Politics, police and the public: Why policing is and will continue to remain political in Pakistan

Zoha Waseem

The recent optics surrounding the post of the current Lahore CCPO were amusing to say the least.

The coalition government at the centre, led by the PML-N, sought to transfer the Lahore capital city police officer, Ghulam Mahmood Dogar, and surrender his services to the Establishment Division, allegedly for booking the party’s leaders under ‘terrorism’ charges.

To Dogar’s aid came Punjab’s chief minister, the PML-Q’s Parvez Elahi (currently allied with the PML-N’s arch-rival, PTI). In a meeting visibly orchestrated for his political opponents, and social media users, CM Elahi was seen hugging and patting the CCPO on his back, as the latter bent forward loyally and subserviently.

The office of Lahore CCPO is understandably a vital post for political stakeholders in Punjab — it administers and oversees all public policing in the provincial capital and serves as a crucial channel of governance. In this hotly competitive and fragmented political landscape of Pakistan, policing is always political.

‘All Policing is Political’
I read these words some time ago while exploring the works of Professor Martha Huggins, a celebrated critical criminologist who has written extensively about policing, police violence and repression in Latin America and beyond. In Political Policing, Huggins writes:

“All policing is political, ranging on a continuum from police being very visible handmaids of organised power … to their relationship to power being obscured by the ideologies of democracy and social control that claim to make police merely extensions of a class-neutral state and the ‘people’.”

In most countries, including Pakistan, the police continue to find themselves placed on the former end of the continuum, fantasising about democratic ideals. The intimate linkages between politics and policing have long been recognised in scholarship, some of which will be consulted in my analysis here to contextualise what we are observing in Pakistan today.

In Pakistan, we are quick to condemn the police — as an institution — but our critical thinking rarely extends to a structural and systemic inquiry of what makes policing bodies do what they do.

Our analysis must not be limited to behavioural or operational ambits of this institution, such as routine malpractices, petty corruption, and the running of stations and outposts — a revamp of which may or may not improve public trust in the police. These institutional realities must be contextualised against the formal and informal relations between policing agents and those who manage them, creating kinship networks, strategic alliances, and systems of patronage that have long shaped the institutional culture and relational politics of policing in Pakistan.

In this article, I explore the nexus between policing and politics in Pakistan, unpacking some of the ways in which policing has consistently and undeniably been a ‘politicised’ project.

We have no shortage of examples to draw from when picturing the politicisation of policing in Pakistan. In the past couple of months alone, we have seen a tug of war between the Islamabad Police (reporting to the PML-N) and the Punjab Police (under PTI’s control) over the arrest and remand of a PTI leader, Shahbaz Gill.

We have seen a former prime minister, Imran Khan, threatening serving police officers and a judge. We have also heard about a group of youngsters who were detained by the police at a high-end restaurant in the capital for laughing at a PML-N leader.

And — as recurring practice critical for inducting politically patronised and loyal officers into the force — we have also seen the Punjab chief minister giving a list of selected names to the Inspector General of Police to appoint chosen RPOs and DPOs, resulting in tensions between the two due to the IGPs refusal.

With Pakistan’s politics in flux, elections seemingly around the corner, and each centre of power increasingly nervous about the legitimacy of their authority, it’s a good time to look back at how policing (as a range of practices performed by an assemblage of institutions) has been central to politics in this country, and the unending, relentless encroachment and abuse by state elites into matters of policing, coercion, and domestic security.

While this encroachment into domestic policing and law enforcement is by no means limited to civil and military state actors, but also the private elite, for the sake of this analysis, I will limit myself to the former.

Political entrepreneurialism
In their recent academic publication on policing in Bangladesh, scholars David Jackman and Mathilde Maitrot discuss police officers’ dependency on clientelist relations with politicians as a form of ‘political entrepreneurialism’, defined as officers ‘seeking status through the political machinery, beyond formal bureaucratic constraints’.
There is no dearth of entrepreneurial officers here. In Sindh, we have seen multiple examples including the likes of a former senior police officer, Rao Anwar, who was removed following an extrajudicial killing in Karachi, and was believed to have links with the ruling PPP in the province.
Perhaps another good example of an officer who benefitted from such patron-client relationship in Punjab is former police chief, Rana Maqbool, believed to be close to the PML-N. In 1997, Maqbool was directed by then prime minister Nawaz Sharif to arrest then chief of army staff Pervez Musharraf from the airport — also known as the ‘plane hijacking conspiracy’.

