How Corrupt is Pakistan’s Police?

Pakistan’s police force is undeniably corrupt, whether that be through the acceptance of bribes or by torturing suspects. But to what extent?

Pakistani Policeman shot Dead in front of Wife f

"I have no choice but to earn money from illegal means."

The integrity of Pakistan’s police force has been questioned for decades for its unruly actions and unethical behaviour.

Pakistani dramas were one of the first mediums to bring the country’s police corruption to light. However, it seems this is far from fiction.

Corruption can be seen in many avenues of the policing system. From police officers accepting bribes to inadequate handling of crimes, and even ignoring certain wrongdoings.

It’s no secret that exploitation runs through Pakistan’s politics. Though, this also filters its way into the justice system. Pakistan’s elitist population and politicians tend to be protected from prosecution.

Additionally, there have also been clear human rights abuses with acts of interrogation and staged encounter killings.

DESIblitz investigates the various ways Pakistan’s unethical policing system is failing to achieve integrity and justice for many of its people.

Accepting Bribes

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Bribery is one of the more commonly known forms of corruption within Pakistan’s police force.

Whilst bribes aren’t legally or morally appropriate to accept, an officer will rarely turn down an offer.

Bribes can include money and gifts. Sometimes such gratuities can create blurred lines and confusion, with officers feeling conflicted.

Are bribes a simple act of generosity or are they an attempt to sway an ‘honest’ officer to change the outcome of a case?

The policing organisation in Pakistan remains underfunded, with stations lacking adequate provisions. This naturally means that officers don’t make a glamourous salary.

In turn, this means an offer for much-needed extra cash is very tempting, and sadly out of desperation, many officers take the bait.

In September 2019, DAWN reported that two Karachi policemen were arrested for extorting money and receiving bribes from citizens.

The incident only came to light because of a video that went viral on social media. Unfortunately, not all corrupt police are caught in this manner.

A comment left on the reporting by Azam Akbar stated:

“This is the common character of the police officials in Pakistan.”

In contrast, officers can sometimes be blackmailed. Perhaps they have committed a criminal act, or maybe the blackmailer is simply taking advantage of some leverage they have.

A sense of powerlessness can lead many to give in to such blackmailing and do as they are instructed or face worse punishment.

The bottom line is that bribes are generally accepted out of a place of helplessness. Police officers have low wages, which can give them less of an incentive to uphold justice and honour their roles.

Although, this still does not stop some officials who abuse their power.

Unregistered FIR’s

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An FIR is a First Investigation Report, which allows individuals to report crimes to the police which will be recorded. Traditionally, you would expect all FIR’s to be registered, but many are not.

FIR’s need to be taken for them to be investigated. This is governed by section 154 of the Code of Criminal Procedure of Pakistan (CrPC).

Alarmingly, many are not recorded for a variety of reasons, such as:

  • Being ignored as they are part of a vulnerable group like women, ethnic/religious minorities, and the poor. This makes them reluctant to come forward.
  • They can be bribed and blackmailed by wealthy or important individuals, who may want to protect themselves.
  • They face pressure from political officials to carry out law enforcement in a way that suits and protects their image.
  • Registering a crime may mean, in some instances, that police are implicating themselves.

Women who come forth with rape accusations in Pakistan tend to be held responsible because of a toxic culture of victim-blaming. This can be a reason why their accusations are not always registered.

A report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) found that in 2014, a woman alleged that she was raped by a powerful local landowner in the Umerkot district.

However, the police took delays in registering the compliant, which hindered the progress of the investigation. In fact, the family was accused of falsifying the complaint.

The reason for why justice was not served is pinned to two facts in the case; a woman alleged rape and the individual in question was wealthy and powerful.

The combination of such lethal prejudice and corruption throughout the land is a tragedy. It often means that criminals will escape punishment because women are unfairly held accountable.

In this instance, the individual’s riches and power was an added bonus.

Moreover, in April 2017, Amnesty International reported that there were enforced disappearances in Pakistan, with activists abruptly going missing.

Activists pose a threat to political corruption and other human rights abuses in Pakistan that tend to be orchestrated by powerful individuals. This can be the reason for these ‘enforced disappearances’.

