Dr. Haider Shah

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

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Anti-terrorism policy alone is not enough , Daily Times, 25 January, 2014

Anti-terrorism policy alone is not enough



Just as we bid farewell to an eventful 2013, hardly did we know that much worse awaited us in the first month of the New Year. An unprecedented rise in terrorist activities has been witnessed as, from ordinary polio workers to services personnel, from political workers to worshippers belonging to various faith communities, all have fallen prey to the hounds of militant extremism. The recent surgical operations in the tribal areas might be a precursor to a full-blown operation against the militant groups but can a military operation alone remedy a situation that is the result of our choices in the past? That is the million dollar question we need to consider more dispassionately.  

As calls for an anti-terrorism strategy are becoming a rising chorus, it is useful to first understand what ‘strategy’ is. A strategy answers four simple questions. One, where are we at the moment? Two, what did we do in the past that brought us here? Three, where do we want to be? And, four, how do we get there? Perhaps we can help the government devise its strategy if it is finding it hard to come up with one by answering these four questions. However, the thrust of analysis should be anti-extremism and not anti-terrorism. The latter amounts to curing symptoms and not addressing the causes as terrorism is the outcome of the choices we made in the past in various fields of public policy. In my last piece, I had argued that faith is used by different sections of society differently depending on their special needs. While the haves enjoy religion for contentment and social ritual purposes, the have-nots use communal faith for organising and motivational purposes. If the ruling classes are using religion to maximise their social control, it is very naïve to expect that the deprived classes will not use it for their own empowerment by motivational slogans of jihad and sharia. 

Where we are is not hard to answer. From businessmen to sportspersons, everyone shudders at the thought of visiting the country of Buddha, Bulleh Shah and Rehman Baba. “You are free; you are free to go to your temples” was the promise of the founder of the nation and today no member of any faith community feels safe in his/her place of worship. What were our choices in the past that led us to the situation we find ourselves in is the second question. Political leaders like Imran Khan and Munawar Hasan make us believe with their ‘Amreeka ki jang’ (this is the US’s war) rhetoric that it was all rosy before 9/11 in the country. In reality, religious and provincial rights questions began rocking the boat soon after Pakistan came into being. Religious extremism demonstrated its first show of muscle when martial law had to be imposed in 1953 to quell riots spearheaded by leaders of the Khatm-e-Nabuwwat movement. We kept appeasing the religious establishment and it kept gaining more muscle. 

Unfortunately, while the founder of the country was sincere in his vision of a secular and liberal state, his deeds did not always support his words. In his enthusiasm to outmanoeuvre Nehru, he played the religion card in the tribal areas and, in order to lure the tribesmen, promised them unrealistic and unwarranted terms for joining Pakistan. As an unfortunate corollary of this original sin, use of tribesmen for waging proxy wars in our neighbouring countries further sowed the seeds of the troubles that we now see mushrooming all around us. Adoption of religion-coated motivational doctrines by our military institutions further paved the way for encouragement of jihadi discourse. In the media and educational institutions, sermonisers were given a free hand to spread their discourse of hatred and bigotry while progressive rationalist thinkers were actively discouraged. This environment proved an ideal breeding place for the militants who now, like Frankenstein’s monster, are threatening the existence of their inventors. 

Once the first two questions are honestly answered, finding answers to the remaining two questions is not difficult. We want to be an emerging economic tiger like India, Turkey, Brazil and Vietnam. In order to attain that desired ideal we need to have an anti-extremism policy, which should encompass all spheres of our socio-economic life. The syllabus of mainstream and religious institutions will have to be purged of any extremist content. The media and educational institutions need to discourage unbridled discourse of hate and should instead promote critical, rationalist thinking. Those who challenge the writ of the state should be summarily taken out of business. Most importantly, necessary amends need to be made to address the original sin. There is no place for tribalism and safe havens in 21st century Pakistan and hence FATA needs to be brought into the general rule of law with accompanying duties and responsibilities. 
As an emergency measure, demolishing the terrorism infrastructure of extremist gangs needs to be high on the national agenda. This short-term policy needs to be supplemented by a long-term anti-extremism policy with a wider outlook. Before the elections last year, I had stressed upon Nawaz Sharif to find the missing ‘E’ of extremism in his party’s manifesto, which centred on ‘economy, energy and education’. Surgical operations can bring some temporary relief but only a comprehensive solution based on redefining our foreign policy paradigm and rationalising the use of religion in our public policy can guarantee long-term peace and progress. 

