Dr. Haider Shah

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

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Memomania: pie in everyone’s face —Daily Times 26 November,11

OVER A COFFEE: Memomania: pie in everyone’s face —Dr Haider Shah

It is only predestined for civilian leaders that they should be jailed, tortured, hanged, exiled and put on media trial. After all, to err is civilian

We know that the classical Urdu poet Daagh Dehlvi was fidgety about a new ‘salaam’ (greeting) sent in a letter by his beloved in a famous ghazal sung by maestro Ghulam Ali. Of late the Pakistani security establishment has been investing a lot of its energy and time in knowing who was behind a ‘salaam’ conveyed to a ‘raqeeb ‘(rival) with whom it has been having a strange love-hate relationship. What then followed in the Pakistani media looks like a free-for-all pie fight. The end result is that everybody has a pie in his face except one — the writer of the memo, Mansoor Ijaz. On the other hand, the importance given to a memo by the Pakistani media, opposition parties and the security establishment renders us a laughingstock in the eyes of a giggling international community.

For a guilty verdict in a criminal offence there should be both ‘mens rea’, i.e. guilty mind and commission of the act. The memo written by a shady character did not even get noticed by its recipient(s), so calling it an act of treason remains a moot point. However, there were other instances in the recent past when there was no doubt about both intent and actual commission of the crime as envisaged by Article 6 of the constitution. I would refrain from invoking Siachen and Kargil as examples since they belong to the distant past. But more recently we all saw that the judges of the honourable Supreme Court were detained and an unsuccessful attempt was made to sabotage the constitution. The then army chief was neither placed on the Exit Control List (ECL) nor was any case of treason registered against him. Instead, he was allowed to move to London amid full army protocol. Like the British monarch, the khakis can do no wrong in Pakistan. To err is purely civilian.

More recently, in a WikiLeaks cable the army chief was quoted as discussing political matters with the former US ambassador. This should have caused a major uproar in our media as all military personnel are under oath to stay away from politics. Barring a feeble murmur here and there, the electronic media almost ignored this event and its sensitive ‘ghairat’ (honour) also did not feel a needle prick.

The bold and beautiful media also sheepishly turned its back on one of its own comrades, Saleem Shahzad, who was murdered under very suspicious circumstances. A commission is considering the case at a snail’s pace and it is not difficult to predict beforehand what will be its findings. Similarly, the Abbottabad Commission, riding on turtles, is engaged in a possible whitewashing exercise. If terrorists are allowed entry in military organisations, where they create and run cells unchecked, and consequently GHQ and Mehran base buildings are attacked, it does not matter as it is none of our business. It is only predestined for civilian leaders that they should be jailed, tortured, hanged, exiled and put on media trial. After all, to err is civilian.

Despite my deepest sympathy with the present government over the Haqqani affair, I do not find its conduct very inspiring. If it had honoured the Charter of Democracy (CoD) in the beginning and had worked together with the anti-establishment parties, there would have been a gradual strengthening of civilian supremacy in the country. But instead it opted for very opportunistic politics of appeasement as its poor record of governance made it impossible to be assertive. When the Abbottabad incident happened, it became a spokesperson of the military establishment. It would have therefore been much better if instead of crying wolf through memos it had followed the example of the Turkish government, which wrested power from its military establishment through popular support.

Mr Haqqani began his political life as a radical student leader in Karachi and after many carefully contrived moves, ultimately reached a stage of maturity finding peace in an academic career at Boston University. He had been advocating a paradigmatic change for Pakistan by disentanglement from the jihadi-military alliance. All sensible and sincere observers of Pakistan’s internal problems also arrive at the same conclusion. We should not be in the business of condemning people as guilty without observing due process of law; the process laid down in terms of constitutional provisions and not as per the whims and commands of army generals. If, after due process of law, Mr Haqqani is found complicit in the writing of the memo then one wishes that Mr Haqqani had restrained himself by paying heed to Aatish’s verse: “Payaambar na mayassar hua, toh khuub hua” (if a message could not be delivered, it was for the best). And especially when the messenger is of dubious credentials.

