LAHORE – Amid threats of terror attacks ahead of key voting in the country, a man of principle, has been tasked to lead the largest law enforcing agency – the police – in the Punjab province.

The newly-designated Punjab Inspector General of Police (IGP), Aftab Sultan, is ready to take over as the provincial police chief at a time when the province is facing multiple challenges ranging from rising crimes to sectarian violence.

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) okayed the name of Aftab Sultan, who had also served as chief of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) in 2001, keeping in view his professional integrity and the current security scenario.

Sultan earned the reputation of a man of principle when he had been posted as regional police officer (RPO) in Sargodha Region during the regime of former despot Pervez Musharraf. Reportedly, Sultan had refused to give undue favour to Musharraf during the presidential referendum and preferred to leave the post.

During informal chat some police officers, who have served under his command, informed this scribe that Aftab is an upright man. Free, fair, and, transparent elections would be the top priority of the IGP besides maintaining law and order in the crime-prone province, they say.

Insiders reveal that the IGP would bring his own team not only to clear the mess-up in the policing but also to ensure transparent elections under peaceful atmosphere. Many police officers serving on key positions, across the Punjab, are most likely to be replaced within a week as the IGP will leave no stone unturned to put the right men at the right places.

Several politically-tainted officers are also likely to be shown the door in the Punjab province, though several others are in the race to grab the top slots.

A good number of the police officers, presently serving on key posts in the province, are in fact handpicked by no other than the former Chief Minister himself. The police department failed to order postings and transfers independently since Shahbaz Sharif used to interview the officers before ‘assigning’ them the powerful postings.  As mater of fact, Shahbaz Sharif himself ordered all key postings from the rank of District Police Officer (DPO) to the Additional Inspector General of Police in the Punjab.

Police officials are of the view that the government must shun the practice of postings of officers on political grounds. They also demanded the politicians not to interfere into the affairs of the law enforcing agency. The more the police would be empowered to work freely and independently, the better the cops could focus on the crimes prevention.  What to say about the political affiliation of the police officers in the Punjab, where a number of family members or relatives of the serving police officers are contesting the general elections. In our crime-prone and protocol conscious society, the police matter in every matter. There are a number of examples how the police played ‘important role’ in pre-poll electioneering and power politics in the past.

Recently, intelligence agencies revealed that the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) had planned multiple suicide attacks to target key politicians and public rallies ahead of general elections. The banned outfit also launched propaganda campaign against democracy, warning the masses against the electoral process. The provincial governments in Sindh, Punjab, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan, and the administration in Fata are already alerted by the intelligence agencies to take all “necessary” steps to ward off any possible terror attempt.

It seems that sectarian violence is rising in Punjab with three attacks leaving five people dead this year so far.  In a sectarian attack on February 23, the Lahore General Hospital Ophthalmology Department head Professor Dr Ali Haider and his son were shot dead by two unidentified assailants in the Gulberg area of Lahore city. With no arrest made or breakthrough yet, the police are still groping in the dark as far investigations into the sectarian assaults is concerned.  Under such circumstances, the new IGP will have to keep the entire police on their toes to ward off any possible terror attempt during the polls.

At least in papers if not in practical, a Punjab-wide operation against the banned militant outfits including Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), Ahle-Sunnat Wal Jamat (ASWJ) and Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) is already underway. But security experts say that the new IGP would have to launch a full-scale operation against the activists and supporters of the militant outfits since he had strong intelligence experience to counter such threats.

The police in the biggest Punjab province killed one robber after every 24 hour during the shootouts, mostly fake and staged in different parts of the province during the last year as 370 alleged criminals were eliminated during 365 days of 2012. Will the new IGP continue the tradition of extra-judicial killings or he would discourage the fake encounters? Only time will reveal in the days ahead.

Though the tasks like controlling crimes, fighting terrorism, and sectarianism simultaneously apart from the much needed reforms in the police are very difficult. Hence, the mission is possible since the caretaker government in the center has appointed an officer like Aftab Sultan to lead the police in the biggest province. The credit also goes to caretaker CM Najam Sethi for bringing a professional back to Punjab at a time when the department needs him.