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Volume 12 Number 1
New Delhi, Spring 2005

Police Reforms in Pakistan: A Step Forward

- G.P. Joshi
Programme Coordinator, Police Reforms, CHRI

While being ironic, it was also an encouraging step forward in the history of policing when the “democratic” government of Pakistan drafted the Police Ordinance in 2001 to repeal the archaic Police Act of 1861, thus stealing a march over other democratic regimes in the region in attempting to change a deeply entrenched police system.

Even after independence, countries in the South Asian region have been unable to rid themselves of past colonial legacies, which is much reflected in their outdated Police Acts. Sporadic attempts to catalyse a change in the system have met stiff resistance. In India, recommendations made by the National Police Commission (NPC) set up in 1977 to insulate the police from outside illegitimate control fell on deaf ears. These included establishment of State Security Commission; abolition of the system of dual control at the district level; selection of the head of the state police force on the recommendations of a committee; giving him/her a fixed minimum secure tenure and transfers to be done according to rules by prescribed authorities.

As per its Preamble, the draft Pakistan Police Ordinance 2001 is aimed at organising a police system, which is “independently controlled, politically neutral, non-authoritarian, people friendly and professionally efficient.” Even though the text of the 2001 Ordinance has been significantly altered since then, first by the Police Order of 2002 and then by the Police Order (Amendment) Ordinance of 2004, the initiative still retains a fairly good blueprint for police reforms. It is as of now referred to as the Police Order 2002.

Pakistan Police

Poor quality of policing in the region can be attributed to the existence of Section 3 of the Police Act of 1861, which gives the government the authority to exercise superintendence over the police, but does not define the word ‘superintendence.’ It also fails to prescribe guidelines that will restrict the government from misusing the police for partisan and illegitimate purposes.

The Pakistan Police Order 2002 vests the superintendence of the police force in the government, but clearly prescribes that the power of superintendence “shall be so exercised as to ensure that police performs its duties efficiently and strictly in accordance with law.” The Order fills a very important gap in law by defining the word ‘superintendence’ to mean “supervision of Police.... through policy, oversight and guidance” and specifying that while exercising it, the government shall ensure “total autonomy” of the police officer in “operational, administrative and financial matters.”

This is to be ensured by the Public Safety Commissions proposed to be established at the federal, provincial and district levels. A detailed charter of functions is prescribed separately for Commissions at each of the three levels.

One of the important functions of the commissions at the provincial and district levels is to “take steps to prevent the Police from engaging in any unlawful activity arising out of compliance with unlawful or malafide orders.” The commissions are also authorised to receive public complaints, inquire or get the inquiry done and recommend appropriate action.

The Provincial Public Safety and Police Complaints Commission will have twelve members, besides the Provincial Home Minister, who is the ex-officio Chairperson of the Commission. Half of the members have to be nominated by the Speaker of the Provincial Assembly - four from the treasury and two from the opposition - and the other half are independent members, selected by the Selection Panel.

The District Public Safety and Police Complaints Commission will consist of nine members. One third of the members are to be elected by the Zila Council and one third to be appointed by the government from amongst the members of the Provincial Assembly and National Assembly of the district as ex officio members. The remaining one third are independent members recommended by the District Selection Panel.

One heartening feature is the mandatory provision that one third of members of commissions at all three levels shall be women.

A second formative influence on the trajectory of police reform was the nature of political transition. In political science literature the South African case is often described as a classic ‘pacted’ agreement between competing political elites. The negotiations were characterised by compromise and confidence-building strategies, which for example, included job protection for the old guard bureaucrats under the Government of National Unity.

The Police Order 2002 envisaged the establishment of Police Complaints Authorities to inquire into citizens’ complaints against misconduct or negligence of duty. Unfortunately, the Amendment Ordinance of 2004 merged them with the Public Safety Commissions at provincial and district levels. The reason behind the amalgamation is unclear, unless it has been guided solely by economic considerations. The reason becomes denser when one finds that the Police Complaints Authority has been retained in its original form as a separate independent body at the federal level, while it is mainly at the provincial and district levels that people interact with their police closely and it is at that level that most complaints against police personnel arise.

The head of the provincial police force is to be appointed by the provincial government out of a panel of three officers recommended by the federal government. Once appointed, the person shall serve tenure of three years. According to 2001 Ordinance, the posting of the police chief would be done by the government with the approval of the Provincial Public Safety Commission out of a panel recommended by the National Public Safety Commission. The 2002 Order removed the Provincial Public Safety Commission from the scene and the 2004 Ordinance did the same with the National Public Safety Commission. The provisions in the 2001 and 2002 legislation regarding the premature termination of the provincial police chief have also met the same fate in 2004. Thus the decision to select the Chief of the Provincial Police Force or to remove him/her from that post rests solely with the governments and the Public Safety Commissions have no say in the matter.

The Pakistan Police Order, 2002 abolishes the system of dual control at the district level. The administration of the district police is vested solely in the district Superintendent of Police, who is no longer subject to the “general control and direction” of the district magistrate. However, Section 33 of the 2002 Order makes him/her responsible to the Zila Nazim (an elected person defined as such under the Local Government Ordinance, 2001) for “police functions,” except in respect of “administration of the district police, investigation of criminal cases and police functions relating to prosecution.”

The Police Order 2002 prescribes fixed tenure of three years for the head of the district police and also for all officers posted in the district like the heads of the police division, sub division and the police station.

Amongst some other important institutions that the Police Order 2002 establishes are the Criminal Justice Commission at the district level to review the functioning of the system and the National Police Management Board at the federal level to develop standards and advise the governments in that country on police matters.

To what extent the new legislation succeeds in turning the police in Pakistan into an independent, neutral and people friendly force, only time will tell.


CHRI Newsletter, Spring 2005

Editors: Vaishali Mishra & Clare Doube, CHRI;
Print: Anshu Tejpal, Electronic:
Jyoti Bhargava, CHRI; Web Developer: Swayam Mohanty, CHRI.
Acknowledgement: Many thanks to all contributors

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The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) is an independent international NGO mandated to ensure the practical realisation of human rights in the Commonwealth.