The main opposition party, the PML-N, has come dangerously close to becoming the devil’s advocate by over-orchestrating the issue. In order to attain its short-term objective of weakening Mr Zardari’s hold on power, it might be strengthening the army’s control over state institutions. Already the military establishment has successfully test-fired its stinger missile in the form of an ambitious new leader from the launching pad of the country’s biggest private channel. The PML-N is therefore pursuing a high risk strategy as the clearly partisan electronic media is hell-bent upon installing a new king on the throne of Pakistan. As a major opposition party, it should be using its energies in formulating a viable policy framework rather than mortgaging its politics to the hype created by khaki accusers.

The only character that has emerged victorious in the Memogate story is the one who set the whole storm in motion. Mansoor Ijaz has gained much more than what he had imagined in his wildest dreams. With money and leisure comes a craving for power. Mansoor being a successful businessman was a desperado for glory and recognition. Just with one op-ed slingshot he has conquered the Pakistani media. He must also be rejoicing over the fact that the Pakistani establishment is fully reliant on him in its case against Mr Haqqani.

At a more dispassionate level, the Memogate saga will be seen as an evidence of further ascendency of the military leadership over its civilian masters in a developing country that is struggling with itself for long. The PML-N’s petition in the Supreme Court can prove a slim ray of hope though. It will provide us with an opportunity to see if the honourable judges of the court will be able to call all respondents to the court. The luminaries also include those who, not a long time ago, were responsible for incarceration of these judges. If it fails to happen, the status quo in Pakistan will prevail, the catchy slogans of a newly energised political outfit notwithstanding.

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


OVER A COFFEE: MFN and the ‘ghairat brigade Daily Times 19/11/11

OVER A COFFEE: MFN and the ‘ghairat brigade’ —Dr Haider Shah

The term ‘Most Favoured Nation’ (MFN) is a misnomer. Laypersons, on hearing this term, are led to believe that MFN means giving special concessionary treatment to another country. In reality, MFN is exactly the opposite of that

“We traded, we conquered, we governed.” In these six words, John Kaye sums up 350 years of British involvement in the Indian subcontinent, which started in the 17th century. When David Cameron visited India in July 2010, Britain wanted to re-energise its involvement with India, this time for the promotion of trade only. When the East India Company took control of India, the white officers believed that the “white Englishmen were uniquely fitted to rule lesser breeds without the law” (Kipling), as they viewed local culture as being decadent and based on superstitious paganism. This time, however, the British had no such notions as they acknowledge the emerging economic power of India. Britain is, however, not alone in recognising the potential benefits of forging a trade relationship with India. A number of developed and developing nations have lined up to negotiate a preferential trade agreement with India. Pakistan is therefore singularly unlucky as, instead of nursing economic woes, it should have been basking under the sunshine of India’s economic prosperity. We should thank our noisy ‘ghairat (honour) brigade’ (GB) for this as opportunities have regularly been devoured by our big fat crocodiles and their inflated egos.

The term ‘Most Favoured Nation’ (MFN) is a misnomer. Laypersons, on hearing this term, are led to believe that MFN means giving special concessionary treatment to another country. In reality, MFN is exactly the opposite of that. It means giving no special concessions and treating the country in the same way as other countries are dealt with in matters of duty, taxes and regulations. For the sake of simplicity, we can categorise trade relations between two countries on three levels. First is the prohibitive level in which there is a general ban on trade except for a list of some items, commonly known as a ‘positive list’. Second is the normal level. In this, no discrimination is observed with regards to imports from that country and all items are importable except for a list of items known as a ‘negative list’. Third is the preferential level in which lower tariff or no tariff is charged on imports from the country with which an agreement is negotiated. MFN represents the second level, i.e. the normal level. The US uses the term ‘Normal Trade Relations’ (NTR) instead of MFN as the former conveys much better the essence of trade relations with totalitarian states of the communist era.

