The prime responsibility of the police in a country is to maintain law and order, protect the citizens’ lives and properties and take cognizance of offences under the law. A country’s peaceful environment not only attracts foreign investment but also improves its ranking in the world. A peaceful society can never be built without proper implementation of the prevalent laws in their true spirit therefore businesses and investors’ confidence is directly proportional to law and order situation in any country.
Being the primary domestic security force, the police works as a first response unit whenever any security situation occurs. It works on the forefront in responding to violent clashes between groups, riots and where crimes are committed. Regrettably while high ranking officials enjoy unlimited facilities, low-ranking policemen are struggling hard to perform their functions diligently, despite facing multiple challenges like political and judicial interference, underfunding, lack of modern tools/equipment, poor working conditions and inadequate retirement benefits. Policemen bravely cope with adverse situations, especially while dealing with trained and ruthless terrorists. They confront violent mobs and hardcore criminals, risking their lives. Besides police, our armed and intelligence forces also face daunting tasks of dealing with foreign intervention, and waging war against terror through initiatives like Zarb-e-Azb. Sacrifices by brave policemen and soldiers have many times restored peace and normalcy to our country.
Though the challenge of widespread terrorism is largely addressed, our security forces are still under frequent attacks. According to a security report issued by Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies (PIPS), there were 137 incidents of terror attacks on security and law enforcement agencies in 2021 in which 213 persons lost their lives and 341 sustained injuries. Such attacks have continued since 2022. It remains a fact that for a long time Pakistan has been going through turbulent situations where key organs of state, legislature, judiciary and executive, have gradually lost their efficacy and credibility for which there are multiple reasons including but not limited to corruption, inefficiency, incompetence, lack of merit and accountability etc.
Unfortunately, despite their valuable sacrifices, the overall image of our police and other law enforcement agencies has been tarnished in public due to their dismal performance and corrupt practices. Successive governments have miserably failed to reform their governance structures, and equip them with modern training and tools to efficiently and effectively handle any situation of chaos and turbulence.
In recent years, managing political and religious protests by our police force has become very demanding. While performing their duties they come under attack by large groups of armed and unarmed activists. Recently the police, while purportedly enforcing orders issued by the session court in Islamabad, moved to arrest the Chairman Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Imran Khan, came in direct conflict with his zealots obstructing the process. According to PTI leaders, there was undertaking on Imran Khan’s part for appearance before the court on March 18, 2023 and the police action for arrest four days before the date was unjustified.
Resistance by PTI workers against arrest of their leader created a situation of chaos. Allegedly, police and rangers were attacked with petrol bombs. Caretaker Punjab government poorly handled enforcement of court’s order of non-bailable warrants issued against the former premier.
Police is vested with authority under the law to establish writ of the state yet it often confronts criminal mindset that in disregard of law, resorts to violent defiance. The law is very clear related to obstruction in police duties but it seems that our politicians, establishment and judiciary have failed to enforce law and regulations.
Unfortunately, our courts have been unsuccessful in establishing writ of the law. They sometimes even snub policemen trying to perform their duties within the four corners of law. Many critics say that this facilitates/encourages violent attacks. By resisting even lawful actions of police, political leaders ignore that it undermines efforts of the state to maintain law and order.
Recent violent clashes at Zaman Park of Lahore between the police and PTI workers resulted in loss of a human life and dozens of injuries on both sides, use of teargas and water cannon, stone pelting and even alleged use of rubber bullets and petrol bombs. Windows of police and private vehicles were smashed and some even burned.
President of Lahore High Court made a public statement that Imran Khan gave him written assurance of appearing before the session judge on March 18, 2023 which he wanted to give to high officials of Punjab police but they deliberately frustrated his efforts to diffuse the tension. PTI allege that the police was acting on the instructions of the powerful to arrest Imran Khan at any cost.
