Militarised police

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A trend that is costing innocent lives

 

Where recently released JIT report on Model Town tragedy points out the use of excessive force by police officers on their own, lots have been written and discussed at length in media about 17th June Model Town mayhem which resulted in the deaths of 14 protestors due to gunshot wounds and more than 80 having firearm injuries belonging to Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT). Unfortunately whatever has been discussed in media remained restricted to the role of Gullu Butt, whose acts later on found a place in Oxford Dictionary as a symbol of vandalism and affixation of the responsibility and digging element of Mens Rea on the part of political leadership and civil administration, but none has bothered to address the root cause as a core unattended issue i.e., the use of militarised police for handling rallies, processions and riots.

The ongoing repercussions of Daska incident where apparently an irked police officer lost control at the spur of the moment and exhausted entire magazine of an assault rifle on protesting lawyers thus leaving no probability of their survival is quite on the similar lines to those repercussions which we witnessed in response to Model Town incident. Similarly in recent past we witnessed successive incidents where non adherence of rules of engagement coupled with availability of excessive firepower with LEAs resulted in the wrongful deaths i.e., in 2003, a similar sorry incident took place at Sialkot Jail where on visit four judges along with five captors cum prisoners were killed in a without warning shootout during an operation by Elite Force, which was supposed to be an operation for rescue of hostages.

A number of inquiries were conducted by military and law enforcement experts to probe the deaths of judges during an abortive rescue bid by police commandoes and unanimously concluded that instead of precise target shooting, indiscriminate firing by automatic assault/infantry rifles to shoot captors resulted in the deaths of hostage judges which were avoidable by use of tear gas. Other sorry aspect of this incident is that the suggestions made under various inquiries were never made part of ‘rules of engagement’. Similarly the protesting lawyers at Daska could have been best handled by adopting old conventional mob dispersing measures. Even if the police officer dealing with protesting lawyers at Daska had been equipped with a handgun instead of a rapid fire assault rifle, he at most would have caused survivable bodily injury in extreme circumstances.

Coming back to June 17th Model Town incident, the carnage was viewed live by public, unlike Sialkot Jail incident and what was captured on camera revealed that police authorities committed the same blunder that was earlier committed by them in dealing with Sialkot Jail incident, so was done by Frontier Corps in Khortabad incident and by security forces in Lal Masjid operation. Video footages transpire that initially riot police equipped with batons, protective gear and tear gas guns was used to disperse the protestors as a standard operating procedure which adopted usual techniques of baton charging and firing tear gas shells on protestors which were pelting stones at police and anti encroachment staff.

Later on at noon, the riot police contingents were outnumbered and overpowered by the well prepared protestors and such retreat certainly required prompt replacement by more fresh contingents of riot control police force but the situation was handed over to the commandoes of Elite Force who took control over the operation along with regular police which too was armed with automatic assault rifles like rapid fire AK-47 and standard military issue G-III, a long range high penetration infantry rifle and performed exactly as per their training.

These ‘new entrants’ in response to a gunshot injury to a policeman and rumour of his death, which they now claim in plea of self defence as per JIT report, resorted to firing in straight direction and another video shows that a policeman encircled by angry protestors is also indiscriminately firing straight shots in a bid to escape mob rage as per his training to overcome assailants by using all available resources. Such incidents caused more than a dozen fatalities which eventually added fuel to the fury and led to the unprecedented political unrest.

Keeping aside the legal aspects i.e., seeking permission from a Magistrate to open straight fire, implications of the Protection of Pakistan Ordinance, unattended issues in Local Government Ordinance coupled with politically motivated amendments therein and inter-conflicting provisions in Police Order, the havoc was a result of non adherence of repeatedly suggested rules of engagement and use of excessive firepower. Since a strong retaliation was very well expected at Model Town anti encroachment operation in retaliation to the LDA’s operation to remove road blockades erected by highly charged PAT workers. Therefore it cannot be assumed that the local police administration was taken by surprise from stiff resistance during the removal and clearance operation. Very similarly the police was also in high vindictive spirits as many policemen were brutally tortured by PAT workers at Lahore Airport just a day before Model Town incident. Therefore replacement with such lethal force at site was totally uncalled for rather tantamount to criminal negligence on the part of local and regional police command.

