When thinking of police officers in Pakistan, inept, corrupt and intimidating are some of the first thoughts that come to mind. Their attitude towards complainants and victims of crime are particularly devoid of civility. In fact, complainants are harassed for daring to report crimes and demanding justice. The country’s justice delivery mechanisms largely fail victims, who are left with no avenues to seek justice.
Many persons thus resort to extreme or illegal measures. One such person, 28-year-old Safdar, set himself on fire at the Athar Hazari police station, Jhang District, Punjab province, on August 23, to protest against the police setting free a suspect in his wife’s rape case.
According to media reports, Safdar complained to the Station House Officer, Ghulam Abbas, that the investigation officer had set free the accused after accepting a bribe from him. He appealed to Abbas to take action against the investigation officer and arrest the suspects. However, Abbas abused him and asked the constables to throw him out of the police station. Safdar then set himself on fire outside Abbas’ office, and died from his injuries a few days later.
Following the incident, Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif ordered a probe. Moreover, Punjab Inspector General of Police suspended the District Superintendent of Police Tahir Hussain Khikhi, Station House Officer Ghulam Abbas Sehgal and Investigation Officer Nawaz Naul. That is the end of the matter; no further inquiry or action is ever taken. The erring officer is usually posted at some other jurisdiction, where he can continue to perpetuate atrocities.
Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer survey for 2016 shows that Pakistan’s law and order institutions were the most likely of any other country in the world to accept bribes: 75 percent of Pakistanis who came into contact with the police had to pay a bribe, while 68 percent of those coming into contact with courts had to pay. The report further reveals that the poor tend to pay more bribes than the rich.
Deeply entrenched corruption and embezzlement of funds by all ranks of the police has made it difficult for the common man to approach police for redressal. This gives rise to mob vigilance and deteriorating law and order. Corruption is multi faceted and multi layered, with police receiving monthly ‘tributes’ from organized criminal gangs in exchange for being allowed to loot and plunder with complete impunity. Another source of steady income for the police is to take bribes from complainants to file FIRs; alternatively, the alleged accused is also encouraged to pay bribes to not nominate him in the FIR. Victims have reported that they were forced to pay bribes on various pretexts when they approached the police to file a complaint, such as paying for fuel or even stationary. The investigation process is also not immune from corruption; the police charge large bribes from the accused. If the accused happens to be poor or vulnerable, he can be implicated in a number of crimes.
Justice in Pakistan is not given as a right, but rather it is given up for sale to those with deep pockets and nerves of steel. In this manner, the majority of criminals escape prosecution, while victims think many times before making police complaints.
Without heralding in reforms and instituting a no tolerance policy for corruption in all institutions, expecting things to change is tantamount to wishful thinking. While incidents such as Safdar’s may elicit a hurried response resulting in a few heads rolling, they will make little difference in the long run. A major overhauling of the system is needed urgently.