Dr. Haider Shah

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

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OVER A COFFEE:Launching a human rights corridor, The Daily Times, June 20, 2015  

Development needs to be seen in a broader human perspective and not merely as per capita income or GDP growth figures

 Dr Haider Shah

Of late, our national media has been teeming with the coverage of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). For the government,the CPEC is a game changer, a harbinger of a prosperous and developed Pakistan. For the critics, it is a fairy tale, loaded with farfetched daydreaming. As all political parties have now expressed confidence in the economic corridor, one can find little justification in criticising the project.

Economic progress is projected by the PML-N government as the hallmark of its strategic priorities. One cannot underemphasise the importance of economic development for the welfare of ordinary Pakistanis, but development needs to be seen in a broader human perspective and not merely as per capita income or GDP growth figures. By starting a human development index forsocial sectors like education and health, the notion of development can be extended to the provision of fundamental human rights to the people, as Nobel laureateAmartya Sen writes in his book, Development as Freedom.

The government’s rhetoric is centred on infrastructure development, such as metro bus projects and road links. Without disputing the importance of this aspect of development, what worries me most is the complete lack of importance of the protection and promotion of human rights in the scheme of things of the current rulers. Everything is secondary to Operation Zarb-e-Azb these days. If the previous PPP-led government was marked by judicial activism under Justice Iftikhar Choudhry, we are now witnessing military activism under Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif. Consequently, the country is becoming more of a security state than ever.
If the government is interested in developing Pakistan, then it must come up with a comprehensive plan to ensure the freedom of ordinary Pakistanis. There are three essential elements of promoting development in terms of the provision of basic human rights. Firstly, progress can be made through legislation based on social policy. Although laws alone cannot guarantee social change, legislation is still important. The law is the declaration of the general will of society and the intent of the state. The second element is facilitating change by promoting positive public opinion in favour of the desired change. These days, the media is playing an important role and the state can use the media to champion social change. The third element is developing the machinery toeffectively implement the law by prosecuting wilful offenders. If all of these three elements work in tandem, it is not impossible to implement positive changes in the social life of our people.

The state has made some legislative progress regarding domestic violence in the last few years, after not paying attention to the issue for a long time.The legislation in this area of basic human rights has often been led by private member bills and the leading role of the state has mostly been found conspicuously missing. After the 18thAmendment was passed, the issue of framing laws to prevent domestic violence fell within the jurisdiction of the provincial Assemblies. The Sindh Assembly passed a domesticviolence protection law in 2013. The Punjab Assembly has been considering a similar law for the last few years. In the rank and file of the PML-N, there is an apparent lack of enthusiasm for becoming the custodians of such causes. The establishment of laws to prevent human rights violations has not made significant progress during the current regime, but the implementation of these laws and the fostering of public opinion has lagged even more. According to statistics, Punjab continues to be the worst place for crimes against women. Given this context, the PML-N government’s lacklustre performance in the area of social change is even more distressing.

Children also continue to be deprived of the rights guaranteed to them by the universally recognised charter of fundamental rights. In almost every household, of traders,bureaucrats, jurists and journalists alike, one can see children working as underpaid servants. In many factories, child labour is still rampant. The state is struggling to make meaningful progress towards the six “education for all” millennium development goals of the United Nations.

Let us be blunt about some unpleasant truths. Militants are a problem, but not all problems are because of them. The fact that almost 5.5 million children do not attend schools has nothing to do with militancy. If Pakistan ranks as number 180 in the literacy rankings, despite boasting about nukes, the militants cannot be held responsible for this either. Militants do not hinder the state from eradicating child labour, which is prevalent in many forms all over the country. Domestic violence against women and children is not caused by militants. Therefore we should not treat Zarb-e-Azb as a panacea for all ills. In fact, cultural norms and taboos can often prove to be the most formidable terrorists.While the government must pursue CPEC, a decades-long project, with full vigour, there is a pressing need for launching a human rights corridor project as well, which should aim at expanding the freedoms of the people by passing and implementing legislation.


