Dr. Haider Shah

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


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From strategic chaos to constitutional mess , Daily Times, 26/05/12

OVER A COFFEE: From strategic chaos to constitutional mess — Dr Haider Shah

In addition to these checks and balances, another important feature of a modern constitutional system is the respect shown to constitutional conventions

NATO’s Chicago summit concluded with a declared resolve of transferring the job of securing Afghanistan to the Afghan security forces by mid-2013. While the international community was drawing a sketch of the endgame, Pakistan stood on the sidelines, not sure whether to earn dividends from a stable Afghanistan by becoming an active supporter of the international community or to continue its jingoistic policy in splendid isolation.

To be or not to be a partner of NATO’s stabilisation programme of a fragile Afghanistan? The Pakistani civil and military establishment finds this question difficult to answer amid the slings and arrows of outraged donors. While the NATO supply routes issue was painstakingly pushed to and fro by the political and military leadership, a new mess has been created by the ruling of the Speaker of the National Assembly about not sending the question of disqualification of the prime minister (PM) to the election commission. 

Organisations are made up of human beings and as such, they have an innate survival instinct. In its survival bid, the government however is exposing the state to a great peril. As any student of law would tell us, a democratic state is founded on the key doctrine of separation of powers. Nevertheless, since complete separation can lead to dictatorship by the three organs of the state, the system is made workable by a parallel system of checks and balances. What are the options if the judiciary goes berserk? The executive can use its control of parliament to pass laws to nullify any judgement of the judiciary. Any common law principle can be overridden by enacting statutory laws. In addition to these checks and balances, another important feature of a modern constitutional system is the respect shown to constitutional conventions. With a chequered constitutional history, we have not been able to develop any conventions. Therefore, any debate of constitutional importance should also be seen in terms of conventions that are being established for our future generations.

The system of separation of powers and checks and balances, however, has not always been wholly successful. If we take a bird’s eye view of the recent history of democratic countries, we can propose a scale of reactions to the independence of the judiciary. At one extreme, we can place the Malaysian constitutional crisis of the 1980s when the then prime minister of Malaysia, Dr Mohammad Mahathir, got fed up with the independence shown by the higher judiciary in cases where the government was a party. He got the chief justice and two judges removed through a tribunal and hence nipped the independence of the judiciary in the bud. The Malaysian model was unsuccessfully attempted by General Musharraf in November 2007 and as a backlash, he is a fugitive abroad. In the middle of the continuum, we can place the Indra Gandhi model when she picked up a battle against the judiciary. The trouble started when on a petition filed by Raj Narain, who had lost an election to Indira Gandhi, Mrs Gandhi was found guilty of electoral malpractices and the election result was declared null and void by the Allahabad High Court, which also barred the PM for six years from holding any public office. The court order gave the Congress-R 20 days to replace the PM. She challenged the verdict in the Supreme Court (SC), which granted a conditional stay of execution and later formally overturned the conviction. Meanwhile, Mrs Gandhi used her parliamentary majority to change the law under which she had been convicted and also brought in constitutional amendments to take away the power of review from the judiciary in cases of elected members of parliament. The SC, while upholding the amendments, propounded the doctrine of the basic structure and thus put a restraint upon the amendment power of the legislature. The opposition parties and trade unions used the tussle between the government and the judiciary to their own advantage and galvanised popular support. Mrs Gandhi resorted to the emergency provisions of the Constitution and not only took away all fundamental rights of political workers but also populated the court with her own cronies. The emergency period is considered the darkest era of Indian political and judicial history. However, unlike the Malaysian model, Mrs Gandhi used available legal powers to fight the battle. The common voter did not like it though and she lost badly in the next elections.

On the continuum, the third kind of reaction can be seen in a recent court case involving an elected member of parliament in the UK and the judges. In the last general elections, Phil Woolas got elected as a Labour MP from the Oldham constituency. His rival candidate lodged a complaint with the election court that during the election campaign, Woolas had alleged that he was a sympathiser of terrorists, which was a lie to win public support. The court accepted the plea and declared the election void and Woolas ineligible for holding any public office for three years. The judgement created ripples in the political waters of Britain and many commentators termed it an onslaught of the judges on the sovereignty of parliament; some thought that it amounted to ridiculing the decision of the voters. The leader of the Labour Party, however, welcomed the decision, and all leaders of political parties agreed that the decision would establish a good tradition of not lying during election campaigns.

The Pakistani government has to choose one of the three models listed above, otherwise disintegration of the state will set in. The SC of Pakistan, while convicting the prime minister, had left the job of establishing the much-needed convention of resigning from office if convicted by any court of law to the political leaders. As if the strategic chaos on the international scene and anarchy in Karachi were not sufficient, the government has unfortunately chosen to add a constitutional crisis to the mess it has generated over the last few years. Hope some sanity would prevail before the situation gets out of hand.

