Dr. Haider Shah

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


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From Afia Siddiqi to Tamerlane Tsarnaev , Daily Times, 27/4/13

OVER A COFFEE : From Afia Siddiqi to Tamerlane Tsarnaev — Dr Haider Shah

After the Boston bombing we should have all felt the urge to see inwards so that the malaise afflicting the Muslim world could be correctly diagnosed and adequately cured 

When the breaking news of Boston Marathon bombings appeared on the TV screen my immediate reaction was Ghalib’s line “kahin eisa na ho yaan bhi wohi kaafir sanam nikle.” (Lest even here the same wicked beloved pops out). I was thinking in terms of characters like the failed New York Square bomber Faisal Shahzad and London suicide bomber Siddiq Khan. In the end, as a partial relief, they were not traced as of Pakistani origin, however, they did turn out to be angry young Muslims. Perhaps making virtue out of necessity, we need to analyse the Boston bombing scenario as a case study.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev, born in 1986 into a Chechen family in Kyrgyzstan moved to Dagestan in 2001. His parents immigrated to the US in 2002 with the younger son Dzhokhar. In July 2003, Tamerlan came to the US along with his two sisters and began pursuing his boxing interest by training and fighting in local tournaments. In 2008, Tamerlane is reported to have developed interest in religion. According to his uncle, Tamerlane once stated that he was not concerned about work or studies because God had a plan for him. The same uncle claimed that the young man’s radicalisation had started not in Chechnya, but in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at a local mosque. According to one source, an Armenian Muslim convert was instrumental in brainwashing the mind of the budding boxer. While on one hand, radicalisation was gradually creeping into the personality of young Tamerlane, he had also been dating Katherine Russell who was then a typical college student and introduced to him by friends in a nightclub. A carefree daughter of a doctor, Katie, as she was then called was a top graduate from her high school in 2007 who wanted to go into the Peace Corps. Instead she ended up as a wife of a radicalised boxer who made her become a hijab-wearing Muslim and leave her university and her dreams. After the birth of their daughter Zahara in 2011, Katherine worked long hours as a home healthcare aide while Tamerlane stayed at home taking care of their daughter.

Such is the spell of jihadi indoctrination that neither a wife who had sacrificed her lifestyle and was working long hours as the bread earner, nor the love of an innocent two-year-old daughter could restrain him from pursuing a terrorist plan. The investigators are still probing various aspects of Tamerlane’s life as he was killed during a shootout with the police. The surviving 19-year-old Dzhokhar is helping the investigators as he is recovering from his wounds.

A wikileaks cable mentions Afia Sddiqi getting arrested by the Afghan police along with her son while she was on a daredevil mission of attacking the governor of Ghazni as a suicide bomber. Her purse contained bombs-making documents. Siddiqi was already a suspect for the FBI because she had been named by Khalid Sheikh Mohammad as an al Qaeda operative.

These case studies tell us that young people like Tsarnaev and Siddiqi who suffer from internal confusion and state of depression find pleasure and contentment in religion. But like any anti-depressant, small doses do not remain effective and the patients continually keep increasing the intake. If we look at the lives of educated Muslim terrorists we can notice one common feature. Some elder is usually there to give a biased view of the world to the youngster. In both Tsarnaev and Siddiqi I identify their mothers for performing this role. These individuals while benefiting from the opportunities offered by their host countries create a parallel world populated by ideas of victimhood, self-pitying, self-glorification and vendetta. As social networks are teeming with sermons of hate preachers and glorification of terrorism as a religious duty, these glory-seeking wannabe jihadists can trigger into action on their own or used by a local franchise of terrorist organisations.

But we seem determined not to learn from anything. After the Boston bombing we should have all felt the urge to see inwards so that the malaise afflicting the Muslim world could be correctly diagnosed and adequately cured. On the contrary, the spin doctors are again deflecting the need for generating the right discourse. For instance, on Pakistani sites a story became viral in which a drone attack on the boat in which the surviving bomber was hiding was theorised to promote self-consoling victimhood mentality among the readers. The comparison was absurd to say the least. How can we not realise that ordinary local police had no problem in accessing the boat in the backyard of a house where the young fugitive was hiding. All the residents of the area fully cooperated with the law-enforcement agencies and went into a partying mode once it became clear that the surviving terrorist had been taken into custody. Compare this to the situation in Waziristan and other inaccessible areas of the FATA. Serving as havens to the terrorist groups even army commandoes find it difficult to enter these areas without massive causalities. Taking advantage of their safe havens the terrorist groups plan and then execute deadly attacks inside Afghanistan. If we cannot enter these areas to bring the culprits to book for violation of our national laws as well as international laws, what other options are available, if drones are not used in retaliation. The fact that the nonsensical comparison between the two scenarios on our social networks sparked so much interest demonstrates how gullible and fickle minded our internet users tend to be. 

