Dr. Haider Shah

Opinion is the medium between knowledge and ignorance (Plato).


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Rise of the apes— Daily Times, 24 Sep, 2011

OVER A COFFEE: Rise of the apes —Dr Haider Shah

A significant proportion of the population derives pleasure by depriving others of life when they are found to be in disagreement in matters of communal belief

“Man, when perfected, is the best of animals, but when separated from law and justice, he is the worst of all,” said Aristotle. In the recent past, video coverage of certain incidents shocked all and sundry in society as the worst of animalism was evident. From the barbaric lynching of two brothers in Sialkot to the heartless killing of Shia pilgrims in Mastung, recurring incidents at both the social and state levels are indicative of the malaise of dehumanisation that has taken deep roots in this society.

The topic of dehumanisation brings to my mind the animal kingdom where survival wars run all the time. Sir David Attenborough, a living legend of evolutionary biology, has devoted almost 40 years to making documentaries on the wonders of nature. One of his documentaries on the life of primates is worth watching and is available on YouTube. The part that I find interesting and educative shows a group of chimps making a surprise attack on a rival group to seize their land and females. During the attack, they make loud yells aimed at motivating their own group members while terrifying the opponents. The short video clip provides us with the opportunity to compare, contrast and understand our own human behaviour.

The mob-led summary execution of two brothers in Sialkot, the killing of a young man by Rangers in Karachi, the brutal torture and murder of abducted Karachiites on ethnic grounds and the killing of Shia pilgrims by a firing squad are incidents that have occurred in different parts of the country and, apparently, for a variety of reasons. One common fact is easily discernible though. In all these cases, the murderers treated the victims not as humans but mere objects of hatred. This is the major symptom of dehumanisation as humans no longer remain persons but are viewed as objects. The act of killing was not due to a sudden loss of sanity nor was it on account of instinctive self-defence. In all these cases, the perpetrators seemed to be committing the crime as an act of social obligation approved by their peer group. We can see that the mob in the Sialkot case watched the whole act with active or tacit approval. In Mastung, the assailants lined up the victims before opening fire on them. The abducted Karachiites were questioned for their ethnic identities before being executed. It is not that acts of brutality are only committed in Pakistan, as gory incidents happen all over the world, including western countries. What distinguishes the dehumanisation trend in Pakistan from common crimes is the social approval or indifference to such occurrences. Mumtaz Qadri was garlanded by a section of lawyers and one can see numerous support sites on the net as well. A significant proportion of the population derives pleasure by depriving others of life when they are found to be in disagreement in matters of communal belief. ‘Ilyas Kashmiris’ are projected as national heroes till they turn their venom against their handlers. While acts of brutality are tragic, the more worrying fact is the lack of social indignation against the perpetrators.

The process of dehumanisation in a society does not happen overnight. According to one author, organised and bureaucratic state mechanisms can also give rise to a dehumanisation process that results in groups of humans being regarded as sub- or semi-human creatures, or perceived as not being human at all. Just about 70 years ago, we witnessed the mass scale killing of the Jews by the Nazis in Europe. The greatest worry in the context of Pakistan is that the state, instead of arresting the dehumanisation trend, is actively complicit in promoting it. The killing of a young man in Karachi by uniformed Rangers is indicative of the institutional disregard for human life, which is rampant in all security institutions. This particular incident made headlines only because it was by chance recorded and shown on the electronic media. The cases of Umer Cheema and Saleem Shahzad betray the deep rooted dehumanisation in the state apparatus as a dissenter is treated not as a human but as an annoyance that is removed with no remorse.

Latest archaeological discoveries have convinced anthropologists that the first humans originated in Africa and all differences in appearances of various races resulted from environmental adaptations. Speaking rationally and scientifically, there is a growing consensus that we must view all humans as belonging to one race, which should not be divided on the basis of appearances or beliefs. By raising the slogan of Pakistan on the basis of a religious divide, the founders of the country committed the first sin. In the heat of the moment they forgot that viewing the world as ‘they and us’ sows the seeds of hatred and thus can become the driver of the dehumanisation process. Though one is wiser after the event, many of us are still unable to realise that once the genie was released from the bottle of hatred, later exhortations by the Quaid-e-Azam for a secular country proved little more than wishful thinking as the genie could not be sent back into the jar again.

As descendants of apes, what humans have done is elevate the war cries of attacking chimps to the jingoistic discourse of warmongering. Using various religious or nationalistic phrases we have glorified the motive and act of killing other humans. Various belief systems, both divine and secular, have provided imaginative symbolism to their members so that they have little restraint or compassion towards rival humans and thus they are facilitated in the act of seizing the belongings of rival groups and getting rid of them. Humans and chimps share 98 percent of their DNA and humanism is the minor difference between the two. By dehumanisation the difference is eliminated and we return to the prehistoric world of apes. It seems that at least in Pakistan we are witnessing the rise of the apes who are shedding the human skin that they had been wearing since their evolution a few million years ago. The only redeeming hope is the possibility that the resulting society might turn out to be more compassionate as chimps are known to show greater compassion towards their children.

