IN recent days, Pakistan lost one of its most celebrated artists, Amjad Sabri, to a brutal target killing attack in Karachi.

The loss, deeply mourned, yet again raised serious questions about our level of preparedness to respond to the policing challenges of terrorism and organised crime in the country in general, and in its biggest city, Karachi, in particular.

Research published in 2008 by the Rand Corporation established that the role of police, along with intelligence agencies, remains crucial in eliminating terrorism. A professional, capable police force that enjoys operational efficiency and adequate state support is essential to countering terrorism and fighting crime successfully. A catalogue of calamities has befallen our police — courtesy of our political choices, intrusive political executives and generally submissive police leadership. A brief overview of existing policing arrangements in Sindh might help identify the root cause of current policing deficits in the province and possible responses to the issue.

The Sindh Assembly took a retrogressive measure on July 15, 2011, when it repealed the democratic governance structure of the police — Police Order of 2002 — and reverted to the suppressive Police Act of 1861, essentially bringing the police under the absolute control of the political executive. Political authorities’ perpetual meddling in operational matters over a period of time has resulted in the incapacitation of Sindh Police.

A catalogue of calamities has befallen Sindh Police.

Financial support for Sindh Police, like in other provinces, is woefully inadequate. Per capita per annum spending on police in Sindh is approximately $12; substantially low by international and even regional standards, despite facing extreme security challenges. Neighbouring Indian Punjab’s per capita per annum spending on police is around $16. Development, training, counterterrorism, intelligence-gathering and patrolling budgets of Sindh Police further reveal disturbing facts. Of Sindh Police’s total budget, the developmental budget (new buildings and projects) for 2015-16 was quite low at 0.53pc when compared with Islamabad (2.8pc), Punjab (2.9pc), and KP (4.23pc).

Sindh spent 0.2pc of its total police budget for 2015-16 on training, whereas KP spent 0.8pc, and Punjab 2.1pc — the international average is 7-10pc. Even some Indian states such as Nagaland, Tripura, Manipur and capital territory Delhi are spending 7-10pc of their total police budgets on training.

Moreover, Sindh Police, despite facing severe terrorist threats, has spent only 1pc of its total police budget on its Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) in 2015-16, whereas KP spent 3.2pc and Punjab 4.6pc in the same period. Again, spending on the Special Branch, which is critical for intelligence-gathering and surveillance, was at its lowest in Sindh in the last fiscal year; 1.4pc of its total budget compared with KP (1.9pc), Balochistan (2.1pc) and Punjab (2.9pc).

Daily fuel limits for police operational duty vehicles in Sindh — seven litres for urban and 12 litres for rural police stations — is also significantly low when compared with Punjab and KP with averages between 15-20 litres per day. Little value is thus being attached to preventive police practices that are essential to reducing crime and fear of crime.

The first step is to address the democratic deficit in the police governance structure. The Sindh Assembly must repeal the colonial Police Act of 1861, revert to Police Order 2002 and implement it with all necessary amendments. Police need to be aligned with their commanders and the law, rather than private patrons or political parties through misdirected executive control as is currently being practised under this remnant of the Raj. Merit-based appointments of police commanders, adequate operational space for police, providing guidance through inclusive public safety commissions and holding police accountable, inter alia, through police complaint authorities, as provided in Police Order 2002, will make the police professional, politically fair and responsive.

The second step is to improve financial support for police substantially, in phases over the next five years, to help improve their operational capacity — especially by building specialised police skills training facilities, forensic support for investigators, strengthening the CTD and Special Branch. Police leadership will have to develop systems to make sure the funds are used effectively and transparently.

Political actors/authorities of Sindh must realise it is in their own interest to make Sindh Police professionally efficient and politically neutral, as enshrined in the Police Order, 2002. Otherwise, they will keep conceding legitimate police powers to the paramilitary forces. More critically, citizens will lose their trust in the ability of the elected government to provide them with protection.

The military authorities must also actively support police reforms under the National Action Plan; the  ‘militarisation of policing’ is neither lasting, sustainable, nor the politically recommended solution for Pakistan’s policing problems.

An important question is, how do we motivate the apparently politicised and demoralised police in Sindh? Recruitments, inter alia, need to be made transparent to align new police entrants with their organisation rather than private/political benefactors. Even if police have ideal state support, the role of police leadership would still be the most important determining factor in making police responsive and accountable.

Revisiting urban policing is also the need of the hour, especially in Karachi, where preventive policing methods must be promoted, such as: integrated video surveillance and response centres (eg Lahore’s Safe Cities Project, currently in progress), crime pattern and data analysis, specialised and targeted mobile patrolling equipped with mobile data terminals, and target hardening.

Collaboration amongst the political executive, police and other law-enforcement departments and agencies, including intelligence agencies, is the key to effective policing. The role of relatively vibrant sections of our society, such as media, lawyers, artists, and other members of civil society will be fundamental to building up an effective demand for a professional and efficient police force.

To let police do police, it is imperative to build their operational capacity through adequate state support, including a democratic governance structure, merit-based appointments, operational autonomy and sufficient financial support. That is the only way we can make the police force responsive and accountable to the citizens it serves.

The writer is a former police officer.