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Reluctant to reform

Naeem Sadiq

The News,   20 July 2016


When the wise old man of Sindh ordered recovery of the Sindh chief justice’s son and apprehending the killers of Amjad Sabri within a week, it was obvious that he knew very little about what he was saying.

His fake expression of concern, repeated ad nauseam on all such occasions, was merely a ritual intended to pacify the public. This was followed by numerous high level meetings and a yet higher level suo motu. As expected, this avalanche of speeches, orders, meetings, press conferences and notices resulted in nothing beyond release of yet more hot air.

Two important conclusions may be drawn from these and other similar incidents. First, that the government’s capacity to handle such incidents stays frozen in the era of 1861. Leave aside catching the culprits, the police do not even have a mechanism of getting to know that a crime has been committed. It took more than six hours for the police to get to know of this particular abduction – enough for the abductee to be whisked hundreds of miles away from the scene of incident.

Second, the entire focus of the government remains confined to specific incidents and not on the processes that either create or prevent such incidents. We therefore never learn, never reform, never improve processes or capacity and continue to look busy fighting fires with obsolete tools and methodologies.

Most acts of crime and militancy could be prevented if the state was to exercise control over two fundamental instruments – weapons and fake vehicles. The vested groups within the state (having major commercial interests) have successfully prevented the state from taking any decision or action to curb both these ailments.

Those who import weapons, those who sell them, those who smuggle them, those who transport them, those who run security companies, those who issue licenses, those who provide under-the-table fake licenses and those politicians who generously distribute weapons to their followers are the co-profiteers of a huge commercially lucrative industry.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) of the US would appear to be a schoolboys’ club as compared to the entrenched pro-gun interest groups of Pakistan. Ironically, the politicians, the army and the police are willing to fight Zarb-e Azbs but not willing to get hold of the 20 million weapons in the hands of civilians in Pakistan.

The Sindh government is happy to not register thousands of its vehicles with the Excise and Taxation Department. Citizens have posted pictures of hundreds of fake Sindh Police vehicles on Facebook groups such as ‘Lawless Vehicles’, but the police are not willing to look at them. Thousands of private vehicles with fake official number plates roam around unchecked in the urban and rural towns of Sindh.

The police are too timid to challenge vehicles that bear real or fake official number plates, making it easy for criminals to routinely park at wrong places, enter prohibited locations, violate traffic laws, not pay taxes and indulge in acts of crime and militancy. The government, the police and the E&T Department remain utterly unconcerned about their own role in promotion of crime and militancy.

It may therefore be fair to conclude that there is something seriously dysfunctional about the way we look at the issues of crime, militancy and policing. There ought to be no need for the CM or the chief justice to take personal notices of high-profile cases. Instead, what they ought to, but never, do is to improve and reform the processes that work equally well for all citizens.

The Sindh Assembly must repeal the colonial Police Act of 1861 and revert to Police Order 2002. The police need to be made a professional body, aligned with their commanders and the law, rather than private patrons or political parties. A nation-wide programme for taking back all 20 million weapons in the hands of civilians be launched.

The Sindh government and the Sindh Police ought to register each and every official vehicle with the E&T department. The same must also be displayed on the E&T website. A programmer must be initiated to round up an estimated 200,000 vehicles that blatantly carry fraudulent number plates – many impersonating as government or police vehicles. The Sindh police must make use of the modern technology to instantly check and verify the credentials of any vehicle on the road.

All this is possible only if the Sindh police is reformed, restructured and rescued from political influences. Our ‘individual-specific’ approach must be replaced by pro-active actions to eliminate the primary instruments of violence. A government reluctant to reform its delivery processes ought not to be in the business of governance.