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Pakistan

Character of the Security Forces

Independence had little impact on the police forces, which, like the military, simply switched their allegiance from the British to a new, indigenous regime. The great mass of police work remained the same, and the political role of the police in supporting the British soon found a parallel in independent Pakistan, as the regime was itself beset by political disturbances and extended the definition of crime to include such antistate activities as terrorism and subversion. Even though the forces of law and order had become the instruments of an indigenous government, any significant advantages that had accrued from the changeover have largely been dissipated.

Public attitudes toward the police, historically regarded with distrust and fear, have not changed; indeed, the police are held in low esteem. In British times, the Indian Police Service-- the predecessor of the PSP--was nearly incorruptible and was fairly immune from political pressure that did not emanate from London. Since independence, however, politicization of the police has become increasingly pervasive. Corruption in the lower ranks has proliferated and permeated the PSP; in the frequent periods when Pakistan was under oppressive rule, the police were as repressive as they were in British times.

Police tactics in British India were never gentle, but in contemporary Pakistan, according to the Herald, a magazine published in Karachi, "The police have institutionalized torture to a point where it is viewed as the primary method of crime detention. Police torture has become so commonplace that it has slowly lost the capacity to shock and disgust." These charges were echoed by Amnesty International's especially bleak appraisal of Pakistan's human rights situation in its June 1992 "International News Release" report. The report, reflecting the law and order breakdown in Sindh and the government's reaction to it, stated that government opponents often are harassed, placed under arrest, and detained for unspecified periods of time. Scores of prisoners of conscience have been held for their political activities or religious beliefs. The practice of repeatedly bringing false charges against members of the political opposition is a widely used tactic in Pakistani politics and has been used to arrest thousands of opposition party activists. According to the United States State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1993, there were no significant efforts in 1992 or 1993 to reform either the police or the judicial system, and authorities continued to be lax in their prosecution of abuses in these areas. Pakistani and international human rights organizations have demanded that steps be taken to reverse the trend by bringing torturers to justice and by taking such procedural steps as reducing the time prisoners spend in places of first arrest, where most torture takes place.

Torture is a particularly acute problem in cases in which the suspect is thought to have committed a political crime, but it is not uncommon in serious criminal cases. General police brutality in handling all suspects is routine. Police frequently act without warrants or other proper authorization, and individuals disappear into the criminal justice process for weeks before they can be found and, through writs of habeas corpus, be brought into regular judicial channels. Rape of prisoners, both male and female, is common. Prisoners often die in detention but are reported as killed in the course of armed encounters. Police also are alleged to extort money from families of prisoners under threat of ill treatment. The performance of the police and their failure to act against political groups that run their own torture machinery are especially bad in Sindh, but there is no Pakistani who looks on an encounter with the police with equanimity.

Amnesty International and other human rights groups welcomed the establishment in 1993 of a Human Rights Commission by the interim government of Moeen Qureshi and recommended to his successor, Benazir Bhutto, that the new government investigate past torture cases and enforce safeguards against the use of torture. Despite continued trouble in Sindh, observers have discerned what appears to be a genuine interest by the current government in addressing some of the more egregious human rights problems endemic in Pakistan today.

Data as of April 1994


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