Dr. Haider Shah

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


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OVER A COFFEE: Is the Pakistan army a learning organisation?, The Daily Times, October 18, 2014

An organisation cannot become a learning organisation if it shuts its doors to the outside world and prefers to examine the surroundings through its own organisational beliefs

Dr Haider Shah

On television shows we often hear some jubilant anchors asking whether Nawaz Sharif has learnt from his past mistakes. If a politician does not learn he or she can be taken to task through constitutionally provided mechanisms. What is more important is to see whether those organisations that have a big say in the affairs of the state have learnt anything from the past. In this coffee session I am raising the question in respect of our security establishment as many debacles in our history can easily be traced back to poor decision making inside our military organisation.

Peter Senge popularised the concept of a “learning organisation” in management literature. He defined it as an organisation where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured and where people are continually learning to see the whole together. We already know that in order to survive we have to evolve to remain the fittest. Dinosaurs were big and powerful but even they could not survive when the environment changed. Germany and Japan were very powerful nations both militarily and economically in the 1930s but as they failed to adapt to the changing world order, they had to learn the hard way. Nokia was the world leader in the mobile phones sector but it proved too slow to see the wave of touchscreen technology bringing havoc to its market. No one is powerful enough to survive without adapting to the changing surroundings. Pakistan cannot be an exception.

Is Pakistan’s military a learning organisation? There are some indications that make us believe that, yes, it is. In 2012, in the Green Book, which is widely distributed within the army and is considered to be the official publication on military doctrine, it admitted that the security paradigm had changed and threats posed by “sub conventional warfare” had become the number one security threat. If the Inter-Services Public Relations’ official magazine, Hilal (crescent) is browsed, it is seen to contain writings on topics like democracy and the constitution contributed by well-known authors. In the past, the military discourse hovered around India-fixated issues. Now, India still remains an important topic but the thinking horizon seems to have seen some expansion.
Critics will say that these publications hardly represent any significant change for real. Even if there is some realisation that homegrown terrorists have become a security threat, they are unable to see the link between our India-fixated doctrines and the emergence of jihadi terrorism. Our overarching desire to influence regional politics by using jihadis as an instrument of diplomacy has contributed to the emergence of local jihadi groups, besides some international factors. So, if the security establishment has admitted that such elements need to be obliterated, it is only partial learning as it still does not understand the links between our India-fixated policy and growth of militancy in Pakistan. Of late, we have seen a meaningful silence over regularly occurring drone attacks inside the tribal areas from the security establishment or vocal voices in the popular media. However, we have been getting mixed signals in terms of regional initiatives. On the Afghanistan side, there had been some warming of relations in the recent past but in September skirmishes between the Taliban and Afghan forces, and the alleged attacks of the Taliban on Pakistani forces using Afghanistan-based hideouts have again given rise to tensions in the border areas. No one is suggesting that Pakistan should not watch its own interests. However, the widely held perception that the interests of Pakistan are not defined by the politically elected government but rather a few generals who dictate to them does not help the cause of Pakistani diplomacy.

Institutions, like individuals, also think in a certain way that is conditioned by the institutional norms imprinted from the past. An organisation cannot become a learning organisation if it shuts its doors to the outside world and prefers to examine the surroundings through its own organisational beliefs. Without some de-learning of old stuff, new realities cannot dawn upon the strategic decision makers. I feel concerned because I often come across army officers and feel that what they say is out of a strong belief that whatever they think is the only truth. There are prestigious military training academies in Pakistan where highly educated professionals and academics impart education in different disciplines. They will do a big service to their trainees if they are taught systems theory as the focal principle of a learning organisation that, in turn, would help military leaders appreciate the importance of connections between components and the whole, economic prosperity and the role of regional trade, foreign policy, security policy and much more.

The levers of control are mostly in the hands of military leaders. The political government can hardly steer the ship out of troubled waters if the military leaders are out of sync. The military leadership will establish its credentials firmly if it engages in a good perception management exercise by dispelling the myth that our military establishment sabotages all peace building moves made by our political governments. It should instead take a lead role in helping the present government repair Pakistan’s relations with its neighbours and the international community.


