Dr. Haider Shah

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

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OVER A COFFEE: Hamid Mir and the failing state, The Daily Times, April 26, 2014

Dr Haider Shah
The main issue here is not if the charge against the ISI and its chief is correct or not. What concerns me more is why such a situation prevails in the country where we are not clear about whose side our men in uniform are on

They both landed in Karachi on the same fateful Saturday. One was the former dictator charged with the offence of ‘high treason’. The other was a journalist who had been campaigning against any deal, which would facilitate the fleeing of the dictator. Enjoying his VVIP protocol, the dictator is readying his suitcases to board for a flight aboard. Riddled with six bullets,the journalist is making a slow recovery in Agha Khan Hospital while a section of the media is running a campaign to malign the victim.This is how Pakistan appears to the outside world.

Recently, the influential Foreign Policy magazine compiled a list of the top 25 failed states of the world. Mostly civil war stricken African states appear on that list. Pakistan occupies the unlucky 13th positionon the list. Personally, I have always maintained that it is unfair to categorise Pakistan as a failed state. It has a constitutionally elected democratic set up, independent judiciary and an assertive media. The inability of the state to provide security to its citizens while the non-state actors grow in strength and influence does make Pakistan arguably a‘failing state’ but not a ‘failed state’. The Hamid Mir saga, however, plunges the state into a new quagmire. Trapped between its democratic credentials of being a media friendly political party and pressure from the military establishment, the PML-Ngovernment seems to be awkwardly getting crushed.

Judging by the discourse in the media after the assassination attempt on Hamid Mir,it is not hard to see that dehumanisation has gripped society to its core.For promoting their commercial interests and settling petty old scores, various groupings can happily go down to any low. The disturbing evidence emerged as soon as Hamid Mir was attacked. Almost all channels, except the one he works for, not only censored this shocking news but, to add insult to injury,kept reportingMusharraf’s movement from ChakShahzad to Karachi. The silence on other channels only changed into a loud chorus when they were fed with an excuse to curse the victim. Some began a marathon smear campaign against the bed ridden, bullet-wounded journalist. Veterans like Zaid Hamid are now joined by the new kid on the block,Faisal Raza Abidi, to issue certificates and medals of loyalty and treason.

Not that I see things in black and white, and do not find any problems with our electronic media. Not that I find any affinity with the worldview of AnsarAbbasi but I would be proving myself a real ‘liberal fascist’ if I allow my differences of opinion on certain fundamental issues to influence my position when these journalists are taking a stand on a just cause and are facing life threats. As President Kennedy once borrowed a quote from Dante’s Inferno, “The hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who, in time, of moral crisis preserve their neutrality”, we cannot pretend to be balanced analysts by not taking a clear side. The main issue here is not if the charge against the ISI and its chief is correct or not. I do not know;we are often not even supposed to know. What concerns me more is why such a situation prevails in the country where we are not clear about whose side our men in uniform are on. If journalists are suspected of breaking any law or involvement in anti-state activities the intelligence agencies can collect evidence and get them prosecuted in a court of law through the police. That is how terrorist suspects are arrested and prosecuted in the UK. What are the laws that empower the personnel of intelligence agencies and which laws define their boundaries? My concern is that I do not have an answer.

Once, Mr Farhatullah Babar had asked thissame question in the senate but the then senate chairman nervously did not allow the question to be discussed. In SaleemShahzad’s case, the inquiry commission recommended a legal framework for regularising the work of intelligence agencies. Yes, the media has been, on many occasions, irresponsiblebut media channels work under accountability pressures of the market at least. The viewers can easily switch over to MubasharLuqman and Zaid Hamid if they do not like Hamid Mir and NajamSethi. The customer is under no compulsion to stay loyalto any channel. However, in the case of law enforcement agencies, no such free choices are available. If there is the need for a media code there is an even greater need for a code to regulate the affairs of the intelligence agencies. Wali Babar was allegedly killed by the militant wing of the MQM, Raza Rumi was ambushed by a banned sectarian outfit andExpress News cameramen were killed by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). If, in the case of SaleemShahzad and Hamid Mir, fingers get pointed at our guardians then it is a very alarming situation. The captain of a football team should not be apprehensive of the self-goals of his own players.

The channels accusing Hamid Mir’s private television channel, not a long time ago, ran live press conferences of Malik Riaz where the then chief justice was vehemently abused. They also aired malicious speeches of Faisal Raza Abidi. No heavens came crashing down then.

The activists of certain political parties in Karachi often disrupt various channels. When people in uniform conduct themselves in the same way I find it more difficult to argue my case with those who call Pakistan a failed state.