How can we save our children from becoming Faisal Shahzad, Afia Siddiqi, Muhammad Siddiq and Tamerlane and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev? That is what we should be pondering in earnest.

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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No to dictates from terrorists, Daily Times, 20/04/13

OVER A COFFEE: No to dictates from terrorists — Dr Haider Shah


In the Islamic emirate that the TTP wants to establish there is no concept of an individual citizen or human rights

Last week was cataclysmic for the forthcoming elections in many ways. The deadly attack on the convoy of the provincial leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz Sanaullah Zehri, the suicide bomb targeting Ghulam Ahmed Bilour in NA-1, and loss of life of an Awami National Party (ANP) candidate in Swat occurred in quick succession. In Islamabad, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI official Dr Shireen Mazari was furious as a group of angry party workers went berserk outside the Bani Gala residence of their party leader Imran Khan. 
The deadliness of an attack is not to be gauged necessarily by the extent of havoc it causes. There are other factors on the basis of which we can rank various acts of violence in terms of their viciousness. First, the identity of the attackers. Second, the grievances that led to the attack. Third, the degree of spread of the organisation. and fourth, the likely effect on our daily life if the attackers are successful in their stated objectives. Now let me examine the three attacks on the basis of these factors.
According to media reports, the responsibility of the attack on Sanaullah Zehri was claimed by the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) that openly wants secession from Pakistan. The militant organisation is believed to have 500 to 1,000 fighters. The organisation motivates its members by referring to the perceived mistreatment of the Baloch people by the state institutions of Pakistan. In terms of the third factor we can say that the activities of this organisation are limited to a few areas of Baluchistan. Even the mainstream Baloch nationalist leaders do not support their cause as they are participating in the forthcoming elections. There is a hope that once a genuine democratic government is elected in the forthcoming elections, peace and tranquillity may return to Balochistan. The most important factor is the effect on my daily life as an average Pakistani citizen. In the unforeseeable scenario of the BLA being successful in making Balochistan an independent state, I do not see any significant effect as far as our daily life is concerned. Of course, some economic loss will be caused to the centre due to loss of current gas and other mineral reserves, but when East Pakistan became Bangladesh there was hardly any direct effect on the life of an average Pakistani.
Now consider the attack on the PTI’s chief Imran Khan as reported in the media. According to a section of the media the attackers were disgruntled workers from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) who had come to register their protest over the award of tickets in the province. Bickering over tickets is not uncommon, and hence, the reported scuffle at the residence of Khan cannot be compared with the terrorist attacks in Balochistan and KP. The grievances were of political nature and can be resolved at the party level. A very localised problem, it cannot threaten our way of life by any stretch of the imagination. 
When we turn to the attacks on the ANP leaders the situation becomes entirely different. Who are these Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) people and whose grievances do they represent? Sheikh Mujibur Rehman represented the Bengali people. The BLA claims to be fighting on behalf of the Baloch people. Who do the TTP represent? If they claim religious credentials then already parties like the Jamiat-e-Ulema-i-Islam and Jaamat-e-Islami represent that section of society. If they claim to represent the tribal people then they should have no qualms about winning the elections and then implement whatever they want to. In terms of their spread of activities, the TTP problem is also much different. While the Afghan Taliban tend to be more nationalistic, and hence concerned merely with establishing their control in Afghanistan, Pakistani Taliban are more comrades of faith who harbour dreams of establishing a faith-based community after destroying the existing constitution-based system of the Pakistani state. This leads us to the most important question of the likely effect of their success on our daily life. 
In the case of the attackers on Zehri and Khan we observe that our daily life will hardly feel any change if the attackers were successful in realising their aims. On the other hand, if the TTP is able to win the battle and seizes control we will see a very direct impact on our daily life. From the dress we wear to the music we enjoy, from religious rituals we observe to our relations with the external world, everything will change. In the Islamic emirate that the TTP wants to establish there is no concept of an individual citizen or human rights. What daily life will be like we either need to read Dhanak, a novelette by Ghulam Abbas (recently staged as Hotel Mohenjodaro by Ajoka theatre), or alternatively, social life in Afghanistan during the Taliban rule or in Swat valley during the heyday of Maulvi Fazlullah can give us some hint about the likely effect on our lives if the TTP is successful in its stated aim of establishing an Islamic emirate after demolishing the existing state of Pakistan. 
When we examine various violent attacks in terms of the proposed four factors, we can clearly see that the ANP is not wrong when it claims that it is fighting the war of survival of Pakistan. I may have many issues with the level of performance of the ANP government, but when the TTP dictates to us, it becomes necessary to retort clearly and sternly. We do not take orders. We would vote for the parties that you are targeting to express our solidarity with them. This election is a defining moment in our history. And we cannot allow terrorists to terrify us into forcing their political agenda on us.