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OVER A COFFEE: Axact and media ethics, The Daily Times, May 30, 2015

Axact and media ethics

If selling fake degrees is an offence leading to the premature death of a new channel, how come it is ethical to see a strange combination of religion and showbiz on a morning show by someone who has purchased a fake online PhD degree?

My mind flashed back to the story of Dr B B Qureshi who breathed her last three years ago as a homeless, lonely person at the Edhi Centre in Karachi. According to media reports, she was Pakistan’s first female PhD, who had done her doctorate from Trinity College in Dublin and included among her students was Kofi Anan, the former secretary general of the UN. Upon her return to Pakistan she experienced an unwelcoming attitude both in the teaching community and in her own family. The heartrending story of Dr Qureshi tells us that it is not education that determines a person’s worth in society but that one needs to be trading in fake degrees in order to be rolling in billions.
The tsunami like reaction of some major media houses over the Axact news story is not rocket science to understand. The target was a soon to be launched television channel that was being financed by Axact’s money stream. “Jab kashti doobne lagti hey to bojh utara kerte hain” (when a ship is sinking you unload it) and, hence, within no time the journalists that had joined the channel after they were tempted with astronomical salaries fled the Titanic ship that had hit an iceberg. It was interesting to listen to their tales about sudden pricks of conscience. The misdeeds of Axact have been enthusiastically covered by the electronic media. But it is media as a whole that is in the spotlight with its pants down.
We have seen in the recent past how some media houses lined up to begin a smear campaign against Hamid Mir while he was down with bullet wounds. We have witnessed how certain media outlets and some anchors joined hands with spymasters and promoted blasphemy charges against a private channel that was being repeatedly stabbed by the agencies and their operatives. And we have also seen how Imran Khan was promoted by certain channels during his ill-fated dharna (sit-in) adventure while he was publicly accusing a private channel of rigging the election and having links with Indian agencies. We have also seen the detestable level of hypocrisy and opportunism when the same network began interviewing Khan sahib without confronting him with his past accusations. It seems that neither leaders have any sense of ethical behaviour nor do media houses follow any ethics. If selling fake degrees is an offence leading to the premature death of a new channel, how come it is ethical to see a strange combination of religion and showbiz on a morning show by someone who has purchased a fake online PhD degree? Similarly, a former law minister of the previous PPP-led government also purchased a fake PhD degree to add the title of Dr to his name. Unashamedly, like the other showbiz sermoniser, the former minister also began appearing in the media giving lectures on theology and morality.
A bigger question has not been addressed adequately in the Axact related media coverage. How come a little known person was able to create an empire in such a short time? Axact’s owner, Shoaib Shaikh, is either a super conman or a skilful artist. When I first read about Axact’s booming business, the story of the South Sea Bubble Scam of 1720 came to mind. The British South Sea Company promoted a fake sentiment of great returns on future trade with South-America. The hysteria among investors soon led to shares rising to 10 times their value in no time. While some made huge fortunes, thousands were ruined once the bubble burst. Even Newton lost his hard earned savings. Our prime investigative journalists can claim to be the Newtons of our time.
There is another possible explanation as well as I am reminded of the case of a multibillion export refund scam by another charismatic individual by the name of Raja Zaraat. This interesting person was a clerk in the customs department but he gradually became very rich and influential due to export related assignments. He later established his own group of companies and ran many charity organisations. Even chairpersons of the Federal Bureau of Revenue (FBR) attended his functions. A former colleague, and someone who was privy to his case, told me that Zaraat was able to play like a God because he was looked after by a powerful intelligence agency. It was only when the media sensationalised his export rebate scam leading to his arrest by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) that the intelligence agency abandoned him. I will not be surprised if a somewhat similar story is behind the rise of Axact’s owner