The writer teaches public policy in the UK and is the founding member of Rationalist Society of Pakistan. He can be reached at hashah9@yahoo.com



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Karachi: waiting for a Napier? Daily Times 17 Sep, 2011

OVER A COFFEE: Karachi: waiting for a Napier? —Dr Haider Shah

One good principle that we can learn from Napier is that administration of justice should not be dictated by local customs alone. Those customs that obstruct the rule of law must be dispensed with by the writ of the state

Pakistan is reeling under pressures of insecurity and militancy of all possible sorts. In the north-west religious extremism is keeping the security apparatus busy while the south is engulfed by the flames of ethnicity-based civil war. Balochistan is beset with local insurgency and in Punjab the dengue mosquito, a formidable foe, has turned the tables on a tough administrator. Though all of these issues owe their intensity to decades of neglect and maladministration, Karachi — the commercial capital of the country — tops the list. No wonder the Supreme Court was compelled to take notice after the provincial and federal governments exhibited their trademark ineptness in allowing a situation to become malignant. Reconciliation is a good managerial approach but certainly not a panacea for all public management ills. The omnipotent ‘mufahimat’ (reconciliation) brush may have many magical qualities but it certainly is not the ideal tool for making lawlessness disappear.

The situation in Karachi brings to my mind the name of Charles Napier, the commander in chief of the British Indian Army in East India Company days. Reading and citing historical accounts is fraught with danger as patriotic sensitivities can easily be offended. Napier being the conqueror of Sindh and having defeated the local tribal Amirs may be viewed differently by different readers. I do not want to engage in discussions on whether Sindh was justifiably annexed or not by the then East India Company. The outspoken conqueror himself had very bluntly said, “We have no right to seize Sindh, yet we shall do so, and a very advantageous, humane, and useful piece of rascality it will be.” I am remembering Napier because he also found Sindh in an administrative mess and dealt with the problems with a firm resolution. By reading history dispassionately we can learn a lot from the hated British masters even though our patriotism may require us to view them differently as they occupied our lands in the 19th century.

When in the early 1840s Lord Ellenborough felt the necessity of “introducing to a brigand infested land, the firm but just administration of the East India Company”, General Charles Napier was assigned the task. The 60-year-old Napoleonic Wars hero was known for his firm and result oriented outlook and blunt remarks. Outnumbered by eight to one, Napier routed the Amirs and paved the way for the annexation of Sindh. After his appointment as Governor of Bombay Residency, he took no time in implementing his principle of “showing a country great kindness after a good thrashing”. Establishing law and order was the first and foremost duty of his administration and in that he showed such ferocity and honesty that the common locals, used to the master-slave relationship of their tribal chieftains, came to look upon Napier as a redeemer.

One good principle that we can learn from Napier is that administration of justice should not be dictated by local customs alone. Those customs that obstruct the rule of law must be dispensed with by the writ of the state. For instance, on one occasion Napier was approached with a request for clemency on behalf of a tribal chief who had murdered a member of his harem simply because he was angry with her. “Well, I am angry with him and I mean to hang him,” was Napier’s brief reply. Similarly, when some Hindu priests complained about the prohibition of Sati by the British authorities, he retorted, “Be it so. This burning of widows is your custom; prepare the funeral pile. But my nation has also a custom. When men burn women alive we hang them, and confiscate all their property. My carpenters shall therefore erect gibbets on which to hang all concerned when the widow is consumed. Let us all act according to national customs.” In the realm of social justice and rule of law there is no room for a reconciliation policy. It was true then and it is true today. Much younger John Jacob, the successor to Napier, continued the administrative reforms of Napier in Sindh. He not only established efficient policing of border villages but also embarked upon an enlightened programme of irrigation and cultivation. In 1848 he boasted with some justification that “peace, plenty, and security everywhere prevail in a district where formerly all was terror and disorder”.

Today Sindh is ruled not by the hated East India Company’s directors but presumably by its own sons. Terror and disorder, however, reign supreme while peace and plenty remain an elusive dream. The suo motu proceedings of the Supreme Court may not remedy the alarming situation but they have at least achieved one important objective. Many skeletons stored in the official cupboards have come out for open display and many senior security officers have opened their hearts before the honourable court. A few weeks ago an Urdu daily columnist, Javed Chaudry, had written a piece about Karachi turning into Beirut. Using the disclosures made by a serving police inspector he painted a horrible picture of the law and order situation. Now it is an open secret that police stations are controlled by gangs associated with various political parties. The government has not only failed miserably in Karachi but appears complicit in the agonising murder of the commercial capital of Pakistan.

The government must know that stuffing state-run enterprises with cronies and party loyalists is not the be-all and end-all of governance. Providing security to the citizens is its fundamental responsibility. We should not wait for a Napier to get it done. The civilian government should prove that it is up to the task. Naseerullah Baber once proved that if a civilian government is determined it can deliver where uniformed administrators failed. It needs to be done again; firmly, resolutely and on a regular basis.

