On the verge of mutiny – Ejaz Haider

Predictably, the Punjab government’s ill-thought move to enhance the province’s counterterrorism capacity by sidelining the police has resulted in deep resentment within the force, especially the Police Service of Pakistan, which comprises the top officer cadre and from where the police force draws its leaders.

Last Sunday, about two dozen PSP officers gathered at Lahore’s Qilla Gujjar Singh police precinct and, in a six-hour meeting, voiced deep reservations over the ‘restructuring’ which will deprive the police of three sub-units: CTD, Special Branch and the Elite Force. These three units/departments are to be placed at the disposal of a new CT force being raised which will directly report to the provincial home department. [NB: the Punjab government has already put out adverts for the new force.]

The officers were also concerned that the inspector-general of police, Punjab, had no real authority to streamline the affairs of the force he heads and which, at 178,000 personnel, is the size of almost three army corps. The officers have resolved to hold more meetings and start a campaign within the PSP cadre to ensure that the force is allowed to run its affairs professionally, just like the army does, without external interference from the politicians and bureaucrats from the general cadres.

Subsequent to this meeting, officers have received two text messages. The first reads (produced here verbatim): “Dear and respected colleagues: must reach CPO [Central Police Office] on Wednesday at 2 pm along with other police officers. U [You] have no idea that a havoc [sic] is being played with ur [your] careers. So don’t miss out [or] else u [you] should find ur self [yourself] an other [sic] job because this will not be a place u [you] had worked hard for [sic].”

The second message reads: “Respected colleagues: AoA. It to bring [sic] to ur [your] notice that after CTD [Counterterrorism Department] and Elite [Force] now Special Branch is being taken away from [the] police. Moreover, more than 25 officers from [the] army in grade 17, 18, 19 are being inducted in police in a first step [sic]. Gentlemen, wake up before it’s too late. Please spread the message amongst all the police contacts that u [you] have in ur [your] fone [phone] books.”

I spoke with some officers and they said that they will fight for the force and if they fail, will resign en bloc. This is not a good development but there might just be a silver lining here. The country cannot afford discontent in a uniformed service at a time when the threat of terrorism is clear and present. Equally, neither can the country live with a large body of men sans morale and the will to work. Given the situation, with the Punjab and the federal governments ignoring advice from the right quarters, this activism, if it doesn’t get out of hand, might be the only way to force the political leaders into correcting the course.

Three things are crucial to any understanding of what is going on. One, the police definitely requires reforms. This cannot be gainsaid. Two, any reforms must be within the force. The idea that the current force can be bypassed and new structures created for better results shows a woeful lack of the theory and practice of organisational restructuring. Three, there is an intrinsic link between effective policing – the normal police functions – and counterterrorism. To think that the CT capacity can be enhanced without any reference to policing – which seems to be the thrust of the current exercise – is naïve at best, dangerous at worst.

Let’s consider these points, accepting the first that police does need reforms.

That exercise will require multiple steps. First, it should be free of any external interference. This means that police officers must lead the police; responsibility and authority are interactive, not standalone functions. Second, the fat in the force must be shed; it should be a lean and sinewy organisation. Police is not the place to park political spoils. Third, a distinction must be made between urban and rural policing. The cities, at least the major ones, require metropolitan policing. That reform is urgent and pressing. Fourth, heavy weaponisation of the police does not make it more effective; there’s a need to move away from this militarised thinking and reorganise the force along modern lines. That would require analysts, communication experts, finance experts, lawyers, researchers, forensic specialists, investigators et cetera.

These people will form the backbone of the force. They don’t require weaponry; they require other skills – and, of course, brains. They are crucial to the effective functioning of field operatives.

Fifth, while the provinces can share best practices, even if they have different police set-ups, there is need for a federal force whose remit extends to all federating units. This force – FIA can be reconfigured to perform this function – will have its own specialised cadres. Sixth, there is need for an overall electronic database. The démodé system of writing letters before anything can get done will not work in an environment where speed and coordination are critically important. The home department’s functions need to be revisited; it’s supposed to be a liaising department, no more or less.

Finally, but not least, do not consider CT functions to be separate from policing. Policing presupposes effective enforcement of laws and maintaining order and is the first step to prosecution. CT is about pre-emption and investigating and prosecuting acts of terrorism. A society where law is enforced and order maintained is the society where the terrorist can be dislocated from the law-abiding citizens. And CT is nothing if not about the strategy of dislocation.

These two functions are to be performed by specialised units of the same force. It makes no sense to let police and policing rot while trying to create a spanking new force that will, somehow magically, deliver where the police has ostensibly failed. The Punjab government, while trying to improve CT capacity, is taking the latter rather than the former approach.

Result: it will have a demoralised police while saddled with yet another organisation that will fail to deliver. The English language has an expression for it: a lose-lose situation.

As a postscript, let me add for good measure that inducting army officers to perform policing/CT functions is a harebrained scheme. The army has nothing in its training that prepares an officer to perform the functions of a police officer.

The writer is editor, national security affairs, at Capital TV and visiting fellow at SDPI.

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