The majority of more than 2,000 people killed in 2015 by Pakistani police in alleged armed encounters may have been staged extrajudicial killings, Human Rights Watch warned in a report on police abuses published Monday.
HRW found suspects are routinely tortured and killed, derived from interviews with 30 police officers across ranks. They also conducted interviews with 50 people including victims of police abuse, their families, witnesses of such abuses, civil society activists and policing experts.
Police subject some suspects to sleep deprivation, stretching or breaking legs, sexual violence, beatings and forcing some detainees to watch others undergo these abuses, for example.
Most of these reported armed encounters did not involve injured or killed police officers, "raising questions as to whether there was in fact an armed exchange in which there was imminent threat to the lives of police or others," HRW says.
"[T]he police are one of the most widely feared, complained against, and least trusted government institutions in Pakistan, lacking a clear system of accountability and plagued by corruption at the highest levels," the report states.
"The rule of law won't become a reality in Pakistan unless the law enforcement forces tasked with imposing the law are also held to it."
Mic attempted to contact the Pakistani embassy and consulates in the United States a number of times for comment, and did not receive a response at the time of publication.
The problem of police abuse in Pakistan is a complicated and multifaceted one.
Police regularly infringe human rights, command bribes, kill suspects, target minorities, refuse to register complaints, among a number of other violations, the report states. But their unethical approach also stems, at least partially, from lack of resources, proper training, overworking officers, existing laws, corruption and a feudal social system.
"Often we're told they [police] don't have proper equipment to do their business. Some constables complain they don't even have paper to write reports on," Meenakshi Ganguly, editor of the report, said in a phone interview from India. Ganguly is ordinarily based in London as HRW's South Asia Director, covering Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka.
"It starts with not being able to do their job properly," Ganguly added. "Repeatedly we were told the only way police officers can solve a crime is to beat a confession out of someone."
"When it was under colonial rule, the police weren't a public service, they were there to keep people in check and most policemen still operate like this."
When police officers lack paper to write reports or vehicles to drive to court and testify, or when they're placed on call in perpetuity, these practices continue to take place.
"My staff and I are expected to be on duty 24 hours a day," an officer in Pakpattan anonymously told the report's researchers in 2014. "We are perpetually exhausted. ... How can you expect people to work under such conditions and not crack?"
Furthermore, many are separated from their families for long periods of time and made to live in police stations or derelict barracks.
History also plays a role. Antiquated policing laws — relics from the colonial era when Britain ruled the Indian subcontinent from 1858-1947 — are at fault, too.
"The first step is addressing an attitude issue — and not just in Pakistan, in all of South Asia," Ganguly said. "When it was under colonial rule, the police weren't a public service, they were there to keep people in check, and most policemen still operate like this."
Social stratification of other kinds remains an issue, fueled by corruption.
"One of the things that we're flagging very strongly is the approach of people with clout who tend to use the police as part of their own fiefdom — they'll use them to protect their own gangsters and go after political opponents," Ganguly explained.
Small changes could lead to big improvements. The resources necessary to implement change are minimal, and therefore feasible, Ganguly added. It is a matter of providing things like bags for evidence, transportation to court, protection from associates of criminals on trial.
"The rule of law won't become a reality in Pakistan unless the law enforcement forces tasked with imposing the law are also held to it," Brad Adams, HRW Asia Director, said in the report's press release Monday. "For this to happen, the government needs to bring changes within the system and address the improper influences outside of it."