The failure of the police system in Pakistan

Published: July 6, 2014

We see everyday how flagrantly laws are violated, how police officials become parties in criminal cases, how they misbehave with the general public and how they fail in controlling the law and order situation in the country. PHOTO: AFP/FILE

A few days back, while coming to work along with my husband and brother, I was stopped at a check post by the Islamabad Police. One of the police officials on duty inquired from my husband about the three of us. My husband stated that he and my brother were going to drop me to my office.

The police official turned towards me, raised his eye brows and, while pointing towards my brother, asked rudely,

Yeh kaun hai?

(Who is he?)

I replied,

“Mairay bhai hain.”

(He is my brother)

To which the police official responded, sarcastically,

Lagta tu nahi hai.

(He doesn’t look like it)

Kia matlab lagta tu nahi hai” I asked, frustrated at his response.

(What do you mean he doesn’t look like it?)

The tone of the police official stung me and I felt thoroughly humiliated and degraded. I wondered why a public functionary, who was supposed to be courteous to the people, insulted me for absolutely nothing. The police official kept us waiting at the picket for no reason. Finally, when I told him that I was working for the Supreme Court, his attitude changed immediately and he allowed us to pass through, all the while apologising profusely.

Upon reaching office, I searched for the Police Order 2002 and the perusal of same revealed to me that there was a specific section with the caption “Attitude and responsibilities of police towards the public”. The said section provided that:

“It shall be the duty of every police officer to –

(a) Behave with the members of the public with due decorum and courtesy;

(b) Promote amity;

(c) Guide and assist members of the public, particularly the poor, disabled or physically weak and children who are either lost or find themselves helpless on the streets or other public places; and

(d) Aid individuals who are in danger of physical harm, particularly women and children”.

The police department in Pakistan is as old as the inception of the country itself. Currently, the system is based on the Police Order 2002, which was promulgated during the period of former president Pervez Musharraf in order to improve the performance of the department.

Previously, the police system was regulated under the Police Act of 1861 and the Police Rules 1934. The Act of 1861 was replaced by the Police Order 2002; however, no corresponding amendments were made in the Police Rules 1934. These rules, still in vogue, are completely outdated. That is why today, the police is unable to enforce law, protect citizens’ rights and liberties, limit civil disorder and counter terrorist activities. That is why today, the police is so inept.

Law is dynamic and it changes its course with the changing needs of the society. It is unfortunate that the post-colonial Police Rules 1934 and the police structure inherited by Pakistan from British legacy didn’t undergo any major amendments, alterations or reformation. Similarly, the Police Order enforced in 2002 didn’t bring many structural or institutional changes in the old setup as postulated under the Police Act of 1861.

In this age of technology and advancement, what can we expect from police officials whose services are still regulated under obsolete rules of 1934?

Every day we see how flagrantly laws are violated, how police officials become parties in criminal cases, how they misbehave with the general public and how they fail in controlling the law and order situation in the country. The failure of the police system in Pakistan is apparent in everyday life, where people have no guarantee of their fundamental rights to life and/or property.

The department’s structure, based on the prevalent Police Service Rules, has sufficient room for political and executive influence and manipulations. The culture of intolerance, hatred, sectarianism and anarchy in Pakistan is at its zenith, and the same can be seen reflecting in our police.

Where we are lacking and wherein lies the solution?

I think the failure doesn’t lie on the part of our police; it lies on the part of our legislators. When Pakistan came into being in 1947, it adopted all the laws that were prevalent at that time in British India. Our criminal justice system is based on the Criminal Procedure Code 1898 and the Pakistan Penal Code 1860, while the civil justice system is regulated under the Code of Civil Procedure 1908. This highlights how outdated and futile our justice system is. While living in 2014, we are centuries old in terms of legislations.

There is no doubt that better and updated laws shape a better society that is based on norms of justice and fair play. It is the need of the hour that the police system should be revamped and replaced with a well-organised legal and institutional setup based inter-alia on rules of transparency, accountability, efficiency, ethics, merit-based appointments, compulsory legal education, evidence-based policing, acquaintance with information technology, latest arms and ammunition, and compulsory per-service and post-service trainings at all levels.

Corresponding amendments should be made in the substantive and procedural laws of the criminal justice systems. It is high time that the legislature takes up its responsibility to restructure, reconstitute and reform the system of our police. This reformation will cure much of the social ills rampant in Pakistan today.