As a brief history, our police force which was demilitarised after the end of colonial rule but same was re-militarised during Zia’s regime when Bhutto’s Federal Security Force was dissolved and a large number of army officers were inducted into police cadre in anticipation of agitation from Bhutto’s followers. These army officers as per their training emphasised on equipping the regular police force with semi automatic assault rifles and use of 12 gauge shotguns and handguns was discouraged. In 1990s during some encounters with sectarian armed groups when the police found itself outgunned amid dealing with hardcore sectarian criminals equipped with sophisticated weapons, a move was made for large scale militarisation of police along with the establishment of a special tactical force, Elite Force, with the collaboration of Special Services Group of Pakistan Army.

The process of militarisation of police reached to its climax after 9/11 incident when police force was confronted with TTP elements and resultantly the Elite Force training was made mandatory for all ranks and the primary riot control police i.e., Punjab Constabulary was also equipped with similar weaponry. These militarisation measures were done under the umbrella of adaptability and to coup with the rapidly changing scenario without considering its ill effects.

A study of developed western police systems shows that the use of high powered assault rifle by police was discontinued in United States after ‘King Assassination Riots’ in 1968 which sparked after the assassination of Martin Luther King resulting in the deaths of dozens of protestors. Similarly, the British learnt the same lesson in 1972 when horrific incident remembered as “Bloody Sunday” took place wherein many Irish protestors were killed. The two incidents forced the western policymakers to conduct a thorough research and analysis with an objective to avoid any further human loss during riots and protests.

The programmes studied psychological analysis of hundreds of law enforcement personnel who were deputed to control riots, their responses in acute circumstances depending upon their linguistic, ethnic, religious and political inclination which they may possess being residents of the same society. Eventually, as an outcome of the research the police was divided into two major groups i.e., a large sized service oriented conventional police and a small sized special tactical force. The first group included the police which interacts with the public or with the outlaws at the first instance whereas the other group which was later on named as SWAT units, like Elite Force of ours, was formed to deal with the desperate criminals. These SWAT units were trained for extraordinary situation which were deemed to be beyond the control of regular police and are never engaged for controlling riots or dispersing the protestors.

To the extent of first segment it was decided to withdraw automatic assault rifles and replace them with conventional weapons like handguns and manually operated 12 gauge shotguns that too were ordered to be kept in trunk of the patrolling vehicle. The myth behind reversion to conventional weaponry was to minimise the chances of casualties in case of armed conflict as study revealed that responses of different police officers to similar law and order situation were at significant variance. Therefore handguns were given the status of primary weapon due to their low range and being less deadly as compared to a high powered rifle and in extreme circumstances the use of shotguns was allowed to injure or paralyse the outlaws as its pellets spread widely when fired.

Here in Pakistan the law enforcement personnel are recruited from a society which is badly divided into different sects and the element of blind sectarian following is eminently prevalent in less privileged people than privileged ones. Unfortunately, the unprivileged class has outnumbered others in lower ranks of police. In given circumstances there stands a dire need to de-militarise the police force.

It’s not only Pakistan which has committed deviation from standard rules of engagement and unnecessarily equipping law enforcement personnel with high powered weaponry. None other than the United States, whilst forgetting lesson learnt from ‘King Assassination Riots’ of 1968, opted for militarisation of police after 9/11 which resulted into ugly situations last month at Baltimore and in Ferguson last year. In response to which the President of United States issued a presidential order on 19th May wherein he barred federal government from providing military grade hardware to the local police. So the crux derived is that mere presence of a standard state policy is not alone sufficient unless or until its stricto senso adherence is made sure and same is required to be revisited as per changing scenarios. I feel no cavil in concluding that had our riot control police been equipped with conventional law enforcement weapons instead of high powered rifles, we could have saved more than dozen lives in the Model Town incident.

Although we have learnt no lesson from successive sorry incidents of use of excessive force in Sialkot Jail, Lal Masjid and Kharotabad but after Model Town incident the fury and resentment has brought an unprecedented chaos requiring us to revisit the standard operating procedure to handle agitations and riots while keeping in view the continuing protests in lieu of Daska incident, and in future.

1 COMMENT

  1. deployment of the forces that are loaded with automatic weapons and have personal differences & motives is always a risky business. however, we must remember that they were mostly trained to fight against terrorists and forcing them to control a politically charged mob was supposed to get us some dead bodies. but my personal opinion is that someone badly needed dead bodies to give Qadri a reason to motivate his blind followers to follow him to Islamabad.

    my personal opinion – model town was a part of london plan

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