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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A bit of rationality, please! , Daily Times, 13/4/13

OVER A COFFEE: A bit of rationality, please! —Dr Haider Shah


A bad law is a bad law and should never be left on the statute book. The blasphemy law and certain faith-propelled insertions in the Constitution need rationalising 

After registering embarrassingly grotesque episodes, some sanity seemed to have returned by the timely rebuke of the Lahore High Court to certain misguided decisions of the returning officers. Otherwise, it appeared as if the long shadow of Mangal Bagh of Khyber Agency was cast on the Pakistani courts as well. 
Article 62 of Pakistan’s Constitution provides for a list of seven qualifications, categorised a-g. The first three comprise matters of fact such as citizenship, minimum age of 25 years for the National Assembly and 30 years for the Senate with enrolment as a voter. Fourth, one requires good character and observance of Islamic injunctions. This is a matter of opinion rather than a fact. For a member of the Taliban group, those who are associated with the vaccination campaign or population welfare schemes are people of doubtful character who do not observe the injunctions of Islam. For an average resident of Charsadda or Mardan, a woman of good character does not leave her house without proper purdah (burqa/veil). Members of various sectarian groups, for example Salafi Sunni Muslims, Barelvi and Shias, consider each other not following the proper injunctions of Islam. Who has given any individual the authority to decide on matters that remain highly controversial and divisive? The best solution, therefore, is to presume everyone has a good character unless he or she has been convicted by a court of law for a criminal offence. The fifth qualification refers to ‘adequate knowledge of Islamic teachings’, ‘practice of obligatory duties’ and ‘abstention from sins’. These are also matters of opinion, as for many jihad is an obligatory duty while others believe it is the prerogative of the state only to declare a war. What about observance of basic civic duties? Does it count as an obligatory Islamic duty or not and how many can qualify on this account? The sixth qualification requires the candidate to be sagacious, righteous and non-profligate, honest and ameen (honest). As these adjectives are highly value-loaded, the sub-clause itself provides a mechanism for operationalising the qualification requirement by implying that a person will be assumed to possess these qualities unless a court of law had ruled contrary to this presumption of innocence. The last qualification requires the person not to have worked against ‘the integrity of the country’ or ‘opposed the ideology of Pakistan’. What is the integrity of Pakistan and what is its ideology? Every country exists to provide a secure home to its residents and maximise their welfare. Isn’t this the ideology of Pakistan as well?
A bad law is a bad law and should never be left on the statute book. The blasphemy law and certain faith-propelled insertions in the Constitution need rationalising. There are two ways of rationalising Article 62 of the Constitution. One, the four sub-clauses that pertain to subjective opinions should be deleted. Second, a general proviso is added for these four qualifications whereby the power of ascertaining these subjective qualifications should be vested in the superior judiciary and/or voters. If a particular candidate has been convicted by a court of law in a criminal offence it would be deemed as evidence against the qualifications required under the four clauses. If no conviction from a court is in the field, we better let the voters decide on these qualifications.
We all know that every organisation, whether a small business firm or a multinational enterprise or any faith community, comprises three fundamental constituents. One, physical assets; second, humans who use those assets, and third, agreements among the humans how to use those assets so that various human needs are best satisfied. We can call those mutual agreements ‘systems’. With different systems, people with similar training background possessing similar assets can produce different results. In the business world one organisation quickly imitates another organisation’s better systems if it finds itself struggling. That’s why the term ‘isomorphism’ is used by institutional theory scholars to denote the trend of organisations becoming very similar in a short span of time. Societies and countries are also organisations. They also imitate good things from each other and, consequently, we see that advanced economies look so similar and developing economies also register very similar problems.
Imagination is a human faculty that has set us apart from the animal world but we also know that when our bodies overproduce any essential secretion, we get seriously ill. Similarly, when our imagination faculty is overworking and we populate our external world with the imaginary world created by our beliefs regarding how the world works and what is our place in the scheme of things, we begin deriving vicarious pleasure and, hence, do not feel the urge for improvement by learning from better performing societies. We must acknowledge that every human is a rational person. We all have, however, bounded rationalities dictated by our previous experiences and environmental constraints. Rationality should, therefore, mean three things. First, explaining one’s views without any threatening demands for acceptance. Second, being ready to listen to others’ point of view. Third, if some strength is seen in the opposing view, one should be ready to amend/change one’s own view accordingly and not feel any shame in doing this. 
Pakistan is the sixth largest nation and 27th biggest economy in the world. It is neighbouring the two biggest economies of the near future — China and India. In order to be an international player we need to update our laws. We want Pakistan to be a major economic player in accordance with her true potential. That is only possible if we use rationality in our internal and external policies in place of sheer emotionalism or misguided patriotism.

