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Can the police and bureaucracy be reformed?

Forty two persons lost their lives on the beaches of Karachi on 30 July 2014. There were no warning signs, no barriers, no life guards and no police to stop them from swimming in life-threatening waters. A back-dated (28th July) notification for imposition of Section 144 was hurriedly released on 31st July when the sea had already taken its toll. The bureaucratic formality would however be adequate to bail out the entire negligent management. No one will be held responsible. The system would continue to run as it has been for the past 200 years.

In an unrelated event, the attack on Karachi airport resulted in the loss of twenty eight lives. No one was held responsible. After the attack, the CAA issued instructions that no more than one person will come to receive or see off a passenger. It also gave instructions to reduce the huge army of loaders, touts, taxi drivers, facilitators and the slave-like minions who accompany or carry the bags of officials and VIPs. Clearly these instructions, like the section 144 notification, were not intended for implementation but simply to look good on papers. One can already see the return of the pre-attack confusion at the airports – creating vulnerabilities for yet another disaster.

The government appears to have lost both the will and the capacity to implement its laws and policies. It simply does not have a system or mechanism to do so. Its two core institutions – the police and the bureaucracy have been rendered totally dysfunctional, largely by political interventions and partly by their own doings. The only utility they now serve is to is to perform illegal and criminal errands on behalf of the ruling party, such as the killing of 14 innocent citizens of Model Town Lahore.

One wonders if the government and the Pakistan Army realize that these two institutions could effectively undo all the gains that are achieved in the war on terror. To give just one example, the police does not have the capacity even to defend its own self. Just in the first seven months of this year, over 100 policemen were killed in Karachi alone – the highest number of policemen ever killed in any city in any country of the world.

Even to achieve a marginal level of sanity and stability, Pakistan must earnestly consider re-building its police and bureaucracy – for they have the largest impact on the lives of ordinary citizens. One needs to understand that no amount of Civil Service Reforms or Police Orders 2002 would resurrect the two dead institutions. The malady is more deep-rooted and fundamental.

As a first step, it is necessary to extract the two institutions from the clutches of political control and interventions. Organisations whose highest officers are only a phone call away from being suspended, posted out, demoted or made an OSD cannot be expected to operate in a professional or independent manner. This was amply demonstrated when the entire police force and the civil bureaucracy was brought to its knees by a lone gunman (Sikandar) in August 2013 in the capital city of Pakistan.

Seven basic steps ought to be taken to reform the civil service. Providing complete insulation from any political interference; doing away with all affidavits and attestations; eliminating or drastically reducing the need for citizens to visit government offices; introducing telephonic / electronic money transfer for payment of all government dues; eliminating support staff such as ‘qasids’, ‘naib qasids’, clerks, typists, peons and drivers at all levels; computerization (with fool-proof backups) of all records and completely doing away with the concept of official vehicles. The Federal and Provincial government officials in Pakistan use over 100,000 official cars while the UK government uses only 85 – of which 13 are allocated to ministers and the rest reside in a common car pool.

There is no easy way to extricate police from the jaws of the politicians, whose ambitions are not limited to merely controlling the police but also assuming the roles of SHOs and the SSPs. When a parliamentarian along with his private militia of 30 armed goons raids a police station in Faisalabad, beats up the police officials and sets free criminals, the police finds it impossible to arrest the culprit.

It requires exceptional measures and not cosmetic ‘police orders’ to cause major organizational and structural changes needed in police. The only way this can be accomplished is to constitutionally declare police as a component of Pakistan Army and its command handed over to senior army officers at the federal and provincial levels for the next ten years. The cost of not taking this bitter pill would be unacceptable and ever increasing chaos and disorder.

Appeared in the News on 4 August 2014