Maqbool was later arrested (and acquitted) by an accountability court in 2001. For his continued obedience to the Sharif clan, Maqbool was seemingly protected in subsequent years, and eventually awarded a PML-N ticket, allowing him to rise to the rank of a senator, where his political career now thrives.

Patronage has been a key component of contemporary policing in large parts of the world. As Kai Shing Wong writing on political patronage of the police in Thailand suggests, political patronage ‘permeates the administration and operation of the police organisation … provides protection for police officers who are involved in corruption,’ and, resultantly, police work and practice risks becoming ‘biased towards the private and partisan interests of their patrons with the police enforcing laws selectively’.

While the PML-N, like its counterparts, has been good at rewarding loyal officers, it has been less forgiving of policemen who have challenged the authority of their ‘political masters’.

The most recent incident that will be remembered by most readers perhaps is the Model Town incident of 2014, when fourteen people were tragically killed after the PML-N government ordered the police to use force against protesters at Model Town, Lahore.

Later, during another sit-in led by the PTI and Dr Tahirul Qadri’s Pakistan Awami Tehreek, when one officer, Muhammad Ali Nekokara, wrote a letter challenging the order to use force against the peaceful protesters, a crude example was made of his ‘misconduct’ and ‘inefficiency’.

Nekokara was unceremoniously dismissed from service for questioning the use of force against those present at the sit-in. It would be three years before he was reinstated back into the police.

Police officers thus internalise the fact that creating and maintaining patronage networks and alliances can offer protection from unfair disciplinary practices and punishment.

Consider a recent incident, during the term of the PTI’s previous government, of a District Police Officer of Pakpattan, who was punished in the form of a transfer.

In 2018, Khawar Maneka, the former husband of former first lady Bushra Imran, was stopped by junior police officers as a routine check and had their car intercepted.

Allegedly viewing this interception as an act of disobedience and disrespect, Maneka exerted political pressure through his affiliation with the first lady to secure an apology from the DPO. When he refused, the DPO was transferred out of Pakpattan and made ‘OSD’ (Officer on Special Duty) — a designation often considered to be a symbolic punishment as it makes it harder for an officer to secure a good posting, at least under the duration of that government or regime.
Writing on policing in Nigeria, Oliver Owen describes this process as ‘strategic navigation’. In other words, police officers build these informal networks with both state and private elite in attempts to help them navigate institutional constraints around prestigious and lucrative postings and appointments.

While relations of patronage become one of the sources through which police agency and authority is restrained and compromised — as is also discussed in Beatrice Jauregui’s work on policing in India — the creation of informal networks of patron-client relations for the purposes of strategically navigating their career trajectories provides officers the opportunities for professional and personal protections.

For example, being strategically affiliated with persons of influence or those with “pahunch” (to borrow from Jauregui), allows officers to create extra sources of income, build relationship with VIPs, acquire otherwise inaccessible promotions and postings, and thus be ‘entrepreneurial’.

While such ‘political entrepreneurialism’ can be essential for the basic professional survival of some officers, when applied to coercive institutions, it does risk the creation of violent entrepreneurs.

Violent entrepreneurialism
In 1999, under the then PML-N regime, PM Shahbaz Sharif (then Punjab CM) was accused by human rights organisations of adopting the policy of extrajudicial and fake police encounter killings.

A report from that year quoted a senior journalist as claiming that ‘there has been a phenomenal increase in police encounters since the PML-N government came into power’.

Less than two decades later, in 2018, a similar trend would be observed in Sindh, under the provincial government of PPP (with the Sharifs in power at the centre). But Shehbaz in particular, seemed to have held an affinity to extrajudicial police practices. In 1998, in a notorious and tragic incident, at least four people were killed in an encounter killing — known as the Sabzazar ‘shootout’ case. Twelve names were registered in the FIR for this killing, including that of Shehbaz Sharif for allowing this killing.

As is common in these cases, for want of evidence, the political bigwig was acquitted — first by the ATC in 2008, and then by the Lahore High Court in 2018.