Normal, non-discriminatory trade relations are the cornerstone of the international trade system under the World Trade Organisation (WTO) as MFN is the first article of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), second article of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), and the fourth article of the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). Despite this overwhelming importance of the MFN principle, countries are negotiating preferential trade agreements (PTA), utilising some exceptions provided under the aforementioned agreements. This means that the prohibitive tariff of yesteryears amounts to pushing the country back into the Stone Age as all other countries have moved ahead of the second stage of MFN/NTR and are entering the third phase of Free Trade Agreements (FTA).

The composition of our GB is interesting. Faiz Ahmed Faiz says, “Aashiq to kisi ka naam nahi, Kuch Ishq kisi ki zaat nahi” (a lover is not somebody’s name, love is not someone’s caste). In the same vein, I find little difference in the mindset of the militant Taliban and the many glamorous anchors on TV talk shows and their panels of retired military/civil bureaucrats who appear as defence analysts. The only difference between the mainstream Taliban and these good looking ones is that the former are at least sincere to whatever they believe in. The other day, I was listening to a talk show hosted by a female anchor and the programme was a microcosm of the GB. A good qawwal (sufi devotional singer) knows that he is most successful if he makes the audience ecstatic, but for that he must never be in a trance himself during the performance. With some honourable exceptions, most of our young anchors forget this basic principle of good hosting. That particular episode was a good example of relentless firing with the Two Nation Theory’s (TNT) ammunition by the fashion conscious female anchor. Kashmir was mentioned umpteen times by all members of the GB. Unless some antidote of rationality had been voluntary taken by the TNT baptised generation, one always hears half a dozen clichés from them — their fashion tastes notwithstanding as appearances can be deceptive.

Adulteration is so common that one can hardly find anything pure these days. The ghairat of our good-looking Taliban is also not very pure. Before joining academia, I happened to be a civil servant and had the opportunity to deal with FTAs of Pakistan with other trading partners. This included visiting Beijing as a member of the Pakistani team to discuss the Pak-China FTA. I find it a bit strange that our GB’s ghairat bleeds profusely when a basic level, normal trade relations-related effort is made in the case of India where the world’s third largest Muslim population lives but their ghairat is not pricked when we open our borders to free trade with China where 20 million Muslims do not enjoy the same level of religious freedom as Muslims enjoy in the US or in India. I am not suggesting that we should not forge better trade relations with China, as being one of the emerging economic giants it is sensible to benefit from the prosperity of our big neighbour. What I am advocating here is that, like other regional trade pacts, we should also try to negotiate a SAARC level FTA, which has been stalled due to the GBs of both India and Pakistan. India, however, took the first positive step in 1996 when Pakistan was given MFN status. It took us 15 years to reciprocate this gesture of mutual goodwill. A journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step. Of course, many non-tariff barriers remain and need to be removed before the dream of a genuine trade bloc in South Asia can become a reality. Trade will not only bring prosperity to the region but will also usher in peace. I hope our GB can learn from the EU countries, which, after 70 million deaths in World War II, have learnt how to invest their energies in trade and thus live in peace.

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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Energising youth, but for what? — II Daily Times, 12/11/11

OVER A COFFEE: Energising youth, but for what? — II —Dr Haider Shah

Having energised the youth, both liberal and radicalised, Imran has become an icon of hope for those who feel that a leader can do a quick-fix to the deep rooted socio-economic problems of Pakistan. There is a need for caution though

The Lahore meeting of Imran Khan received wide coverage in the media, followed by enthusiastic commentaries in talk shows. Personally I could hear two voices inside me, of the Leibnizian optimist and the ‘nuktacheen’ (disbelieving) cynic. Drawing some insights from the Theory of Constraints I am interested in knowing whether the constraints that are holding back Pakistan from achieving optimal performance have been correctly identified or not. And in order to eliminate the constraints, what Imran wants to change, to what and how.

The optimist sees the presence of energised youth as a very positive development. Perhaps Imran is so multi-coloured that different sections of the population believe him to be personifying their cause. He appears as a liberator to the cheering girls and an anti-US hero to the young participants wearing jihadi headbands. For an optimist this is a sign of a national leader giving hope and dreams to all sections of the population. The cynic remains unconvinced, replying that in times of transition all divergent groups stay together but later smaller organised militant groups overpower the larger less organised groups.

