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Army isn’t the solution

After five years of PPP’s ‘democratic’ dispensation (over which its co-chairman and Pakistan’s sitting president has ‘no regrets’) the issue reaching the boiling point is the deep-rooted lawlessness all over the country and especially in Karachi, and the option proposed by the party that predominantly represents Karachi in the parliament – MQM – is that Karachi’s administration be handed over to the Army.

Sectarian and other targeted killings, extortion and kidnappings for ransom by organised gangs, terrorist acts committed by militant wings of political parties, revival of allegations about containers full of arms disappearing, and acceptance of the police force being inadequate, ill-equipped and corrupt, are prompting this call.

But is calling the Army the solution, or more is required to remedy the basic ill? In Pakistan’s history, the Army was often called in to “assist” the civil administration, but once a semblance of order was restored and the Army returned to its barracks, the civil administration didn’t investigate the cause of its failure – its flawed administration of the police force.

Because police administration doesn’t improve, it experiences cyclical failures. Calling the Army each time this happens suggests that politicians are unfit for governing the state. While people have reached this conclusion, politicians can’t see this reality. If politicians don’t mend their ways, even the democracy-loving West will shun backing them. That could be the end of democracy. Is that what they want?

During the PPP government, parliamentarians were granted huge quotas of arms licenses. Do the parliamentarians consider themselves at grave risk from their electorate? If so why? Is it because of bad governance? The huge stock of arms (and as large a number of private guards) speaks volumes about parliamentarians’ own faith in the police as well as their real intentions.

That law enforcers – police and the rangers – haven’t been successful in containing crime is undeniable, but besides their professional and moral weaknesses, the key factor behind this failure is blatant politicisation of the police by in power politicians. Corrupt cronies planted in the police force don’t respect the law; they serve only their masters like Zulfiqar Mirza.

The mess that Karachi, as well as the rest of Pakistan confront, demands asking some tough questions from those who didn’t play their role in the slide that now threatens everybody. Isn’t it odd that studies on social development (including those by state-funded research centres) overlooked the role of law enforcement while commenting on the economy?

Isn’t there a correlation between corruption and, inadequate, wrongly focused, or virtual absence of law enforcement? For development economists, this is a point to ponder. Will they comment on it in their future reports? My guess is as good as yours. The only reports that partly focus on this issue are those that rank countries according to country risk.

But these reports too, don’t assert that a grossly underpaid and ill-equipped police force can be bought over by criminals – adulterators, fake goods producers, copyright violators, loan defaulters, tax evaders, land grabbers, smugglers, drug traffickers, extortionists, kidnappers, target killers, etc. Law enforcers – fallible human beings – need solid state backing to become immune to temptations.

How forcefully did politicians and the media condemn the fact that none of the police reform commission reports were implemented? Isn’t it clear that all experiments in changing the accountability channels failed to deliver because the intention behind each was to keep law enforcers subservient to the (rarely responsible) administrations, political or non-political.?

Stories keep circulating about the key front line position of Station House Offices (SHO) being auctioned by the police top brass, and given to the highest bidders. It is therefore no surprise that thereafter an SHO’s prime target becomes earning money and the only way of achieving that target is to offer protection to organised criminals in exchange for a monthly “fee”.

This profile of law enforcers won’t change on a durable basis unless they come out of the clutches of in-power politicians. For operational purposes, police should be accountable only to an independent authority consisting of retired senior police officers, reputed lawyers, criminologists, social scientists, and a minority of bureaucrats to advise on the administrative advisability of the police mandate.

That authority must have a fixed term (to prevent pre-mature changes therein), and empowered to decide on and assure the provision of requisite operational resources, and timely changes in salary structures to compensate for adverse inflationary trends. That will ensure the integrity of the police force, especially in its front line that will remain vulnerable to adverse price changes.

If the writ of the state is to be established, Pakistan’s police force must be doubled in the next three years to penetrate every town and village. Minus that, Pakistan will remain hostage to the power of the landlords who rule the roost in Pakistan’s vast hinterland. At present, with no sign of the state in their midst, citizens living there virtually worship the landlords.

Even in small towns, where you see a semblance of the writ of the state (police stations), it is usually make-believe; with their small forces and handicaps of every sort (armoury, transport, telecom outreach, forensic labs, quick reinforcement from nearest district police force, etc), they survive at the mercy of the landlords and so, instead of countering the landlords’ clout, defend it.

Equally important is tough accountability of the magistrates and judges in lower courts. Politicians know more than anyone else that injustice thrives because police and these dispensers of justice are often in league. To begin with, police reports against powerful criminals can’t be filed, and if that does happen, the police-court connection prevents justice from being dispensed.

It is time an independent police authority was set up to help the police rid itself of the stigma of incompetence, bias and corruption. Don’t overlook Pakistan’s high-risk country profile – stumbling block discouraging investment both domestic and foreign, as well as sovereign lending by friendly states – owes itself not just to terrorism but to poor and visibly biased profile of its law enforcement agencies.

In the coming months, Pakistan will face tough times because, besides the huge fiscal deficit accumulated by the PPP regime, it will have to spend billions on flood relief measures and plug the gap caused by crop losses and import the shortfalls quantities. Unless diluted, its high country-risk profile will prevent this crucial activity leading to even greater chaos. Don’t forget that peace and stability in Karachi (with two seaports and the largest airport is also the country’s financial centre where multinationals have their head offices) holds the key to changing Pakistan’s risk ranking.

A B Shahid, "Army isn’t the solution," Business recorder. 2013-09-03.
Keywords: Social science , Social issues , Social crisis , Social rights , Social problems , Karachi situation , Social Crimes , Social justice , Political issues , Political system , Political reforms , Political parties , Political leaders , Violence , Target killing , Police , Zulfiqar Mirza , Pakistan , PPP , MQM