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For a better tomorrow

State institutions, civil society, and political forces will have to come together to ensure peace and security in our society

For a better tomorrow

As the country braved a series of terror attacks, the responses that came from the civilian leadership were inappropriate, to some. Sections of the press reported that the federal interior ministry is working to set up a separate security force for judges. No doubt, the lives of judges are under tremendous pressure and threat but then many other categories of functionaries, including the police itself, face similar predicaments.

There is a view that the steps being mulled by the concerned quarters are cosmetic in nature. Urban centres in Sindh and other provinces continue to be under threat of violent attacks, routine crimes notwithstanding.

It is disappointing to note that many high ups have shown their inability to stop suicide bombers. Innocent citizens are thus exposed to the most serious threat of such bombings. In order to safeguard the communities, the administration will have to turn to the very basics.

The gulf between the public and police is expanding fast. A sizable number of citizens consider police as a part of security problem rather than a solution. They have valid reasons for this conclusion. The police have deserted the people in dire straits, such as in the aftermath of Benazir Bhutto’s tragic assassination and during the mayhem in December 2007 and many similar situations.

Unless the trust in police is revived, safety for the public will remain just a dream. The chief of Sindh Police has showed his confidence in thana culture and Police Act of 1861. Sir Robert Peel, who is considered a doyen of modern police services, elucidated basic principles for the force as early as in the 19th century.

Prevention of crimes and disorder (at all costs), enhancing performance, developing confidence in public to observe and report crime (without fear and favour), less use of physical force, enforcing law without prejudice, using force only after exhausting the options of persuasion, advice and warning, and keeping away from the jurisdiction of judiciary were cardinal rules used by police force in civilised societies. Against this backdrop our scenario is any thing but satisfactory.

In the smokescreen of terrorism and extremism, we are made to believe that fundamental procedures of governance no longer remain valid. Rise in illegal possession and use of arms is the foremost issue. At one end, the sophistication and precision of technology has made things easy.

Unless the trust in police is revived, safety for the public will remain just a dream.

There is a reluctance to put a check on manufacturing, marketing, and use of illegal arms. During the Lal Masjid episode, for instance, many security analysts considered the accumulation of arms by the alleged jihadis as the main reason for the worsening situation. If there is a political will and administrative resolve to control the spread of arms, a significant headway can be made in improving the law and order situation.

The next matter is the process of issuing licenses for arms which is cumbersome. This cannot be resolved without taking political parties, communal groups, and tribal chieftains into confidence. There could be an all-parties conference simply to deliberate on this issue which is affecting the life and liberty of common folks, both in urban and rural areas. Needless to say, without imposing a strict regulatory regime on the availability, display and use of arms, public safety cannot be ensured.

The disappearance of office bearers of district administration and police force from the settlements in general and sensitive locations in particular must not go un-investigated. People of Pakistan are given this oft-repeated message that law and order cannot be maintained without deployment of paramilitary outfits, including Rangers, Scouts, Constabularies and reincarnated police units.

Despite spending a hefty budget on the security establishment, law-abiding taxpayers continue to lose life and property. Flashy changes are brought about with fanfare only to fail in the testing waters. Karachiites may not have forgotten the “Eagle Squad” that was set up some time ago at the expense of millions of rupees.

Having fortified themselves in the confines of police stations or cantonments, these symbols of establishment left the ordinary citizens at the mercy of terrorists and hoodlums. Declining competence, inability to cope with normal duties, politicisation of essential security services and clandestine manipulation by secret agencies has affected daily life. Apart from the government, people will have to play a proactive role in maintaining security.

Whenever violence breaks out, the ordinary people are at the mercy of mercenaries. Be it Abbas Town explosion or the Lal Shahbaz Qalandar’s shrine, some people on the spot mobilise and help others. Stranded passengers and traumatised pedestrians receive guidance and advice from citizens in different neighbourhoods who can be found performing different essential tasks.

Informing the motorists about potentially dangerous points, indicating relatively safe areas for temporary refuge and escorting the women and students to homes were some of the noble deeds done by the area youth. Scores of injured were transported by rickshaw drivers at the risk of their own lives.

Like many previous similar instances, emergencies display the tremendous potential of communities to manage some of the basic local affairs. Maintenance of order and security is one of the responsibilities that can be shouldered by mobilised communities. A basic format of neighbouhood unit can be created through proactive support of local government units.

Community policing to combat street crimes, maintenance of public spaces, such as parks, reporting municipal disorders to concerned functionaries, management of internal streets and lanes, liaison with local union councils, municipal and district administration, ensuring order in festivals, religious occasions and order as well as community welfare work for common good are few mentions that can be managed by these bodies.

Citizen Community Boards (CCBs) from the Musharraf regime may be reconstituted under the present administrative system to look after some of these issues in our cities.

Development of gated communities, erecting barriers on streets, hiring private security guards and watchmen are some examples. Without proper institutionalisation, real difference cannot be made. One can only hope that state institutions, civil society and political forces will play their much-needed role.

Dr Noman Ahmed

Noman Ahmed
The author is Chairperson of Department of Architecture and Planning at NED University, Karachi. He can be reached at [email protected]

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