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Constitution, treason and Musharraf, Daily Times, January 18, 2014

A stable period of uninterrupted rule by a line of monarchs would often result in peace and progress while regular rebellions would result in civil wars, bringing misery to the ruled

Musharraf’s trial appears to be an unpleasant distraction in the backdrop of the threatening socio-economic challenges Pakistan is facing today. However, should we resurrect the doctrine of necessity once again to deal with unpleasant situations and obnoxious distractions?

Of late, many political leaders like Altaf Hussain and Pervez Elahi are unequivocally supporting their former patron. Many more find openly supporting the retired army chief a bit daunting so they play their helpful role by confusing the national discourse. I was almost shocked when I heard Mr Asfandyar Wali Khan of the Awami National Party reading out lines from a script the other night in an exclusive television talk show. Mr Asfandyar supported Ahmad Raza Qasuri’s floated idea that Musharraf should not be called a traitor but merely someone who subverted the constitution. Whether it emanated from lack of knowledge or on a wink from a shared godfather, it was least expected from the house of redshirts.

The legal doctrine of ‘treason’ is rooted deep in its political origins. At a general level, it is most succinctly defined as a breach of allegiance. As historically European countries were ruled by various houses of hereditary rulers, the notion of treason emerged as a breach of allegiance to the person of the monarch. A stable period of uninterrupted rule by a line of monarchs would often result in peace and progress while regular rebellions would result in civil wars, bringing misery to the ruled. Any plan or attempt to harm the person of the monarch or overthrow the monarchy was therefore considered the gravest of all crimes, thus giving rise to the notion of ‘high treason’, which stood distinguished from acts of petty treason.

In a monarchy, therefore, ‘high treason’ was defined as harming the person of the monarch, as this in turn amounted to damaging the state. In a constitutional form of government, individuals become less important as the constitution replaces the person of the monarch to give stability and strength to the state. Just as the monarch symbolises the soul and essence of the nation in a monarchy, it is the constitution that acts as the living heart in the body of a democratic country. The notion of equating high treason to subversion of a constitution can be traced back to the ancient city-state of Athens. Socrates was tried by the Senate on charges of high treason against the state as he constantly propagated against the Athenian system of popular democracy. Athenian democracy had then recovered, with a great trauma, from the despotic rule of 30 tyrants and therefore it considered any voice of support to potential subversion a grave offence punishable by death.

In European countries, male convicts of ‘high treason’ were beheaded and quartered while women were burnt at the stake. The British notion of high treason found its way into the US constitution as well where it got redefined. As the US faced the gravest threat from armed rebellions against the union, treason appeared in article three of the US constitution as waging a war against the union. We find mention of ‘high treason’ in the legislation of many other countries as well. For instance, Article 39 of the constitution of Ireland defines treason in terms of ‘levying war against the state’, or attempting by force of arms or other violent means to overthrow the organs of government established by the constitution. Similarly, the Crimes Act 1961 of New Zealand defines treason in terms of harming the person of the Queen, waging war against the country and using force for the purpose of overthrowing the government of New Zealand. In the case of Switzerland, the Swiss Criminal Code defines high treason as “changing the constitution of the confederation or of a canton, removing the constitutional authorities of the state from office or making them unable to exercise their authority.”

The upshot of my previous analysis is that the notion of high treason is not pure legal fiction but rather represents the political ideal of a nation that wants to preserve its stability by securing its symbol of permanence. Pakistan was established through a political and legal battle, and the founder of the nation envisaged it to be run on the basis of the rule of law. After many hiccups and tribulations, the political leadership of the country finally came of age and, in 1973, drafted a unanimously approved constitution. The fathers of the constitution, representing national consensus, were firm in their belief that Pakistan had suffered due to autocratic and despotic rulers and only strong adherence to constitutionalism could save it from further disasters. They therefore placed this shared belief in the constitution as article six whose section one, after the 18th amendment, reads: “Any person who abrogates or subverts or suspends or holds in abeyance, or attempts or conspires to abrogate or subvert or suspend or hold in abeyance, the constitution by use of force or show of force or by any other unconstitutional means shall be guilty of high treason.”
Instead of confusing the national narrative it would be better if we leave it to the special court to decide whether the offence of ‘high treason’ had been committed or not by the former army chief. The doctrine of necessity was shown the exit door with much difficulty. Mr Asfandyar and the like should not open a window to help it stage a comeback.