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


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From Slovenia with love! Daily Times, 19/05/12

OVER A COFFEE: From Slovenia with love —Dr Haider Shah


It is not that we were not given mountains like Slovenia. We, however, decided to use them for housing jihadis and their training camps

I am writing these lines over a coffee in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, where I am attending a research conference. Two factors prompted me to write about Slovenia. First, the surreal environment of this small South Central European country is so compelling that I can’t help writing about it. Second, in the city castle, the famous photograph of an Afghan girl, Sharbat Gula by Steve McCurry greeted me at the entrance gate, which pointed towards an exhibition of photographs about the effects of the Afghan war on the Afghan and Pakistani people. Like Virginia Woolfe’s novels, I travelled through streams of consciousness between two worlds — Slovenia and Pakistan.
Slovenia is one of the most war-battered nations of the world. A small nation of about two million, it faced the Italy in World War I and the Nazism of Germany in World War II, when the powerful neighbours broke it into pieces. The country has seen bloodstained civil wars against fascist occupiers in the early decades of the 20th century. As a part of Yugoslavia, it prospered under President Tito and was much more liberal and tolerant than its counterparts in Eastern Europe. In the 1980s, a movement for Slovenian independence was launched and in 1991, it became independent. Since then it has become not only a member of the EU but also the OECD, which is an organisation of advanced nations.
What surprised me most was the happy, fun loving atmosphere of the enterprising young country. No scars of the ravages of war can be noticed even upon very close scrutiny. Whether it is day or night, the country appears in a festive mood. In the city centre of Ljubljana, there are hundreds of busy open-air cafes and bars and one feels that the favourite pastime of Slovenians is to socialise over a cup of coffee or a drink. In the backdrop of these eating and drinking places, a lot of other funfair, sports and charity activities can be seen all day long. In my childhood days, I would read about the wonderland called koh-qaaf. I now have a feeling that I am in that surreal world where everyone seems happy for no reason. If there are any poverty or deprivation issues, those are concealed so well that a casual tourist cannot notice them.
A small castle in the middle of the city centre is one of the main tourist attractions. Its history is symbolic of the nation itself as it has remained under the occupation of various rulers from the Romans to Napoleon to the German Nazis. With the changing rulers, its fate also kept changing as besides a fort, it had been used as a prison, stable, and hospital. Now it is a national heritage centre used as a tourist attraction and for cultural promotion. Viewing the castle, I thought that we also had splendid castles in Pakistan. But while Attock Fort has earned its name for incarcerating political leaders or revolutionary poets, the Peshawar Qila Bala Hisaar is permanently occupied by the Frontier Corps. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government, its nationalist credentials notwithstanding, cannot get the historical castle back from the men in khaki so that it could be used as a cultural heritage centre for the benefit of the entertainment-starved people of Peshawar.
About an hour’s drive from Ljubljana is the lake town of Bled. Travelling to this tourist paradise, one crosses a number of small hilly towns. God has been generous in bestowing beauty upon these areas. But God is just in his dealings with all human groups. He has given three things to every society. First, people, who form a society. Second, physical resources, like land, water, mountains and minerals. And lastly, brains, with which people agree with one another on how best to use these resources.
No wonder the Slovenian mountains attract tourists while our mountains attract jihadis from all over the world. We also have a picturesque Swat valley with abundance of natural beauty. But we decided to make it a hotbed of the Shariat movement. While women in the Slovenian mountains add beauty to the environment, we flogged them in public for talking to strangers. We also have Gilgit-Baltistan but it comes in the headlines not for its unspoilt beauty but for Shia-Sunni sporadic killings and curfews.
The conference was held at the University of Ljubljana where I strolled through alleys to enjoy the calm and peace of campus life. Groups of young students could be seen sitting in cafes or on benches relaxing through social discourse. Energetic female students strutted around, unencumbered by any sense of insecurity or low esteem. The enabling environment stood in stark contrast to our campuses in Pakistan where student outfits affiliated with certain religious parties deem it their divine duty to enforce their brand of suffocating morality upon all students and where activists belonging to various political parties thrash teachers and principals when stopped from cheating in examinations.
At the airport, I sat outside the arrival gate sipping coffee as I awaited my family that joined me a day later. Soon I was in the midst of an entertaining scene as a young group of men and women greeted their guests by playing traditional Slovenian music with harmoniums and other instruments. For about 10 minutes, the arrival hall was abuzz with loud music and crackers. Not in my wildest dreams could I imagine this happening outside an airport. Slovenian people have taught me one lesson: how to remain happy and welcoming. Perhaps our leaders and policymakers need to spend a few days in Ljubljana as we seem to have forgotten how to be happy. 

