Dr. Haider Shah

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


OVER A COFFEE: Pakistan High Commission in London: a case study; The Daily Times, September 20, 2014

Very lavish allowances are awarded to the officers posted by the foreign and commerce ministries in European countries. If they cannot even update very basic information on their website, what other expectations can be associated with their highnesses?

Dr Haider Shah

For the attestation of a document, I was required to visit the Pakistan High Commission (PHC) in London, the equivalent of an embassy of non-commonwealth countries, a few days ago. As a researcher, I decided to make a virtue of this necessity by making a note of what I observed and experienced. In this way I wanted to conduct a small-scale case study based on personal observations and making sense.

In order to obtain information about the location, opening time and procedural details, I accessed the website of the PHC. The first impression I got was an encouraging one as I did find links for all the activities that an embassy is supposed to perform. At this point my inquisitiveness prompted me to first browse the whole website and see if all the information was up-to-date and helpful. The test was simple to carry out as I had some personal experience in this regard as my guidance. A long time ago, when I used to work for the Federal Bureau of Revenue (FBR), I developed a frequently asked questions (FAQs) document on the import of vehicles and had it posted on the FBR’s website so that overseas Pakistanis could get answers to all possible queries before making a decision about importing a vehicle into Pakistan. After a few months, I proceeded to the UK to undertake my doctoral study. Two years later, I checked the website and was shocked to discover that no one had bothered to update the FAQs even though the policy had changed since then. I was further surprised to find that on the customs intelligence website, where I was last posted, no changes had been made even though I had relinquished the charge a long time ago. The FBR boasts of multibillions worth of investment in information technology as international donor agencies like the World Bank had been generous in funding the modernisation schemes of this premier revenue collecting organisation. However, it is the man behind the gun that refuses to change in our public sector organisations.

With this experiential knowledge in hand, I checked import policy related information on the high commission’s website. I could not help smiling. The high commission seems to be frozen in the year 2009 as the import policy and related material was five years old. Much to the chagrin of Ishaq Dar, it is the budget speech of Hafeez Shaikh that appears prominently under the budget section. The situation of the Manchester office of the PHC is also not much different as it displays very old trade figures. This height of negligence by officers who are posted abroad for promoting trade is shocking on two accounts. One, very lavish allowances are awarded to the officers posted by the foreign and commerce ministries in European countries. If they cannot even update very basic information on their website, what other expectations can be associated with their highnesses? Second, if a decision is made on the basis of the information displayed on the official website, who will be responsible for the financial loss to the decision maker if the information proves to be incorrect? The officers entrusted with this job are also charged with caring for non-resident Pakistanis. By causing distress and economic loss, they fail miserably in this duty as well.

After completing my search of the PHC website I set off to the multimillion pounds’ building of the PHC in one of the most expensive areas of London. Visitors were seen seated in an open, tented space outside the main building as if they were attending a valima (marriage) function. The website had mentioned a ticket system but there was little guidance available on the spot. Finally, I approached an official who was surrounded by a few agitated families. He pointed me towards the inside of the building and I finally reached the window where attestation documents were being received. Here I was attracted towards an interesting object: a big, wall-mounted television. Whoever rules the official premises of the government of Pakistan in London, it was very clear as the pro-dharna (sit-in) coverage of a private news channel was being forcibly shown to the visitors waiting for their turn. Of late, this channel has earned the same status with respect to Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri that Iraq’s Comical Ali had for Saddam Hussein and Shahidullah Shahid for the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Showing anti-government propaganda in one of the most expensive official buildings of the government of Pakistan was a bit baffling for me. After my documents were received by a female official, I was asked to make a fee payment to the cashier. On reaching the cashier’s window I noticed that the same live coverage was on the screen of a smaller television inside his office. “Who makes decisions about channels to be shown in the high commission?” I asked the cashier. “I make the decision,” he replied with a tinge of surprise over my outrageous question.

This case study has two learning outcomes. One, our public sector managers continue to be wanting in the hands of management. They are not in the habit of doing an audit or a snap check of their services and, therefore, remain unaware of what is out there for the users of the public services. Two, the senior level officers are consumed more by ceremonies and other superfluous activities while the lower level operational staff run the show. I hope someone in the concerned ministries make a little use of this case study.