The writer teaches public policy in the UK and is the founding member of Rationalist Society of Pakistan. He can be reached at hashah9@yahoo.com


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OVER A COFFEE: Obituary of accountability- 3 Sep,11

OVER A COFFEE: Obituary of accountability —Dr Haider Shah

The decision of the government to repost an officer who had earlier been removed on the orders of the SC only further strengthens the perception that in Pakistan all are equal but some are more equal

Writing a column for a Pakistani newspaper is a very challenging task. Not because there is a dearth of topics; it is difficult because events unfold with such an electrifying speed that a topic chosen in the morning is made redundant in the evening by a new story. At times, in the span of just a few days, many events clamour for your attention and it becomes very difficult to pick one and leave others. Since last Saturday I first thought of writing about the killing spree in Karachi. Then the melodrama created by Dr Zulfiqar Mirza overtook the Karachi carnage in terms of news worthiness. In Lahore, the news of Shahbaz Taseer’s abduction in broad daylight also demanded attention. However, it was a relatively less attention grabbing item that prompted me to write this piece: the reappointment of D G Rangers Ijaz Chaudhry by the federal government!

In one of my previous pieces, I had stated that the principle of accountability is not only the thread that holds a modern democracy together but, even in ancient Athens, accountability of public office holders was the foundation. For instance, once a year, ordinary citizens would hold an ‘ostracism’ by writing on a fragment of pottery the names of unpopular officers and the majority voted public official would then go into exile for 10 years. The practice was aimed at creating some degree of deterrence for public officials against becoming highly unpopular with the common citizens. There were many more elaborate legal and institutional arrangements for operationalising the accountability of all wielders of power. For instance, under dokimasia and euthynai, obligatory scrutiny trials took place when an official left office. Similarly, being obsessed with result oriented performance, the ancient Athenians viewed with extreme displeasure failures of all sorts, whatever the causes might have been. Therefore, a lost war or a failed diplomatic mission would result in severe punishments including death for generals or diplomats.

In more recent times, we have seen the sacking of Defence Minister Sergei Sokolov and the head of the Soviet Air Defence, Chief Marshal Alexander Koldunov when, in 1987, a German amateur aviator, Mathias Rust, illegally flew from Finland and landed his small plane near Red Square in Moscow. Mistaken for a friendly aircraft, it was not shot down by the Soviet fighters. US President Obama also did not wait for a minute to recall General McChrystal from the war front in Afghanistan when the general expressed his views in public and thus breached the oath of remaining subservient to his civilian superiors. As is often said about justice, ‘accountability’ also needs to be across the board, prompt, decisive and must be seen to be done.

In June this year a young man, Sarfaraz Shah, whilst begging for his life was killed by Rangers personnel in Karachi. The video of the cold blooded murder shocked the nation and the Supreme Court (SC) had to take suo motu notice of this incident after the government started dragging its feet — as it has been doing in all cases where uniformed men are involved. The SC then ordered the removal of D G Rangers Major General Ijaz Chaudhry and IGP Sindh Police Fayyaz Leghari. After some reluctance, both officers were removed from their posts by their respective authorities. Personally, I drew some consolation that, for the first time, the principle of ‘across the board accountability’ had been laid down in the realm of public policy in Pakistan. Like the departing spring, the consolation also proved short lived. A news ticker on my TV screen on August 28 suddenly revealed that Major General Ijaz, who was removed as DG Rangers Sindh on the orders of the SC, had been re-posted as D G Rangers Sindh.

Already the uncanny stubbornness with which the naval chief had laughed out of court against the popular calls for his resignation or removal had strengthened the perception that, no matter what happens, uniformed officers are untouchables and, like the British monarch, they also are shielded by the legal maxim ‘the king can do no wrong’. The decision of the government to repost an officer who had earlier been removed on the orders of the SC only further strengthens the perception that in Pakistan all are equal but some are more equal. Whether a bridge constructed by uniformed men collapses within no time causing huge human losses or the organisation is allowed to become a seedbed for radical elements leading to a deadly attack on Mehran base, everything can be conveniently swept under the carpet of national interest. Since its creation, Pakistan has always been passing through a sensitive period — we are all used to hearing this. However, this sensitivity only applies to a certain category of public office holders though as elected prime ministers like Z A Bhutto or Nawaz Sharif can be hanged or handcuffed even in some of the most sensitive periods. All are equal but some are more equal.

In the high pitched drama created by thundering Zulfiqar Mirza, the news of flagrant disregard shown to the SC’s order failed to make headlines in the popular media. Recently, the government appointed an officer tainted with allegations as auditor general of Pakistan. It seems both the civilian and military establishment are running short of officers as they both resort to appointing tainted officers to sensitive posts. At least in this respect we can heave a sigh of relief that there is perfect harmony in the civil-military relationship these days. The SC took a determined stand against the disregard of its orders in the case of many civilian officers. It would be interesting to see how it reacts to the disregard of its removal order passed in June this year against the reposted D G Rangers. Maybe the doctrine of necessity has the calming effect as all are equal but some are more equal.

The writer teaches public policy in the UK and is the founding member of Rationalist Society of Pakistan. He can be reached at hashah9@yahoo.com