Dr. Haider Shah

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

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OVER A COFFEE: From Musharraf to Gullu Butt. The Daily Times, 21 june,

Dr Haider Shah
June 21, 2014

So, finally the government listened to the ‘liberal fascists’ and the much-awaited military operation has been launched. When the international community led by the US suggested that we should extinguish the fire raging in the safe havens of FATA, we arrogantly pooh poohed the advice and kept on declaring the militants as our brothers. Accusing a private television channel of recommending military action in Warizistan, Mr Imran Khan had announced boycotting the channel. And now, when the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) announces that Operation Zarb-e-Azb has been launched against the militants, Khan sahib loses no time in taking yet another somersault. Until yesterday, for him, those who suggested an operation were the scum of the country but now those who are actually participating in the operation are our heroes according to the subtle acumen of our visionary leader. If nothing else, at least a mild apology to the private television channel and liberal fascists was expected from his side.

Being one of the liberal fascists, I have also been clamouring for a military operation in North Waziristan. No war is without accompanying human costs though. Europeans had to suffer huge loss of life and property in order to reclaim their freedom from Nazi rule. The civilian population of Waziristan bears the greatest brunt of this bombing operation. Not only are many civilian lives lost due to heavy bombing, the consequential migration of displaced persons will also have long-term psychological costs. There should not be any illusions about the strategic objectives of this operation. It will in no way put an end to the wave of extremism that has wrecked the country. This eradication of safe havens will only be strategically rewarding if we are able to work in partnership with the Afghan government and US forces stationed in Afghanistan.

The militants, in Allama Iqbal’s words, “idher doobe, udher nikle, udher doobe, idher nikle” (decline here, rise there, decline there, rise here). They will shift their hideout across the border inside Afghanistan and stage attacks on the Pakistani forces from there. What we have been doing with Afghanistan since Ziaul Haq’s days will be done with us in a reversal of fortune. It is therefore important that our military establishment fully embrace the foreign policy-related paradigm shift of Nawaz Sharif’s government. We will only reap peace dividends if we treat militancy as a regional problem whose solution lies in working jointly with India and Afghanistan. In order to prove our sincerity to these key stakeholders, we will have to silence those who masquerade as spokespersons of the military establishment and promote warmongering against our neighbours.

The military operation will only help us regain partial control from the militants and the only strategic level gain is limited to ending the ability of the militants to use our land as their headquarters for planning and training purposes. I have been writing in the past about the need for a comprehensive anti-extremism strategic plan where a military operation against the extremists should be an important but not the only element of strategy. What I have been prescribing in my earlier writings has also now been directed by the honourable Supreme Court (SC) of Pakistan via its latest judgment over the rights of religious minorities. There is an imminent need for de-radicalisation of all sections of society. The SC rightly asked for purging of syllabi of extremist content and better regulation of social media over the spread of hate speech.

Gullu Butt is the newest addition to our national discourse in the aftermath of the tragic handling of ‘operation clean-up’ in Lahore. Caught by media cameras, he was seen smashing cars parked in the troubled area. Being a part of the Lahore Development Authority (LDA) team, he was perhaps teaching a lesson to the cars belonging to the residents of the compound. Whoever has the proverbial danda (stick) in Pakistan gains the legitimacy of teaching the powerless a lesson. The editor of an Urdu language daily in Multan was recently thrashed in broad daylight in a commando-style operation by assailants who publicly stated that they were on a ‘lesson-teaching’ mission. The biggest television channel in Pakistan was taught a lesson as it angered people with a danda and guns. Not long ago, Pervez Musharraf waved his fists when he carried the danda while bodies were falling in Karachi on May 12, 2007. The military dictator, despite being tried for the greatest crime of treason, enjoys VVIP security. In the rule of law no one is above the law and no one is below the law as all enjoy equal protection of the law. Gullu’s crime is in no way more serious than that of Pervez Musharraf but Gullu is the national villain and the retired general is a hero. Size matters. If a big organisation with lots of guns has your back you can get away with anything but if you are just Gullu, you are doomed. 

If a group living in FATA does not accept the constitution and promises a revolution we are quick to call them terrorists and hence rejoice when they are annihilated. However, when those living in the settled areas openly oppose the constitution and resist the writ of the state we tend to call them innocent citizens. Military action in FATA can help us regain lost territory but the state can only become genuinely sovereign when it can make all the Gullus, whether carrying a danda or guns, respect its lawful authority.