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ISPR — there is no licence for ‘waqar’!, The Daily Times, April 12, 2014


War is a dirty business and soldiers resort to ruthless behaviour in the heat of action, but when the video footage of the execution of a wounded Taliban militant by a British soldier was made public by the media, the young soldier was tried and awarded a life sentence

A press release issued by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) a few days ago increased the political temperature of the country. Not surprisingly, the ensuing debate in the media did not help in bringing the mercury back to the desired level. 

Living with dignity is the natural born desire of every individual but there is no licence for ‘waqar’ (dignity). We have to work hard to earn waqar and then work even harder to retain it. I hold in high esteem the sacrifices of policemen in the war against extremist militancy but this does not mean that when I see a nine-month-old baby appearing in court as an accused in an attempted murder case, I will not criticise the police for this disgraceful display of unbridled power. Similarly, I have the deepest regard for the progressive views of many PPP leaders like Raza Rabbani, Taj Haider and Farhatullah Babar but this does not mean that we will not ask questions about poor governance when the party is in government. The PML-N also has many capable personalities within its fold but it does not mean that we cannot criticise its negotiations policy. Yes, the case of the army and judiciary is a bit different as even the constitution forbids bringing disrepute to the two organisations. However, every ‘right’ has a corresponding ‘obligation’. As long as the army adheres to the obligation of not dealing with the public, its right of immunity from insulting remarks also remains inviolable. 

The US army is highly respected in the US and many of its generals have been elected as presidents or have served as secretaries of state. However, when the story of Abu Ghraib prison was published in The New Yorker magazine, the US army did not issue press releases about waqar but instead carried out criminal proceedings against the culprits. Similarly, General McArthur was fired by President Truman and General McCrystal was dismissed by Obama on charges of insubordination. No press releases were issued for the preservation of the waqar of the US army. War is a dirty business and soldiers resort to ruthless behaviour in the heat of action, but when the video footage of the execution of a wounded Taliban militant by a British soldier was made public by the media, the young soldier was tried and awarded a life sentence. The British army did not plead for special treatment. Perhaps the Pakistan army can learn a lot from its mother institution.

Once the British monarchs would banish their opponents to the Tower of London. The author of Utopia, Sir Thomas Moore, when he refused to accept King Henry VIII as the spiritual head over the queen’s divorce issue, was tried for treason and his severed head was fixed upon a pike over London Bridge for a month. Today the British monarch is merely a symbolic head of the state. Pakistan is no exception and is exposed to the agents of change as well. Political parties, which used to adopt no holds barred wrestling style manoeuvres against each other, have learnt how to respect the living space of all political organisations. The judiciary has disconnected from the past and the media has also learnt how to perform its watchdog role more effectively. We assumed that, like everybody else, the army as an institution had also embraced the much-needed change and was evolving into a responsible and respectful security institution. The press release by the ISPR, unfortunately, blew all this up.

I cringe with discomfort when I listen to PPP leaders citing shahadat (martyrdom) slogans even when the issue under discussion is governance. This distastefulness is no less when I find retired servicemen turned defence analysts state that the army should not be criticised because of its sacrifices for the country. The armies of all countries render such commendable sacrifices, whether India or the UK, but they do not ask for immunity when Tehelka exposes corruption or the British government reduces the size of the military. A country and its army have a reciprocal relationship of sacrifices. We provide rewarding careers to young men and women in search of jobs by sacrificing one fourth of our national income. In return, military institutions are required to ensure our security and help in any emergency situation. This relationship should not be cited to justify immunity from accountability. When generals take off their uniforms and begin serving the public then they should also be ready to face public accountability. 

Biologists tell us that only the fittest survive in the world but, more importantly, it is not the strongest that are the fittest but rather those who can adapt quickly and successfully when the external environment has changed. Dinosaurs were the strongest and ruled the earth but when the climate changed they were made extinct as they were unable to adapt. This is a necessary topic, which the Pakistan army should include in the core syllabus of its training institutions. Like all other institutions, it has to learn that there is no divine right to respect. If retired generals serving in the business sector are rescued from the accountability process by taking the ludicrous step of re-employing them then it is very naïve to expect that no one will laugh. Similarly, when an accused general becomes a fugitive inside a military hospital and his lawyers are instructed to hurl abuses in a court of law then respect can hardly be ensured through the issuance of press releases. 

The Pakistani people are keen to respect their security institutions but the right is not a divine one. It has to be earned.