Since Imran’s supporters believe him to be an icon of change, it is important to find answers to his ‘constraints management’ strategy. The budget is defined as a ‘quantified plan’ and no change manager can ever succeed if there is no budgeting plan. Pakistan’s biggest budgetary constraint is that our spending is always more than what we earn from all internal sources. Consequently, we find it difficult to spend on areas that are the backbone of development. The economic managers find it even more difficult when one-third of all national earnings are taken away by the military, leaving only about two-thirds for other heads. The military budget is linked with threats and perceptions of threat. It can only be reduced if we go for a paradigm shift like many major powers after the Second World War. Unfortunately, we could not see any hint of change in Imran’s policy speech in Lahore as far as this ever growing constraint on our national progress is concerned. On the contrary, he sounded belligerent and drew inspiration from our army generals’ strategic depth fallacies.

Of late Imran has been mentioning ‘thana’ (police station) culture and the remedy he suggests is that all SHOs will be elected. Imagine, all sector in-charges of the MQM becoming SHOs of their localities or a nephew of a Baloch sardar (tribal leader) with private jails becoming a police officer. Even in the UK the previous Labour government shelved the idea of having elected police commissioners after toying with the idea for some time and the Conservative government has also postponed it due to stiff opposition from police officers. If Imran was writing a sequel to Plato’s Republic or Thomas More’s Utopia, then this suggestion could have been taken seriously.

To become a national level politician one can argue that you have to be a good marketing guru to the point of selling refrigerators to Eskimos. However, it was sounding like a spokesperson of the Taliban in front of a liberal crowd that was perhaps most disturbing. Imran’s argument is that no country ever kills its own people. In the US, Abraham Lincoln took up arms against his own people when the writ of the state was challenged over the slavery issue. Spain carried out a long anti-terrorism war against separatist Basques under the ETA who have finally put down their arms this month. Sri Lanka waged a long war against its own people making sure that the terrorist movement was eliminated. Even China has used force not only in Tiananmen Square but it also crushed the East Turkestan Islamic movement in Xinjiang region under its ‘strike hard’ policy. Ironically, the central plank of Allama Iqbal’s pan-Islamic message was to be one in solidarity with the Muslims of Kashgar. But, unlike the Muslims living in the US, the UK and even Indian-held Kashmir, the Kashgarite Muslims are not even allowed basic religious freedom. It is in our national interest not to pay heed to poetic calls and forge good relations with China on account of pragmatic geo-strategic needs. But then why do we not extend the same secular approach to other regional countries and stop meddling in the internal affairs of our neighbours through jihadi groups that Imran fondly mentioned in his speech? Imran’s speech was dangerously close to the glorification of the extremist groups based in FATA. If Imran plans to remain wedded to his radical Hamid Gulian approach, then one needs to recall the king’s advice upon seeing Hamlet’s condition: “Madness in great ones must not unwatch’d go.”

Having energised the youth, both liberal and radicalised, Imran has become an icon of hope for those who feel that a leader can do a quick-fix to the deep rooted socio-economic problems of Pakistan. There is a need for caution though. Imran had announced to act as a one-man demotion squad against Altaf Hussain three years ago. There is a meaningful silence on that front since long. The ‘sheru’ (lion) at Imran’s residence is a gift from General Musharraf. Imran’s candidates in the previous elections were also not much different from those of the other political parties and even Imran’s choice for his party’s spokesperson in the recent past had not been very inspiring. A leader who has been very flexible and accommodative in the past will hopefully be even more flexible if given an important role in the future. That is how cynics and sceptics can stay reassured.


