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Paramilitary policing

Paramilitary policing

THE Sindh cabinet recently extended the special policing powers granted to the Rangers under Sections 4 and 5 of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) 1997 in Karachi division for 90 days. The political executive, the business community and particularly ordinary citizens have appreciated the Rangers operations although there is growing demand for greater accountability of their policing functions.

Terrorism knows no boundaries and there can be no effective response to it in isolation at the provincial level. This makes the role of the federal government significant in anti-terrorism policing and strategies. Counterterrorism remains essentially a federal subject and we have the ATA, a federal law, which lays down the framework for counterterrorism prosecutions across Pakistan.

Policing is ‘inherently and inescapably’ a political function — broadly speaking, all relations with an element of power are political. The deployment and policing operations of Rangers have thus involved, as witnessed in Sindh, wrangling between the federal and provincial governments over the mandate, scope and duration of the functions. Having two political parties — one running the federal government, the other Sindh — with different perspectives, priorities and political stakes in the province complicates decision-making with regard to the Rangers operations.

Policing is a provincial subject and the role of the provincial government remains central to Rangers operations in the province.

The Central Armed Police Forces, the paramilitary in India, are headed by police officers. In Pakistan, the paramilitary, other than the Frontier Constabulary, is headed and supervised by army officers. The officers of the armed forces, even those working in the paramilitary forces, are effectively aligned with their parent unit, the army, rather than the federal or provincial governments.

It is for this reason, notwithstanding the fact that the Rangers are performing their functions as per the law under the direction and control of the federal and provincial governments, that the ISPR rather than the government sometimes issues press releases focusing on important Rangers operations. The information should be released by the spokespersons of the federal or provincial governments, and not by the military’s media wing.

As witnessed in Sindh and even in Punjab, the perspectives of the provincial governments and the Rangers with regard to the mandate and modus operandi of the paramilitary often vary. Then, at the operational level, there are coordination issues between police and the Rangers owing to their different command structures, training, conditioning and turf issues.

The Rangers deployment is then often seen against the backdrop of differing perspectives, priorities and approaches reflected at three levels —between a) the centre and the provincial government, b) the provincial government and the Rangers and c) police and the Rangers.

Despite these issues, we need the support of the paramilitary forces when local police units require reinforcements, particularly during combat, keeping in view the security situation in the country.

The increasing dependence on paramilitary units for policing is, however, disturbing. We have witnessed the deployment of Rangers in Karachi since 1989. About 90 per cent of Balochistan too is being policed by paramilitary forces. The Rangers have now also been deployed in bordering districts (Attock, D.G. Khan, Rajanpur) and Lahore in Punjab.

Policing is a local function; effective policing is critically dependent on local support. Policing through paramilitaries either denotes the failure of the local police or a lack of trust in local police units, or both. More specifically, it is a failure of the provincial governments to build police capacity and the people’s trust in police.

According to a Pildat survey, Public Opinion on Quality of Governance in Pakistan (2016), 75pc of KP respondents had varying levels of trust in police institutions, 51pc in Punjab and only 29pc in Sindh. Sixty-seven per cent of the respondents in Sindh said they had ‘no trust at all’ in their police. KP police lead in terms of having the trust of their province’s citizens and Punjab is still performing much better than Sindh. Lack of trust of the people of Sindh in their police force is very evident.

Similarly, the Pakistan Social and Living Standards Measurement survey shows that while satisfaction with police in 2012-13 was at 55.43pc in KP, 50.21pc in Punjab and 38.13pc in Sindh, in 2014-15, it increased to 65.79pc in KP, decreased in Sindh to 35.14pc and remained at around 50pc in Punjab.

Both surveys show that the trust of the people of Sindh in their police is significantly low as compared to the residents of KP or Punjab. This is a significant explanation for the almost unending deployment of the Rangers in Karachi.

Strengthening of police in the provinces must remain the topmost priority of the provinces, and extended deployments of the paramilitary as in Karachi and Balochistan, and the recent deployment in Punjab, must not make provincial governments oblivious to the need to build the capacity of their respective police forces. Additionally, it would be critical to give operational independence to police to counter allegations of lack of transparency and fairness in their anti-terrorism operations and to improve the people’s trust in them.

The Sindh cabinet has expressed its desire to improve the police’s capacity to deal with crime and militancy. While this is reassuring, actions speak louder than words.

There are voices around the world, including in the US and Europe, that are demanding the federalisation of police units so that there is a more effective response to terrorism. The role of the federal government, in this context, is thus becoming increasingly important. There is a dire need to standardise the training and equipment of police units across Pakistan, coordinate and facilitate operations across provincial boundaries, and monitor the professional development of police in Pakistan.

The basic principle that needs to be followed in counterterrorism and counter-extremism policing, in line with international best practices, is this: the primary responsibility lies with the political executive of the federal and the provincial governments; police need to be the frontline and lead agency with reasonable operational autonomy; intelligence agencies and paramilitary units need to follow the policy of the political executive and assist police in intelligence gathering and combat-support operations respectively.

The writer is a former police officer.

Published in Dawn, May 2nd, 2017

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