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OVER A COFFEE: Arresting the rot in the PPP, The Daily Times, October 04, 2014

The ship of the PPP remained rudderless during the last five years and hit the iceberg in many places. If we browse the election results data of Punjab it makes for painful reading for PPP candidates

Dr Haider Shah

When I was a college student in the mid 1980s, during Ziaul Haq’s dictatorship, I was drawn towards radical leftist ideas. Like any youngster I also thought that I alone could change the world with a few off-the-shelf simple remedies. The People’s Students Federation (PSF) carried the banner of left leaning progressive students so I joined the PSF unit at my engineering university. Soon I began intermingling with the Peshawar-based ideologues of the party. After a few years, the highly potent Marxist idealist in me gradually became disillusioned with the feudal lords and echelons of the party, and found solace by joining a smaller but more radical group in the university. I, however, remained in touch with some of my comrade friends in the PPP as I wished the party well for its liberal and progressive agenda.

Political parties are the heart and soul of the body politic and a political system can only be considered healthy and properly functioning if the political parties are well organised and adequately institutionalised. Like a tree, every political party takes decades to stand on its own and start bearing fruit. Attempts to launch new political parties by dictators and armchair revolutionaries in the past have often failed miserably as a political party needs a complex mix of nutrients to grow and blossom. Historically, the politics of the left was concentrated in the less developed provinces like Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and East Pakistan.

Zulifikar Ali Bhutto’s phenomenal rise in the late 1960s spread leftist ideas widely to Punjab as well. The PPP became the biggest political force with a huge following in all federating units of the country. It thus served as the cementing force that kept the centrifugal tendencies of various regional parties and religious groups in check. The military establishment, unfortunately, only looks through its myopic viewing glass and is unable to grasp the importance of mainstream political parties. It has historically felt uncomfortable with the political parties that rival its claim of being the guarantor of the integrity of the state. The PPP was considered a national security threat and hence the intelligence agencies were used to cause damage through political opponents and other conspiracies. Under Benazir Bhutto the PPP retained its national profile though the decay had set in as the party did not accord importance to perception management.

The 2013 elections proved that the voters were not impressed with the new brand image of the PPP as a party of shrewd and scheming leaders lacking any charismatic leadership. “Eik Zardari, sab pe bhari” (One Zardari is ‘heavier’ than all the rest) is not a slogan that can motivate the working class voters or the educated classes. Rehman Malik may have good negotiation skills but he cannot create a vibe among ordinary voters. The ship of the PPP remained rudderless during the last five years and hit the iceberg in many places. If we browse the election results data of Punjab it makes for painful reading for PPP candidates. For instance, just take the case of Lahore, the provincial capital of Punjab. In the constituencies where the PML-N bagged more than 100,000 votes, the PPP candidates averaged about 3,000 only. The PTI performed much better by 40,000 to 50,000 votes. On Aitzaz Ahsan’s seat his wife only got about 7,000 votes while the winning PML-N secured about 120,000 votes. It seems that the PPP totally misread the pre-poll scenario as it complacently believed that the PTI’s rise would cut through the PML-N voters. On the contrary, it was the PPP whose voters dumped it in favour of the newly media-cultivated charisma of Imran Khan.

During the dharna (sit-in) agitation of the PTI and PAT, the PPP appeared to be divided between two camps. One mainly belonging to Sindh, barring Makhdoom Amin Fahim, did not mince its words in supporting constitutionalism and opposed the unconstitutional demands of the agitators in unequivocal terms. Khursheed Shah is the most vocal voice of this camp. The other camp was mainly dominated by Punjab-based PPP politicians who, at times, sounded more like spokespersons for the agitators. Some analysts, though, without any proof, suspected that many of these PPP leaders were part of the alleged London plan and would have joined the PTI if the plan had not been stabbed to death by the defecting baghi (rebel) of Multan.

The recent statement issued by Bilawal Bhutto in which he advised the disaffected leaders of the party not to turn their backs on the party in its hour of crisis gives some credence to this conspiracy theory. Personally, I like Bilawal Bhutto. The fact that he is young and vibrant is not his only virtue. What positively inspires me is that he is very clearheaded and can promote the progressive agenda that Pakistan so dearly needs. However, the challenges he faces are monumental. If he wants to resurrect the dying dinosaur then he needs to create a new identity for the party. He has to do away with the sticky perceptions of feudalism, bad governance and corruption. He must bring forward people from the intelligentsia and working class cadres of the party to give renewed hope to the disgruntled and tired workers of the party. The challenge is a formidable one but it is doable.