A graveyard of mistakes

A graveyard of mistakes
The latest misadventure by the government is to pit the Punjab Police and the bureaucracy against each other.
Imran Yaqub Khan
Once, a young poet desired to finish a hundred-year journey in a single night; and become a poet who had a tome full of poetry. One day he presented his collection in front of his teacher, and asked that weak sections be marked out with a cross. When he was given the collection back, no cross was to be found. The young poet grew ecstatic; his poetry required no correction. But then his teacher, a wise man, said that had I crossed out your weak poetry, there would have been no difference between your collection and a Christian graveyard.

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf lead government is very much like that young poet. The government, too, has a concession, that in the age of ‘positive reporting’, no one dares to point out its mistakes. Had permission been granted to point out the government’s faults, many a mighty tomb would have been erected by now. However, there are still a few people in the society and on social media who cannot stop themselves from raising the alarm.

The latest misadventure by the government is to pit the Punjab Police and the bureaucracy against each other. The battle between the two started before the Prime Minister’s trip to New York, when the Punjab Government decided to hand over the control over the police to the bureaucracy. According to the draft, the Interior Department will get control of the Police Department; and on the ground, Commissioners and Deputy Commissioners (DC) would get control over the force, giving them authorities equivalent to grade 22 and 22A. These officers would then get the right to check police stations at whim, and take action against relevant police officers if incidents of torture, or unlawful detention were found out.

The decision was met with anger and dismay. Police officers appeared before the Inspector General (IG), threatening to go on leave or even resign. While this crisis was brewing, the Punjab Government decide to wait till Imran Khan comes back, and tells them what to do. When the Premier did come back, he immediately asked the Chief Minister of Punjab, Usman Buzdar, to meet him.

Those who know what happens behind the close doors of the centers of power, say that the IG Punjab told the Prime Minister that the police was not consulted while this draft was being drawn up. After the meeting, progress on the draft was halted for a week during which, as per Imran Khan’s instructions, the police would add its suggestions to a new draft. The police was informed that they will not have to report to the DC however, the government would determine the standards for protection of the citizens’ rights; the IG would only have the right to determine the ways of implementing those standards.

Police officers believe that a certain service group wants to take over all the departments and interfere in them. The police believes that the new suggestions that were prepared included direct interference from political and bureaucratic forces, which would make their performance even worse and the blame for that will be heaved onto the force. The police wants more powers, so that the process of accountability could be made better.

The Punjab Government rushed through police reforms under tremendous pressure from daily incidents of unlawful deaths occurring at the hands of police officers. Although police reforms were part of PTI’s agenda before elections, the matter was not given due gravity. Nasir Durrani was given the task of spearheading Punjab’s reforms, but after the Pakpattan incidence, he chose to resign. The Punjab government was reminded of reforms only when Salahuddin’s death shocked the country and then, one after the other, other incidents came to light.

In fact, so disinterested was the Punjab government, that when a senior police officer voluntarily drafted a reform report, the document was left lying unattended on the Chief Minister’s desk for seven months. Since the PTI took over the reins of power in the province, three IGs have been changed. The first head was changed on the Maneka family’s insistence. The transfer of IG Muhammad Tahir laid bare PTI’s intentions regarding reforms. The stand-off between the police and the bureaucracy came about as a result of the current government’s transfers and appointments. The old DMG group is concerned about the curtailment of its powers and importance. The DMG group has met the Prime Minister thrice and said that the current mismanagement in Punjab is due to the group being sidelined.

At the CM Secretariat in Lahore, neither the Principal Secretary to the CM, nor the PSO are form the DMG group. The Secretariat is being run by officers of the Office Management Group, the Postal Services Group and Police Service. But all the secretaries of these groups are indeed from the DMG group.

The DMG group is mistaken about its abilities. They have never been able to fix the patwari system, nor correct market committees. Despite having all the requisite powers over public health they have been unable to fix the sewage system in Punjab. Their claims of being able to fix police stations is, therefore, a bit difficult to digest.

Over in the Prime Minister house, Principal Secretary Azam Khan, Secretary Interior Major Azam Salman and Chief Secretary Punjab Yousaf Nasem Khokhar drafted the police reforms and informed the Prime Minister that this is the magic formula needed to fix the police. The Premier, busy in preparations for his impending trip to the US, perhaps did not even read the draft and ordered its implementation. The magic formula, of course, fell flat on its face.

So now the unease in Punjab has reached its zenith. What is the way out? Perhaps to take a detailed overview of the process of police reform, and tailor it to ground realities so that none of the parties involved will have the opportunity to protest.

This piece first appeared in Urdu in Daily Dunya.