Dreams are made of this: SP Aisha Butt of Police Service of Pakistan – a hero

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Aisha’s father must be proud of his daughter for she has achieved more than her dreams.

I love crime drama. Every part of a crime story is a fascinating facet of humanity that is dark, incomprehensible, twisted. The calculated ruthlessness of a perpetrator’s planning, execution, concealment, and at times, repetition of a crime, is riveting in its meticulousness to do the bad with the reckless certainty of invincibility. Crime, and in particular, that in which a life is taken, has the human inevitability of being uncovered and punished. The human penchant for inflicting pain is a perpetual enigma to me, a part of being human that I find un-relatable and unacceptable in any form. The process of catching a criminal is ergo of immense importance to me, in real and reel life.

Police detective work that I see in TV shows, films and documentaries is my ideal of a police force. Formation of a case through a thorough process of forensic science, evidence-gathering, non-violent interrogation, testimonies, and finding the culprit. That to me is a real police force. Beyond the fundamental duties of maintenance of law and order and safety of citizens, they uncover crimes. Sometimes, it takes years. As a Pakistani, the word ‘police’ conjures up a montage of images. Most of them are erasable.

Pakistan’s police are jaded clichés in binaries of black and white. Indifference to common man’s pain, corruption, deference to money and power, coerced confessions, torture in lock-up, shoddy investigation and follow-up, trigger-happy, and experts of extrajudicial killings. The negative is so overwhelming it is difficult to sift the positive to describe the Pakistani police force without falling into lazy stereotyping. While all the bad is true, there has always been the untold story. Of much that is good and noble and selfless in the organisation whose existence is programmed to protect, and to do it without discrimination, without pressure, without making it look like a favour.

They have always been there, but on their identity is superimposed the dark images of those who play peekaboo with the oath they take. The idea of a good police officer has been reduced to the unidimensional ‘good guy’ who only makes sense in a TV serial or a film. Good police officers are not a rarity. They are just not ‘interesting’. They are not a sensational headline. They don’t shoot their guns in slow-mo. There is no background music when they fight the bad guys. I thought of writing about some of them. Someone has to.

A story of courage

I noticed her on Twitter in November 2019 when she posted a photo in her official uniform conducting her official work while holding her baby. The caption said: “It is difficult but not impossible.” Two months later, I got in touch with her to talk to her about her work in a profession that is so male-dominated and testosterone driven, a female officer is as rare a sight as sunlight in Antarctica. Superintendent of Police (SP) Aisha Butt of the Police Service of Pakistan (PSP). Daughter, wife, mother, police officer, boss, Aisha is many things, in no particular order. What is spectacular about Aisha: she is the face of the best of the Police Service of Pakistan.

Pakistan needs more officers like Aisha. Those who take their work seriously, those who care, those who do their best to make the world a better, a kinder place. Aisha’s story is an inspirational, feel-good celebration of the power of dreaming and turning the dream into a splendid reality.

Aisha’s story in her own words:

“I belong to a middle-class family of Gujranwala. I’m from a very humble background. The youngest of five siblings, my school, college and post-graduation in English were done in Gujranwala. I studied in a government school that had no fee. My wish was to do post-graduation in social work or do LLB, but my family was very conservative. Girls were not allowed to go out of the house, or live in a hostel, or study in Lahore. There weren’t any institutions in Gujranwala where I could do LLB or get a degree in social work.

After my post-graduation. I was clueless: what should I do next. I had no interest in becoming a lecturer. I didn’t want to sit at home like the other females of my family. Complete your education, get married, be dependent on others: I had never thought of that life. I told my family I was going to prepare for CSS. It was the only option my parents would allow me to pursue. We often talked about why they didn’t trust me. The answer was always that they trusted their daughter, but not the outside world.

“Our home environment was such that our neighbours didn’t know how many daughters my father had. We didn’t even meet our relatives; our cousins were not allowed to visit. We had no outings. I don’t remember ever even going to a park with my parents. They were very strict.