Hidayatullah Lohar, an activist and schoolteacher in Sindh, forcibly disappeared from his school on April 17, 2017.

He was taken in a grey vehicle by police officials, and his whereabouts remain undisclosed.

Witnesses were present at the scene, but to have a registered FIR, the family had to petition at Larkana High Court.

Hidayatullah Lohar is one of many ‘missing persons’ cases and is yet to be found.

In September 2020, the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances published a briefing paper.

The group revealed that they have recorded 1144 cases of enforced disappearances in Pakistan between 1980 and 2019, with 731 people still missing.

Although this staggering figure is unjust, it barely tells the whole story. As FIR’s are inconsistently documented, the true number of disappearances is left to the imagination.

Protecting Public Officials

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Pakistan’s government and the political state have strong elements of corrupt officials, with the police aiding them.

Police forces are under constant pressure from politicians and local elites to serve them.

This can sometimes mean concealing the criminal acts of such individuals to protect their image and status.

The police may also get rid of any opposition or threats to campaigns. This can be done in a variety of ways including:

  • Arresting and detaining potential opponents; sometimes using false charges as an intimidation technique.
  • Fake encounter killings.
  • Enforced disappearances.
  • Torturing suspects and coercing bribes.

In their study titled Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice (2020), Nadeem Malik and Tariq Abbas Qureshi spoke to a political analyst who said:

“In Pakistan, the police station is the axis institution around which the politics of the country revolve, and ‘the worth of a politician in his/her constituency is judged in terms of his ability to influence the police’.”

The government also uses the police to crush public protests that display discontent with the government itself or its policies.

Police find that this is common in Karachi, where they are under constant pressure to eliminate threats.

An example of this was the 2014 protests by teachers in Karachi regarding low salaries.

Since 2012, teachers had been unpaid for carrying out their duties. The issue remained unsolved as further protests arose in 2017.

In such instances, protestors have claimed that the police used excessive and/or unnecessary force and that they frame protestors with false charges.

Pakistan’s politicians are keen to ward off any threats, but doing so with such abysmal techniques are damaging to society.

Interrogation and Torture

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Torture and interrogation are sadly common practices in Pakistan police stations, where officers may beat confessions out of people. Scarily, custodial deaths can also occur due to such extreme torture.

The various forms of torture according to HRW include:

  • Custodial beatings.
  • Sexual violence.
  • Prolonged sleep deprivation.
  • Mental torture, where detainees are forced to watch others get tortured.

Police officers attempted to justify such extreme forms by telling HRW:

“How do you expect us to recover stolen property from hardened criminals? Do you think they will agree if we say, ‘be nice to us and return what you stole?'”

These tactics can also be used to obtain confessions. However, the likelihood is that many innocent people who have not committed a crime will confess simply because of how painful the torment is.

Torture can also be used to scare off opposition or threats to politicians and rich landowners. It seems that the police work on financial motives, as opposed to their expected role of achieving justice.

HRW reported that in June 2015, a person named Akhtar Ali died as a result of police torture.

His wife, Riffat Naz, revealed when she last saw Akhtar alive at the hospital:

” [I] Found him in a coma, with a broken skull, there was no hair on the back of his head, his nose was broken and there were scars on his face.”

Despite the police denying such allegations, an officer came forth to offer compensation for his death. Although, compensation will never be enough as it will never bring Riffat’s husband back.

Additionally, mentally challenged Salahuddin Ayubi was tortured to death in police custody in 2019.

Even though Ayubi was correctly arrested due to breaking into an ATM, the immediate aftermath of the incident emphasised the agenda of the police.

The police denied any wrongdoing, saying Ayubi was acting “mad”, but maintained he died naturally. Though, Ayubi’s 60-year-old father, Muhammad Afzaal, declared:

“They brutally murdered my son. I saw the torture marks on my son’s body. His right arm was burnt, either with hot water or electric shocks. There were bruises on his entire body.”

This illustrates the extreme nature of these cases and despite these reports, there has been little to no progress in changing the justice system.

Staged Encounters

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Encounter killings occur when suspected criminals are shot and killed after resisting arrest or attacking officers. In such events, the police are not sanctioned with the judicial process.