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Rationalising the Taliban’s creed, Daily Times, ◾January 11, 2014

‘They are not true Muslims’ is what many say when the extremist activities of the Taliban are discussed. This line of argument betrays our lack of comprehension of the role religious faith plays in our social life

In my previous writings, I have often written about the existential threat the state faces from militant extremists. At times though, it is helpful to question one’s own longstanding viewpoint and become the devil’s advocate. The glare of confidence in our truthfulness can blind us to understanding a phenomenon that may not be so simple. We should also consider searching for the motivational drivers behind the rise of the Taliban movement.

From theology to management control, we find that power is the central theme of many disciplines. Our innate survival instinct wants us to be powerful. From family matters to political life, the one who is powerful has it all. General Musharraf is in the news these days so let us begin our analysis by referring to his institution, i.e. the Pakistan army. Sometime back, the corruption scandals of three retired army generals appeared in the media. Not only did the generals scornfully brush aside questions by media investigators but, in a surprise move, their cases were removed from civilian custody. The FIA team investigating Musharraf’s case reported helplessly a few weeks ago that it failed to enter the gates of the GHQ to complete its investigation. Now the retired general, charged with high treason under the highest law of the land, ended up sipping coffee in the comforting environment of an armed forces hospital while the whole country kept waiting with bated breath for his appearance before the court. When an institution is served with 20 percent of our fiscal resources, and has guns, why should it then bow before the ordinary laws of the land?

Sometime back we saw on CCTV footage how the proud killer of Shahzeb was seen off by the state functionaries at Karachi airport and how the unrepentant criminal made victory signs while facing his murder trial. Of what use is the business empire if the loving son has to face the law of the land like an ordinary criminal? Power may not necessarily always come through guns or a bank balance. Organised groups of people also use their collective power to remain above the law. For instance, in the recent past we have seen lawyers attacking policemen and thrashing judges in their courts. However, the matter is always hushed up quickly. Neither members of the judiciary nor lawyers’ leaders are ever heard condemning this brazen criminal behaviour. Instead, they are always seen supporting their power base. Similarly, doctors use hospitals as weapons of offence, and transporters cripple business activity when any tax is imposed on them.

With this backdrop now I come to the case of the Taliban and their creed. Last year, attending the funeral rites of my late father, I participated in Quran reciting by a mosque cleric and his students who were 10 years old on average. Mostly orphans and abandoned by society, those little ones could neither aspire to attend a posh public school nor could they lay their hands upon modern gadgets. The sermon of their madrassa (seminary) teacher, promising them the friendship of God and his Prophet (PBUH), was a source of hope and motivation in their empty lives. While society had written them off, the madrassa gave them a living space and populated their lives with dreams and aspirations. In the recent past, such socially downtrodden classes were organised by Marxist and other anti-status quo revolutionaries. Those revolutionaries used violence as ‘propaganda by deed’ to weaken the state and carve out a space for themselves. Now Marxism may have lost its appeal due to the collapse of the Soviet Union but the socially deprived classes are still out there.

‘They are not true Muslims’ is what many say when the extremist activities of the Taliban are discussed. This line of argument betrays our lack of comprehension of the role religious faith plays in our social life. People use faith in different ways, depending on their psychological needs. To put it simply, I see three distinct uses of faith. One, for anaesthetic and anti-depressant purposes, which Marx called opium for the masses. Religious faith, with the promise of a better tomorrow either in this world or the afterlife, makes painful and miserable lives bearable for a majority of downtrodden people. Two, as an after dinner cocktail, where the powerful sections of society enjoy religion because it legitimises their social position. Third, for ecstatic purposes, where socially discarded sections find motivation to organise themselves and bring about a revolutionary change. Nietzsche and Marx might have blamed Christianity for making Christians timid but we have seen Martin Luther King Jr and Desmond Tutu using religion to energise the struggle for civil rights in the US and South Africa respectively.

The upshot of my previous discussion is that what is true religion depends on who is using it and for what purpose. The have-nots are more interested in the organising and motivational side of communal faith. When reading history we tend to be cherry pickers. The haves enjoy discussing theological and philosophical issues and are very selective in citing incidents from the past. The have-nots, on the other hand, are more interested in the organised struggle aspect of religion. In this way, they not only regain their identity but are also acknowledged as ‘stakeholders’ in a society, which had, by and large, written them off.

