Dr. Haider Shah

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


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OVER A COFEE: Mafias and governance , The Daily Times, September 19, 2015

Traders do not get themselves registered voluntarily and when the withholding tax for non-filers of tax returns is introduced, they go on strike
A mafia protects the mutually shared interests of its members by insulating the group from any external influence. In Pakistan, historically, there are two institutions, the army and judiciary, which wield immense power as they carry guns and pens respectively. And these are the two institutions that have evaded all calls for accountability as well. As the judiciary’s powers are of a de jour nature, derived from the Constitution, let us first consider its place.

Justice Munir laid the foundation of rationalising the despotic use of power by autocrats against the legislature by becoming a collaborator with the then establishment. In Pakistan’s chequered constitutional history, the judiciary played the role of an abettor in civil and military coups. The brief saga of Iftikhar Chaudhry proved a pleasant departure from the rule. But even in that worthwhile period of an assertive judiciary, we saw restraint on the part of the judiciary to hold those to account who had collaborated with Pervez Musharraf. While during Iftikhar Chaudhry’s tenure some remarkable judgments were seen, the Supreme Court (SC) refused to allow its accounts to be audited like other users of taxpayers’ money. Interestingly, the British SC furnishes its accounts for full scrutiny every year but in Pakistan our honourable judges perhaps confuse independence with being unaccountable.

The army is the most powerful institution by virtue of its de facto power of having guns. It consumes the biggest chunk of our national kitty at almost 25 percent. Khawaja Asif, as an opposition MNA in Musharraf’s era, thundered on in parliament over lack of financial accountability of military spending. Now as a lacklustre defence minister he has not spoken out even once about increasing financial accountability by discussing military spending more rigorously in the public accounts and defence committees of parliament. He has been reduced to the status of a transmitter of scripted “India is our enemy” statements in this new era of piety and patriotism. There are many pending inquiry cases of corruption and irregularities against ex-servicemen as per audit reports and the National Accountability Bureau’s (NAB’s) records. But the military does not allow any investigation agency to come anywhere near its members. Requests for cooperation remain unaddressed and notices sent by lawful authorities are summarily binned. When the media pressure in the case of the indefencible National Logistics Cell (NLC) scam became unrelenting, the cases of generals were separated from other civilian officers and were tried inside the organisation. This is a very bad precedent that does not augur well for the rule of law. We have yet to see NAB or any other civilian law enforcement organisation bringing known offenders like Mirza Aslam Baig, Asad Durrani and Pervez Musharraf to book.

All groups that in one way or another can cause nuisance resort to mafia-like tactics. For instance, take the example of the traders: the tajir biradari. Just look at their shining vehicles, posh residences, numerous hajj and umrahs. The lavishness can be seen oozing out of their personas. But they will shake the whole of Pakistan with their organised wailing if asked to pay taxes. They do not get themselves registered voluntarily and when the withholding tax for non-filers of tax returns is introduced, they go on strike. Recently, the oil tankers association once again demonstrated its mafia power by forcing the government to withdraw the imposition of five percent sales tax. Our electronic media also plays second fiddle to such blackmailing tactics by making a hue and cry about oil shortages and blaming the government for this situation. From angelic politicians to media analysts, we see a chorus of lamentation over our poor tax-to-GDP ratio of about 10 percent. We are closer to the lower ranked Afghanistan than being farther from the higher ranked Nepal in the tax-to-GDP rankings list. But we are not ready to stand up to the blackmailing of certain well-entrenched groups. We want that change should walk in without disturbing our slumber.

The purpose of professional bodies of doctors and lawyers is to regulate the professions by acting as custodians of quality and discipline. We regularly see disciplinary cases against doctors and lawyers by their professional bodies in the UK and revocation of licences is a very common occurrence. But in Pakistan the professional bodies are also a form of mafia that only come into action when any member of the professional fraternity is made accountable for acts of negligence or sheer criminality. I have mentioned just a few mafia houses. There are many more of course.

With greater power comes greater responsibility. I wish the powerful of this country understood this principle from the hit movie Spiderman if nothing else.


