Dr. Haider Shah

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


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After ‘Gangnam style’ revolution ends! , Daily Times, 19/1/2013

OVER A COFFEE : After ‘Gangnam style’ revolution ends! — Dr Haider Shah

Now as the marchers have decamped and the dust has settled, we can heave some sigh of relief that the infant democracy has finally learnt how to stand on its own feet

Addressing the ‘inqilab’ (revolution) chanting crowd upon reaching Islamabad, Dr Tahirul Qadri sounded like Maximilien Robespierre of the French Revolution. It seemed that soon after the fall of the Bastille (Islamabad), ‘guillotines’ would be erected in the streets of all major cities of Pakistan, as the leader of the revolution announced the dissolution of the Assemblies. Gradually, the dharna (sit-in) turned into a camping site of holidaying families and, by the third day one could easily feel Dr Qadri pleading desperately, ‘I am a celebrity, get me out of here.’

Just as Altaf Hussain’s ‘drone’ proved to be a damp squib, Dr Qadri’s march fizzled out without achieving anything. Social media sites, including our rationalist society group, began making fun of the accord reached inside a dabba (box), so phrases like ‘dabba revolution’ and many cartoons pooh-poohed the revolutionary leader. The three days might not have shaken the world but it would also be unfair not to appreciate some positive outcomes that intentionally or unintentionally were achieved by a very unique experiment carried out by a very controversial personality of our public life. The peaceful manner in which the protest took place is a pleasant break from our past experiences. Never before did we see a crowd of this size behaving in so orderly and decent a manner. Even if religious devotion is cited as the organising force, the crowd at no moment looked outlandishly parochial. They were mostly lower middle class families and did not behave or sound like the activists of sectarian outfits or the Taliban. They seemed to be enjoying themselves while facing bravely the hardships thrown at them by the inclement weather. The active participation of women in the protest should inspire those women who always moan about gender discrimination but never leave the comfort of their living rooms to organise a suffragist movement. Towards the end, in an ironic twist, I began to like Dr Qadri. With the massive weight of Canadian nationality tied around his neck, and despite a hostile media after him constantly, he remained steadfast and singlehandedly held the whole country to ransom for so many days. Not everyone can do this.

At no moment was anyone under any illusion that Dr Qadri could pose any serious challenge to the government. On his own, Dr Qadri was more of comic relief. He, however, generated concerns and fears on two accounts. Our political history created a perception that he might be acting as a Trojan horse and would soon be followed by the real demolition squad. Both Altaf Hussain and Imran Khan kept lurking in the background as if getting ready to begin phase two of the plan. When the arrest order of Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf was splashed as breaking news by the national media, my first thought was, “Et tu, Chief Justice!” The second concern was on account of the prevailing security situation of the country. A gathering of thousands in the capital is a very attractive target for any terrorist, as it would provide maximum publicity and cause serious damage to the writ of the state. Thankfully, neither fear turned into a reality in the end. Now as the marchers have decamped and the dust has settled, we can heave some sigh of relief that the infant democracy has finally learnt how to stand on its own feet and not become a bespoke suit that is regularly altered to fit the music director.

Despite the media hype created by the march and the dharna, the activity was insignificant in terms of its stated objectives. The year 2013 is very different from the earlier shameful periods of the history of Pakistan. In almost all military takeovers in the past, two favourable conditions were in operation. First, Punjab would generally remain pro-establishment and take no time in embracing the coup. Second, the opposition leaders would become willing collaborators. This time the situation is entirely different. Not only is Punjab not pro-establishment, the opposition leaders are even more united in their condemnation of any unconstitutional move. All provincial governments also remain pro-democracy and, barring a few shady personalities, the media has thrown its weight behind the democratic forces as well. In this environment, the courts will also find it extremely difficult to legitimise any extra-constitutional move by any adventurist. It, therefore, is heartening to see that Pakistan, despite all its problems, is developing democratic institutions. The stronger these institutions become, the more difficult it would be for any adventurist to derail the system.

The demands made by Dr Qadri already enjoyed national consensus. However, it was generally perceived that he wanted some unelected people to use disqualification powers under Articles 62 and 63 of the constitution as a Damocles’ sword to ensure ‘controlled democracy’ in Pakistan. It is worth noting that ‘qualifications’ and ‘disqualifications’ are essentially of two types. The first are verifiable, for example, age, nationality, and bank default as through documentary evidence these can be ascertained by any impartial forum such as the Election Commission or the courts. But the subjective ones, like ‘sagacious’, ‘patriotic’, ‘righteous’, ‘good Muslim’, etc, are non-verifiable and therefore it is better we let the collective wisdom of the electorate decide on these.