OVER A COFFEE: From Saleem Shahzad to Raza Rumi. The Daily Times, 5/4/2014

Raza Rumi narrowly escaped becoming another martyr on this list of solo warriors. In a country where neither a serving governor nor a former prime minister are safe from the evil designs of motivated and organised assailants, I do not know how any man with some sense of dignity can live in peace

 Dr Haider Shah  April 05, 2014

Like many other fellow columnists, I had also penned a piece of condemnation and condolence when Saleem Shahzad was callously murdered under mysterious circumstances. We are, however, all busy people. Now is an urgent meeting. Tomorrow is an important conference. Then there is a splendid wedding ceremony. Entertaining family and friends in a newly opened restaurant is also a priority. Many of us did express concerns over the brutal murder of Saleem but then we slipped back into our extremely busy routines of life. 

Acting upon the urge to be truthful in a society where hypocrisy is institutionalised and where national mythology reigns supreme is like stepping into a den of hungry snakes. Raza! If you wanted to play it safe you should have preferred doing some kind of ‘aalim’ or ‘qutub’ talk show where you would have won accolades by selling faith-coated sweets to keen buyers. If that did not suit your taste, well you might have then considered providing our idle and superstition-prone elite with a programme on star signs or Tarot cards and by making callers happy with predictions about their future. You chose to create and promote a discourse of new thinking. New discourse is never liked by those who are living comfortably in a given status quo. Who fired at you we may not know for certain as yet, but why they attacked you is not difficult to figure out. Not only did they wish to silence a clear headed voice of rationality but also wanted to give a clear message to all those who questioned the authority of the guardians of the status quo. 

I recently watched this movie, The Rise of Evil, which is a Canadian two-part miniseries on Hitler. Fritz Gerlich, a German journalist and opponent of the Nazi party, figures prominently in the movie. When his wife alerts him to looming danger, the journalist-cum-historian expresses his inability to disown his struggle as not resisting madness amounted to communal suicide. Towards the end of the movie, Fritz is arrested and put in the Dachau concentration camp. His wife is shown receiving his bloodstained glasses in the packet delivered to her by the Nazi authorities. The movie then displays the quote often attributed to Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” The actual quote by Burke on which this is based is: “When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.” Saleem Shahzad, Wali Babar and Musa Khan fell one by one. Bad men are highly organised, very resourceful and extremely institutionalised. If our good men do not form an association, they will fall one by one. 

Raza Rumi narrowly escaped becoming another martyr on this list of solo warriors. In a country where neither a serving governor nor a former prime minister are safe from the evil designs of motivated and organised assailants, I do not know how any man with some sense of dignity can live in peace. The governments in Islamabad and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa tell us that they are negotiating peace with the Taliban. We wanted to win the T20 cricket tournament with the strength of communal prayers alone. Perhaps we also want to bring peace and tranquillity to our country by praying for peace. 

In the media, the assassination attempt on Raza Rumi in broad daylight was eclipsed by the Musharraf trial. When, soon after Musharraf’s appearance in the special court, rumours of a special plane from the Gulf began making the rounds, I felt the doctrine of necessity had returned from its grave. Luckily, the rumour died young and Musharraf remains incarcerated inside a military hospital. However, what irks me most is the constant campaign of trivialising the offence of high treason. On a recent television talk show I was stunned by the intellectual dishonesty of a couple of prominent senior lawyers when I heard them arguing that Musharraf’s offence was merely “unconstitutionality” and not “treason”. I wish the learned advocates had read my piece on this topic where I had quoted many constitutional and statutory provisions in other countries whereby any move to dislodge a government or subvert the constitution was considered high treason. Every unconstitutional move does not necessarily result in treason proceedings. In the US’s constitution, the president has a veto power so that if he feels that any law passed by the Congress is unconstitutional he can veto it. Similarly, the Supreme Court was empowered to declare any law or executive action void through judicial review if it was found to be against the constitution. Subverting the constitution is, therefore, totally different from ‘acting unconstitutionally’. Regular coups have been responsible for weak democratic systems in developing countries. Pakistan’s political system has also suffered at the hands of ambitious adventurists. Hence, Article 6 was introduced by the founding fathers of the 1973 constitution to discourage any military takeovers. It is important that we do not allow the trivialising of Musharraf’s offence. He is charged with the offence of high treason under Article 6 and we should not let anyone mellow down the severity of this offence.

Saleem Shahzad and Raza Rumi did not put their lives on the line to see the Taliban getting amnesty and an accused of high treason receiving special treatment from the state. I hope we do not disappoint them.