Challenges of Policing against terrorism in Pakistan


Policing in Pakistan is by far the most challenging profession. The police is at war 24/7 on multiple fronts: against a bulk of their own peers and subordinates who patronise crime and corruption; against persons of influence found in the corridors of power; and against criminals and terrorists who thrive in violence and bloodshed.

In other words, one’s character is tested everyday in an environment full of temptations, sleaze and fear. Only exceptional individuals survive and fight the system with courage, integrity and professionalism.

My intention here is to share some professional thoughts with the latest batch of Assistant Superintendents of Police (ASPs) undergoing training at the National Police Academy, Islamabad. This message is also for hundreds of fresh entrants to the Police Service of Pakistan (PSP) who are in the field grappling with complex law and order challenges.

Policing is all about leadership; it is an officer’s leadership skills that will be tested.

These extraordinary men and women, if encouraged and allowed to work in a conducive environment, can make a difference in accordance with the expectations of that section of society that desires integrity, professionalism and the rule of law.

Back in 1977, on the first day of our horse-riding training at the Police College Sihala, a tall, dark, lean instructor, with a twirling and well-oiled moustache, surprised our class of ASPs with this remark: “Sahibs, those of you who will ride the horse well will run the district well.” What was the connection between a horse and a police district?

Once we mounted the horses, it dawned on us that they are intelligent and sensitive creatures; they would judge the rider by the grip of his legs and by the ease and confidence of holding the reins while making the animal jump over obstacles.

These horses were like men under the command of the ASPs, especially the station house officers who know instantly how firm and fair their supervisory officers are. They are called upon to act as sub-divisional police officers, commanding a group of three to four police stations, comprising about 200 to 250 personnel. They are potentially unruly horses, used to unsavoury practices of brutality, crudeness, corruption and criminality, largely reflective of the social environment.

At the end of the training session, our instructor shouted: “Pat your horses.” Indeed, that was good advice. You must pat the men under your command when they go through a gruelling task or handle a tough situation. There is the spirit of goodness in every person; tap that resource. Policing is all about leadership. It is your leadership skills that will be tested so very often.

A young ASP is expected to swim against the tidal wave of police culture steeped in apathy, indifference, lack of public service ethos and criminality. He or she can make a difference by setting a personal example of integrity, courage, impartiality, firmness and above all fairness. They are expected to make mistakes in good faith. Their conduct should be above board. They should always be known for their integrity and impartiality.

They are entrusted with supervising cases of murder and disputes over property, and their investigations must be fair. They are actually being trained to become superintendents of the district police. That is when their first mistake could be their last. They are expected to withstand social and political pressures and help administer justice without fear or favour.

The day one dons the police uniform, the distinction between private and public life finishes. Every move you make comes under close scrutiny of those who serve or guard you and those who are party to disputes that you are called to resolve or cases that you investigate. In fact, one’s life changes drastically as one’s personal and professional conduct is under public gaze. People know what kind of company you keep and keep away from.

As a police officer, one comes across a lot of temptations: people offer you houses to live in comfort; cars to ride; try to bribe you in contested cases; offer expensive gifts; entice you in financing foreign travels; and invite you to questionable parties. They look for your ‘price tag’. How many can resist? Those who succumb lose their self-respect, dignity and honour. Those who resist earn the respect of those under their command as well as the citizens they serve. It is these police officers who make a difference as leaders.

Police officers starting their service should also understand the distinction between authority and power. Authority is obtained through your rank or derived from the supervisory role specified in your job description. But the ‘power’ you wield is through knowledge, expertise and professionalism. Through authority, you may be feared but through the power of knowledge, you will be respected.

Police officers should shun societal or political pressure to act as moralists; they should not assume the role of prosecutors, judges and executioners. Killing criminals in staged ‘encounters’ is the outcome of policy projected by perverted minds who take the law into their own hands. This militates against the concept of rule of law and promotes state brutality. Such a ‘militaristic’ policing model has to be avoided if we want to promote humane policing.

Police is a community service. Earning public trust should be the only goal. However, policing is not about serving political masters. The officers who curry favours and seek political influence in their administrative matters eventually stand exposed and do not command respect in their profession.

One final advice to those who choose to join the police service: you should rise above religious and sectarian frictions; you should make no distinction between ethnic groups; for you everyone has to be treated equally in accordance with law and the Constitution. You are nothing else but a Pakistani and you should feel proud to be part of the selected few who have been called upon to serve their country through a challenging but very rewarding profession.

The writer Tariq Pervaiz is retired inspector general of police.