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OVER A COFFEE: Writ of the state in settled areas, The Daily Times, 14 June, 2014


Whether a politician makes an invitation or a media person pleads a case, if there is any suggestion of inciting military personnel to act against their allegiance, the state must establish its writ by putting that person behind bars

Dr Haider Shah
June 14, 2014

The writ of the state is one of the most recurring clichés in the political narrative of our country. After every terrorist incident, critics complain of the withering of this writ while the government announces its resolve to enforce the same. We also come across phrases like ‘anti-state elements’. Words get hackneyed with extensive use by users from various backgrounds and often lose their actual meaning. ‘State’ is a political concept composed of four elements: people, government, territory and sovereignty.

According to our Constitution, sovereignty belongs to Almighty Allah; however, it is defined and exercised by people. So the extent and contours of sovereignty have to be dictated neither by a body of clerics nor by men in uniform but only by the people of Pakistan through parliament. Therefore the writ of the state means enforcing the general will of the people, which they express through ballots in a well-defined territory.

When the phrase ‘writ of state’ is used we think of militants and their safe havens in various parts of the country. But the long arm of the law has to first show its efficacy in the general day to day affairs of the country. While in the case of FATA and Karachi, a full-fledged operation is needed to regain control from those who challenge the supremacy of the state, establishing the same in other walks of life is just a matter of will and clarity of purpose. Section 131 of the Pakistan Penal Code makes abetting mutiny, or attempting to seduce a soldier, sailor or airman from allegiance to his duty a crime punishable with imprisonment for life or for 10 years. The Constitution bars the army from taking part in politics and every officer takes an oath of allegiance to that effect. If anyone incites the army to indulge in politics, he or she commits a crime under section 131 and the government should exhibit zero tolerance for all those who overtly or covertly make any suggestion of mutiny. Whether a politician makes an invitation or a media person pleads a case, if there is any suggestion of inciting military personnel to act against their allegiance, the state must establish its writ by putting that person behind bars. What I argued in my last column, Mr Mahmud Achakzai repeated in his speech in the National Assembly. What is so special about Tahirul Qadri that he should be spared if he is wilfully inciting the armed forces and coercing them to be disobedient to a lawfully constituted government? Similarly, many TV anchors openly preach treason and mutiny to army officers. While media personalities enjoy full freedom to expose the wrongdoings of governments, they need to be prosecuted if they abuse their freedom and challenge the writ of the state.

Ever since six bullets were fired upon Hamid Mir, we have seen gradual erosion of the writ of the state. If in the past its writ was challenged by militants, this time it was dishonoured by an organ of the government. The elected government led by the Prime Minister appeared spineless in establishing its legitimate authority. The manner in which the TV channel Geo was targeted with the help of smaller media channels reminded me of a fable by Aesop where a wolf comes upon a lamb and, in order to justify taking its life, accuses it of various misdemeanours. After all the accusations were proved false by the lamb, the hungry wolf pounces upon the lamb stating that the offences must have been committed by someone else in the family. A journalist has only the pen on his side. In a security state the sword is still stronger than the pen. He can only register his protest when people carrying guns encounter him. To what degree government will establish its writ we will see after expiry of the 15 day ban on Geo.

The daredevil attack on Karachi airport by Uzbek militants associated with terrorists from the tribal areas once again exposed the lack of preparedness of our security institutions and poor strategic level planning. Criticism is not on account of their inability to prevent the incident. If a student is seen working hard and devoting time and energy to an examination and then he gets low marks, we can be sympathetic to such a student and quite forgiving. But if a student does not listen to advice and is busy in time wasting pursuits and then fails, we tend to be less forgiving. The same is the case with our spymasters. If they had applied all their resources and energies on infiltrating the extremists and then cleaning them up, we would have been very forgiving if lapses like the Karachi airport attack happened. But when the agencies are seen round the clock busy in monitoring journalists and politicians, questions about the waste of national resources must be asked and adequately answered. The government may have given the green signal for a military operation in North Waziristan, but it must also launch a police operation against those who lecture military personnel on disobedience and disloyalty. It should also ensure that military commanders only perform their professional duties and not entangle themselves in any warfare with any group of journalists. The writ of the state needs to be established firmly in major cities of Pakistan before we turn our eyes towards the tribal areas.

