These days I am halfway through a book titled, ‘Ramblings and Recollections of a British Official in India’ by W H Sleeman. This amazing gentleman, who rose to the rank of a general in the ‘Company’s Army’ was responsible to completely eliminate the cultish practice of ‘thugee’ (wherein victims were first strangled to death then robbed) in the subcontinent during the early nineteenth century. The method used to wipe off this menace was brutal, yet effective – thugs when caught were summarily tried and hanged by the dozen. It is in the same book that Sleeman describes in detail the characteristics of people, local customs and the type of governance both under the East-India Company and princely state rulers. I was surprised to discover that intrigues, sycophancy, sponsorship of lawless henchmen by powerful feudal families and corruption were rampant even then. As I read on, it began to appear as if the account had not been penned more than a century and a half ago, but was a narrative of things happening in the present. Curiosity led me to discuss this similarity with social scientists/psychologists, leading us to conclusions that were not only disturbing, but ominous.

It was evident that somehow education, free access to information – even travels abroad have had little or at the most temporary effects on our individual and collective traits. Most interestingly, each and every case study indicated that Pakistanis (and in all probability other people from the subcontinent) changed into responsible citizens, when subjected to the laws of their adopted country. These very individuals (barring a few exceptions) on their return home manifested a chameleon like change, reverting back into their old self. This could only mean one thing – it was the absence of diligent and across the board law enforcement (so visible in places like Saudi Arabia, UAE, Europe and the US) that was responsible for the state our nation was in.

Law enforcement in its unadulterated form consists of arrest and punishment and there are two national institutions mandated to do this – police and judiciary. It is said that policemen showcase the nation (and the country) through their turnout, behaviour, general bearing and professional competency. In our case, members of this institution lack all these indicators. One major anomaly is the division of our police into two groups, effectively diluting enforcement capacity and potential. The blue uniformed cop standing at a checkpoint turns a blind eye to traffic violations and discipline since its mitigation does not fall into his jurisdiction. Similarly, a traffic cop does not respond to a crime, even if it is committed under his very nose, because it is unrelated to traffic. One can see an example of this at security checkpoints anywhere on our urban roads. Vehicles converge from two to four lanes into a single ‘S’ lane ignoring the ‘first arrive first across’ principle creating gridlocks, which can become lucrative terror targets. I often get stuck at these spots because my patience and respect for rules is taken by other drivers, as a license to get past me and cross the barrier first. I once stopped my car and asked the blue trio manning the point to create some order into the chaos, only to be rudely told that doing this did not fall within their mandate.

The same thoughtless division of responsibility is manifested in case of accidents. The vehicle of my late nephew was hit by a car recklessly driven by a young man. We called up the emergency number and were happy to see both the traffic and regular police arrive on the spot, to be followed shortly by the paramedics. My satisfaction at seeing the prompt response was short-lived, when told that the traffic cops’ presence there was, what can only be termed as ‘auxiliary’ and the whole incident would be investigated and handled by the regular police, who would take custody of the vehicles involved in the incident.

In all fairness, I have found the grey clad traffic cops easier to deal with as they are courteous and civil when interacting with drivers. This is in sharp contrast to the regular cops, who I must say reflect very poorly on the institution they serve in. Their presence generates a disregard for discipline, slothfulness and an unprofessionalism. Perhaps it is time that these sorry specimens showcasing our national window are drastically renovated or replaced and as a first step to this end, the merger of the bifurcated police as one institution be carried out for better protection and enforcement.