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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From Slovenia with love! Daily Times, 19/05/12

OVER A COFFEE: From Slovenia with love —Dr Haider Shah


It is not that we were not given mountains like Slovenia. We, however, decided to use them for housing jihadis and their training camps

I am writing these lines over a coffee in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, where I am attending a research conference. Two factors prompted me to write about Slovenia. First, the surreal environment of this small South Central European country is so compelling that I can’t help writing about it. Second, in the city castle, the famous photograph of an Afghan girl, Sharbat Gula by Steve McCurry greeted me at the entrance gate, which pointed towards an exhibition of photographs about the effects of the Afghan war on the Afghan and Pakistani people. Like Virginia Woolfe’s novels, I travelled through streams of consciousness between two worlds — Slovenia and Pakistan.
Slovenia is one of the most war-battered nations of the world. A small nation of about two million, it faced the Italy in World War I and the Nazism of Germany in World War II, when the powerful neighbours broke it into pieces. The country has seen bloodstained civil wars against fascist occupiers in the early decades of the 20th century. As a part of Yugoslavia, it prospered under President Tito and was much more liberal and tolerant than its counterparts in Eastern Europe. In the 1980s, a movement for Slovenian independence was launched and in 1991, it became independent. Since then it has become not only a member of the EU but also the OECD, which is an organisation of advanced nations.
What surprised me most was the happy, fun loving atmosphere of the enterprising young country. No scars of the ravages of war can be noticed even upon very close scrutiny. Whether it is day or night, the country appears in a festive mood. In the city centre of Ljubljana, there are hundreds of busy open-air cafes and bars and one feels that the favourite pastime of Slovenians is to socialise over a cup of coffee or a drink. In the backdrop of these eating and drinking places, a lot of other funfair, sports and charity activities can be seen all day long. In my childhood days, I would read about the wonderland called koh-qaaf. I now have a feeling that I am in that surreal world where everyone seems happy for no reason. If there are any poverty or deprivation issues, those are concealed so well that a casual tourist cannot notice them.
A small castle in the middle of the city centre is one of the main tourist attractions. Its history is symbolic of the nation itself as it has remained under the occupation of various rulers from the Romans to Napoleon to the German Nazis. With the changing rulers, its fate also kept changing as besides a fort, it had been used as a prison, stable, and hospital. Now it is a national heritage centre used as a tourist attraction and for cultural promotion. Viewing the castle, I thought that we also had splendid castles in Pakistan. But while Attock Fort has earned its name for incarcerating political leaders or revolutionary poets, the Peshawar Qila Bala Hisaar is permanently occupied by the Frontier Corps. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government, its nationalist credentials notwithstanding, cannot get the historical castle back from the men in khaki so that it could be used as a cultural heritage centre for the benefit of the entertainment-starved people of Peshawar.
About an hour’s drive from Ljubljana is the lake town of Bled. Travelling to this tourist paradise, one crosses a number of small hilly towns. God has been generous in bestowing beauty upon these areas. But God is just in his dealings with all human groups. He has given three things to every society. First, people, who form a society. Second, physical resources, like land, water, mountains and minerals. And lastly, brains, with which people agree with one another on how best to use these resources.
No wonder the Slovenian mountains attract tourists while our mountains attract jihadis from all over the world. We also have a picturesque Swat valley with abundance of natural beauty. But we decided to make it a hotbed of the Shariat movement. While women in the Slovenian mountains add beauty to the environment, we flogged them in public for talking to strangers. We also have Gilgit-Baltistan but it comes in the headlines not for its unspoilt beauty but for Shia-Sunni sporadic killings and curfews.
The conference was held at the University of Ljubljana where I strolled through alleys to enjoy the calm and peace of campus life. Groups of young students could be seen sitting in cafes or on benches relaxing through social discourse. Energetic female students strutted around, unencumbered by any sense of insecurity or low esteem. The enabling environment stood in stark contrast to our campuses in Pakistan where student outfits affiliated with certain religious parties deem it their divine duty to enforce their brand of suffocating morality upon all students and where activists belonging to various political parties thrash teachers and principals when stopped from cheating in examinations.
At the airport, I sat outside the arrival gate sipping coffee as I awaited my family that joined me a day later. Soon I was in the midst of an entertaining scene as a young group of men and women greeted their guests by playing traditional Slovenian music with harmoniums and other instruments. For about 10 minutes, the arrival hall was abuzz with loud music and crackers. Not in my wildest dreams could I imagine this happening outside an airport. Slovenian people have taught me one lesson: how to remain happy and welcoming. Perhaps our leaders and policymakers need to spend a few days in Ljubljana as we seem to have forgotten how to be happy.

