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Pakistan needs robust riot police to thrash protests

The recent protests in Pakistan highlighted the country's weak public order management. According to Kamran Adil, who is currently serving as Deputy Inspector General of Police, Pakistan should establish specialized public order units to effectively deal with such situations.

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Public order management is a specialized subject in police studies. It requires that police be trained to deal with situations that threaten the very peace, stability, and development of a country.

This important function of police has received little attention in the larger discourse on the rule of law and the police reforms in the country. In addition, its relationship with the criminal justice system is also less emphasized.

In the recent past, there have been mass protests in the country that have choked its arteries and have brought to fore the importance of the subject of public order management. This write-up will adumbrate select aspects of public order management with special reference to Pakistan.

Read more: TLP brings Pakistan to standstill as protests erupt across major cities

Terms used should be clear

First, one must look at the terms used to cover this important subject. The administration, in general, uses the term ‘law and order’, which is an opaque and ambiguous term and does not clearly inform on the authority and responsibility of officers managing the public order situations.

The use of this term is rooted in colonial administrative structures. Modern police literature and laws prefer the term ‘public order management’ or ‘anti-riot management’ over the archaic and generalized ‘law and order’. The latter use of terminology is based on modern usage and clearly spells out the lines of authority and responsibility.

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Clarity is needed due to the philosophical underpinning of public order management, which is considered contentious by its very nature. Professor P. A. J. Waddington, therefore, while contributing his chapter on ‘Policing Public Order and Political Contention’ in the Handbook of Policing, chose to call it ‘policing contention’.

In any case, this change of terminology should be treated as a point of departure to examine this function of policing. It may be noted that in the era of COVID, public order management is becoming central to police functions as unpopular lockdowns have to be enforced by police.

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Difference of opinion

Second, the progressive police legislation modeled on Police Order, 2002 not only uses the term ‘public order’ but also empowers police officers under the law to use lawful powers. For example, the preamble of Police Order, 2002 recites that maintenance of public order is the duty of the police.

Chapters XIII and XIV of the law confer powers on police to issue orders to maintain public order. The KP Police Act, 2017 and Sindh Police Act, 2019 follow the same scheme. The legislative arrangement must be kept in view for a better understanding of the subject.

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Third, the decision to use force in public order situations is a moot point that rallies group loyalties in the government. One group presents it as the essence of their erstwhile powers of district magistracy that equipped them with judicial and executive powers over police and magisterial judicial officers.

The other group contends that this decision of using force is a highly specialized decision and must rest with commanding authorities of the police.

As a result of this difference of opinion, new laws about public administration were enacted in the provinces legalizing the roles of non-police officers in public order situations. The modern trend of specialized policing repels the claims of non-police groups.

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Nonetheless, due to these views, the public at large remains confused about the authority and responsibility equation in such situations. Contrary to police progressive laws enumerated above, the code of criminal procedure retains the old scheme and has yet to be amended to conform to the latest trend vesting such powers with police leadership and command.

How to reform public order management

Fourth, public order management requires functional specialization, which implies dedicated police officers who are trained in dealing with public order situations in a tactful manner and with knowledge on rules of engagement on the use of force while facing mobs and protesters.

Articles 15 and 16 of the Constitution of Pakistan provide for rights to movement and assembly as fundamental rights. These, therefore, cannot be abridged, but have to be regulated under the law.

Read more: Can Police reforms justify the Use of force by the police?

The Maintenance of Public Order Ordinance, 1965 (MPO law) and nuisance law as contained in the code of criminal procedure of 1898 have been used as major regulatory laws. The case law on MPO law has developed, but its disregard is not treated as contempt by courts.

Likewise, the omnibus section 144 of the code of criminal procedure results in almost naught convictions. Both laws are characterized by their temporal nature.

Due to a lack of specialization in public order management, the units dealing with crime prevention and detection chiefly deal with protestors in a manner that is no different from how they treat criminals.

Read more: The great divide: How do police in Pakistan compare to the world?

Therefore, specialized public order units must be established and counted as part of larger police and criminal justice reforms.

Fifth, besides police response to public order, the criminal justice response in terms of strict and certain punishments for violent mobs that damage public property and government personnel must be envisioned to ensure that those who take law in their hands must be punished.

The role of the prosecution, forensics, and courts must be enhanced in public order management to make it a collective government response as compared to singling out police to take the brunt of contestation by mobs.

Read more: Administrative accountability courts must be set up

The singularity of police as state response affects the police image and shows the matter as between police and mobs and not as between government and mobs.

Public order essential for internal security

Sixth, the use of information technology and cyber policing toolkits in public order management is one of the global best practices to prevent violent mobs and to detect unruly protestors.

This has yet to be institutionalized in Pakistan owing to the strict separation of the cyber-crime domain with federal police and conventional anti-riot with regular provincial police organizations.

Read more: Pakistani man jailed for blasphemy under cyber crime laws for the first time

Preemptive strategies can be carved out by tracking social media accounts of extremist elements. Likewise, videos and footage uploaded by the general public on social media can be used as evidence against violent protestors and can help in identifying the perpetrators of crime at the scene of violent protests.

Seventh, public order is the essence of internal security. In March 2021, the Chief of Army Staff General Javed Qamar Bajwa slated ‘internal peace, stability, and development’ as endogenous factors affecting national security.

Read more: Internal and external security challenges to Pakistan

Public order is the key to peace and stability, which leads to development ultimately. Military with all its prowess does not have a public order management unit and has to rely on the police for the use of non-lethal and highly regulated use of force to disperse unlawful mobs through a rule of law response.

Even civil armed forces need advanced anti-riot and public order management units of police to deal with highly publicized and media sensitive situations, which have the potential to be exploited by violent mobs. Therefore, public order management response by police must be integrated into national security by policymakers.

Read more: Islamabad Security Dialogue: Reaching out to the World

Collective criminal justice system response

Final point is that the international trend of police reforms in Western countries is in favor of collective criminal justice system response to violent mobs. Two draft laws are under consideration in the US and the UK that can be referred to as samples of international approach.

In the UK, the government has introduced the Police, Crimes, Sentencing and Courts Act, 2021 that provides for enhanced punishments for attacks on police officers and also provides for ‘police covenant’ covering minimum protections for police officers.

In the US, the draft George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, 2021 has been passed by the House of Representatives in March 2021. The US draft law has struck a balance between overprotected police officers in the US by proposing to take away defense of qualified immunity and by obliging police officers to wear body cameras to record their contacts with the public at large.

Read more: US court charges white police officer of George Floyd’s murder

In sync with this international trend, there is a need to look at public order management as a specialized function of the police in Pakistan. Adequate investment has to be made in public order management paraphernalia in the provinces and at the federal level to deal with violent mobs in the future.

In the interest of establishing the writ of the state, public order management must be treated as a separate police function over and above the crime prevention and detection functions that usually occupy the imagination of policymakers in the country when it comes to internal security.

Read more: Police Reforms: Issues, Effects and a Way Forward

Kamran Adil is currently serving as Deputy Inspector General of Police. He studied law at Oxford University and writes and lectures on international law. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.