State of police rule

The colonial roots and the neo-colonial influences on Pakistani police coupled with an undemocratic political system and traditional sources of social authority create an enormous human-munching machine which is totally devoid of any idea of welfare of the citizens 

Before the emergence of the modern state, private collectives of soldiers patronised by feudal lords and tribal chiefs performed police work. Their duties were similar to contemporary police but limited territorially to the village or tribal level. The distinction between the military and the police was also not as clear as it is in the contemporary state. All able-bodied men who were capable of administering violence were patronised by the chief for warding off marauding hordes. This system of violence was an informal way of wealth redistribution. All wealthy persons or tribes were at risk of being attacked and had to maintain private guards, soldiers, police, spies, and informants to prepare against impending attacks. 

With the arrival of the modern state on the horizon of human societies, violence became formal and procedural. At least that was the promise of the state. The state was supposed to have an absolute monopoly over violence. There shall be no informal torture, looting, kidnapping, murder, or even parental beating. Everybody was a citizen and the person of the citizen was sacrosanct. This promise underpinned the contract that enabled the state to extract taxes. The taxpayers' money was used to pay the expenses of maintaining the armed forces, the police, the executive, the legislative, and public utilities such as health, education, and support for the indigent. It means the contract was and still is, if the state taxes, mutually binding. In theory, the state cannot break the promise of personal safety and keep collecting revenue. 

This promise of the personal safety of every citizen is the raison d'être of the police in all modern states, including Pakistan. However, in Pakistan, the police force was not an indigenously evolved institution and is a direct descendent of the police force created by the British in 1843, following the model of The Royal Irish Constabulary, whose function was to maintain law and order and also repress independence movements and revolutionary uprisings. This colonial model of policing was not dependent on a mutually binding social contract. The British Empire could extract revenue and raw material by any means. Moreover, the Empire could finance the police and the army by revenue collected from other parts. It meant that the police did not have to be friendly to the indigenous people of South Asia. 

After Independence, the nature of the police has not changed much, though the neo-colonial aid programmes of the United States of America, have introduced some changes to the colonial model. Anyone who has watched the reality shows of American cops grinding the faces of "black and Hispanic offenders" to the footpath can decipher how benign the neo-colonial influence can be for the indigenous population. 

The colonial origins and the neo-colonial influences on Pakistani police coupled with an undemocratic political system and traditional sources of social authority create an enormous human-munching machine which is totally devoid of any idea of welfare of the citizens. To substantiate my point, I want to narrate an incident. Once, after an immediate family member was robbed at gunpoint, I approached the 'concerned' police station. The person who was supposed to write the First Investigation Report asked for a bribe. By chance, I had my payslip in my pocket that day which also listed the tax deducted at the source. I showed the sub-inspector the payslip and pointed the listed tax deduction. He asked why I was showing him that piece of paper. I said I was showing him my contribution to the regular payment of his wages. He remarked, "Ik tay eh parhay likhay logan day maslay baray nain!" (These educated people are a real pain in the neck). I still had to use personal contacts to get the case registered. This and many other encounters with the police have produced a distrust of the state's claim as a moral arbiter in Pakistan and many ordinary citizens will tell harrowing tales to support my point. 

My argument is simple. If taxation is based on a promise and proactively deducted at the source, why do the police and other state institutions not proactively fulfil the promise of safety? Why are the police not informed that the taxes collected from ordinary citizens provide their uniforms, vehicles, offices, and everything else? Why some of our rulers encourage informal violence and extrajudicial procedures for furthering their own political agendas? 

Moreover, other societies have shown awareness of the risks of unbridled power and built institutions to empower ordinary citizens against police excesses. In England, as well as in Australia, France, New Zealand, Mexico, Malaysia, and Portugal, etc, there are legal provisions for empowering the ordinary citizens to make an arrest for any crime which carries a jail punishment. It is called "Citzen's Arrest" and many activists have used it worldwide to apprehend corrupt state officials or to draw media attention to corrupt law-enforcement officers. In Common Law, it is possible, as far as legal theory is concerned, for an ordinary citizen to go and arrest a police officer if the latter is committing a felony. Now if we compare the empowerment of citizenry in our country with those societies where citizens can arrest their torturer or detainer, the picture is quite bleak here.

Published in The News on Sunday

dated February 22, 2009