The grammar of investigation
THE Law Commission Chairman Justice A.B.M. Khairul Haque found himself in the limelight when at a discussion he said: "He (the police chief) should have resigned that very day (when Avijit was murdered)…..We don't have this culture in our country." The very Honourable Justice condemns and laments in the same breath and thus perhaps brings into sharp focus the poignancy of public servants' sense of duty and propriety.
Many readers, I am sure, are inspired by the refreshing candidness of Justice Haque. One only wishes that he had delved a little more into the causative factors of our deteriorating moral fibre; and how at critical junctures of our history leaders of corrective institutions have behaved like 'boneless wonders' thus contributing to the gradual building of a culture that he so ruefully regrets.
This writer is, however, particularly impressed by Justice Haque's caustic observation on the necessity of external assistance in matters of criminal investigation. To be specific, he says: "Why has FBI been called? You are supposed to follow the same grammar that FBI does in investigation. Then, what is the necessity to call FBI?" One could not agree more with the erudite Justice. In fact, one could ask if authorities in Bangladesh need to beseech FBI or Scotland Yard ad infinitum.
Upon scrutiny one may find that the sad reality is that every time a heinous crime involving loss of lives occurs, we look for external assistance without realising how galling such a scenario is to the national honour. Delving into the legality of the role of external agencies in our criminal investigation does not serve much purpose, but what must concern us are the factors that have brought us to such a pretty pass.
Our citizens need to know why our investigating outfits have to live with the double stigma of being partisan and inefficient. One may ask why our national level political leaders openly impute motives on the part of our investigators and cast doubt on their integrity. Who has failed whom? Have political leaders encouraged and abetted the malfeasance of the investigators?
Viewed from another angle, are we victims of misplaced priorities because of the follies of myopic policymakers and malevolent professionals? In misplaced exuberance, have we extolled the benefits of the so-called crossfire to the detriment of cultivating a scientific culture in law enforcement? These are queries that need to be pondered in serious earnest.
Now may be the time when we must know why investigative efficiency of the police has deteriorated over the years, and whether such efficiency can be regained in isolation without setting the expected organisational goal of the police. It may also be appropriate to know the pattern of resource allocation for increasing the professional competence of investigative outfits. We may have to know if there is a lack of proper emphasis in fixing priorities and deciding the core functions of the police in a pluralist society like ours.
We have to appreciate that the cumulative neglect towards increasing investigative efficiency over the last decade has brought us to a situation where we are uncomfortably witnessing external agencies dealing with matters about which we may at best seek expert opinion only. Purchasing lethal weapons may serve inadequately explained goals but investigation has to be scientific and level-headed to prove equal to the stress following an incident, and credible enough to withstand the subsequent rigorous scrutiny in a court of law.
Experienced observers are of the view that the investigating agencies shall continue to remain inactive and incapacitated until the political authorities decide to treat criminal violence as a purely criminal phenomenon and desist from interfering in the investigative process. Immediate actions to secure the place of occurrence for preservation of physical evidence will not follow if the investigators remain in a state of bewilderment following the enormity of one such incident.
Institution capacity building, insofar as it relates to modern scientific investigation, is not on anybody's priority list. There is, therefore, no wonder that after each incident there is a demand for impartial investigation by a foreign or international agency on account of alleged lack of investigative acumen, in addition to other political and psychological factors. The question is: where do we go from this impasse?
If we are not willing to forsake one of the primary State functions we cannot lose any further time in modernising our investigative outfits. Must we not realise that calling foreign investigation agencies to conduct activities on our soil amounts to a disgraceful admission of our operational and administrative inefficiency? What we need to plug the gaps in this regard is some modest investment on capital machineries and training.
However, equipping the investigators will not serve the purpose if investigation does not become the unaffected and unfettered jurisdiction of the investigators. The inaction and the resultant incapacity characterising each incident of serious violence hangs heavy on the national scene, and is causing concern. The need, therefore, is to empower the investigators through lawful directives and ensure the growth of a healthy political climate for peaceful resolution.
What should engage serious attention are the factors attributed to the malfunctioning or under-functioning of a vital organ of the state, thus impinging seriously on good governance. In the absence of a meaningful look into the deficits and attendant corrective actions, all our condemnations and pontifications serve no purpose. It is, therefore, time once again to venture to do the needful with a view to moving from the deviations to the desirable.
One has to admit that the Bangladesh state was the product of a freedom struggle and, while it adopted a written, liberal democratic constitution, it retained the colonial administrative, police and judicial structures without recasting them to meet the changed situation.
Did not the 'colonial-repressive' character of our state emerge when the governing elite of a de-colonised society decided to retain the inherited police organisation, ignoring justified demands for change?
In fact, public functionaries, including the investigators, must be helped and facilitated to so conduct themselves that the difference between government and the state interests are not diluted, thereby upholding the hallowed ethos of public service. If this can be done at the earliest we may be able to halt the pernicious slide towards an environment of pervasive lack of trust and confidence in the ability and impartiality of our investigative apparatus.
The writer is a columnist of The Daily Star.