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: Energising youth, but for what? — I Daily Times, 5 Nov,11

OVER A COFFEE: Energising youth, but for what? — I —Dr Haider Shah

It is extremely important that we develop the habit of seeing the incumbent party removed from power through elections by the opposition party if the former had failed to deliver. If a government is able to survive despite poor governance, it is a sign of a diseased political system

Whenever a vacuum is created, storms gush in to fill the void. This is one of the well known laws of nature. One needs a very high level of Leibnizian optimism to believe that the present coalition government is governing at all. When the perception of bad governance is strong, the criminal justice system is creaking and sections of the population feel marginalised, political vacuums arise, which are being filled by extremist groups using religious creeds for both motivational and organisational purpose. I have written many pieces about poor governance and the appalling perceptions of management of the coalition government in Pakistan. Many small religious and sectarian outfits like the Sunni Tehreek and the Sunni Ittehad Council have been surreptitiously capitalising on public unrest against the government and gaining bigger political space. But their appeal has largely remained restricted to seminaries and a small radicalised section of the population. Sensing that the exhausted prey is weak and shivering on its legs, the old kid on the block, Imran Khan, has also suddenly staged his arrival amidst songs of famous pop singers to claim his part of the kill.

In India when a regional leader, Lalu Prasad Yadav, a comic relief character in Indian politics, became the railways minister, he turned the loss-making institution into a profitable enterprise and started lecturing students of premier business schools on the art of change management. Here our Red Shirt leader has only tears to offer in public over the fate of the railways under his stewardship. The fate of other institutions is also not much different. The British criminal justice system has shown that no dodger is safe from the long hands of the law even if it involves throwing a few no-balls in a cricket match. Here, as I had predicted in an earlier piece, there are so many moonis-o-ghamkhwar (supporters) of all dodgers that they get honourably acquitted even though impropriety can clearly be seen floating on the surface. Despite all this, I am under no illusion that if any other political party was in power today, the lives of the ordinary people would have been any better. What is actually condemnable is, however, the complete disregard to governance and transparency on the part of the incumbent government and lack of responsiveness to public perceptions. The coalition government seems to have focused all its energies on constituency-based politics of survival through political intrigues.

When bad governance generates a vacuum, some other forces are bound to fill the void. It is in this backdrop that I weigh my options. My two previous pieces on Imran Khan were generally well received though many Imran followers were not very happy over my ‘blasphemy’. Some friends, knowing my left-leaning past, questioned my open bias in favour of Nawaz Sharif. Yes, I am guilty as charged. Making sweeping generalisations in a thinly veiled neutral stance is the prerogative of bright journalists. I am a student of public policy, which is concerned with making things happen by pursuing high ideals but without becoming an idealist. I have no association with any party but as Edmund Burke once remarked: “The hottest fires in hell are reserved for those who remain neutral in times of moral crisis.” I also believe that instead of waiting for Imam Mehdis and other redeemers, we should take the harder and stamina demanding route of institutions building. I have drawn a principle and weigh the available options in the light of that principle. It is extremely important that we develop the habit of seeing the incumbent party removed from power through elections by the opposition party if the former had failed to deliver. If a government is able to survive despite poor governance, it is a sign of a diseased political system. As the present government has failed to register positive performance, the main opposition party, the PML-N, should therefore reap the benefit. I feel sympathetic to the claim of the PML-N on the measure of fairness as well. Whether it was the case of sasti roti (subsidised bread), which was financially not feasible in the long run though, or in cases of fake degrees or the plague of the dengue virus, the PML-N government in Punjab has been very sensitive to public perceptions, and generally is considered to be making serious efforts in addressing public level grievances. I also find the PML-N the only party that made genuine political sacrifices on at least two occasions for the sake of institutions building. First, it sacrificed its federal ministries on a principled stand over restoration of the judiciary and second, when the media criticised the PML-N’s refusal to agree to the change of name of NWFP, it responded positively even though the decision entailed a serious negative fallout in its strongholds in Hazara. So that is why I feel a democratic system will strengthen if a better performing political party is allowed to trounce a poorly performing government through the political process. One feels that our electronic media is at times grossly irresponsible when it uses a very wide brush approach by using negative adjectives round the clock for all politicians. As opposed to the ruling party, if the opposition party has shown some sensitivity to public perceptions, I feel it is a bit unfair that now when the time of retribution has come, the main opposition party should be denied the benefit of the popular discontent against the prevailing government. To me it looks ominous that a leader who was mostly either hibernating or making money from interviews in cricket tournaments during the last three years should suddenly storm the stage and with the help of a few pop stars declare that the kill was all his.

(To be continued)

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