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OVER A COFFEE: Al Qaeda seizes the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority?, The Daily Times, 7/6/2014

Mr Prime Minister, development is not just launching mega-projects. Development also means expansion of freedoms and enjoyment of fundamental human rights

Dr Haider Shah
June 07, 2014

The national media was already consumed by agency-fuelled warfare when the breaking news of Altaf Hussain’s arrest by Scotland Yard over money laundering charges further shrank any space for other important social issues. While the finance minister Ishaq Dar was upbeat with economic growth and current account figures, a very retrogressive activity was in operation right under the nose of the government. In a swift and clandestine move the operatives of al Qaeda masquerading as officials of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) banned all social media websites that had been campaigning against extremism and militancy in the country. While we were clamouring for lifting illegal restrictions imposed on a private television channel and condemned attacks on journalists, another draconian move has silenced social media pages belonging to progressive and secular voices. These include ‘Laal’, ‘Roshni’, and many more. Interestingly the websites run by banned outfits still flourish and disseminate hate and militancy under the blissful guardianship of the PTA.

Blasphemy has many shades and comes in various varieties. Its essence, however, remains the same. One is not allowed to express one’s opinion, otherwise one can be silenced by the threat or actual use of force and violence. In Pakistan we see four main varieties of blasphemy. First, the most commonly known is religious blasphemy where anyone can be accused of disrespecting a personality who is considered holy under the belief system of Muslims. Second, if family honour, often closely linked with females, is thought to be attacked. Third, if the military establishment feels offended by any statement or accusation. Fourth, if anything unfavourable is said about the political leaders of certain parties, most notably the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), though others also exhibit this behaviour to a varying extent.

While society in general is accustomed to violence on account of faith and family honour-related forms of blasphemy, in the recent past military and political parties’ related blasphemies have also become very potent. Interestingly, we find an ironic criss-cross relating to the fate of two eminent Pakistanis who once sounded like immortals but are now being tried under the laws of Pakistan and the UK. Musharraf wants to flee from Pakistan while Altaf is desperate to flee to Pakistan. In Pakistan, expressing one’s free opinion on the high treason case against Musharraf is tantamount to blasphemy and consequently journalists accused of blasphemy are being thrashed in broad daylight. The chemical of religious blasphemy was also added with the help of a few managed TV hosts and ever obliging clerics to make the mixture more potent. Altaf unfortunately is in the UK where the police is never deterred by any blackmailing of blasphemy mongers. When the members of parliament of the ruling party in Britain can go to jail over minor irregularities in expenses claims, how can money laundering and tax evasion cases be dropped for a street level nuisance created in a distant land?

In all this hullaballoo the news of al Qaeda seizing the PTA has received little coverage in the national mainstream media. According to Taimur Rahman of the music group Laal, when their popular page was banned he approached Facebook (FB) and they replied officially: “We restricted access in Pakistan to a number of pieces of content primarily reported by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority and the Ministry of Information Technology (IT) under local laws prohibiting blasphemy and criticism of the state.” It therefore transpires that the pages were made inaccessible to internet users after officials in PTA sent a request to FB for shutting down access to these popular anti-extremism pages. The enlightened volunteers who were generating a progressive discourse with the help of write-ups, memes, quotes and images did not feel discouraged and promptly launched new pages to continue their struggle in the battle of ideas in Pakistan. But it is a worrying trend that needs to be condemned and challenged. No official can be given the power to become prosecutor and judge at the same time.

Mr Prime Minister, development is not just launching mega-projects. Development also means expansion of freedoms and enjoyment of fundamental human rights. We were expecting that in addition to you improving our neglected physical infrastructure, your government would also give attention to the dilapidated intellectual infrastructure in the country. What use is 3G and 4G mobile technology if PTA officials do not update the software installed in their brains? What constitutes blasphemy is a very subjective issue and even members of the honourable superior judiciary may not agree on one single definition. If left to the discretion of the PTA and IT ministry officials, the writings of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan and Ibne Sina will also be banned on blasphemy charges. Just as you, Mr Prime Minister, restored Sunday as the weekly holiday in your earlier government, we believed that you will undo another cheap popularity seeking decision of the PPP government by lifting the ban on YouTube. Unfortunately, by banning progressive websites your government is weakening those institutions that create an enabling narrative for strengthening democracy in Pakistan. In the long run, you will also be the victim if you do not patronise those that want to create a new Pakistan based on tolerance, social equality and regional peace.