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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What Imran could have done ! Daily Times, 5/5/12

OVER A COFFEE: What Imran could have done —Dr Haider Shah

Imran Khan would do himself a great favour if he restricts Kulyaat-e-Iqbal to bedtime reading pleasure, and not use it as a textbook on public policy making

In a recent article, I had posed a question whether Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) would prove a Noah’s Ark or a doomed Titanic for the political leaders who have boarded it. Endorsing or condemning my assessment, many readers emailed me their valuable comments. Some of them also suggested that instead of just being critical I must also come up with some recommendations. Imran Khan has many qualified advisers in his party, therefore I would refrain from issuing advisory notes. I can, however, summarise what I had expected from Imran Khan and it is then for him to see if the expectations gap can be filled.

Charisma has been identified by famous sociologist Max Webber as one of the main sources of power. In fact, one fundamental difference between a manager and a leader is that the former is good in maintaining the status quo while the latter with charismatic power can transform an organisation in order to create a fit between the external environment and the organisation. Successful military leaders like Alexander or Julius Caesar, or prophets like Moses or Muhammad (PBUH), used their personal charisma in successful transformation of their peoples.

In modern history, we see a good example of charismatic leadership in the form of Kamal Ataturk. He singlehandedly transformed a decadent ‘sick man’ of Europe into a modern and respected Turkish nation. To a relatively lesser extent, we see that in the late 1960s, the charismatic personality of Z A Bhutto created ripples in the stagnant political waters of Pakistan. Criticism against his aristocratic rule is not entirely untrue; however, one cannot deny the fact that he was instrumental in infusing new life in the post-1971 dismembered Pakistan.

Pakistan today is reeling from the scars of extremism that we inherited in the mild form of the ‘two nation theory’. Fanned first by Bhutto himself with his idealistic pan-Islamism, and later by the jihadist Ziaul Haq, Pakistan has become an inferno of religious extremism. As Kamal Ataturk rescued Turkey from the clutches of Ottoman dogmatism, we need a leader who can use his charisma to save Pakistan from sliding further down the extremist route. As a celebrated national sporting hero, and as a respected philanthropist, and with a British family in tow, Imran Khan was the ideal person to qualify as an Ataturk of Pakistan.

Like the pied piper of Hamlin, Imran Khan is idealised by the youth in Pakistan. I, therefore, sincerely wish Khan had diagnosed correctly the nature of the damage that religious dogmatism has done in Pakistan. If he had not been lost in the wilderness of faith and theology, he had enough charisma to become the redeemer of a generation whose energies and talents are being devoured by the demon of radical extremism. The bulk of Khan’s passionate supporters belong to the middle class, educated, young people. I wish Khan had asked the Pakistani youth in unequivocal terms that they should treat religion as a personal matter and had demonstrated by his discourse that Pakistani nationalism was above our religious identities.

In a recent interview, Khan said that he considers Allama Iqbal as his mentor. No doubt, Iqbal is one of the founders of modern Urdu poetry, but making him a guide for political philosophy is a very risky occupation. Like Homer, Iqbal is also a superstore of ideas where you can find anything you want to. In my student days, Kulyaat-e-Iqbal (Iqbal’s collected poetry) was my primary source for writing my speeches for debate contests. Whether I needed to speak for or against democracy, I always found Iqbal’s poetry equally helpful. If you read Iqbal as an admirer of poetry, you are up for a great treat. But reading Iqbal is also like entering a maze with no signposts. Imran Khan would do himself a great favour if he restricts Kulyaat-e-Iqbal to bedtime reading pleasure, and not use it as a textbook on public policy making.

Some rationalist friends remain optimistic. They refer to the work of Wilfred Smith who identifies two different Iqbals. One is the reactionary Iqbal, who is a lover of hallucinated nostalgic ideas, and a staunch disbeliever in gender equality, and second, the pragmatist Iqbal, who is an admirer of the British Raj, wearing the British knighthood with great pride. Soon after his famous Allahabad address, he wrote a letter to the editor of The Times to clarify that he never demanded a separate state for the Muslims but was rather elaborating the point already made in the Nehru and Simon reports about the creation of Muslim majority provinces within the British Empire in India, which would serve the British colonial masters well. He stated, “A series of contented and well-organised Moslem provinces on the North-West Frontier of India would be the bulwark of India and of the British Empire against the hungry generations of the Asiatic highlands.” 

Some of my friends argue that If Imran Khan embraces this second Iqbal, he could prove to be a very successful statesman. I tend to agree, but with some caution. Discourse is like a genie. Once created and out of the bottle, it is not easy to keep it under control and often the creator is at the mercy of this freed genie. I would have loved Khan as an exorcist of the demon of radicalism. Playing Machiavelli, if he is using an apologist discourse to gain the support of the religious lobby, he would find himself a captive of this discourse tomorrow. He might then regret that he had created the Frankenstein’s monster. Today, if I am asked to give one-line advice to Khan, it would be: “Of your admirers, listen more to Hassan Nisar, and less to Haroon Rashid, Zaid Hamid and Hamid Gul.” 

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