Writing on ‘violence workers’ (officers who perpetrate police torture and murders) Huggins et al have suggested that the presence of such security workers participating in violence serves a functional component in the organisation of the police, endorsing and empowering an overarching ideology guiding the police — the protection of the regime against ‘enemies of the state’ and ‘enemy combatants.’

Financial and professional, formal and informal, rewards granted to officers partaking in violence in the service of the regime or party in power signals to police officers (whose own position is insecure due to institutional constraints and structural inequality) the benefits of such practices. In addition to patronage, the police’s ‘violence work’ thus becomes a key reason for keeping policing politicised, especially for political vendettas.

One of the biggest political parties in Pakistan to have suffered violently and brutally at the hands of policing and state institutions over the past few decades, has also been one that has performed horribly in terms of its own abuse of these policing mechanisms, and its patronage of violence workers, perhaps due to the party leaders’ own insecurities.
From Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to Benazir and Asif Ali Zardari, the PPP has been at the receiving end of political vendettas delivered through law enforcement agencies, but it has not refrained from meting out the same.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto did not trust the existing structures when he came into office. In the face of a police strike in 1972, and always afraid of a potential coup that would overthrow him, Bhutto established a notorious entity, the Federal Security Force (FSF), which would ultimately be one of the reasons for his downfall.

The FSF has been described as a ‘paramilitary force’, a ‘civil police’, and a ‘civil militia’. As I mention in my book, Insecure Guardians, and has been written elsewhere too, Bhutto’s FSF was an armed force that came into being purely for the protection of Bhutto himself, for curbing opposition, using violence against it when needed, breaking up political meetings, and even preventing a coup. Although disbanded in 1977, officers from the FSF were transferred into other policing units and departments, and some went on to have long careers.

Despite this hyper-empowerment of the FSF, it was ultimately this institution and an FIR that brought Bhutto down during the military regime of Ziaul Haq, which used these mechanisms for Zia’s own vendetta. The regime succeeded in detaining FSF officers and extracting confessions.

A prominent officer of the FSF, Masood Mahmood, was also arrested and strong-armed into speaking against ZAB. During ZAB’s government, Mahmood was Bhutto’s close aide, and he was appointed director-general of the FSF.

He had ensured that the FSF would be weaponised to hound and harass Bhutto’s opponents. Ironic then, that the very same officer turned approver against ZAB. His testimony against Bhutto and the FIR, ultimately strengthened the case against Bhutto, eventually leading to his death sentence for the murder of Nawab Ahmad Khan Kasuri. The very coercive creation that was meant to protect Bhutto and intimidate his opponents, became strategically useful for the military to bring Bhutto to the gallows.

Another example of an institution that victimised PPP leaders, in particular Benazir, was the Crime Investigation Agency (CIA). In the 1990s, under the patronage of Jam Sadiq Ali (then Sindh CM) and Irfanullah Marwat (son-in-law of Ghulam Ishaq Khan, who was then president of Pakistan), the CIA unleashed a ‘reign of terror’ against PPP workers, during the second PML-N government.

The CIA, headed by a particularly notorious DIG, victimised and tortured PPP workers. In one of the most notorious incidents, Benazir’s close aid and friend, Veena Hayat was sexually assaulted by officers affiliated with the CIA. Others who were reportedly abused by the CIA were Shehla Raza and Rahila Tiwana (both affiliated with the PPP).

The CIA’s involvement in this disgraceful victimisation of these women was also acknowledged in the Shafiq-ur-Rehman Commission Report.

Despite this, upon resuming power, BB did not do away with such problematic policing practices, but instead the PPP, especially under General Naseerullah Babar, endorsed the practice of police extrajudicial killings (or fake encounters), against BB’s primary opponent in Sindh, the MQM.

Officers willing to mete out such police violence were patronised and rewarded. This was the period and environment in which some of Karachi ‘super cops’ and ‘top cops’ were groomed. Their rise came at a time when, as I show in my book, Babar (a war veteran) sold the idea of ‘fighting terror with terror’. It was also a time in which the PPP called in the armed forces, in particular the paramilitary force, the Sindh Rangers.

