Here is why I can’t trust the police in Pakistan

Published: June 19, 2015

A look at the Karachi operation. PHOTO: AFP

A friend’s recent encounter with the police has left me fuming. He was waiting for his sister outside a restaurant on a busy road, when a transvestite tried to get into his car. Seconds after he told the transvestite to go away, a police mobile stopped next to his car, as if waiting to pounce on him and hurled a series of accusatory and demeaning questions at him.

He had not been committing a crime nor attempting to do so, then why was he dealt with like a culprit?

And would he have been treated the same way had he been in an expensive-looking Prado? Admittedly, what I have just mentioned is an age-old debate but that only means that each and every one of us needs to stand against this deplorable behaviour on part of our police.

Personally, I refuse to remain passive towards all this nonsense and I say this not only because I am a citizen of this country and someone who has fallen prey to the corruption embedded in our law enforcement system, but also by virtue of the fact that in the past one year, I have personally interacted with police officers of all ranks as part of my job at a local public policy think tank.

Despite several people discouraging us and even warning us regarding women’s safety at thaanas (police station), a female colleague and I visited a number of police stations in Karachi. I would be lying if I said that we ever felt unsafe or even remotely insecure at any of our meetings with the police officers. In fact, some of them were extremely respectful. I do not know whether this was due to the fact that we are lawyers or because we consider ourselves to be alpha-females, but I highly doubt that we would have felt the same way had we been accused of a crime or had been a victim of one.

To quote one example of my own encounter with the police a couple of years back, a few girlfriends and I were stopped and interrogated by them because we were travelling in a yellow cab at night. The use of public transport by women in Karachi, especially at night, is a big no-no, but you’d think that in the worst case scenario, there will always be a police mobile or two that you could go running to for protection – except they’re not always around to protect you.

The only reason we were released from their penetrating eyes and crudely phrased questioning was because we spoke confidently and appeared to be from influential families. But not everyone is as lucky. More often than not, the common man is completely unaware of his rights and unless you throw in a few names like your dad’s friend who is an IG or someone in the top ranks, you’re done for.

They will either threaten to call your family or take you to the police station for a crime that you definitely have not committed, or even pressure you for a bribe. Sometimes, all of this is done in the course of a few minutes for absolutely no reason.

If their excuse is that they must take precautions in order to prevent criminal activity, then I wonder who truly believes that. Undoubtedly, there are good men, and even women now, in the police force who work tirelessly to improve the state of affairs, but I can only count them on my fingertips.

Simply put, the reason why the conviction rate is so low in Pakistan is not just because the courts are not doing their fair bit of the work – although I will leave that debate for another day – but also because most cases are not even handed over to the public prosecutor.

Why?

Because half the time they are not genuine to begin with.

If I have really partaken in a crime, I should be tried for it. An uncle in the government should not have to come and save the day. And if I have not committed a crime, then I should not be harassed for it. More importantly, I should not need any uncles in the government at all to serve me the justice that is my fundamental right.

I am not the first person to complain of this routine oppression and I will surely not be the last. I have heard and witnessed countless horror stories of harassment by the police and as much as I’d like to, I will never grow accustomed to them. These people are supposed to be our saviours and our heroes, not villains whom we need saving from.

It is impediment that the common man is aware of his basic rights, such as under what circumstances and by what section of the law his/her vehicle can be searched and if charges are levelled against anyone, they should know which clause(s) of the relevant statute is applicable in their case. This may seem like an insignificant measure to take for survival in Pakistan but knowing your rights is the first step to attaining them.

Next time a cop tries to throw you off, let them know you cannot and will not be so easily conned. And if that doesn’t work, call that uncle of yours in the government.

Faiza Saleem

Faiza Saleem

A lawyer by profession and a comedian at heart, she occasionally likes to voice her opinions much to the displeasure of most people around her. She tweets as @FaizaSaleemM (twitter.com/FaizaSaleemM)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Queen

    There are good and bad people in police as there are in other places. There are police officials who will harass you for some ‘chai paani’ and then there are those who will accompany you just to ensure you reach safely to your university or college. There is dire need to de-politicize the police allowing them to carry out their duties without any interference. Reforms and monetary incentives are also very necessary in the present situation.Recommend

  • Saad Salman Zia

    Very well said. The police have misused their authority time and again to pressure people into bribes with accusatory black-mailing. I’ve personally gotten into an argument with one officer when I was driving in Islamabad with my fiance. Guess what? They accuse you of adultery simply if you’re driving with a woman you’re not related to so they can threaten you with an arrest and make you pay hefty bribes. Moral policing needs to stop. The state of affairs will continue to decline as long as it is enforced. I hope you don’t have to go through such ordeals again.Recommend

  • ManofSteel

    They are all doing this for your protection,,, what if you are are abducted while in cab at midnight…Recommend

  • SK

    Wait let me get this straight you have written an entire story on the police because of a story that was relayed to you? So you have no actually proof that the incident took place and you are just writing about what you have heard?I applaud your effort against a weak and sometimes corrupt police force but this is not the playground where you discuss he said she said stories.Recommend

  • http://www.submitmyarticless.com Sophia lophes

    Sad But True!Recommend

  • UzairH

    VERY well written Faiza! Spot on on every count, and I loved the conclusion:

    “Next time a cop tries to throw you off, let them know you cannot and
    will not be so easily conned. And if that doesn’t work, call that uncle
    of yours in the government.”

    :)Recommend

  • Disgusting

    You are SK? I am sure you forgot two letters from your name I and C. Recommend

  • Kickass

    Indeed there are good and bad people every where but in Police there are more bad people than all others combined.Recommend

  • Oats

    I think people always threaten the police all the time. That’s part of the problem in Pakistan. Everyone behaves like a VIP. No one wants to follow the rules or follow laws in any Muslim country. They will say, I am so and so” or “I am from such and such family” or “I know so and so who will fix you.” That’s part of the mess in Muslim nations. People claim that we are all equal in the eyes of Allah but then everyone wants to be more special. My uncle is in the police and he has told me that people are always trying to threaten police or bribe them instead of respecting laws. Do you forget that the police and their families are from the same society? Maybe if people respected police, the institution and followed laws better then this VIP mindset would start to change. Look at the Motorways police in Punjab. They don’t take abuse from anyone and they have doing a great job.Recommend

  • Anony

    This moral policing should stop. And we, the citizens need to stand against this. Initially, it was only against couples sitting in cars parked in obscure places. But now i see your incident. Its a terrible state of affairs and its becoming worse.
    Its a deplorable situation and I don’t know how it can improve. But one thing I can think of is that people should know their rights and question officers about the charges they intend to put on you. This will put some pressure on them.
    Also, some proactive person needs to make an fb page for this so we can channel our efforts and energies there.Recommend