Syeda Saima Shabbir

Syeda Saima Shabbir

A researcher at the Supreme Court who is also a former civil judge. She is currently doing her PhD in Law from International Islamic University Islamabad. She tweets as @saimasyeda (

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

  • nishantsirohi123

    The police in our region follows the system put in place by the British, which in those days was not meant to help people but to suppress them and put across the interest of the regime
    This is what follows through Recommend

  • Fawad Ali

    Definitely. I got 4 occasions of going to a Thana to register an FIR. One for mobile snatching, second time for car accident, and two times for a situation for a fraud. All 4 times I even failed to register a simple FIR after dozens of visits to the thana.Recommend

  • Ad

    Its true as a youngster we are also the victim of police instead of helping they loot money by falsely accusing for something like we have done a crime. Recommend

  • zafy

    Besides law practical manifestation is of utmost importanceRecommend

  • Shakir Lakhani

    And I suppose you did not report to the authorities the incident of the policeman misbehaving with you? So you’re like most Pakistanis! Don’t you realize that you did have a chance, however slight, of making a change for the better? Since you kept silent, the cop will only be encouraged to harass other women.Recommend

  • Faraz Talat

    Refreshingly informative blog that actually supplements a personal horror story with real insight, and proposes real solutions.

    Most blogs merely narrate a pathology with a vague subtext of “something should be done”.Recommend

  • Farrukh Chaudry

    This article about police behaviour is very effective. No doubt police behavior toward public is very disrespectful. And it is due to police system failure. Factors are unawareness of public about their fundamental rights, political influence in this deaprment on large scale, training system of policemen that is old and bogus, and absence of updated police order. It’s not difficult to bring police reforms in Pakistan. Motorway police is a big example. Only serious and honest efforts are required from legislators. Now difficult thing is this seriousness and honesty because after that they have to sacrifice influence in this department.Recommend

  • Local Police

    Just like Karachi, Islamabad has a problem that it does not have a local police.

    When police is not local it is just like any other occupying force.Recommend

  • Observer

    This is very unfortunate. Number of such incidents is increasing by the day.
    I’m not sure though, if any legislative reforms will solve this problem. Infact, a section against this disrespect already exists which you have reproduced here. But who would want to get involved in the hassle of courts against this misbehaviour. This is not a practical solution in such cases.
    “The culture of intolerance, hatred, sectarianism and anarchy in Pakistan is at its zenith, and the same can be seen reflecting in our police.”
    The problem lies here as you have rightly put. Maybe training can help. But training for bringing a behaviour change and making them tolerant and respectable towards citizens is a very tough ask. Such a training would take quite some time. I hope to live to see that day.Recommend

  • Fareed Khan Afridi

    Will not happen. Keep dreaming. Also, something is not kosher about
    this blog. The author, an ex judge took this abuse from a lowly policeman
    and did nothing? Did not teach this thug of a policeman a lesson?Recommend

  • 2#

    I as an Individual, got into a Judicial confusion because of the old laws of Pakistan. Religious people say something and Legislation says something else, and interestingly, both the opinions are in direct contrast with each other. I would second author’s point about the need of revamping of Pakistani’ laws relating policing, and add, social system. I would also caution, if ever that happened, Judiciary will not have that much power as it already has, as of now. Can I please refer to the law of Contempt of Court, which is one, we are following since the British Rule?Recommend

  • Supriya Arcot

    Don’t put all blame on the police dear . They have to deal with all types the entire day . Not a mean task . Training the police in P.R should be thought about seriously on both sides of the subcontinent . A smile , politeness does not cost anything .Recommend

  • asad

    is this because the legislators benefit from this system which is why they are not changing this system or they are just incompetent enough to do so..???Recommend

  • Awwam

    The failure exists because there is no effective system of reward or punishment in any of our institutions in Pakistan except Pak Army. I urge Govt: of Pakistan to bring a central system of reward and punishment and make it public so that rest of people and servicemen can take lesson from it. It is a need of the time to work for the country and this will happen only and only when all the honest and well wishing hands join together for this cause. There are people around who want to do more and more for their country. They only need a brave and courageous leader to gather and lead them. The rest will be done automatically.Recommend