Under the 1973 Constitutional framework, policing is treated as a provincial subject in Pakistan. Each of its four provinces – Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and Sindh – has its own civilian police force with jurisdiction extending only to their own territory. Additionally, the Islamabad Capital Territory also has its own civilian police force. Up till 2002, the police were governed by the 1861 Police Act which extended across the country.
Policing in Pakistan faces many of the problems affecting the rest of the subcontinent. Adding to those is the deteriorating security situation in the country, threats of insurgency, fundamentalism and terrorism, all further compounding the constraints of the police.
Despite this, police reforms have been neglected by successive governments since its birth as an independent country. Several efforts were undertaken to reform the outdated legal and institutional framework governing the police in the form of 1861 Act. Almost instantly upon gaining independence, a bill was passed in the Sindh province assembly in February 1048 for establishing a modern police force in the city of Karachi, but could not come into force for various reasons, among them being the failure to secure the assent of the Governor General Mohammad Ali Jinnah before his death (September 1948). Subsequently, several commissions were set up to look into police reforms starting from one headed by Sir Oliver Gilbert Grace (1951), to one headed by Justice JB Constantine in 1961, the then IG of Police Northwest Frontier Province, to one in 1985, and another in 1997 under the Chairmanship of the then Interior Minister. The recommendations of all these commissions, however, were never implemented. Lack of political will, bureaucratic resistance and colonial legacy have all variously hampered reform initiatives.
By the turn of the century, policing had becoming extremely inefficient with growing interference in day to day functioning by the people in power severely affecting police performance. Added to this was the growing culture of impunity perpetuated by a strong of special security and anti-terrorism legislations. Recognizing that nothing short of a complete overhaul of the current policing system will do, a focus group on police reforms was set up in 1999 under Musharraf’s regime. After many deliberations, the recommendations of the group took the shape of the Police Order 2002.
The Order was the first effort in a Commonwealth South Asian country to incorporate some norms of democratic policing into a law governing the police. The Order sought to transform policing into a professional, service-oriented and accountable organization. If implemented, it would have gone a long way in transforming a feudal force into a service. But from the beginning itself, there was deep resistance to the Order. It was considerably diluted in 2004 and today stands withdrawn in at least two provinces, Sindh and Balochistan.
CHRI’s primary role in Pakistan is to catalyse interest in and demand for better policing. Our focus is on replacing the 1861 Act with a modern police legislation providing a comprehensive framework for accountable, professional and responsive policing. The organizations aims to achieve this through research and writing on police problems and malpractices; by providing technical assistance wherever required on best practices and international standards on democratic policing; and by mobilizing interest in, and cultivating stronger ties within, civil society in order to enable a more sustained engagement on the subject. We initially began working on Pakistan as part of our regional research on police accountability. National level work began only in 2008.