the pervasive fear of crime and improving police-public relations.
Success on this front will not be forthcoming until an efficient and effective police organisation is established in the cities as well as rural areas. Various governments at the centre and in the provinces have in the past expressed the desire to maintain order and peace but their actions never matched their words. Successive governments have paid only lip service to this pressing issue. The government of the day has to make it its top priority.
Over the last few years the police have been diverted from their primary task of preventing and detecting crime to assisting their political bosses in achieving their own agendas. Every successive government has used the police as a convenient tool to crush political opponents, bolster its position and settle personal scores.
The previous government’s policies, in particular, made the police subservient to local influential persons. In a bid to keep the main political parties out of power, handpicked police officers were deputed to key field assignments to embolden local influentials of the government’s choice.
Crucial positions in the police hierarchy were doled out as favours. Incompetent, unscrupulous and unprofessional police officers ended up in positions much beyond their limited capabilities. Such practices have made the organisation highly politicised and badly eroded the writ of the state.
In most urban centres the bulk of police resources is diverted towards the protection of ‘VIPs’. Escorts and gunmen for politicians, religious leaders, police officers, judges, civil servants and anybody who is somebody are a major drain on institutional resources. Some religious leaders and status-conscious politicians have more policemen in their service than the entire functional strength of a medium-size police station. This has to be discouraged.
From the man in the street to the English-speaking chattering classes, people are quick to lash out against the increasing lawlessness but make little or no effort to respect the law. From ordinary traffic violations to flagrant disregard for building-control regulations, we take pride in our ability to bypass clearly laid down laws.
If we exhort the government of the day to make a clear shift from a politically motivated agenda to a crime-control agenda, citizens must shun the feudal and macho mindset as well. There is a need to develop a culture where laws are enforced without fear or favour and no exceptions are tolerated. The motorway police can serve as a perfect model where no political interference is brooked and police officers enforce the highway code without any discrimination.
It is high time to take corrective steps and stop the relentless decline. The new government has to rise above conventional petty politics and institutionalise a culture of merit in the police organisation. The government can hope to get long-term results if it shows transparency and fairness in recruitment, promotion, reward and punishment, and discourages political interference in operational matters of law enforcement.
The police leadership and policymakers in the government need to ensure that the police are provided with latest the technology and equipment required for prevention and detection of crime. Use of scientific methods and forensic facilities will not only improve chances of detection but increase convictions in the courts and deter potential delinquents from offending. As things stand, policing is heavily dependent on the physical deployment of policemen. Surveillance through closed-circuit television (CCTV) and other electronic methods is almost non-existent.
Even some private hospitals and corporate offices have far more sophisticated security equipment than the police. The Karachi-based Citizens-Police Liaison Committee (CPLC) has better gadgets and computer-based support than the capital city police of Karachi. Although the police have been provided huge quantities of automatic weapons and ammunition, the expenditure on modern surveillance, security and crime-detection equipment is proportionately much lower.
A neglected, ill-equipped, unprofessional, politically manipulated and operationally restrained police organisation is bound to fail in establishing the writ of the state. This will encourage armed groups to establish their areas of influence and create states within the state which may serve as safe havens for militant groups and terrorists. Consequently it will become extremely difficult for the law enforcers to police those areas. Conversely, an efficient, impartial and operationally independent police organisation will be capable of offering solutions to this pernicious problem in these trying circumstances.
The writ of the state can be established if enforcement of law is not subservient to political expediency. This challenge has to be met and it is still possible to do so.
The writer is a senior superintendent of police in Sindh.firstname.lastname@example.org