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OVER A COFFEE: Dealing with the terror in Islamabad, The Daily Times, September 06, 2014

If anyone, whether a politician or a journalist, 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 such suggestions of mutiny

Dr Haider Shah

Ironically, just a day earlier he had declared that he wished peace and compassion for the protesting activists. Now he lay on the ground after becoming a target of an obnoxiously violent attack by a gang of hooligans wearing the badges of Tahirul Qadri’s organisation. When the young and charismatic Senior Superintendent Police (SSP) was being savagely beaten up with sticks, it was not a young police officer who was receiving the merciless thrashing. It was the state of Pakistan that lay lifeless in one of the most sensitive places of Islamabad.

Certain images become iconic for various phases in human history. For instance, a black and white image called the Warsaw ghetto uprising, showing terrified children and women while being supervised by Nazi soldiers, captures well the reign of terror that Hitler had unleashed in Europe. The 20 days of conspiracy-ridden lunacy in Islamabad is also best captured by a photograph in which a police constable lying half dead on the ground is being thrashed by rioters while army personnel can be seen unmoved in the background. And the lowest of the low had yet to come. A serving major of the army addressed the hooligans inside the PTV building as if they were kindergarten toddlers who had strayed into a neighbour’s garden.

A state is not an assemblage of institutions loosely bundled together. The organs of the state work in tandem to perform certain vital functions. Law enforcement is one such function where all uniformed organisations work in unison to implement the writ of the state. All law enforcement institutions, from the police to the army, are answerable to one authority: the prime minister. In the Iraq war days, a British general was asked by a journalist how he felt about going into the Iraq war as anti-war sentiment was quite strong in the country. “We only follow orders. We have been ordered to go to Iraq and we will do our best to perform well,” was his reply. There is thus no concept of neutrality for any law enforcement organ of the government. They can give their input to the government at the time of policy formulation but it is always the prime minister who has the last word.

Sometime back I wrote exclusively about the writ of the state. I had argued that while in the case of FATA and Karachi full-fledged operations had been launched to regain the writ of the state, establishing the same in our capital is just a matter of will and clarity of purpose. I had mentioned section 131 of the Pakistan Penal Code that 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. If anyone, whether a politician or a journalist, 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 such suggestions of mutiny. Enough evidence is available to enable the state to establish its writ by putting such persons behind bars after registering cases under treason and mutiny related provisions of the law besides other breaches of criminal law.

In a functional state, violence is the exclusive prerogative of the state. At times, the state oversteps the ring fence of the law when it is practicing this prerogative. An innocent young Brazilian commuter was shot dead by the London police in a tube station as he was misidentified as a fleeing terrorist fugitive. The event caused great national and international uproar. In 2011, London experienced its worst law and order problem when, on August 6, a protest went berserk in Tottenham after protesters alleged that the police had shot dead an unarmed innocent local black youth, Mark Duggan. The police were slow in their reaction and their soft attitude was widely condemned by all shades of public opinion. The Metropolitan Police made amends for their poor handling of the rioters by assigning 450 detectives to hunt for rioters and looters. The list of photographed looters was made available on their website and many public places. Thousands of arrests were made and the courts that sat for extended hours were advised to give harsh sentences to the hooligans.

No doubt, the tragic incident in Model Town must be condemned and properly investigated but it is equally important that the blame be fairly apportioned. When a government department wants to dismantle construction on government land, it cannot be resisted by use of force. If government officials were believed to be acting unlawfully, the aggrieved could have gone to court for a judicial review and the illegality could have been rectified in a lawful way. Citizens in their individual capacity cannot take the law into their own hands and hand out punishments themselves. The Supreme Court (SC) has even prohibited jirgas (tribal courts) and local panchayats from using judicial functions as only the state has the exclusive right over this function. We as citizens can use public opinion channels to put a restraint on excessive and unfair use of force by the state but we cannot take the law into our own hands to settle scores.

The state has been severely whacked before the full glare of the cameras. Parliament can salvage its wounded pride by passing a special law dictating to the courts how to punish the culprits expeditiously and overwhelmingly.
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