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Tuesday Oct 30 2018

Police reforms in Punjab, after Nasir Durrani’s exit

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government’s ambitious plan to reform the Punjab Police is on hold, after the recent resignation of retired police officer Nasir Khan Durrani as chairman of the Commission on Police Reforms and Implementation in Punjab.

Durrani cited poor health as the cause of his resignation. However, it is widely believed he resigned to record his protest when the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Punjab, Mohammad Tahir was abruptly removed and replaced by Amjad Javaid Saleemi. Khwaja Khalid Farooq, a retired IGP of Punjab, soon gave credence to this belief by tweeting that Durrani had resigned probably due to the premature transfer of IGP Tahir.

Unnamed officials were quoted as saying that Durrani told his subordinate he had reservations over IGP Tahir’s abrupt removal. It was reported that offices of the Commission on Police Reforms and Implementation in Punjab, located in the GOR-1 Lahore, were closed down, apparently temporarily, when Durrani refused to take back his resignation.

This triggered a chain of events as the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) immediately took notice of the IGP Punjab’s premature transfer on the eve of by-elections on 36 parliamentary and provincial assembly seats, including Punjab. The ECP suspended the notification of the transfer, as it had barred the government from making any postings and transfers until the October 14 polls.

The government found it difficult to defend IGP Tahir’s transfer as  Federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry made a vague statement that the Punjab police chief had refused to obey orders and failed to work in accordance with the PTI’s agenda of reform. His government should have known that postings and transfers during the election campaign have been banned by the ECP, but it still went ahead, only to face embarrassment when the order was suspended.

Tahir continued to work as IGP Punjab until the by-elections. However, it was obvious he will be posted out after the by-polls. Finally, Saleemi replaced him as planned.

Tahir spent less than two months as IGP Punjab, after his appointment on September 7 from a panel of three shortlisted candidates. His term appears to be the shortest for an IGP in Punjab.

Earlier, Tahir had served as the police chief of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), during the rule of the caretaker government. The IGPs of all four provinces were replaced at the time to ensure free and fair general election.

For now, Tahir has been made the commandant of National Police Academy.

Back to Durrani. Now, if poor health was an issue, he would not have accepted the job to head the reforms commission, in the first place. He took the job as a challenge and began drawing up plans for reforming the police in his native Punjab. Durrani had reformed and depoliticised the KP Police and set up several specialized training schools as the IGP, during PTI's rule in the province from 2013-2018. In fact, his work earned him generous praise from the party chairman, Imran Khan.

It is also a fact that Durrani cited health reasons for declining the offer to become the Punjab caretaker chief minister, who was tasked to hold the elections in Punjab, Pakistan’s biggest province in terms of population and the main battleground between deposed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N and Imran Khan’s PTI in the July 2018 election.

His reluctance to become the caretaker chief minister was understandable. The job had to be performed in full glare of the media in a politically charged situation. Given Pakistan’s past history, polarised politics and previous elections, Durrani opted to stay away to avoid controversy.

Prime Minister Imran Khan in his first speech mentioned Durrani as the architect of police reforms in KP and announced that he will undertake a similar task in Punjab.

Durrani would not have accepted the job without first getting an assurance that there will be no political interference in his work. He had obtained such a promise before accepting Imran Khan’s offer to become the IGP for KP. As Durrani publicly said on several occasions, Imran Khan stood by his word and made no interference in police department affairs.

The outcome was a reformed KP Police that already had a good reputation, and had offered tremendous sacrifices as the frontline law-enforcement force in the war against terrorism. Khan used to proudly claim that his government got the KP Police free from political interference to make it an exemplary force. He mentioned it as a major PTI achievement in KP and pledged to replicate it in Punjab, where he blamed the PML-N leadership for politicising the police.

However, the prime minister’s plan to undertake similar reforms in Punjab met its first hurdle when IGP Tahir was unceremoniously forced out of his job by the PTI’s provincial government.

This wasn’t acceptable to Durrani, who saw his task as police reformer of a system, in which such arbitrary transfers and postings would no longer be possible. Durrani may have realised he will have to face political interference in his work in Punjab and it was better to quit now than later. Perhaps the political culture is different in Punjab than in the more egalitarian KP society.

Already, Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar was left red-faced, and he, and certain police officials, had to tender an apology to the Supreme Court of Pakistan, which took suo motu notice of the abrupt transfer of Pakpattan district police officer Rizwan Gondal following the late August incident involving Khawar Maneka, the former husband of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s wife Bushra Maneka.

But despite these happenings, Prime Minister Khan may not easily give up his wish to bring reforms in the Punjab Police, but to accomplish this he will have to persuade Durrani to resume his job or find someone equally competent and dynamic. Besides, he will need to push his party’s lawmakers and allies to agree to police reforms in Punjab. He managed to make this happen in KP, but Punjab presents a bigger challenge.