The Rawalpindi incident: a case study of state and society


The events at Raja Bazaar in Rawalpindi on 10th Moharram make a good case study for what is wrong with this state and society.

There is an obvious need to look into the conduct of the administration at both the bureaucratic and political levels, but that’s only half the story. It is equally important to notice the degree of difficulty for a state to uphold the rule of law in a society where an increasing number of people want to shape their lives according to exclusionary concepts of social order that inevitably conflict with pluralism, the glue that holds together a modern state in all its diversity.

Let’s consider the Rawalpindi case.

Contrary to false and expedient assertions by religio-political leaders of all denominations, Islam’s interpretation, as well as political and other events since its inception, has created more differences than similarities and consistencies. These differences, at various stages in the history of Islam, have resulted in much bloodshed and deep acrimonies. Talk to any cleric and he will parrot the usual line that everyone agrees on the Quran and Sunnah. Blatantly dishonest, this statement is employed by clerics to block real inquiry into their own conduct and to perpetuate the myth that there was some golden era of Islam which has been killed by modernity.

There wasn’t. There’s too much evidence to the contrary, penned by historians, Muslim and others. Also, take any Muslim society close to the application of faith as a political tool and the warts begin to appear like a bad case of eczema. The maulvi resorts to his charlatanism and chicanery like a shyster lawyer because he has got this society by the short and curly. It makes bloody good politics and business for him.

Therefore, to say Rawalpindi has always been quiet and there have never been any sectarian tensions is hogwash. The fact is that Madrassa Taleem-ul-Quran and the passing of the Moharram procession from this route has been a problem for many decades.

Let it also be clear that both sects – Deobandis and Shias – hate each other and neither can be accused of acting rationally when it comes to expressing their emotions. Both are medieval. Any incident, even a small one, can trigger a bigger clash.

This is where administrative efficiency comes in. Clashes were averted previously because senior police officers would handle the route, especially this flashpoint, through careful planning, coordination and, when required, negotiations with leaders of both sects.

That planning was missing this year. Reason: the police officers posted to Rawalpindi – RPO/CPO/SSP Operations – are not the sharpest knives in the drawer. That raises two other questions: if they are not professionally competent, who posted them to Rawalpindi and so close to the sensitive month of Moharram; two, how exactly is the performance of civil service officers evaluated and who does it?

Both questions are important. The RPO and the CPO, insiders tell me, got these posts because of links with what is euphemistically referred to as the ‘Lahore Group’, while the SSP is close to Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan through a confidant of the Chaudhry.

Which is why, when we speak of administrative inefficiency, we also have to focus on political interference in police work as also on the absurd fact that police officers have to rely on secretaries who are invariably DMG officers, the know-it-all cadre of civil services in a world that has long recognised the merit in specialisation.

Where does this leave the Inspector-General Punjab Police, Khan Beg?

In a rather unenviable position. The man who is supposed to lead the Punjab Police, a 170,000-strong force, is rendered ineffective because he cannot, allegedly, post even a DSP. That has become the remit either of the DMG officer or a powerful politico.

Given this situation, merely throwing out the RPO/CPO and SSP Operations is not going to make a difference. They will remain in limbo for a while, keep drawing their salaries and perks, and when the dust settles, will be back in action.

It will be a good study to take the last ten years and see how many officers were removed for being inefficient, which officers were posted in their place and by whom, what good it did and where are the removed/suspended officers now. I have a hunch the results will make all of us feel like idiots taken for a ride.

The inquiry into the Rawalpindi incident must also go beyond these obviously inefficient officers to those in the bureaucracy and the political masters who gave them their assignments.

This is where the issue of performance evaluation comes in. If the IGP’s office has become a post office, what can possibly be expected from the police? Is the army chief or any commander answerable to anyone outside the force for the working of the service? No.

The interior minister, as also the prime minister and the Punjab chief minister do not tire of talking about police reform. Here’s a suggestion, one which I gave to the Chaudhry, to improve the police at zero cost: stop political and bureaucratic interference in the functioning of the police; let the force purge dead wood, allow officers to function independently, create internal affairs for accountability, and a complaints commission. Additionally, understand the difference between urban and rural policing. Bring in the police commissionerate system for the major urban centres, a step that should have been taken years ago but for objections from quarters that want to maintain the status quo because it works to their advantage.

Taking these steps will improve police efficiency without spending too much money. These steps will also create the necessary conditions for the government to then do the sufficient. The sufficient, of course, deals with modernising the police and making it an effective force for policing and counterterrorism.

All of this must be done and is crucial. Equally important is the point about the society we have created. No state can survive the mischief of its own society. Imagine the United States. Could the US, with all its CT and law enforcement capacity, tackle the lunacy of its society if increasing numbers were to take to some supra-state idea? It couldn’t.

We have a bigger, more menacing problem of a society gone awry.

[Note: a truncated version of this article was published in Express Tribune on Nov. 27, 2013. This is the full piece.]

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