This is because they are seen to be carrying out their ‘duty’ as law enforcers and protectors of the community. Are they really carrying out their duty?

According to The Guardian, police officers in Pakistan are responsible for hundreds of ‘fake’ encounter killings per year.

Such killings are blamed on resistance or violence to officers, but this is just a cover-up.

In addition, these killings are carried out due to pressure from those higher in command or local elites and politicians. This is also the case when there is not enough evidence for a conviction.

The Pakistan police escape sanctions and the families of those killed rarely file complaints as they risk being ignored or falsely accused.

This causes difficulties in fighting such corruption in Pakistan.

Furthermore, in April 2014, Bilal Khan was unfairly arrested for political reasons in Lahore. His father, Zubaidullah, begged the police to release Bilal but was shunned and thrown out.

Zubaidullah received a call from the Pakistan police later that night informing him that Bilal was killed whilst trying to escape. However, the distraught father asserted:

“I went to the place he was murdered, along with people from my son’s office.

“Several people witnessed the murder of my son. [They said] the police handcuffed and blindfolded my son, then took him out of the car and shot him dead on the roadside.

“The police have registered the case as a self-defence killing, naming my son as a criminal.”

The anguish and pain felt by these communities are unbearable. This is heightened because lives are taken by those sworn to protect it.

Countless people have been lost in both encountered killings and those, which are staged.

Undeniably, many of those lost were innocent, but will justice ever be served for them? Sadly, it’s unlikely.

The other famous staged encounter allegedly involved retired Senior Superintendent (SSP) Rao Anwar for the murder of Naqeebullah Mehsud.

Notorious for many fake police encounters, he has been blacklisted by the United States Department for the Treasury.

Police in Pakistan are Underfunded

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The state fails to provide the police force with an adequate amount of backing to support their work. This leads them ironically in turning to illicit means for funding their roles in tackling crime.

Officers also receive low wages, which gives them more of an incentive to accept bribes as opposed to conducting their business justly.

Whilst conducting their study, Nadeem Malik and Tariq Abbas Qureshi spoke to a junior officer who claimed:

“I have the responsibility to feed my family and my brother’s family, which includes my six children and his wife, along with the three children and wife of my deceased brother.

“My conscience, as well as the fear of being stigmatised by my extended family for not supporting my late brother’s family, forces me to take care of them too.

“In the absence of adequate salary and social services available to me, I have no choice but to earn money from illegal means.”

Low resources also impact the police forces’ ability to carry out its job efficiently.

This is because many stations struggle to afford suitable equipment.

A lack of forensic facilities and training means that the Pakistan police are forced to rely on witness evidence, rather than scientific evidence.

Although, witness evidence might not be the most credible option.

This inability to obtain scientific proof has meant that junior officers resort to violent interrogations for getting clues.

Even so, is this evidence reliable? More importantly, was it obtained ethically?

Furthermore, there is a lack of manpower due to the excessive burden of VIP escorts. It seems that Pakistan’s police work to serve politicians and elites, instead of the general public.

Can Pakistan End its Police Corruption?

How Corrupt are Pakistan's Police

Since Pakistan achieved its independence in 1947, there have been numerous reports on how Pakistan can end corruption within its police force.

However, such recommendations are either rarely or weakly implemented.

First and foremost, the police need increased funding, or else there is no hope for them to carry their business efficiently.

Secondly, it is imperative that they discipline fairly and justly, and avoid bribery and/or abusive means of obtaining coerced confessions.

Possibly, the most difficult issue to solve is the political influence on the police force.

This is a deep-rooted problem that will need meticulous attention to combat.

Pakistan’s journey in creating a fairer judicial system will not be easy, as there is well-established exploitation throughout Pakistan’s society.

Perhaps the journey begins in a different approach, which firstly seeks to tackle corruption in both culture and society.

Having said that, the motorway police are in comparison are quite good.

Despite, the Imran Khan-led party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) introducing good police reforms both in opposition and power, there is a lot more to do.

Halimah is a law student, who likes reading and fashion. She's interested in human rights and activism. Her motto is "gratitude, gratitude and more gratitude"

Images courtesy of Express Tribune, Akhtar Soomro/Reuters, Dawn, TrekEarth and Oxford University Press.

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