They have a tough job to do as each hour they spend standing at their checkpoints is fraught with danger. They have lost hundreds of their colleagues in terror related attacks and yet they are at the mercy of ungrateful motorists and jokes on national television – they, dear readers, are members of our police force.

I once had to stop at a security checkpoint in Islamabad because someone driving a vehicle in front had taken offence to being stopped and searched. I watched as the constable on duty was humiliated publicly - and humiliated to the point where, had I been in his place, I would have retaliated. The hapless man just stood there trying to explain that he was following orders and that the inconvenience caused to the car occupants was in their own security interest. As the line of vehicles at the checkpoint grew and horns began blaring, the policeman stepped aside in utter disgust to let the offended ‘royalty’ proceed.

It is galling for individuals like me to see motorists, who are stopped by traffic police, enter into long arguments in spite of having committed an offence cognisable under law. This argument extends to a point where the policeman concerned may have to summon the help of a senior colleague.

What the offender fails to realise is that by justifying himself, he is actually committing another cognisable offence i.e. obstructing the police from performance of their duty. I wonder if this argumentative trend could be curbed by the cop adopting a curt, yet polite attitude and not resorting to counter-arguments.

While writing a research paper for my postgraduate studies many years ago, I had the opportunity of interviewing a police constable standing on the busy intersection next to the Rawalpindi District Courts. He was first reluctant to speak to me, but then gradually opened up. Pointing to the military police personnel on duty across the road from him, he said that he watched them being picked and dropped, by the clock. His envy grew as a vehicle visited them regularly to deliver tea and food and so did their officers. They were issued with adequate number of uniforms, which were washed and ironed in their unit lines. In inclement weather, they had raincoats at hand.

In stark contrast, civilian policemen had to stand on the roadside begging for ‘lifts’, arrange their own sustenance and were never visited by their superiors. Their uniforms were inadequate and there were no centralised washing or ironing arrangements. Come rain, they did not have protective outer clothing and so sought shelter wherever they could find any. Then eying his counterparts in khaki, he uttered his bottom line: “Sir, kiya mera tabadla military police mein nahin ho sakta?” (Can’t I be transferred to the military police?)

I have known honest police officers, who have laid down their lives in the line of duty. One of them was a young ASP, who was killed during an encounter, while leading his men from the front. I had seen this young man grow since he was a toddler as his father was known to me and my heart went out to his loved ones on the day many years ago when I heard the news that he had passed away. This was just one case which came into the limelight because of media coverage, but at this very moment in time, there are men in grey, who are symbols of integrity and courage.

It would be intellectual dishonesty to praise an institution and not point out its flaws, and these with reference to our police are many - corruption and inefficiency being two that have stereotyped our law enforcers. Mao Tse Tung once made a profound statement that “fish always rotted from the head” and this is true for any organisation, including the police force.

A step was undertaken many years ago to address these issues through a document generally referred to as the “Abbas Report”. This wonderful piece of work produced by a professionally competent senior police officer, analysed the causes of weaknesses within the system and recommended comprehensive reforms to raise efficiency levels in consonance with international standards. I am told that only selective parts of this report were implemented. While this indicated a callous disregard of a job well done, it also showed that elements calling the shots wanted the present corrupt and outdated system to continue in order to serve their vested interest.

While the need to ruthlessly root out corruption and efficiency is beyond debate, there is perhaps a need to acknowledge the fact that our cops are drawn from our very own social structure. A large number of them come from rural and often coarse backgrounds, ignorant of the niceties and refinements of our type of courtesy. For many of them wearing a uniform is intoxicating, as it places them a step higher in the feudal food chain. To others, it is an IOU - a debt payable to someone powerful, for the rest of their service.

While we tend to condemn institutions because of the black sheep that infest them, there are many within our police force that are honest, dedicated and morally sound. There is, therefore, a need for us to stand back and take a fresh look at the men in grey, for what they are - human beings, who put lives and limbs on the line every day of their lives.

The writer is a freelance columnist.