Dr. Haider Shah

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


Postcard for Orya Maqbool Jan , Daily Times, 27/10/12

OVER A COFFEE : Postcard for Orya Maqbool Jan — Dr Haider Shah

OMJ, calling liberal scholars Abu Jehl (Father of ignorance), used many historical references to contend that Indian Muslim rulers were not neglectful of education

On Eid-ul-Azha, sending and 
receiving greeting cards is a part of our good traditions. Today, with profound love and regards, I am writing a special postcard on behalf of the Rationalist Society of Pakistan (RSOP) to our friend Orya Maqbool Jan (OMJ), with the hope that it will be received with reciprocating feelings of warmth and goodwill.

The members of RSOP, with specialisations in various physical and social sciences, have helped turn the organisation into a think tank where claims of all sorts are critically examined. From the water-kit run cars to media-sponsored mystics and from conspiracy theories to mythical cures of political messiahs, every claim is passed through the filter of rationality. This time one of our members shared OMJ’s Urdu column in which the worthy author severely criticised a TV channel for championing the ‘education’ campaign. OMJ seemed aggrieved that in the public service message of the TV, neglect of education by our emperors was contrasted with the establishment of Oxford and Cambridge type universities in Britain. OMJ, calling liberal scholars Abu Jehl (Father of ignorance), used many historical references to contend that Indian Muslim rulers were not neglectful of education. My analysis benefits from the input of our RSOP members, especially Nadeem Ahmed and Ahmed Waqass, who carried out a verification of the quotes used by OMJ.

The conclusion of our analysis is that OMJ cites various historical sources in a sweeping way to substantiate his argument. Known as what is called ‘cherry picking’ in research, he selectively picked up sentences from a number of sources to create an impression for an unwary reader that India had an elaborate scheme of education under the Muslim rulers and that the British in a very cunning way destroyed all institutions as part of some deep-rooted conspiracy. Due to paucity of space, it is not possible to discuss all the references OMJ quoted in his piece. I would restrict it to only one main source to illustrate that intellectual honesty was wanting in his piece of writing.

For sake of clarity a full paragraph from Will Durant’s voluminous Story of Civilization is reproduced here from which OMJ picked up a quotation: “Writing continued, even to the nineteenth century, to play a very small part in Indian education. Perhaps it was not to the interest of the priests that the sacred or scholastic texts should become an open secret to all. As far as we can trace Indian history, we find a system of education, always in the hands of the clergy, open at first only to the sons of Brahmans, then spreading its privileges from caste to caste until in our time it excludes only the Untouchables. Every Hindu village had its schoolmaster, supported out of the public funds; in Bengal alone, before the coming of the British, there were some 80,000 native schools — one to every four hundred population. The percentage of literacy under Ashoka was apparently higher than in India today.” Will Durant in this section was discussing the education system in ancient India but OMJ picked up a Bengal-related sentence and forcibly linked it with the Mughal period to create a misleading impression.

Intellectual honesty demanded that OMJ should have also told his readers what Will Durant wrote in the same book about the Muslim rulers in India. For instance, Durant writes about our hero idol-smasher: “Each winter Mahmud descended into India, filled his treasure chest with spoils, and amused his men with full freedom to pillage and kill; each spring he returned to his capital richer than before.” We are told that the idol breaker would sometimes spare the population of the ravaged cities and “took them home to be sold as slaves; but so great was the number of such captives that after some years no one could be found to offer more than a few shillings for a slave.” Similarly referring to other rulers of the pre-Mughal era, Durant writes, “There was constantly in front of his royal pavilion and his Civil Court a mound of dead bodies and a heap of corpses, while the sweepers and executioners were wearied out by their work of dragging the victims and putting them to death in crowds.” OMJ fondly mentions Firoz Shah about whom Durant writes, “Firoz Shah invaded Bengal, offered a reward for every Hindu head, paid for 180,000 of them, raided Hindu villages for slaves.” Similarly, Sultan Ahmad Shah is said to have feasted for three days whenever the number of defenceless Hindus slain in his territories in one day reached 20,000. Based on such numerous examples, Durant says, “The Mohammedan Conquest of India is probably the bloodiest story in history. It is a discouraging tale, for its evident moral is that civilisation is a precarious thing, whose delicate complex of order and liberty, culture and peace may at any time be overthrown by barbarians invading from without or multiplying within.” Durant in his work appreciates the art and sculpture of India. However, he laments, “We shall never be able to do justice to Indian art, for ignorance and fanaticism have destroyed its greatest achievements, and have half ruined the rest.”