Benazir unheeded calls cautioning her against the deployment of the troops, believing the armed forces would help reign in the street power of the MQM. Thus began the tit-for-tat violence that took place during Karachi’s most turbulent decades, with revenge killings of police officers (who had participated in the operations against the MQM) taking place well into the 2000s, as the MQM regained lost space with Musharraf’s alliance.

On police violence in India, Jauregui writes in her book, Provisional Authority, that, “[S]ince police are often viewed as pawns of the current regime, shadows of the ‘real’ authority figures, their violence is generally interpreted as serving special interests — especially the interests of VIPs and ‘elites’ or persons from the ‘political classes’ or otherwise influential status persons — rather than the public good…

Looking at Bangladesh, Jackman and Maitrot similarly explain, that in Bangladeshi politics, violence and coercion have played a prominent role. They, along with other scholars studying the global South, have also pointed out that ‘the police collude with political leaders, and extrajudicial practices more often associated with authoritarianism have been common during the tenure of democratically elected governments’, too insecure about their own legitimacy and longevity. Similar dynamics have been observed in Latin America, for instance, where police violence and authoritarian policing practices have continued long after countries have transitioned away from dictatorial rule.

Violent entrepreneurs thus become essential tools in the hands of politicians who maintain strategic alliances with these select police officers through the patronage and kinship networks that have been created. The violence work of the 1990s, performed by both law enforcement officers and armed MQM workers, highlight some of key themes running through this article and my book — regime insecurity, patronage, violent entrepreneurialism, and informal policing practices.

Regime protection
Drawing on extensive anthropological fieldwork on policing and counterinsurgency in Turkey, in Police, Provocation, Politics, Deniz Yonucu has argued that ‘policing is not only about maintaining social order by managing disorder but also about generating disorder’.

In the case of Turkey, this disorder is generated through elites associated with a security state that penetrate existing alignments and networks of activists and dissenters, in attempts to quell left-wing mobilisation.

This policing of dissent and activism in Turkey is influenced by the state’s counterinsurgency strategies informed by the colonial school of warfare and Cold War doctrines. In Pakistan, disorder is similarly generated to delegitimise and disempower dissenting, opposing, and critical voices, through several policing mechanisms and assemblages.

In addition to recognising the power of patronage and rewarding violent entrepreneurialism, insecure regimes such as those found in Pakistan, value the utility of other policing mechanisms (laws and institutions) for political vendettas. Most recently, this was observable during the tenure of Imran Khan and the PTI.

Take the example of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), the institution behind the witch hunts against opposition leaders, including former foreign minister Khwaja Asif (PML-N), Sindh Assembly Speaker Agha Siraj Durrani (PPP), current finance minister Miftah Ismail (PML-N), Saad Rafique (PML-N), Khursheed Shah (PPP), Maryam Nawaz and Shehbaz Sharif (PML-N), Shahid Khaqan Abbasi (PML-N), and Asif Ali Zardari (PPP).

However, we must remember that this was hardly the first regime to politically victimise and over-police political opposition — similar excesses in the name of ‘accountability’ have been observed through the years, yet anti-corruption and accountability slogans continue to be weaponised to criminalise and delegitimise opposition and dissenters.

Dissent has also been over-policed by institutions such as the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), which has repeatedly been accused of harassing and victimising journalists. Another tool at the state’s disposal is of course Section 124-A of the Pakistan Penal Code (or the ‘sedition law’).

Under PTI’s hybrid regime, sedition charges were applied to activists, journalists, students, and politicians, in a bid to facilitate their detention, hurt solidarities, delegitimise their cause, and intimidate dissenters and critics into submission and silence. Those who were slapped with this law and remain in custody or continue to suffer because of this charge include activist Ammar Ali Jan and MNA Ali Wazir. (At the time of writing, Wazir had received bail in his fourth sedition case, but remained in custody).

One of the other mechanisms through which political victimisation has occurred and enabled the policing of opposition in Pakistan, is the criminalisation of dissent and opposition as ‘terrorism’.

As research tells us, the draconian Anti-Terrorism Act (1997) was brought in by the PML-N government — it was Nawaz’s brainchild, and followed in the footsteps of Bhutto’s Suppression of Terrorist Activities Ordinance (1975).