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OVER A COFFEE: No fuhrer, only professional officers needed. The Daily Times, September 05, 2015

The preponderance of militancy over Jinnah’s vision of a tolerant society is sufficient evidence that our military has not proved itself a good deterrent for radical extremists

The British army has taken part in almost all major war zones, including Iraq and Afghanistan. The personnel in the armed forces are loved so much by ordinary people that through the poppy appeal of the British Legion charity, they donated about £ 40 million to help the charity look after ex-servicemen. Despite this culturally ingrained relationship of mutual love and affection, when I asked a number of people the name of the British army chief, interestingly no one knew it. And I must confess, I also did not know it till I Googled it. But, just as the black moustached Big Brother of the 1984 novel, from telescreens to coins, from stamps to cigarette packets, follows the people of Oceania everywhere with his piercing eyes, when I open any social media page I cannot miss the overbearing pictures of Pakistan’s army chief these days.
Let me make my own opinion very clear at the outset. I do not have any access to the internal corridors of power and am not privy to what goes on behind closed doors. I cannot pass any judgment. The decision to wage an outright war against jihadi terrorists in the form of Zarb-e-Azb was a correct one that I had been arguing for for quite some time. The resolve to clear Karachi of criminal gangs is also a sincere effort and one cannot underemphasise its importance. However, at times, an overdose of sincerity can also prove to be counterproductive. Sincerity, if not blended with the right amount of sanity, can prove lethal.
Pakistan is a constitutionally run parliamentary form of federation. Even parliament is not supposed to change the basic structure of the constitution unless it has sought the permission of the voters through a referendum. Other organs of the state have no power to do so. The responsibility of deciding whether the affairs of the country are in good hands or not rests solely and squarely with the people of Pakistan who exercise it through elections. Issues like governance and corruption fall in the jurisdiction of the judiciary while print, electronic and social media help in mobilising public opinion on these issues. The armed forces have a very clearly marked job in the constitutionally defined scheme of things. They have to remain focused on becoming a deterrent to any home grown or imported militant aggression against the country. The preponderance of militancy over Jinnah’s vision of a tolerant society is sufficient evidence that our military has not proved itself a good deterrent for radical extremists.
Changes that come through evolution are more stable and rewarding. The intoxicating desire to fix everything with a wand (or stick to be more precise) can be hard to resist. I still remember the days when every truck and tanker would carry a big portrait of Field Marshal Ayub Khan. Then, in my school days, Ziaul Haq became the official face of the national messiah or Big Brother. The official media of 1971 presented Yahya Khan and his martial law administrators as the saviours of the nation. Then Musharraf emerged as the superhero of accountability and enlightened moderation. The billboard of Big Brother remains intact; only the picture with piercing eyes changes.
A state remains fragile unless its functions are performed by specialised institutions that derive their authority from the law. The Rangers, as an extended arm of the army, is a specialised institution for law enforcement. In many countries, whether the Indian army in Kashmir or the British army in Northern Ireland, armed forces help the government in maintaining law and order in those areas of the state that are infested with militancy. However, the state has to make sure that such an arrangement should not become a situation of authority without responsibility. If any citizens are arrested, they and their relatives need to be told about the nature of the charges. The anti-terrorism law loses its credibility if the purpose if its provisions are sweepingly applied to every instance of public disorder. Recently, Dr Asim was arrested by the Rangers under the anti-terrorism law. Khursheed Shah, the Leader of the Opposition, has rightly argued that making arrests under the anti-terrorism law while charges are of financial malfeasance amounts to complete disregard of the purpose of a special legislation.
When US planes bombed Afghanistan, the Taliban melted away and it seemed for a while that complete peace had finally arrived in the war-ravaged country. When Malakand was regained easily from the Taliban it looked as if the back of the Taliban had been broken. However, extremist ideologies do not become extinct so easily. Perhaps we are making similar mistakes in assessing the achievement of the Rangers clean-up operation in Karachi. The militants tend to melt away when any operation is launched. Being opportunists they go quiet as a tactical move and wait for the right moment to strike back. By opening up too many fronts we are not doing any service to the arduous and iterative war against jihadi militants. Political unrest is not only detrimental for economic development, it provides the militants an ideal opportunity to regroup and stage a comeback. The country does not need a fuhrer. It only needs a succession of military officers who, like true professionals, will defend the country against the creeping menace of militant extremism.