In the last several years, Pakistan has seen an increase in violence – ranging from suicide bombings to armed attacks. A frequent target of these attacks has been the country’s police force – in March, 13 people were killed and more than 100 were injured when gunmen attacked the Manawan police academy near Lahore. Just last week, at least 18 officers were killed when a suicide bomber targeted a police training center in Mingora. Aside from these dangers, Pakistan’s police force – despite being the country’s first line of defense – are generally underpaid, undertrained, and underappreciated. As a result, it may not be the go-to career for many Pakistanis. Or that’s what I thought until I met Qasim Tareen, a well-educated young Pakistani who recently left a career in journalism to take the Central Superior Service (CSS) exam and join the police force. Below, Qasim explains his decision and provides some interesting insight into Pakistan’s police:
Q: According to Hassan Abbas, a former police officer in Pakistan who is now a research fellow at Harvard University, militants have killed about 400 police each year in suicide bombings, assassinations, and other heinous crimes since 2005. Given this fact, what propelled you to pursue this career field? Did your family support your decision?
You could say that the danger faced by Pakistani Police was what motivated me to pursue a career in the police service. I mean if the police, those responsible for upholding the law and protecting common citizens, were not safe in Pakistan, what chance did my family and I have? Law and order are two words you hear a lot in Pakistan, especially after violent terrorist attacks have wreaked havoc across the country in recent years. If i am not mistaken, Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik recently said that approximately 15,000 Pakistanis have been killed in more than 3,000 various terrorist attacks since 2001. Just the other day, headlines about police cadets in Mingora being the latest victims of a suicide bomber glare at and remind me about the importance of police in Pakistan. Only last month, I remember reading about how volunteers for police duties in Mingora and Swat had far exceeded the requirement. People of Swat volunteered for police service even though they were well aware of the risks involved in taking on terrorists. That says something about a people who have been widely neglected by the rest of the country. And it only makes me more determined to at least attempt to provide a vital and much needed service in a place I like to call home, a luxury the people of Swat did not have for at least four months this year, when they became refugees in their own country.
My decision to pursue a career in the police force did not come as a shock to my family as both my mother and father come from military backgrounds. My mother was not in the army but her father and her brother were. My father, two of his younger brothers and their father were all in the army. So the concept of providing security to others was not something they had a hard time understanding.
Q: What is the process like for someone like you who decided to join the Pakistani Civil Service versus someone who decides to just sign up for the Pakistani police force? Is there a singular ideology or rhetoric that exists and unifies the police force?
From what I understand, there are a two ways of joining the police service of Pakistan. You could walk into a police station and volunteer, after which you are tested and trained, and begin at the rank of a constable. Second, you can take the annual Central Superior Service (CSS) exam, for which there is an age limit of twenty-eight years, an educational prerequisite of a college degree, and a maximum of three attempts (further details are available at http://www.fpsc.gov.pk). After taking the CSS exam and interviews, if you are lucky enough to be selected by the Federal Public Service Commission for police service, you jump start your career as a seventeen grade federal officer with the rank of Assistant Superintendent. There is a third way but that only applies if you are in the army. The army has a fixed quota in the police service.
As far as unity within the police force is concerned, in my inexperienced opinion, there is little unity within the service. From what I have studied, the structure of the Pakistani Police Service essentially remains unchanged from the time of the British. They used police as money collectors and strongmen. Pakistani Police Service is two pronged; one part is made up of constables all the way up to Station House Officers (the notorious S.H.Os) the other part is made up of only officers, starting from Assistant Superintendents all the way up to Inspector Generals (or Capital City Police Officers, CCPOs). There seems to be little unity between these two parts, so much so that it is widely believed that SHOs are much more influential than Inspector Generals, even though they are much junior in rank. Mostly because SHOs are directly involved in law enforcement operations while Inspector Generals and other high ranking officers have more of a disconnected managerial role in law enforcement. Unity among police officers is fractured further between ‘Rankers’ and CSS inductees. Rankers, police officers who have started from low ranks and worked their way up the rankings, resent officers who have been inducted right from the start as Assistant Superintendents after taking the CSS exam. The division between these officers is so marked that Rankers who may be at the same rank as a CSS inductee wear different uniforms. Their rank badges are designed differently and Rankers will wear black belts and boots and CSS inductees wear dark brown belts and boots.
