Prospects for Police Reform in Pakistan
Policing in Pakistan remained problematic during 2010. Crime prevention and investigation are the main duties of the police and hence their performance in this respect can provide a good measure of their effectiveness and efficiency. In the absence of systematic data, reliance has to be placed on media reports, which reinforce the view that police are failing on both counts. Pakistani police have been named as the most frequent recipient of bribes in the 2010 Global Corruption Barometer of the Transparency International published in December last.[i]
The ineffectiveness of the police is illustrated by the low conviction rate in the country as well as the rising trend in crime and lawlessness in general. It is now widely acknowledged that the conviction rate is no more than 10 per cent and the main reason for this, as in other South Asian countries, is the insufficiency of investigations by the police.[ii] A recent report compiled by the Punjab Public Prosecution Service reveals that out of the 1,324 cases registered under the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997 from January 1 to September 30, 2010, the conviction rate stood at a little over 15 per cent with 199 convictions by the trial courts. 437 accused in such cases have already been acquitted.[iii] An overwhelming number of the accused out of the 688 undecided cases are likely to be acquitted along with scores of those who will be acquitted by the appellate courts. If past record is any measure, it can be safely assumed that the conviction rate is not likely to rise above the 10 per cent mark. If this is the state of affairs regarding cases of terrorism, that are by law required to be judged strictly, the conviction rate in less serious cases may be even lower.
The National Judicial Policy (2009) for the expeditious disposal of cases noted and recommended at page 17:
“Non-completion of investigation and non-submission of Challans in statutory period is a major cause of delays in disposal of cases. Since the police plays a crucial role in administration of justice, therefore, the District Police Officers may be asked to ensure that the police should conclude investigation and submit Challans within the prescribed period of 14 days. They may be asked that the SHOs who fail to comply with this statutory provision should be treated as inefficient officer under the Police Order and the court may also lodge complaint under section 166 PPC against him. The DPOs should also submit list of cases in which Challans are still pending for want of investigation for inspection and passing appropriate orders by the District and Sessions Judge.” [iv]
However, neither challans are being presented in time nor disciplinary action being taken against delinquent police officers. While there are few statistics for crimes in Pakistan in 2010, media and other independent reports have suggested that if anything, crime rates are on the rise. Only the province of Khyber Pakhtunwa registered a slight decrease,[v] but this estimate is notwithstanding the scores of non-registered cases that occurred last year. Besides this, the media also acknowledged the immense threat posed to the police by extremist elements in suicide attacks nationwide. 2010 was a particularly savage year, and saw over 600 security personnel lose their lives in attacks across the country. [vi]
When the torture incident in Bharwana (Punjab) was reported in early March this year, everyone seemed to be outraged. The video capturing the incident was shown on TV channels repeatedly. The news of the incident found its way to the Parliament. The Supreme Court of Pakistan took suo motu notice and called for reports and directed the provincial police chiefs to submit undertakings.
Yet, no one was surprised when criminal proceedings against the delinquent police officers involved in the Bharwana incident reached “logical conclusion”, as a compromise was reached between the survivors and the police.
The undertakings submitted by the police before the SC do not seem to have made any difference either. More such incidents occurred later. The SC’s orders for closure of police torture cells also seem to have been forgotten.[vii] The extra-judicial killings in police encounters continued throughout the year. One of the most shocking incidents of the year was the lynching of two young boys in Sialkot in August 2010, which was made public through graphic videos captured at the scene. The video clearly shows police personnel looking on as the boys were beaten to death. Although this created a stir all across Pakistan, even resulting in the suspension of the DPO Sialkot, it has transpired into little or no action since. When the case reached the Lahore High Court, it is reported that along with the accused DPO, other police officers similarly accused have all been given bail by the court. [viii] However, the anti-terror court at Gujranwala has summoned all witnesses in the case on February 25, and it remains to be seen what action is taken. The Punjab police in 2011, however, vowed to reduce the crime rate by 10% in 2011 by making some minor operational changes throughout the province.[ix] Whether this will have any effect, only time will tell.
Governments’ lack of interest in the institution of police can be gauged from the fact that despite the SC order of 31 July 2009 directing all ordinances protected under the Provisional (Constitution) Order, 2007, to be laid before the Parliament for validation, no concrete action has been taken. The Police Order (Amendment) Ordinance, 2007, was laid before the National Assembly as a bill in November, 2009; however, it never passed through the stage of consideration by the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on the Interior. This has created a serious legal confusion and a vacuum. This shows the priority and the level of importance attached to issues of policing in the highest political echelons of this country. [x]
Upon the expiry of the constitutional protection to the Police Order, 2002 (under Sixth Schedule of the Constitution), provinces started considering ways to amend or repeal the law altogether. The Punjab Government moved a step ahead of other provinces with the plan and constituted a committee for the purpose of reconsidering the mechanisms of accountability of the police in 2009.
