After many attempts, Terrorists finally got to him. His martyrdom began a process of immortalizing a police officer who had, throughout his career, carried out illegal and extrajudicial killings. Starting with the Karachi Operation in the 1990s, Chaudhry Aslam had developed a reputation for being an ‘encounter specialist’. Rather than arresting criminals and letting justice be served in a court of law, Aslam preferred to kill them. His argument was that the courts had failed the police by routinely setting free thugs, terrorists, and criminals of the worst kind.
After his death, many hailed him as a hero for going after and killing militants in Karachi. In a city plagued with violence, going after militants with determination was indeed a brave act. Vowing to hunt down terrorists after repeated assassination attempts reflected his bravado. However, his failure to successfully convict these men in a court of law highlighted fundamental structural flaws with the police in Pakistan.
Due to poor training and investigative skills, the police in Pakistan is unable to gather sufficient evidence that can stand in the court of law. It is routine for the police to use torture in order to extract a confession that fails to hold up in front of a magistrate. The typical argument presented in court is that the police ‘knows’ that the accused is a criminal or terrorist. Not buying the argument set forth by the police, the judge sets the accused free, allowing him to return back to his criminal activities. Constantly in the line of fire and frustrated by what they perceive as an ‘uncooperative’ judiciary, police officers such as Chaudhry Aslam are forced to break the law.
Rather than hailing ‘encounter specialists’ like Chaudhry Aslam, it is imperative for us to discuss the reasons why police resorts to extrajudicial killings. The media must further highlight the fact that such killings are illegal and against the law. Police officers that specialize in these types of killings should be prosecuted by the state. Many would say that given the state of affairs in Pakistan, we must do whatever it takes to fight the menace of terrorism. However, upholding moral grounds is exactly what makes the state different than the terrorists. While the TTP is willing to use indiscriminate violence, the state and its security apparatus must uphold the law in order to establish its moral and ethical superiority. Without this superiority, the long and protracted fight against terrorism is bound to fail as both the state and terrorists resort to violence to achieve their goals.
What is also important to realize is that militants killed by Chaudhry Aslam were Pakistani citizens. In a democracy, a citizen’s life is protected by the state. Due process is guaranteed to each and every citizen and violating this sacred law reduces the legitimacy of a democratic nation. Pakistan has suffered tremendously during the last decade and the state has often used force to combat terrorism. However, the use of force in an illegitimate manner has not yielded any success. The Lal Masjid Operation was an episode where the state decided to use overwhelming force to deal with militants. The use of force was excessive and illegal – the state of Pakistan killed its own citizens in a brutal manner and refused them trial. To combat terrorism, the state itself resorted to brutal violence, leading to strategic failure. Terrorist attacks following the operation spiked, highlighting the long-term failure of the operation.
So what should we be doing to combat this menace of terrorism? For starters, a more rigorous training program for the police is necessary. These training programs must teach future police officers how courts of law operate, modern investigation techniques, and the skills required to operate in urban areas with rising extremist outfits. Secondly, police reforms that seek to depoliticize the force must be implemented. Despite VVIP police protection, politicians are routinely attacked by terrorists across Pakistan. This is due to the fact that rather than combating terrorism, the police is forced to roam around with politicians. Politicians must realize that the only way for them to be safe is for the police to effectively do its job, and providing VVIP protocol is not the job of the police. Finally, a concerted effort is required by Pakistani media and society to increase the level of respect they have for the police. Yes, the police is corrupt and often guilty of committing crimes themselves. However, the police has also suffered a lot in the last decade and a number of policemen have lost their lives. They risk their lives every day to protect citizens and we must appreciate them for this. Rather than making heroes of Chaudhry Aslams after their death, we as a society must make a greater effort to recognize the service of the police.
The war Pakistan is facing has been a long and protracted struggle where thousands have lost their lives. This war is set to continue into the near future and with terrorists using urban areas as safe havens, the role of the police will be critical. Chaudhry Aslam’s role as a police officer has showed us the flaws in our system. It is time that we make a concerted effort to fix these flaws, for without doing so, we will never be able to defeat militancy.