This wide gap between the lower ranks and senior officer ranks has not helped Pakistani Police services. Not to mention the extremely politicised nature of police service and ranking appointments. My father has warned me that I will be ‘no more than a hand-maiden to the politicians in power’ throughout my police career.
Q: Although Pakistan’s military has been fighting the recent offensive against the Taliban, some analysts have suggested the police should take a bigger role in these efforts. Specifically, Christine Fair from RAND Corporation wrote in the Wall Street Journal in July, “A police force-led effort would be better than one led by the army, as the history of successful counterinsurgency movements in disparate theatres across the globe shows.” Do you agree with this notion as it applies to Pakistan?
The army belongs on the borders and the police belong on the streets. Today, Pakistan faces an enemy with no clear identity which attacks deep within the country’s territory. Lahore has been the victim of some of the most brazen terrorist attacks in recent times. One of those attacks targeted the Manawan police academy in March this year. Even Pakistan’s enemies realize the importance of the police and have targeted police to shake people’s confidence in the state’s ability to provide security. People don’t expect army soldiers to patrol the streets unless extraordinary circumstances or emergency situations arise. The army’s presence on the streets will probably do more harm than good, causing panic and protest. Unlike the army the police are a better choice for sustained law enforcement within Pakistan’s territory.
Given the more civilian nature of police compared with the army’s institutional nature, police informers would be able to provide much more intelligence than the army’s heavy handed tactics. There is a common perception amongst most Pakistanis that the police are involved in most criminal activities within Pakistan. If such a perception is true, then most of the crime, including terrorist activities within Pakistan could be solved through police reforms. Criminals may need police compliance to succeed but the police do not necessarily need criminals to be successful law enforcers. Police could use their close links with the underworld to combat terrorism within Pakistan in more effective way than the army.
Q: What do you think are some of the main issues facing Pakistan’s police force today? Do you see it progressing/reforming in the future?
Driving on the streets of Islamabad, one regularly comes across off-duty police looking to catch a ride home. Police constables often complain about having to pay for bullets. According to sources familiar with police operations, Station House Officers (SHOs) often give their subordinates instructions to collect large sums of money every month to pay for the stations operating expenses. I spoke with a friend of mine who is a now a Superintendent, a rank that qualifies him as an eighteen grade federal officer, which is a senior position considering twenty two is the highest grade. He said that he gets a monthly salary of 20,000 rupees, free utilities and more than 600 liters of free fuel every month. He finds it close to impossible to support his family on such a salary package. And on the other hand, criminals will offer him bribes close to one million rupees every month.
Police salaries and the modus operandi seem to breed corruption within the Pakistani Police Service. There is always talk about police reforms but I believe that there is no will to reform a system that often compliments the all pervasive corruption within the Pakistani Government.
Pakistani Police Service requires drastic measures to improve, that I am in no position at the moment to even suggest. I can only hope that the police in Pakistan begin being just that, police.
Q: What do you hope to achieve while on this career path? What advice would you give someone else considering a similar field?
Before sitting for the CSS examination, I attended lectures organized by the University of Karachi, where our first lecturer advised all of us present not to join the Civil Service if we wanted to change the system. “There is no room for idealism in the Pakistani Civil Service,” he said, “You need to be realistic.” At first I was surprised, but then I gave much thought to what he said. To be able to change a modus operandi of an institution such as the Pakistani bureaucracy would be a gargantuan task, but certainly, being able to change it from within would be less difficult than from without. So I have decided to first find out all I can about the system before I make any judgments about what I want to achieve.
I would strongly recommend taking the CSS exam and joining the Pakistani Civil Service. Just by taking the exam, I have learned a lot about Pakistan today and understood a little about what it takes to help Pakistan. For those already interested, I would advise them to prepare themselves for a long term commitment and not to rely on nepotism.