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Nawaz Sharif in the footsteps of Alexander Burnes — III , Daily Times, January 04, 2014

Nawaz Sharif in the footsteps of Alexander Burnes — III                Dr Haider Shah

If Nawaz Sharif followed in the footsteps of Alexander Burnes, he needs to remain steadfast in focusing upon commercial relations with Afghanistan at the regional level


Revisiting the 1830s we found in the previous parts that owing to the wide gap of expectations between Dost Muhammad and the Indian government, the Burnes mission failed. The mission that started off as a commercial expedition ended up as a military misadventure, often referred to as ‘Auckland’s folly’. The Governor General Lord Auckland began his new office as a man of peace but gradually transformed into a warmonger. His ‘Simla Manifesto’, a precursor of the ‘strategic depth doctrine’, stated that in order to ensure the welfare of India, the British must have a trustworthy ally on India’s western frontier. To achieve the stated objective, Shah Shuja, the fugitive former king of Afghanistan, was installed as the new ruler in Kabul by despatching ‘the Army of the Indus’ to Afghanistan. What followed after two years in 1842 had been predicted by Mountstuart Elphinstone, a respected administrator and historian of India who had headed a mission to Afghanistan thirty years ago: “If an army was sent up the passes, and if we could feed it, no doubt we might take Cabul and set up Shah Soojah; but it was hopeless to maintain him in a poor, cold, strong and remote country, among so turbulent a people.” Similarly the Duke of Wellington had also warned: “The consequence of once crossing the Indus to settle a government in Afghanistan would be a perennial march into that country.” The ill prepared Indian troops were caught unawares by a sudden tribal insurrection raising slogans of jihad against infidels. Burnes became one of the first victims of ghazi (warrior) insurgents. The Kabul garrison was decimated as the waiting tribesmen in the mountains did not honour the safe passage treaty.
The purpose of this retelling of history is not to fix the responsibility for events that happened almost two centuries ago. However, we can draw some lessons from past events to make us wiser in our conduct today. We need to appreciate that Afghanistan is a difficult stretch of land that has remained suspended in the past for too long. In terms of human evolution, how a society is organised gives one community a competitive advantage over others. In ancient times, when warfare was based on the skills of horsemanship and sword fighting, the barbarian tribal groups in Eurasia proved unstoppable. The Germanic tribal invaders routed the Roman Empire, Taimur the Lame and Mahmood Ghaznavi ravaged Indian urban communities and the Mongols destroyed the Abbasid empire. The invention of gunpowder and the advent of the industrial age changed the scenario altogether as settled urban communities were better suited to reap the benefit. Urban societies, thanks to their settled way of life, also were quick to develop new financial institutions to cater to the needs of mass scale industrial production. If the British were successful in colonising other nations, it was because of the industrial and financial institutions that supported their war effort. With regards to the Afghan problem, Steven Pressfield, the author of The Afghan Campaign, to some extent is right in stating: “The real force in Afghanistan isn’t Islamism or jihadism. It’s tribalism.”
Change in any organisation comes in two ways. Either the organisation gradually evolves and allows itself to change or some external organisation brings the change after subjugating it. The problem of Afghanistan, despite complex upheavals, can be reduced to one simple observation. Afghan society has neither allowed itself to change naturally nor has it let foreign agents change it for the better. Its tragedy is summarised by Ghani Khan’s quote that I have used earlier: “He loves fighting but hates to be a soldier.” The tribal identity-driven set up is very efficient for insurgencies and warlordism. However, it is least helpful for a modern state defended by a disciplined national army. The myth is that the Afghans were never defeated. The reality is that from ancient times to the present day the country was occupied by armies of various invaders: Alexander, Changez Khan, the British, Soviet Union and NATO. What we learn though is that imposing a ruler does not change the weak social infrastructure that has impeded the evolution of a modern state. What Afghanistan needs is long term assistance from external agents in helping Afghan society make a break from its troubled past. 
If Nawaz Sharif followed in the footsteps of Alexander Burnes, he needs to remain steadfast in focusing upon commercial relations with Afghanistan at the regional level. He should not let Auckland’s folly repeat itself by losing a firm grip on his new initiative and letting the strategic depth strategists play imperial games in the region. A stable, modern and democratic Afghanistan is a guarantor of peace and progress for all countries in the region. We will be helping our own cause if we help Afghanistan in her institutions building programme. What Afghanistan needs is help in establishing physical infrastructure, universities, revenue collecting organisations, law enforcement authorities, media and the like. Afghanistan is a troubled country and to a great extent we have aggravated her problems in the past. If other entities, from NATO to India, are helping Afghanistan in institution building, instead of frowning, we should welcome it and also lend a supporting hand. While Burnes failed, Nawaz Sharif can win himself a Nobel Peace Prize if he succeeds by remaining sincere to his new initiatives of promoting regional peace.