When the ‘Gangnam style’ revolution reached its conclusion and the negotiators were exchanging pleasantries, two demons were again raising their heads. In Karachi, an MQM member of parliament was gunned down by the Lashker-e-Jhangvi/Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan target killers. And a Supreme Court bench issued an order for the registration of a blasphemy case against Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States Sherry Rehman for opposing the blasphemy law. When a police commando becomes Mumtaz Qadri, we are rightly worried. And we get more worried when we see lawyers garlanding Mumtaz Qadri. But we would be most worried when Mumtaz Qadri begins wearing the robe as well.

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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Jessicafication of the Shahzeb case, Daily Times, 12/1/ 2013

OVER A COFFEE : Jessicafication of the Shahzeb case — Dr Haider Shah

The provisions of Qisas and Diyat have changed the criminal law in Pakistan, providing the accused an opportunity to pressurise the family of the victim through monetary offers

In the backdrop of bomb blasts and incessant killings, tensions over the Line of Control are rising to a dangerous level as well. The smokescreen created by the hue and cry of the Qadri-Altaf duo has eclipsed more urgent issues and impeded development of public discourse on the post-election scenario in Pakistan. While these political and geo-strategic developments are extremely important, I find the Shahzeb Khan murder case standing out as its successful logical conclusion can be a test case of a maturing civil society.

Murders, for a variety of reasons, take place all over the world. How the perpetrator escapes the dragnet is however different in different countries. If we examine the famous Jessica Lal murder case of India, we can learn why at times a criminal system fails miserably to deliver justice. The Indian nation was shocked to its core when the killer of a young woman was acquitted by the court even though the murder had taken place in front of many guests. Two factors surface prominently in the Jessica Lal case. First, the case is damaged by the investigative agency by its dishonest use of power. Second, even if the police are not complicit, the accused use their influence through threats or bribery, purchase witnesses and other pieces of evidence, and hence secure a favourable judgment from the court.

There is a third factor that we can learn from the Raymond Davis and Samia Sarwar cases. In the Raymond Davis case, a US national shot a Pakistani dead and was arrested on the spot. As the case was in the spotlight of the media, the two factors of personal influence and investigators’ partiality could not ensure the release of the accused. In the end, however, we saw the killer simply walk out of jail. In the Samia Sarwar case, she was killed in broad daylight by a hired killer who was accompanying the mother of the unfortunate girl. Just as in the Jessica case, the honour killing was witnessed by the horrified staff of a Lahore-based NGO in whose office the incident happened in 1999. Ironically, almost all nationalist, secular, liberal and Marxist leaders of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa got together to rescue the father of the girl who had despatched the killer with the mother. The US government, for Davis, and the liberal nationalist saviours of the father of the slain girl resorted to the Qisas (equal punishment for the crime committed) and Diyat (compensation payable to the victims or their legal heirs) provisions of the Pakistan Penal Code. Davis took his flight straight back home while the father of the murdered girl soon became the president of the Chamber of Commerce. Concluding from these case studies, we learn that the third factor for the failure of a criminal legal system is the law itself.

Shahzeb, a young man of 20 and the son of a DSP, was murdered on December 25, 2012 near his house in Karachi’s Defence Housing Society, reportedly after an alleged altercation over verbal threats to the victim’s sister. All humans experience an adrenaline rush in threatening situations and often make decisions in haste that later they repent. Those who live in an artificially created environment of affluence with servants carrying weapons all around become so temperamental that they would gun down any offender first and think about the cause later. I am, therefore, not surprised that a petty brawl resulted in the murder of a young man at the hands of the scions of affluent families of the posh Defence area. Like countless other murders, the killing might have gone down as a little noticed crime statistic had it not received wide coverage in the social networking media. When the news item was posted on our Rationalist Society’s discussion site, the immediate feeling was that nothing would happen to the resourceful accused. This prompted me to think about the factors that might result in the state’s inability to do justice to the departed soul and get the killer convicted by the courts.

The first factor of the Jessica case, the partisan role of police, was witnessed soon after the incident happened. No arrests were made nor could any noticeable effort be seen to bring the culprits to book. Even the social media campaign could not break the inertia of the Karachi police. The DIG Police Karachi South very categorically declared in a TV interview that the main accused was in Pakistan and would be apprehended within three days. The situation, however, changed dramatically when the Supreme Court took suo motu notice of the case, and soon it transpired that the main accused had already made good his escape. While the incident of the murder can be attributed to an uncontrolled adrenaline rush, absconding from the country must have happened after careful planning and use of family resources. The case of abetment with a view to obstructing the course of justice is, therefore, a much more serious offence in this case.

Sceptics remain unconvinced that, like in the Jessica case, justice will be done in the end. Witnesses might go hostile or forensic reports may be manufactured. And if despite the best efforts of the police, and the generous use of family connections and monetary resources, the accused is unable to escape the dragnet, there remains one final escape route that we find unable to block. The provisions of Qisas and Diyat have changed the criminal law in Pakistan in a fundamental way, providing the accused an opportunity to pressurise the family of the victim through use of force or monetary offers. If everything else fails, this escape route is wide open and therefore the perception that the Shahzeb case cannot become a Jessica case is not without a sound basis.