The merry-go-round politics of the 1990s pushed an insecure Nawaz into drafting an ‘anti-terrorism’ strategy, the ATA, which gave security forces extra powers, and allowed the creation of special anti-terrorism courts (ATCs).

Just a few years later, Nawaz himself would be convicted under the very same anti-terrorism law by the military regime of Pervez Musharraf in a hijacking and terrorism case.

In a statement highlighting the culture of political vendettas in Pakistan, Musharraf’s national advisor, Javed Jabbar, is quoted to have said: “We want Nawaz Sharif to be subject to the same [anti-terrorism] law he formulated and promulgated”.

But the risks associated with such an anti-terrorism regime were seen to outweigh the policing power they provided to insecure governments in Pakistan. ‘Terrorism’ continued to be broadly defined, and over time, the ATA empowered the military and paramilitary forces to act ‘in aid of civil power’.

In 2014, the legislation would be amended to allow the paramilitary force, Sindh Rangers, to detain suspects for 90 days without charge or warrant. It would go on to be applied freely and generously during the Karachi Operation, against PML-N’s then opponents in Sindh — the PPP and the MQM.
The Anti-Terrorism Amendment Ordinance (2013) introduced new measures for policing and punishing so-called ‘enemies of the state’. Pakistan’s anti-terrorism regime, including its primary legal framework and the anti-terrorism courts, continues to be empowered.

Despite the fact that PML-N leaders, too, have fallen victim to the ATA (most recently, Maryam Nawaz and Captain Safdar), the law continues to be weaponised to police, survey, and suppress political opposition.

The most recent example of such vendetta on the part of PML-N was Imran Khan, who was charged under the ATA, a charge that defies the definition of ‘terrorism’ as interpreted by the Supreme Court bench in 2019 (the ATA-related charges have now been dropped).

Military in policing
In addition to patronised police officers, the grooming of violent entrepreneurs, and the creation and exploitation of legislative frameworks that enable regime-centric policing, politicised policing also serves to create and sustain authoritarian modes of coercion and control.

As the above-mentioned examples suggest, politicised policing under democratic governments have frequently and consciously retained the key characteristics of authoritarian policing.

Finding similar dynamics in new democracies of Latin America, scholar Yanilda Gonzales describes the authoritarian police as ‘those that exercise coercion to serve the interests of the leader, coercion that is not bound by the rule of law, but instead exercised in arbitrary and exceptional ways, not subjected to external accountability’.
But what has it looked like in Pakistan, where the military has played a prominent role in domestic policing and enforcement, both during dictatorships and under elected representatives fostering a hybrid regime?

Police officers who have served during previous military dictatorships frequently note how there was less interference from political parties under military rule. This is perhaps understandable, given the lack of autonomy and power elected representatives held during such periods.

This did not mean, however, that policing under authoritarian rule was more democratic — on the contrary, political victimisation continued and became more direct. In other words, although armed forces did not overtly intervene in the routine appointments and transfers of police officers, they did use the institution’s right to use legitimate force for detaining, abusing, and torturing police party workers. And they did this in a few ways.

Under Ziaul Haq’s rule, for instance, the military’s penetration into civilian and bureaucratic institutions increased. Military officers were appointed directly into the superior services, including the police, the foreign service, and the district management group. Although this entrance into these public services took place prior to Zia’s dictatorship as well, the general consolidated this practice by legalising and formalising a 10 per cent quota for army officers in the Central Superior Service. The practice continues to date.

More informal encroachments by the armed forces into the operations and autonomy of the police services have also occurred through recommendations for police officers, and through the vetting of police officers through the intelligence services.

Under the recent hybrid government of PTI, informal conversations with police officers revealed how the military establishment, in particularly the premier intelligence agency, the ISI, were able to influence the postings of certain ‘friendly’ police officers.

In a related development, under the current government, Shehbaz Sharif issued a formal notification, empowering the ISI for verification of public office holders, including police officers. While this formal notification came as a surprise to many, it all but cemented a previously informal practice of such vetting of officers and bureaucrats on senior positions of authority.

It goes without saying that such indirect influences and interventions are typically secretive and quiet — they are difficult to quantify and can vary over time, depending on the military’s relations with the parties in power.

