Poor Policing Standards in South Asia

Poor investigation bedevils police in India, Pakistan
Both countries inherited the colonial system of using the police for suppressing dissent

Prof Hassan Abbas of the US National Defense University, whose erudite writings on Pakistan police reforms have been discussed by me in these columns, has released a new report, "Stabilizing Pakistan through Police Reform" on behalf of Asia Society's "Independent Commission on Pakistan Police Reform", for which he was the project director. Nineteen chapters in this compendium discuss measures for improving police-public relations, upgrading professionalism in tackling crime and terrorism, effecting legal reforms, improving military-police relationship, organising a de-radicalisation programme, developing sensitivity to human rights and improving media relationship. Written by policemen, lawyers, academics and human rights activists, the report seeks to place police reform as a priority national agenda for stabilising and democratising Pakistan polity.

This is even more ambitious than the British Conservative government's August 2010 scheme of "reconnecting the police and the people", said to be "the most radical reforms of policing in 50 years". Prof Abbas justifies this by saying that "as the state's most visible representative, the police force faces the wrath of people who feel frustrated with the poor quality of governance". However, he adds that the police "appear to lack a sense of accountability to the public they are meant to serve. Moreover, the system simply is not structured to reward good behavior, as merit-based opportunities for professional advancement are scarce."

There are parallels and variations between the Indian and Pakistan police systems. Both inherited the colonial system of using the police for suppressing dissent. While the Indian police is still organised in the same situation as in 1947, leaving the public order and police responsibility to the state politicians, Pakistan experimented with a federal police system also, which ensured some amount of Central control over growing turbulence. However, the process has been tortuous. The Federal Investigating Agency (FIA), created in 1975 for inter-state crime investigations, was misused by politicians and defanged in 1997 by the popular government, and by the military in 1999. Eventually it was re-entrusted with investigative powers in 2008. During these years it had 29 directors, compared to the six heads for the Australian Federal Police since 1979. Like our CBI, their FIA was an offshoot of the 1942 British Special Police Establishment to fight corruption. However, some other experiments in federal policing were successful. The National Highways and Motorways Police (NH&MP), created in 1997 for policing their 3,000 km of highways is said to be "one of the few non-corrupt public sector organisations in South Asia" by the Transparency International. They are better equipped and better funded than the state police, since they work under the Ministry of Communications.

For complete report, click here

Review article on 'stabilizing Pakistan Through Police Reforms' by Professor Saeed Shafqat, Quarterly, Centre for Public Policy and Government, Forman Christian College, Lahore - click here (page 48)


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