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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Between the devil and the deep blue sea , Daily Times, 5 /1/13

OVER A COFFEE : Between the devil and the deep blue sea — Dr Haider Shah

Whether the organisers of the Qadri-Altaf circus are our own spymasters or international string pullers, Pakistan finds itself in the midst of two crushing jaws

In London, hundreds of 
thousands of people lined the banks of the River Thames for a spectacular New Year ’s Eve fireworks display. A similar outpouring of enthusiasm was seen all over the world. In Pakistan, the year 2012 was bid farewell amid the explosion of bombs and the New Year was welcomed by bloodstained bullets. And as if that was not enough, yet another set of messiahs has been unleashed on us from nowhere.

This is not to say that the countries where New Year was celebrated with traditional festivity have nothing to worry about. The US Senate resorted to desperate fire fighting to deal with the ticking bomb of the so-called ‘fiscal cliff’, as tax rises and huge spending cuts would have come into force on January 1, 2013 if no agreement had been reached between Democrat and Republican Senators, which would have triggered another period of recession. In Europe, the alarm bells keep ringing as Europe grapples with the deepening debt crisis. In her New Year message, the German chancellor cautions that the economic situation will not improve in 2013, and forecasters in the UK predict that the economy in 2013 will show little or no growth, amounting to a rerun of last year’s dismal performance.

Faced with the existentialist threat, we are not debating what 2013 has in store for us in terms of economic difficulties. When a man is drowning, he has no concern what his hair looks like or how much will be the next month’s electricity bill. Like many other writers, I have been consistently advocating that every era is shaped by peculiar geopolitical concerns and security doctrines are not cast in stone but change when a new era begins. From Pearl Harbour to the Dutch Indies, in the 1930-40s Japan was bombing every major military installation in the Pacific to pursue its doctrine of a Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. At the end of World War II when, militarily and financially, Japan found itself devastated, it very honourably swallowed its pride and embarked upon a new era of a closer relationship with the US-led democracies. Doctrines are for countries and countries are not for doctrines. It gives us some reason to be hopeful that Pakistan’s security establishment has now acknowledged homegrown militancy as the number one security threat. After the birth of two antagonistic states in 1947, outmanoeuvring each other in getting more territory and natural resources, the resulting environment of mutual suspicion and enmity between India and Pakistan is understandable. But 2013 has little resemblance with that era and we live in a totally different world today. Facing similar issues, the South Asian countries need to have a combined voice in international bodies like the World Trade Organisation. Our long-term developmental ambitions are best served by greater regional cooperation. Militant extremism is a shared threat and the security establishments of India and Pakistan need redefinition of security doctrines to deal with this destabilising spectre.

Dr Tahirul Qadri had marketed his credentials well in the western world as an enlightened cleric who stood for interfaith harmony. Similarly, Altaf Hussain has also been quite vocal against the Taliban and had been publicly demanding action against the extremist outfits. In this background, if Dr Qadri had spearheaded a campaign for national consensus on an anti-terrorism strategy and the MQM had extended its support, no one would have doubted the urgency of their calls. But confounding everyone, instead of mentioning the central issue of an existential threat, they are making very amorphous and frivolous demands. If a Canadian citizen suddenly returns to Pakistan and embarks on a one-man-demolition-squad mission threatening the state of Pakistan, one can dismiss this as comic relief in the tense environment of Pakistan. But when the MQM, a well organised political party that enjoys the lion’s share in the coalition government, announces its support and makes available its well-trained cadre of agitators, the development cannot be dismissed as trivial as one can easily smell a rat.

All mainstream parties deserve appreciation that despite many failures they have kept the system in place. We deride militants because they do not accept our legal system and want to impose their will on 180 million people by brandishing their guns. The MQM, despite being an urban-based political party, is not acting much differently. Instead of following the process provided by the constitution, it wants to use extra-constitutional methods to make demands that are as absurd as the demands made by the TTP. To make matters worse, Altaf Hussain, in his telephonic address, threatened journalists of dire consequences if they did not toe his line. From Musa Khan Khel to Saleem Shahzad to Wali Khan Babur, journalists have been falling victim to the guns of those who roam the streets of Pakistan like gods of life and death. The journalist community has therefore rightly taken a serious view of foul mouthing by a political leader.

The year 2013 could be the best of times and it could be the worst of times. Many crucial changes, including the retirement of the Chief Justice and the Chief of Army Staff and drawdown of NATO forces with complete withdrawal of British forces from Afghanistan are scheduled during this year. Whether the organisers of the Qadri-Altaf circus are our own spymasters or international string pullers, Pakistan finds itself in the midst of two crushing jaws. One is moving from the northwestern tribal belt while the other is emerging from the port city of the deep blue sea in the south. We need a strong collective will to survive and decimate all monsters that want to devour the democratic setup. Successful transition of power from one civilian government to another will go a long way in solving our problems through collective action, and not through the magical cures of messiahs.