We have seen many occasions in Pakistan where police either acted unlawfully on directions of political masters or where they acted within the parameters of law, yet refrained to perform their duty called for by those who matter in the land and even by courts. Handling of violent mobs in the past also resulted in heavy loss of lives and public/private properties. There are numerous examples where police was left with no option but to surrender before mobs through court orders, military intervention or political aspirations of rulers. Their sacrifices remain in vain with no acknowledgement of their contribution, only severe criticism by the public, courts and the ruling elites.
Top officials of the police department including their highest authority, Inspector Generals, are often summoned by the courts despite having lawyers representing them. They are humiliated by judges, knowingly that their journey of hundreds of miles could have served the same purpose as assurance given by their lawyers. However, for their ego satisfaction, adjudicators hardly care to respect their position, not bothering that their unnecessary presence not only affects performance of their official duties, but heavily costs the treasury as well.
In Pakistan, it is not something new that political elite use the police for self-aggrandisement for fulfilment of their nefarious designs. In the recent past, protesters of Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP), backed by powerful elements, wantonly attacked the police. Some media reports reveal that four policemen were martyred, over 250 injured when the TLP workers clashed with policemen near Muridke. Another media report claims that three policemen lost their lives and 70 got injured after violent attacks by banned groups. This chaotic situation occurred after members of TLP opened fire during a march.
There are numerous other incidents where police could not perform its duties due to intervention of politicians, military establishment or by judiciary restricting their lawful powers. The way forward is to deal with violence firmly within the four corners of law. The state must uphold its writ and prevent loss of life of any citizen including security personnel at the hands of violence.
Turning a blind eye to crimes committed against the state by unruly mobs of any political party is bound to adversely affect the morale of police. At the same time, law enforcement agencies should be free from any external pressure or interference or even think of committing atrocities against peaceful protestors and ordinary citizens. The failure to do so sends a negative message to the international community that Pakistan is internally a weak country and its governance structure has collapsed. Judges of the higher courts must also come forward to ensure implementation of lawful orders of subordinate judiciary, rather than facilitating those who violate the same with impunity.
The rule of law should be respected and upheld by all. Pakistan at the moment is facing multiple crises on political, economic and security fronts. Our economy is moving towards collapse due to perpetual political instability. Many critics believe that the judiciary has now emerged as a powerful player in the political arena. Their decisions related to election of the Chief Minister of Punjab and barring the prime minister from performing his executive functions are cited as some examples in this regard. It is high time for parliament to play its role to ensure that every institution performs its duties within the domain of the supreme law of the land—the 1973 Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
No doubt the police need to be given autonomy, rather than controlled by the ruling elite, establishment or judiciary or anyone else. Continuous intervention in their jurisdiction by all stakeholders is not only affecting the overall governance, but is also posing a huge risk to our internal security that is ultimately harmful for domestic and foreign investments.
Dr. Ikramul Haq, Advocate Supreme Court, specializes in constitutional, corporate, media, intellectual property, arbitration, international taxation, IT and ML/CFT related laws. He is author of many books on law, economic and political history of Pakistan, drugs, arms, terrorism and related matters. He has been studying phenomena of arms-for-drugs, narco-terrorism and global heroin economy since 1979 and authored Pakistan: From Hash to Heroin and its sequel Pakistan: From Drug-trap to Debt-trap. He studied journalism, English literature and law. He is Chief Editor of Taxation He is country editor and correspondent of International Bureau of Fiscal Documentation (IBFD) and member of International Fiscal Association (IFA). He is Visiting Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) and member Advisory Board and Visiting Senior Fellow of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE).
Abdul Rauf Shakoori, Advocate High Court, is a subject-matter expert on AML-CFT, Compliance, Cyber Crime and Risk Management. He has been providing AML-CFT advisory and training services to financial institutions (banks, DNFBPs, investment companies, money service businesses, insurance companies and securities), government institutions including law enforcement agencies located in North America (USA & CANADA), Middle East and Pakistan. His areas of expertise include legal, strategic planning, cross border transactions including but not limited to joint ventures (JVs), mergers & acquisitions (M&A), takeovers, privatizations, overseas expansions, USA Patriot Act, Banking Secrecy Act, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).