“When I talked about preparing for CSS, the reaction was if you can do it, do it. They were certain I wouldn’t pass. They thought those who passed the CSS and got good jobs had strong financial backgrounds and went to excellent schools. My family thought I was just wasting time.

“I started my preparation. Every day, I’d go to a library close to my father’s office. We’d go on his motorbike in the morning and he’d pick me up on his way home. I qualified the written exam in 2011 but I wasn’t allocated a job. I didn’t give up. I couldn’t see anything beyond that, it was my sole option; I believed Allah had something great in store for me. There was no way I was going to lose hope.

“In 2013, I took the CSS exam again. I had forty-fifth position. My job allocation was in police. In that year, I was the only female in PSP.

“For me, it was all a dream. As if in one day a person gets everything they ever wished for. Such things happen only in movies and TV serials. I couldn’t believe it. Overnight, things changed. Everything changed. People changed. The most pleasant and positive change was my father’s realisation that if he had understood or supported me the way he supported me for CSS, I’d have reached here sooner.

“Another thing my father promised me: in the next generation there’d be no discrimination between a son and a daughter. My parents’ mind-set changed, that was another reward.

After I joined the service my father was elated. He used to say that if he had invested in his daughter the way he had in his sons, perhaps his daughter wouldn’t have had to work that hard. That the things one wished to have one’s son do–be a source of honour for the family, and his name becomes family’s recognition– his daughter had done all that.

“In 2016, I completed my training. In a group of 29 I was the only female. My first posting was as ASP Garden Town, Lahore. Then I went into the Frontier Constabulary; I was posted in Peshawar for three months. From there to Islamabad where I served as PSO to the then interior minister. Back to Lahore, I was ASP Civil Lines, ASP Gulshan Ravi, ASP Ferozewala, Sheikhupura. In Ferozewala’s civil service history I was the first female officer.

“After promotion I was posted in Lahore. Currently, I am SP Anti-Riot Force. I’ve the additional charge of the Dolphin Force. This is the first time since the inception of these two forces that a female is heading them. Dolphin is a 3,000-strong force, and the number of females is ten. It’s a huge honour for me that I’m heading two police organisations that have never had a female commander.

“My main focus is on community policing that aims at highlighting the soft image of our department. The trust deficit between the police and the public must be eliminated. It is important to create the awareness for the public that our organisation is made up of their own people, and it works for them.

“I also work on the wellbeing of our personnel. The men working in my command must have a consistent sense of their work and their efficiency being valued.

“Recently, we held a bicycle rally with the civil society. It was another first for the Punjab police: to be on the roads on bicycles. The response was very positive from the participants, our senior officers and media.

“We have courses on capacity building for our personnel. The purpose is to enhance the motivation level; enthusiasm for work should be voluntary not enforced.

“My work continues with the support of my family. My husband is posted in Islamabad. I have an 11-month-old daughter; my mother takes care of her when I’m working. Balancing it all is a big challenge. But so far so good. Allah is very kind.

”With each professional advancement, I become more conscious. That I don’t make a blunder that would make Allah unhappy. Or that any of my actions make someone angry or cause someone pain. That is why I’m very conscientious about my work, that I don’t make a wrong decision. The work we do, the quick decisions we’ve to take at times, the investigations we do. People’s lives depend on our investigations, so before taking any decision in, during or after an investigation, I pray to Allah that He shows me the right path, that I don’t err in my decisions.

“The saddest thing that I’ve never shared with anyone or in any TV interview… When Allah made me successful, a new phase of my life started, and I was about to finish my training my father died a month before that. On my passing out day, my parents weren’t with me. My father was gone, and my mother couldn’t come because of her idaat. The day when my new life was beginning, my family was feeling honoured, they were not there. Since then I don’t ever feel real happiness. When I’m happy, I think of that day. My parents weren’t with me. Only Allah know why things happen the way they do. In my heart is immense pain that my parents weren’t with me on my biggest day. I used to imagine how my parents would react. How happy they would be.”

Watching from above, SP Aisha’s father must be proud of his daughter. Any father who has seen his daughter be more than her dream and his prayers would be.