The above examples of how the military encroached into civilian policing structures and their governance, are perhaps more subtle than the alleged abduction of a former Inspector General of Sindh Police, Mushtaq Maher.

It came at a time when the hybrid regime was feeling increasingly insecure about the alliance of the opposition parties’ (Pakistan Democratic Movement) outspokenness and shenanigans. Maryam Nawaz and Captain Safdar had organised a jalsa at the Mazar-e-Quaid in Karachi. Political slogans were chanted, going against the behaviour permitted at the Mazar’s premises.

Friendly supporters of the regime arrived at a police station to register an FIR. When the police refused to register the FIRs against the PDM leaders—because such breaches fall under The Quaid-i-Azam’s Mazar (Protection and Maintenance) Ordinance (1971), under which the complaints are dealt with by the magistrate—the matter reached the top echelons of the military brass, in quarters supporting Imran.

Officers within the establishment relied upon its trusted intelligence and paramilitary officers (of the Sindh Rangers) to detain IGP Maher.

Coerced in the middle of the night to command his junior officers to register the FIR that eventually led to Safdar’s arrest, the chief’s autonomy and operational independence was compromised, hurting his legitimacy. Had it not been for a wide-scale protest on the part of the police, which led the army brass to acknowledge their ‘overzealousness’, the police command would have appeared gravely weak, caught in between an increasingly hostile hybrid regime on the one hand, and an opportunistically calculated opposition movement on the other.
The paramilitary force has been operational in the province for three decades. It is well-known that the institution has gradually encroached into public and private life, occupying land, taking on community policing responsibilities, and requesting for additional policing powers (which continue to be granted on the part of civilian governments hoping this coercion will be directed against their opponents, not them).

Elsewhere, I have discussed the strategic utility of the Sindh Rangers in Karachi, and the complex, competitive, and uneasy partnership that has existed between the police and the paramilitary force.

In my research, I have found that through the creation of this competitive partnership between the two institutions, the culture of policing has been adversely affected, further militarising the Karachi police, creating internal rifts within its institutional structure, and compromising its legitimacy.

Relational politics of reform
If all policing is political, then police reform is a critical political exercise, and yet it is politics that interferes with the development and implementation of these very reform processes.

A former Inspector General of Police, Afzal Ali Shigri wrote: “At the time of elections and during their tenure, political parties vehemently profess their commitment to police reform”. He studied the manifestos of the PPP, PML-N, and the PTI, finding that Imran’s party has, thus far, been the only party to give due importance and a detailed discussion of police reforms in its manifesto.

Despite this, and all of Imran’s rhetoric on police reform, his laments of police stations being sold (thaanay biktay hain), and an allegedly reformed institution in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (for whom the late IG Nasir Durrani deserves credit, even though the KP police law modelled on the lines of Police Order 2002 was not properly implemented), Imran’s party performed little better in this arena of governance.

When Imran’s arrest came on the cards given his recent tirades against the military establishment, bringing the former prime minister under pressure due to both allegations of terrorism and financial corruption, party leaders took to social media to warn the police not to be part of ‘this political war’, else the police would be treated as ‘PDM workers’ not police officers — an ironic statement, given the party’s own treatment of officers deemed disloyal to Imran’s regime.

Under Imran’s tenure as PM (2018-2022), the province of Punjab saw at least seven Inspectors General of Police, serving a tenure on average of seven months each. The most abrasive indication of Imran’s desire to appoint politically patronised officers came with the removal of one Punjab Police chief, Muhammad Tahir, just four weeks after he was appointed, ahead of by-elections in Punjab.

According to sources, Tahir’s removal was particularly disappointing for former IG of KP Nasir Durrani, who had been appointed head of the Punjab Committee on Police Reforms and Implementation by Imran.

When Durrani approached Imran, asking him not to remove Tahir, Imran discounted Durrani believing that the PTI needed a more compliant police chief (and more subservient bureaucrats in general) to secure and protect Imran’s early months in office. The sheer disrespect and Imran’s hypocrisy led Durrani to resign as head of the commission in protest. According to sources, Durrani never met Imran again and passed away six months later.

What this episode tells us is that the rhetoric of reform can be incredibly advantageous during electioneering and campaigning, but to borrow from Wong’s work, political patronage between the politicians and police officers operates like an ‘informal institution’, resilient to change and a barrier to reform in structures of power.