OMJ in his concluding lines makes a passing reference to Lord Cornwallis, accusing him of establishing a religious seminary in 1781 to destroy educational system of Muslim rulers. Interestingly, in 1781, Major General Cornwallis was in America with a mixed record against rebel colonists culminating in the capitulation of his force at Yorktown and came to India in 1786. Cornwallis, however, is credited with establishing an institution that OMJ never found detestable: the Indian Civil Service. Hope our former deputy commissioner would be more careful with both dates and facts of history.

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

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Operation or a comprehensive solution? , Daily Times, 20/10/12

OVER A COFFEE : Operation or a comprehensive solution? — Dr Haider Shah

We do not need a military operation unless its strategic objectives are very clear. If it is not part of a more comprehensive plan it would only bring temporary relief

When the little princess of Swat valley was shown on TV in an ambulance, one line from Shakespeare started ringing in my mind. “Come hither, come hither. Here shall he see…No enemy.” And while winter and rough weather are around the corner, it is somewhat comforting to see Malala now in the caring hands of doctors in Birmingham.

As the news of the attack on the little girl broke, everyone was so shocked that only genuine feelings of profound anguish started pouring in. Those who had built their entire political careers by sympathising with militants and extremists were dumbfounded, shaken by the emergence of a new discourse. The defenders of dark forces, however, did not take long and started vomiting filth of all sorts. While Malala lay sleeping, the country woke up to the loud orchestra of conspiracy theorists. Beginning with ifs and buts, they started mentioning Afia Siddiqi and drone victims in their purposeful discourses. When even this failed to stem the public level condemnation of the Taliban, the e-mujahedeen launched a social media war against the little girl who is fighting for her life.

While one can expect little else from parties like the Jamaat-e-Islami and Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf, the role of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) as the two largest parties is also not very inspiring. The PPP government is so weak that it looks to the army establishment for every important decision. The initial reaction of the PML-N leaders Nawaz Sharif and Saad Rafique was in line with the national mood but their Secretary Information Senator Mushahidullah proved to be a misguided missile. The opposition leader Chaudhry Nisar’s reaction did not do any service to his image as a principled politician either. To the extent that the government might use the military operation as an excuse for postponing elections, his fears are justified. But he could have worked with the government to come up with a joint resolution where the resolve to take action against those who attack schoolgoing children and behead police officers could have been expressed along with a clear statement that elections would be held at their due time. After all, we have seen elections in Israel and Iraq despite both being in a state of war. One can pardon Imran Khan if he makes sweeping statements because the Taliban have historically been a bee in his bonnet. But when as a leader of the opposition, Chaudhry Nisar produces ‘ifs and buts’-driven excuses, every well-wisher of the country is genuinely shocked. It will be unfair if the Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s clear stance is not appreciated on this vital issue of national importance. A military operation in North Waziristan can be part of a comprehensive solution but it cannot prove a remedy for the deep-rooted terrorism problem. The militancy that we experience in its most horrible form is the fallout of our social embrace of extremist ideas. What we need is an all-inclusive de-radicalisation plan to root out extremist tendencies from our social life. We have the potential to be much better. But for that we must free ourselves from the crushing grip of emotionalism and obscurantism so that our mental and physical energies can be utilised for nation building work.

We do not need a military operation unless its strategic objectives are very clear. If it is not part of a more comprehensive plan it would only bring temporary relief. Government needs to chalk out a very clear road map with strategic milestones. The unfurling of the plan should begin with a renewed offer of peace provided militant outfits fulfil three conditions. First, all criminals who were involved in the recent attacks on Malala and the police check post in Matni, should be handed over to government so that they are brought to justice. Second, the leaders of the outfits should announce their pledge of decommissioning as a logical result of a peace accord. Third, they should announce their readiness to take an oath of loyalty to the Constitution of Pakistan. A period of one month can be given as a deadline for the acceptance of this offer. During the waiting period, as a matter of urgency, government should enter into serious and sincere talks with NATO forces commanders and Afghan leaders for a joint operation against militants of all kinds. NATO forces should commit going after the Pakistani Taliban from their side while we move towards their hideouts in North Waziristan. The security agencies should also go for a crackdown in the urban hideouts of the Punjabi Taliban and other extremist groups. At the same time, we have to rethink our handling of high profile personalities with terrorism links. We do not wish to act like Hitler who remained in a dazed state of self-induced hallucination while the Red Army was advancing towards Berlin. The Nazi leaders only came to their senses once they saw the Red Army entering the bunker and occupying Berlin. Our military strategists should not repeat these blunders and must think about redefining the security paradigm on the basis of clearly observable ground realities.

From Joan of Arc to Jhansi ki Raani (Queen of Jhansi), certain females emerged as the iconic images of resistance to a much stronger enemy of their times. Never before, however, did a 14-year-old girl inspire so many in such a little span of time. Her attackers did not realise that sometimes a single droplet of blood can become the title of a nation’s history. Perhaps the Pashtuns can very proudly begin writing this historical account now.

