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The sorry shenanigans of the Okara police

Pakistan on 02 August 2013
Location : Okara, Pakistan | Source : Express Tribune. Image Source: Express Tribune

It was one of those foreboding nights; the power had gone out and I was sitting on the roof, on my charpai. With the atmosphere already grim from stories of jinn possessions and cannibal witches, my cousin launched into a narrative about the increasing number of violent crimes in the area and the complete and utter ineffectiveness of the police, which seemed more and more interested in exacting bribes and satisfying their sadistic tendencies.
As the discussion grew heated, I discovered the true extent of the problem. The police in our area had become notorious for brutalising their captives no matter what the crime or proof of guilt. Common torture methods involved beating the soles of the victim’s feet and slowly rolling heavy objects up their thighs, often resulting in paralysis.

Unfortunately, such stories have now become common across Pakistan and have completely destroyed people’s trust in the police.

The level to which the institution has sunk was exemplified when the Punjab Chief Minister, Shahbaz Sharif, removed three senior officers in Okara for forcing a father and son to sexually abuse each other in front of other prisoners.

This despicable act brings bile up one’s throat. Such a depraved punishment violates not only Pakistani law but the very foundations of human dignity. The psychological trauma suffered by the pair will be long lived and is quite emphatically unjustifiable, particularly given the lack of proof of their guilt.

Heinous crimes such as these by law-enforcement agencies seem to have become the norm and are often dismissed by a disillusioned public in Pakistan. In a recent National Corruption Perception Survey, 84 per cent of respondents who had interacted with the police service alleged facing corruption. Low salaries and lack of accountability were the most common issues blamed.

The need for highly educated police personnel has long been recognised in countries such as the UK and the US, where the Wickersham Commission established by Herbert Hoover recommended a Bachelor’s degree as a minimum entry qualification as early as 1931.

The intellectual capabilities of new recruits must be enhanced with the minimum entry standards raised to FA for constables and BA for an assistant sub-inspector. Moreover, the academic curriculum of new trainees is outdated and frankly quite irrelevant — it must be reformed to place a higher emphasis on investigation, victimology and the treatment of vulnerable groups.

Appropriate reinforcement of an anti-torture doctrine within the institution will help put an end to the hundreds of civilians left dead or paralysed through police brutality. As well as raising salaries and the development of an improved organisational culture, a system of checks and balances with complete transparency is a must in reducing corruption.

As suggested by the Asia Society, the ideal scenario would include the establishment of an independent complaint authority, as well as ensuring tenure security for the federal and provincial chiefs in order to minimise political influence.

It can only be hoped that Shahbaz Sharif’s quick action against the offending parties in the Okara case signals an era of increased accountability and positive change overall. However, it remains to be seen if the chief minister can fulfil his promises to introduce modern training programmes designed for the police and the complete computerisation of all police records, amongst other things.

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