Reforming Pakistan’s Police
Reforming Pakistan’s Police
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Keeping Turmoil at Bay in Pakistan’s Polarised Polity
Keeping Turmoil at Bay in Pakistan’s Polarised Polity
Report 157 / Asia

Reforming Pakistan’s Police

After decades of misuse and neglect, Pakistan’s police force is incapable of combating crime, upholding the law or protecting citizens and the state against militant violence.

Executive Summary

After decades of misuse and neglect, Pakistan’s police force is incapable of combating crime, upholding the law or protecting citizens and the state against militant violence. With an elected government taking over power after more than eight years of military rule, the importance of reforming this dysfunctional force has assumed new importance. Elected representatives will be held accountable if citizens continue to see the police, the public face of government, as brutal and corrupt. The democratic transition could also falter if deteriorating security gives the military a new opportunity to intervene, using, as it has in the past, the pretext of national security to justify derailing the democratic process on the grounds of good governance. Major reforms and reallocation of resources are required to create an effective and accountable police service.

President Pervez Musharraf claimed national security and the need to strengthen democracy justified his 1999 coup. Police reform was to form a part of the military government’s devolution scheme, the centrepiece of Musharraf’s ostensible reform agenda. He replaced the colonial-era legislation, the Police Act of 1861, which had governed the functioning of the police since independence, with the Police Order 2002. Devised after consulting senior serving and retired police officers, that order, if properly implemented, could have been an important step towards reforming a dysfunctional organisation. Yet, like other pledges of good governance made by Musharraf and his military-led government, police reform was sacrificed for political expediency.

Amendments to the Police Order have watered down provisions that held some promise of reform, including mechanisms for civilian accountability and internal discipline, as well as guarantees for autonomy and safeguards against political interference in the posting, transfer and promotion of police officials. Six years after the Police Order was promulgated, very few public safety commissions, supposedly the cornerstone of the accountability process, were even established, and those that existed lacked enforcement mechanisms. The police remained a political pawn, with transfers and promotions used to reward those willing to follow orders, no matter how illegal, and to punish the few professional officers who dared to challenge their military masters.

The new civilian government has inherited a police force with a well-deserved reputation for corruption, high-handedness and abuse of human rights, which served the military well for over eight years, suppressing Musharraf’s civilian opposition and more than willing to accept any task – from extrajudicial killings and torture to rigging elections. With public confidence in the police at an all-time low, reform will be difficult and require time, patience and resources, yet it is a task the new governments at the centre and in the provinces will ignore at their peril, as militant violence reaches new heights.

The police and civilian intelligence agencies are far more appropriate for counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operations than a military trained to combat external enemies. The police and the intelligence agencies under police control must be given the resources needed to tackle internal threats and crime. The international community, particularly the U.S. and the European Union (EU), should realise that helping the police and civilian intelligence agencies with training and technical assistance would pay counter-terrorism dividends. However, the Pakistan government should not just increase financial support and police numbers but also enact tangible organisational and political reforms. Political appointments must end; postings, transfers, recruitment and promotions must be made on merit alone; the recommendations of police managerial bodies must be given due weight, and emphasis placed on the police serving and protecting citizens. 

Above all, democratically elected rulers must resist the temptation to use the police for political, partisan ends. While they are under no compulsion to retain the Police Order, they must ensure that its replacement is not merely a change of name. They must realise that security of their constituents and their own governments will be best ensured by a police force that is professionally run, well trained, adequately paid and operationally autonomous. If it is still used for political ends, the police force may well be damaged beyond repair, at great cost to the peace in Pakistan.

Islamabad/Brussels, 14 July 2008

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