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


Attacking Malala: the soul of Pakistan, Daily Times, 13/10/12

OVER A COFFEE : Attacking Malala: the soul of Pakistan — Dr Haider Shah

There is a dire need for putting all ifs and buts on one side and going after this most menacing danger to our national security with one voice

Contrary to his claims, there appears to be no love lost between Imran Khan, the dharna (sit-in) and marches specialist, and his imaginary friends, the Taliban. Last time when the clueless leader wanted media attention for his carefully orchestrated dharna against NATO supplies in Karachi, the Taliban militants blew the whole show apart by staging a daredevil attack on the Mehran base. This time, with an olive branch in his hands, no sooner had he returned from his truncated march to Waziristan, the implacable Taliban exploded the drama by attacking a girl who symbolised the soul of Pakistan. With friends like these who needs enemies?

When a farmer finds out his sheep were attacked by a wolf he seldom engages in discussions on the motives of the wolf or sins of his livestock. He also does not sit on a mat praying for the safety of his cattle but rather fetches his gun and hunts the wolf down. When even domestic pets go wild and start biting your children, the only option left is to put them down. In the UK, there are strict laws forbidding cruelty to animals, but when in 1980-90 cows developed BSE disease and a few associated human deaths were reported, millions of cows were killed to deal with the situation. Procrastination in dealing with menacing situations is a recipe for disaster, whatever the source of the menace may be.

The sight of common people coming together to express their shared anguish and offering prayers for Malala lifted my sagging spirit to some extent. However, an accompanying fear is that these ritualistic communal prayers may amount to abdication of our duty in the face of a most deplorable act of war by a determined enemy. It is no time for lending our ears to the ‘ifs and buts’ of the apologists of the Taliban. More than mad cows, humans are very dangerous when they lose sanity and carry guns and bombs. The state’s response must therefore be swifter and more resolute. The only other course of action is to treat such persons in mental hospitals if that is a possibility. Holding negotiations with deranged criminals is, however, never an option.

I am not arguing that negotiations can never help in resolving deadly conflicts, but there are at least two important requirements for that to happen. One, the leaders of all parties to the conflict should be identifiable and second, they must show readiness to acknowledge the authority of the state. In my previous piece, I had called for a peaceful resolution of the Balochistan imbroglio because the Baloch leaders have shown readiness to negotiate peace within the constitutional framework of Pakistan. In the case of religious extremists, both requirements are conspicuously missing. The Good Friday Agreement (GFA) of 1998, which heralded a new era of peaceful coexistence in the troubled Northern Ireland region, is a very good example of resolving historical conflicts through negotiations. The spirit of the negotiations is best captured by the following clause of the agreement: “The tragedies of the past have left a deep and profoundly regrettable legacy of suffering. We must never forget those who have died or been injured, and their families. But we can best honour them through a fresh start, in which we firmly dedicate ourselves to the achievement of reconciliation, tolerance, and mutual trust, and to the protection and vindication of the human rights of all.” If the extremist groups reciprocate a similar spirit on the part of the state, then I fully endorse any move for holding negotiations with the Taliban leaders. They will have to agree to the vital clause of the GFA, “All participants accordingly reaffirm their commitment to the total disarmament of all paramilitary organisations.” If the extremists agree to return to the democratic process and opt for peace and development in place of arms and ammunition, we should be ready to facilitate their rehabilitation. If they think that by dint of fear alone they would impose their view of the world and their lifestyle upon 180 million Pakistanis, they must then clearly be shown how sadly mistaken they were all along.

In the dark clouds of despondency, the only silver lining is the emerging chorus of outright denunciation of the Taliban and their perverted ideology. The anarchists of 18th and 19th century Europe also imagined that by sheer use of violence they would make everyone submit to their flawed ideology. Today, they are languishing in the dustbin of history. The same fate awaits these self-proclaimed jihadis if we all show strategic consensus over the issue of terrorism. The leaders of all mainstream political parties have increasingly been heard denouncing the ideology of the Taliban and their sympathisers. Army chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani has also issued a very clear condemnation of the ideology of the attackers. All Pakistanis want elimination of the outfits that carried out the act. Perhaps this is the time we move beyond words and aspirations. Let us rethink our whole security paradigm and identify our friends and foes afresh. There is a dire need for putting all ifs and buts on one side and going after this most menacing danger to our national security with one voice. We had been helping Sri Lanka win its war against terrorism. Why can’t we help ourselves?

Badshah Khan, the legendary leader of Pakhtunkhwa, after observing the active role of Indian women in the struggle for independence, had called upon Pashtun women to break free from social taboos and join their menfolk in developing their nation. The greatest tribute to Malala would be to revive that message and to see every Pashtun girl turn into Malala.

