Ending thana culture

Pakistan on 04 July 2013
Location : Pakistan | Source : Pakistan Today. Image Source: Pakistan Today

A problem of governance more than anything else

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif chaired a high level meeting in Lahore recently to discuss law and order, security situation and police reforms. While chairing the meeting he observed that thana culture could be eliminated through establishment of more courts. He also directed the IG Police, Punjab, to evolve an effective strategy for better policing. Mian Shahbaz sharif, a few days ago, also vowed to end thana culture. It is indeed gratifying to note that Mian brothers have finally realised the imperative of changing thana culture and expressed the determination to eliminate this curse on priority basis. Instead of trying to ferret out the reasons for their inability or lack of intent to accord priority to this very crucial issue of public importance during their previous tenures, I somehow tend to welcome this belated resolve on their part to address this issue, putting my faith in the maxim that it is never too late.

It is an open secret that police is regarded as criminals in uniform by the masses and they dread the prospect of having any kind of interaction with it even if they are an aggrieved party. Police have been known to harbour and patronise criminals, drug pushers, gambling and prostitution dens and run private torture cells besides indulging in extra-judicial killings with impunity. People joke about police saying that if there is no crime in an area, establish a police station and it will start happening. It is a pity that nobody has ever made any serious effort to reform the oppressive system of policing and restore the honour of the masses.

The police, being part of the justice system as an investigating agency, is also the biggest hindrance in dispensing justice to the people. As an investigating agency it is known for distorting the facts in exchange for bribes and getting the innocent convicted. The courts have no choice but to rely on investigations carried out by police and God knows how many innocent people have languished in the jails and gone to the gallows due to the corruption and high-handedness of police. The courts, especially the lower courts, are well aware of the police tacts and its obstructionist machinations in regards to ensuring speedy justice but they are also helpless in rectifying the situation.

Thana culture owes its existence to the continuation of the archaic colonial system of governance rooted in feudalism which has promoted the politics of graft and entitlement. The police and the district administrations are the lynchpins of this oppressive colonial system and the successive regimes have used them unscrupulously for advancing their own vested interests. They are government servants in the true sense rather than the public servants. The thana culture cannot therefore be eliminated by setting up more courts or asking the police high-ups to devise a better system of policing.

The solution lies in strengthening the institution of local government in accordance with article 140 A of the constitution. The constitution prescribes a three-tier system of governance i.e., the Local Government, Provincial Government and the Federal Government. Unfortunately, while we have had full-fledged federal and provincial governments operating in the country, no serious attempt has been made to fulfill the constitutional obligation in regards to the local government. Article 140 A says: “Each Province shall, by law, establish a local government system and devolve political, administrative and financial responsibility and authority to the elected representatives of the local governments and elections to the local government shall be held by the Election Commission of Pakistan.”

The local government systems that evolved from time to time were against the spirit of the relevant constitutional provision as these bodies were kept under the thumb of the district administrations rather than the other way round. Musharraf, who is reviled for his dictatorship, did evolve a system of local government in conformity with the spirit of the constitution through his Devolution Plan which initially envisaged putting police and district administrations under the locally elected leadership besides vesting them with powers to carry out development activities at the local level. But he also succumbed to political expediencies and modified the Devolution Plan by keeping the police and district administration out of the administrative control of the local bodies.

The original devolution plan was resisted by provincial governments who were not willing to part with their powers, by the MPAs who felt that the devolution of power to the local bodies will diminish their importance in their constituencies and last but not the least by the DMG (now PAS) and Police Service. The PAS lobbied more intensely to maintain their hold on the power structure of the state as the deputy commissioners and commissioners were not only the administrative heads but they were also vested with judicial powers in contravention of article 175(3) of the article which stipulated separation of judiciary from the executive within fourteen years from the commencing day. Under the Devolution Plan of Musharraf this constitutional obligation was also fulfilled by separating judiciary and executive at the district level. But regrettably after his exit and restoration of democracy, all the provinces again reverted back to the old system of district administration with Punjab taking the lead.

The thana culture cannot be ended while the present system of governance is in vogue. The government of PM-N will have to implement article 140 A and article 175(3) in letter and spirit to achieve this objective and ensuring good governance in the country. That indeed will be a tough undertaking as any move to disturb the status quo will be vehemently opposed by the vested interests within his party as well as outside it besides the powerful DMG. I have no doubt about sincerity of purpose on part of the prime minister in regards to providing good governance to the people but to realise that objective there is an imperative need to go by the constitution. The establishment of more courts could help only when the authority to govern is devolved to the grass-root level where the SHO and the police chief are accountable to the locally elected leaders and are unable to resort to their traditional anti-people antics. 

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