A Draft Punjab Police Act, 2010, (DPPA) was proposed in January 2010 by the Punjab Police. However, this initiative, coming from within the police establishment itself, has borrowed selectively from the democratic models in ways that have the effect of strengthening the police establishment and the hold of the political executive without due guarantees of accountability or responsiveness to the public. For instance, Articles 155 to 157 of the Police Order, 2002 concerning offences and punishments for police officers have been omitted in the DPPA.[xi] Overall, the DPPA is not a strong, progressive piece of legislation designed to meet the modern day needs of society or the police.[xii]
With this background and the political will wavering as always, it is difficult to see how the year 2011 will be any different from the year past.
*Asad Jamal is a Lahore-based lawyer and author of Revisiting Police Laws (2011) and Police Organisations in Pakistan (2010). He may be reached at email@example.com
[i] Dawn (2010), Pakistani police most frequent recipients of bribes: TI survey, 12 December: http://www.dawn.com/2010/12/10/pakistani-police-most-frequent-recipients-of-bribes-ti-survey-2.html as on 23 February 2011.
[ii] Dawn (2010), Low conviction rate (Editorial), 21April: http://news.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/the-newspaper/editorial/low-conviction-rate-140 as on 23 February 2011.
[iii] Hasnain K. (2010), .ATCs acquit about 700 for a lack of evidence, Dawn, 17 October : http://www.dawn.com/2010/10/17/atcs-acquit-about-700-for-a-lack-of-evidence.html as on 22 February 2011.
[iv] Section 166, Pakistan Penal Code : Whoever, being a public servant, knowingly disobeys any direction of the law as to the way in which he is to conduct himself as such public servant, intending to cause, or knowing it to be likely that he will, by such disobedience, cause injury to any person, shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both.
[v] Dawn (2010), Crime Rate Drops in 2010, 18 December: http://www.dawn.com/2010/12/19/crime-rate-drops-in-2010.html as on 23 February 2011.
[vi] The News PK (2010)_, 2010: suicides drop by 35pc, deaths up by 1 pc, 24 December: http://www.thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=21975&Cat=2 as on 23 February 2011.
[vii] SC orders closure of torture cells, The Nation, 11 March 2010: http://www.nation.com.pk/pakistan-news-newspaper-daily-english-online/Islamabad/11-Mar-2010/SC-orders-closure-of-police-torture-cells.
[viii] The News PK( 2011), Ex-SHO granted bail in Sialkot lynching case, 16 February: http://www.thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=31522&Cat=2&dt=2/16/2011 as on 23 February 2011.
[ix] The Nation PK(2010), Crime rate to go down by 10pc, 30 October: http://www.nation.com.pk/pakistan-news-newspaper-daily-english-online/Lahore/30-Oct-2010/Crime-rate-to-go-down-by-10pc as on 23 February 2011.
[x] The Amendment Ordinance of 2004 which amended and diluted some of the core provisions of the Police Order, 2002 was re-promulgated innumerable times. However, it was never passed by the Parliament. It was promulgated as the Police Order (Amendment) Ordinance, 2007, by the Musharraf-led government in July 2007 and was given protection under the Provisional Constitution Order, 2007. It lost its validity after the Supreme Court in its famous judgment of 31 July 2009.
[xi] Article 155 provided Penalty for certain types of misconduct by police officers: (1) Any police officer who :-
- (a) makes for obtaining release from service as police officer, a false statement or a statement which is misleading in material particulars or uses a false document for the purpose.
- (b) is guilty of cowardice, or being a police officer of junior rank, resigns his office or withdraws himself from duties without permission;
- (c) is guilty of any wilful breach or neglect of any provision of law or of any rule or regulation or any order which he is bound to observe or obey;
- (d) is guilty of any violation of duty;
- (e) is found in a state of intoxication, while on duty;
- (f) malingers or feigns or voluntarily causes hurt to himself with the intention to render himself unfit for duty;
- (g) is grossly insubordinate to his superior officer or uses criminal force against a superior officer; or
- (h) engages himself or participates in any demonstration, procession or strike or resorts to or in any way abets any form of strike or coercion or physical duress to force any authority to concede anything, shall, on conviction, for every such offence be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and with fine.
[xii] Jamal, Asad, (2011) Revisiting Police Laws, A Human Rights Commission of Pakistan publication.