The police is considered a first line of defence in any country. One of its core responsibilities is to maintain law and order. Recently, in Pakistan, the police have not only failed to control the protests conducted by banned violent religious group Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), but also lost the precious lives of officers when they faced rioters on the streets.
Yet, no one at the helm of affairs in Pakistan is interested in knowing the causes of this failure, nor do they seem interested in introducing drastic changes to effectively counter such groups in the future. Instead, a new agreement has been reached between the government and the banned TLP, with the facilitation and involvement of the country’s powerful security establishment.
This is the second such agreement signed by this government in a single year. Both times, the violent activists of the banned outfit in question have created mayhem in the country for law enforcement agencies and the general public.
With this new agreement, it is now a settled fact that the future of the police in terms of empowering, reforming and equipping it is very bleak – in fact, merely a political slogan. In reality, neither our political rulers nor our powerful security establishment want the police to be fully equipped and reformed. Both have their own reasons.
Ideological clarity is very important for law enforcement agencies (LEAs) when they are going to enforce the writ of the Pakistani state against groups with similar ideological and religious affiliations to their own
Introspection over the police failure in handling religious-ideological protests will highlight the lack of training, leadership and institutional unity in the force. In addition to this, the police is poorly equipped to tackle violent protests. Proper anti-riot kits, taser guns etc need to be provided. Unfortunately, the police have not learnt to be one unit and family, in the way that the military is in this country. For organisational unity, the rank and file of a force need to be tightly knit and somewhat closed off to the influences of the world around them. The military has dedicated housing societies, schools, hospitals and welfare trusts for serving and retired personnel, which keep the armed forces connected to their organisational structure and enhances their cohesion within the institution. There is nothing comparable for the police force.
Currently, the police can at best be described as a mob in uniform: directionless and leaderless. On the training side, they are under-prepared, whether one considers their mental capacity-building or the ability to fight on ideological fronts. As such, this ideological clarity is very important for law enforcement agencies (LEAs) when they are going to enforce the writ of the Pakistani state against groups with similar ideological and religious affiliations to their own.
Decisions from the government kept changing on whether to stop the marchers or let them go to the next city. This has resulted in debilitating confusion and miscommunication between the government, the high-ups of the police and the lower ranks deployed on the field
Moreover, political ownership is very important for LEAs. Whenever the police had been asked to face the challenge to public order created by these extreme religious groups, they struggled hard despite their lack of preparedness. As such, the police officials on the ground did their best to fulfill their duty. And yet, every time the government had come out with a new pact with the banned organisation, neglecting the sacrifices of police officers. On the other hand, political involvement in the working of police is increasing, primarily due to our unfortunate culture of “Thana-Ketcheri” politics.
Weak and delayed political decision-making is another issue. For instance, during this latest sit-in and march by the TLP, decisions from the government kept changing on whether to stop the marchers or let them go to the next city. This has resulted in debilitating confusion and miscommunication between the government, the high-ups of the police and the lower ranks deployed on the field.
In our recent past, the police have been used in a number of situations as the scapegoat for all the political failures, optics, point-scoring and appeasement of the masses. The recent incident of harassment of a Tiktoker in Lahore ended in the transfer of the whole police hierarchy from SHO to DIG. Many in the police now wonder: how can this force be held responsible for the general behaviour of the public? We all know that such ugly harassment has social acceptance in our society and is glorified by many. Can the police be held responsible for overall public behaviour in such an unfortunate environment?
In addition to all of this, our strong military establishment does not want to lose their hegemony in Pakistan’s volatile domestic law and order and political situation – resulting in more weakening of civilian institutions and appeasing these banned groups. Every time, there are deal-brokers who proceed at the expense of sacrifices made by police, whenever the Rangers or the Army are called in for helping the civilian administration. This is understandable, as the security establishment draws a large support base from many religious groups for its geostrategic goals, so it has its own compulsions. But it is also said that the security establishment is the only constant in Pakistan and that it does not want to lose even an inch of its turf to civilian LEAs, so as to remain relevant. At the end of the day, the police have not sacrificed and suffered any less than the military in our war against terrorism. The difference between both forces is their training: and the fact that the military are a better organised, equipped and funded organisation. And the measures that they take generally find political ownership. It is not so for the police.
Right now, the morale of the police is at an all-time low. As to how the force will ensure justice for the families of police martyrs is a big question. No doubt, it is the prerogative of the government not to reveal the terms of its current agreement with the TLP. But they should, at the very least, share it with the families of the nine who were martyred in the line of duty, so that they can know what it was for which their loved ones laid down their lives.
This agreement will be seen as yet another betrayal of the sacrifices offered by the police and other LEAs. I wonder if there is any will left in the police to effectively protect the public in the future.
In fact, I fear it is as Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister famous for his policy of appeasement, was told:
“You were given the choice between war and dishonour. You chose dishonour and you will have war.”
The author serves in a law enforcement agency in Pakistan