As Wong writes, drawing upon the case of Thailand, “Political patronage as a means to exploit the powers of state institutions through the control of state personnel in authoritarian states is taken up by ruling elites of these forces to become new patrons of state personnel in new democracies.”

In Pakistan, similarly, patronage has been treated as a means to an end by both military rulers and elected representatives. Consider the way both power centres negotiated over the implementation of the Police Order 2002.

Once recognised as the most expansive and impressive reform effort in South Asia, the Police Order 2002 promised to overhaul and change operational policing and institutional culture, with detailed guidance on how to make the police more publicly accountable. What was ironic was that the idea for a more publicly accountable policing structure was introduced under a military regime. But it refrained from taking the input of political parties, received no buy-in from party leaders, and was thus perceived as being undemocratic.
Musharraf was losing support and needed allies in political parties to win the next elections. But party leaders turned and complained that the police were no longer under their control — how would they appoint amenable station house officers to influence electoral results?

Less than two years after it was introduced, the Musharraf regime radically altered the Police Order 2002, robbing it of its spirit, and bringing ‘political influences’ back into its fold. The mechanisms and platforms for public accountability were never fully established — where they were, their autonomy and independence soon fizzled.

A project of political (dis)ordering
It is impossible to detail here the history of how politicised policing mechanisms have served a strategic utility for insecure regimes in Pakistan for more than seven decades. What can reasonably be discerned from the discussion above is that ruling elites have routinely counted upon the political power of coercive mechanisms, their hyper-empowerment, and their internal, institutional weaknesses.

This has allowed each regime to try and secure itself through coercive and clientelist practices using police power for political victimisation, score-settling, intimidation, and political and financial gains. And this has prevailed across regime types: democratic rule, authoritarian rule, and under hybrid regimes.

Because policing has been treated as a project of political ordering and disordering, it allows for the retention and abuse for colonial frameworks such as sedition, the weaponisation of legal frameworks such as the Anti-Terrorism Act, and expansions in the institutional responsibilities of agencies such as the NAB and FIA, and those tasked with countering insurgencies, collecting intelligence, or being deployed ‘in aid of civil power’.

As suggested here, there are a range of reasons for why patron-client relations are necessary in Pakistan’s context for insecure regimes that benefit from keeping policing a politicised project. In response to such politicisation, there has been much debate in Pakistan as to whether a more localised approach to policing, one in which control over the police is devolved down to both provincial and local governments, would be a suitable alternative.

The idea is that such a devolution might make the police more accountable to the public and therefore more democratic. This remains to be seen.

Caution must be taken when idealising such devolution of checks, however.

In Mexico, for instance, Dr Markus-Michael Muller found that in insecure environments (such as Latin America and Asia), democratic ‘turns’ do not necessarily do away with clientelist practices. Instead, authoritarian policing practices are frequently retained in these ‘violent democracies’, in which ‘violence brokers’ (such as the police) become essential to the survival of political actors and their hunger for garnering and maintaining political support.
Hence, local politicians, brokers, and bureaucrats, realise the importance of maintaining political controls and oversight over the police, and forming ‘particularistic negotiations and relationships’ (to borrow from Jackman and Maitrot) with police officers, instead of making them more autonomous and accountable to the public.

To echo the scholars mentioned in this article who have written on political policing around the world, policing as a coercive practice and the police as a coercive institution is central to political conflict, contestation, and competition, irrespective of how democratic, authoritarian, or hybrid a political and legal system might be.

Although such coercion may vary in extent and form, all policing remains political. A cursory overview of how the police have been used in Pakistan over the past few decades, is a stark reminder of this fact.

Consider that each government has had the opportunity of reforming the police, but none have successfully introduced radical structural reforms, enabling them to make superficial-but-strategic changes — changing police leadership, or appointing loyalist commanders — and ensuring that these institutions continue to be utilised in the same manner as their predecessors, consistently leaving room for the creation and grooming of political entrepreneurs and violent entrepreneurs both within state policing structures and beyond.

We are likely to continue seeing similar trends, if not their exacerbation, while our political masters and the patrons of ‘law and order’ compete for control and coercion.

Source: Dawn October 11th 2022