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

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Balochistan or Waziristan first? Daily Times, 6/10/12

OVER A COFFEE : Balochistan or Waziristan first? — Dr Haider Shah

The Baloch leaders are right in claiming that they could only participate in elections if a conducive environment for political activities is created first

Balochistan grabbed the headlines when Akhtar Mengal appeared before the Supreme Court last week. Articulating his views quite well, the former chief minister of Balochistan compared his six demands to the six-point programme of Sheikh Mujibur Rehman of East Pakistan. Even though the Baloch leader deliberately made a thinly veiled threat of parting ways with Pakistan, unlike the Awami League leaders, he did not sound rebellious.

Through his six-point programme, Sheikh Mujib had demanded a kind of confederation with only defence and foreign affairs remaining with the Centre. No separatist demand has been made by Akhtar Mengal and if the contents of the six demands are examined, one can hardly see any departure from what the Constitution has already guaranteed to all citizens of Pakistan. Who can disagree with Mengal if he demands the safe return of missing persons and an end to the state-sponsored target killing in Balochistan? The response of the present PPP-led government however has been timid, betraying its lack of faith in itself. The aggrieved Baloch leaders are therefore justified in their lack of trust in the capability of the present government to make any progress on the Balochistan front.

We all think in terms of bounded rationality dictated by our training and circumstances. How Institutions think? is a popular work of Mary Douglas in which she examines the role of shared vision in shaping institutional thinking of various organisations. The military, as an organisation, has its own peculiar way of looking at the world and its decision-making therefore suffers from the fatal flaw of seeing things in black and white. While the military is often employed as an important provider of input, the job of resolution of complex disputes remains the forte of politicians. In 1971, the military strategists viewed the deep-rooted East Pakistan situation as a mere law and order problem and thought they could fix it with Operation Searchlight. The big brains in the military establishment are again trying to impose a military solution on a combustible situation in Balochistan. Due to its alleged deadly embrace of al Qaeda linked terrorists, Pakistan already suffers from a trustworthiness problem and the human rights abuses in Balochistan will hardly make its image any better.

It is not all gloom and doom though. Historically, Punjab has been accused by the smaller provinces, especially Balochistan, of exploitation. The PML-N as the representative of the largest province of Pakistan, however, appears not to be in the bad books of the Baloch leaders like Mengal. If the gulf between Punjab and Balochistan narrows, it would be a positive step towards national reconciliation. It is important for the leaders of the mainstream parties to develop a strategic consensus on showing solidarity with the genuine demands of the Baloch leaders so that their return to national politics is made possible. Standing next to Mengal for a photo opportunity is not enough. They should all demand that the uniformed men should vacate decision-making positions to the politicians. Hopefully, fair and free elections can prove a panacea for the grievous wounds inflicted by successive regimes upon Balochistan. But the Baloch leaders are right in claiming that they could only participate in elections if a conducive environment for political activities is created first.

The Baloch leaders also need to know that while cherishing tribal identity is an inalienable right of all citizens of Pakistan, tribalism itself cannot co-exist inside the notion of a modern democratic state forever. In order to remain a leader, the claimant must serve the electorate. The critics of Baloch tribal leaders contend that they do not spend enough on social sectors like education and health so that the old tribal structure may stay intact. No doubt, Mengal rightly takes the credit for establishing the Bolan University, but much more needs to be done for education in Balochistan. They also need to understand that when developmental projects are launched, skilled labour from various parts of the world, including the other provinces of Pakistan, will have to be welcomed. If the trust deficit is not huge, all stakeholders realise that development demands long-term partnerships.

When the Mehran naval base was being attacked by the Taliban-affiliated terrorists, Imran Khan was busy in a futile dharna (sit-in) to express solidarity with the Taliban. Now when the Supreme Court, national media and political leaders are all discussing the Balochistan situation with a sense of urgency, he is staging a march to Waziristan. He had earlier claimed that his public meetings in Karachi and Quetta would usher in a new era of peace and prosperity. Neither do energy problems get resolved with water-run cars, nor do conflicts go away by music-enthralled crowds or white people-led marches. If Khan was leading the march to sign a peace treaty with the main Taliban leaders in which they declare a renunciation of extremism after laying down their arms and express their allegiance to the Constitution of Pakistan, I would have today extended my warmest support. But demanding security from the Taliban for his march, he is rather surrendering the sovereignty of the state to a paramilitary force that takes pride in beheading captured soldiers of Pakistan. In a television programme, the visitors from abroad were expressing concerns for human rights violations in Waziristan. Would it not be a good idea to take them to the relatives of missing persons and the leaders of the Hazara community in Balochistan as well? After all, human misery has neither any nationality nor any faith.

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