[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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The return of Napoleon?, Daily Times, 6/3/13

OVER A COFFEE: The return of Napoleon?—Dr Haider Shah


Who can ignore the perception that if no action is taken against Musharraf the message everyone will get is that ‘to err is civilian’ and that ‘men in khaki can do no wrong’ 

The run-up to the elections in Pakistan is like a comedy thriller. When a news item was shared on our rationalist society forum that the election commission returning officers were making candidates recite kalimas’ (lines from scriptures) as a part of eligibility screening I took it as a 1st April joke. And when it was reported that Mussarat Shaheen, a veteran Pashto movies actress successfully passed the screening test after she recited ‘Ayat-ul-kursi’, I again laughed it out as something coming from a prankster. But soon horror gripped my smiling face when I saw these news items on the front pages of national dailies. The biggest comic shocker, however, proved to be the news about the rejection of Ayaz Amir’s nomination papers. Amir is not just an ordinary member of parliament, nor is he an ordinary column writer. As a politician he is considered an impartial and sane voice not constrained by party loyalties. He was the only MNA who had the guts to oppose openly the peace deal with terrorists in Malakand. Many write columns. With Amir it becomes a perfected art. Rejecting his nomination papers is a stark reminder that from the Nobel Prize winner Dr Abdus Salam to Ayaz Amir, we have let pygmies decide for us the meaning of patriotism and literary achievements.
Judging by these developments it seems that either the conspiracy theorists were not entirely wrong about new alignments in the establishment or that the Election Commission and Supreme Court both have capitulated to the demands of a handful of pious journalists, who daily dictate on the front pages of national dailies or in talk shows what the future of this country should look like. If that is how things are going to be, for once, I also want to add my voice to the slogan ‘tabdeeli aagaee hei’ (change has come).
In the backdrop of these events when the return of Pervez Musharraf is looked into one finds the situation even more perplexing and inexplicable. Here is a man who is wanted in so many murder cases, and who in sheer disregard of his oath twice committed acts of treason. Here is a man who incarcerated judges including the present Chief Justice and then tried to kill the electronic media in its infancy once it sided with the popular movement for the restoration of the Chief Justice. The threats from terrorists and the prospect of a trial under Article Six did not stop him from staging a comeback. Even a person of ordinary intelligence can imagine what must have been happening in the holy Arab lands that culminated in his safe return. If the political parties have not taken much notice of his return, one can appreciate their situation with some degree of unease. Both the Pakistan People’s Party and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, as aspirants to lead the next government, cannot ignore the demands of the western powers relayed through Saudi Arabia and other Gulf sheikhdoms. The case of the Supreme Court is, however, altogether different. It is the custodian of the constitution and rule of law in the country. It earned respect and appreciation by fireworks of judicial activism. We have seen it exercising the suo motu power against many offenders — from the liquor bottle case of Atiqa Odho to NICL case involving the former prime minister and top civilian bureaucrats. It is, therefore, not surprising that when a proclaimed offender in high profile murder cases and a fugitive, after an unsuccessful coup, roams freely in the country, we expect the Supreme Court to use its suo motu power if the government is not doing what is required under the rule of law.
Ever since the judiciary was restored after a heroic struggle I have been regularly defending all decisions taken by the Supreme Court in good faith and with noble intentions. As an admirer and well-wisher, I find the current situation created by the return of the former dictator very difficult to understand, and even harder to defend the conduct of the superior judiciary. Who can ignore the perception that if no action is taken against Musharraf the message everyone will get is that ‘to err is civilian’ and that ‘men in khaki can do no wrong’. A politician with a fake degree is to be disqualified and sent to jail while a blind eye is to be turned to acts of tampering with the constitution. The speeches made by the Chief Justice and remarks of other honourable judges on the importance of the rule of law sound hollow if people see a coup maker roam free enjoying perks and privileges of the state. I find it increasingly difficult to counter the argument of my friends who suggest that before this honourable court ‘All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others’. The court never for a moment thought that in the Swiss account case or in the NICL case or the Hajj scandal case it was the job of the government to carry out its duty. The departure from the norm in the case of Musharraf is, therefore, exceptionally striking.
If Musharraf has to visit the court to seek relief like a common citizen, risking a shoe or two during the process, the spectacle may help strengthening of the democratic order in the country. But if this ‘Napoleon’ is back as a part of a much wider and deeper conspiracy woven by spymasters to restore democracy-gilded Bonapartism in the country then the complete silence of all major stakeholders does not augur well. With guarded optimism, one hopes that the doctrine of necessity did not accompany Musharraf back home when his plane landed at the Karachi airport.

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