Dr. Haider Shah

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

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OVER A COFFEE: Culture and dogma, Daily Times, February 27, 2016

When someone invokes culture for the purpose of opposing a change he displays his lack of proper understanding of the concept enshrined in the word. Culture embodies the same duality of meaning as is demanded by our survival needs as a human race


This time it was the turn of the president of Pakistan to take a carefree stroll along the street of irrationality. His excellency is often targeted by humourists in the social media for his lack of visibility as the head of state. I instead always took the view that his elegant silence is befitting of his job. The president is a ceremonial post, like the queen of Britain. It is the PM who is the executive head and must appear as such in our public life. The president is there to make prewritten ceremonial speeches when a ceremony requires him to do so. What are the contours of public policy, neither the British queen nor Pakistani president should have any say in that. So far, Mamnoon had performed this role very well by remaining economical with his public speeches. This month he decided to open his mouth and, unfortunately, only managed to get his image blown to pieces. It is not the job of the office of the president to prescribe how individuals should spend their personal time. The PM of the country had recently desired in a televised address that he be invited to a holi party. The president seems to be totally out of sync with the public policy of his own leader.

Globalisation is the interconnectedness of the world where ideas and practices travel freely from one part of it to another. In ancient times, religious movements were the main agents of globalisation. Religious warriors would conquer new lands and introduce their cultures wrapped up in the new religion. In the modern world, technological advancement has greatly facilitated the hassle free movement of people, goods and ideas, and consequently the world has shrunk to the size of our smartphone today. Now we live in one cosmopolitan culture where our regional cultures are just a shade of the main world culture. If the daily routine and hobbies of a youth of Lahore or Karachi are contrasted with those of a youth in Mumbai or Istanbul we will find that by and large they are not much different.

When someone invokes culture for the purpose of opposing a change he displays his lack of proper understanding of the concept enshrined in the word. Culture embodies the same duality of meaning as is demanded by our survival needs as a human race. In prehistoric times, humans needed the stability of a pack by practicing the same rituals again and again. But, in the long run, they also needed the ability to respond to environmental changes and evolve to remain the fittest. Culture, therefore, should not be seen as a set of static norms and practices that are cast in stone. Like the human race, culture is also organic and changes over time. For instance, a few centuries ago in Britain, challenging another man to a duel, by sword or gunfight, was considered a honourable practice reserved for the upper classes and an essential qualification to be called a true gentleman. “A man may shoot the man who invades his character, as he may shoot him who attempts to break into his house.” The quote belongs to Samuel Johnson who was one of the most famous literary figures of the 18th century and best summarises the motivation for the cultural norm of duelling in the then British society. Today, in the UK, taking the law into one’s own hand is considered one of the most despicable acts. Cultural norms are seldom static.

In British primary schools, all children are taught basic yoga. Societies are learning from each other and happily import practices that they like to other cultural settings. If by celebrating Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Karwa Chauth or Rakhsha Bandhan, sentiments of love and affection get communicated between two humans why should we feel the urge of poking our long noses into the private lives of others? If we want to interfere we should try stopping those who preach hatred and violence in various sections of our society.
Mr President, you looked graceful when you did not speak much. If you remain that way, you will do yourself a service and serve the country better as well.


OVER A COFFEE: JIT: crisis of policing in Pakistan, Daily Times, 6 Feb 2016

Dr Haider Shah

Certain words or phrases iconise the course of history that a society is passing through. The well-known French philosopher Michael Foucault proposes that an examination of how discourse is used by a group and how changes take place can enlighten us about many hard to observe power relations. Just take the example of the acronym JIT. Check newspapers from 1990 to 2010 and note the occurrence of the word, and then compare it with the frequency with which the term appeared in the media in the last two years. The wide currency would indicate that it has become a part of our everyday usage.

Now, let us do another comparison. Google the acronym followed by India, the UK and Pakistan each time. In the case of India and the UK, you will get results about Just in Time (JIT) manufacturing system. In fact, JIT is an essential topic in all operations management and cost accounting textbooks. JIT is a Japanese management philosophy thatdates back to the early 1970s and was first developed and perfected within the Toyota manufacturing plants by TaiichiOhno as a means of meeting consumer demands with minimum delays. The JIT system not only focused on minimum inventory by having strategic relationship with suppliers but was also presented as a complete cultural system where every individual within the organisation was involved and committed to it.

In the case of Pakistan we get the most frequent usage in terms of Joint Investigation Team. In that sense, when we search the internet again for India and the UK we do discover that the phrase is also used in those countries. There is one vital difference though. The investigation remains the remit of police authorities. Joint investigation in India and the UK means different police authorities coming together to investigate a case that concerns all of them. In India, it is often police authorities of different cities or provinces or the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) while in the UK it has a specific European Union meaning of police authorities of various EU members jointly investigating a cross border crime. In accordance with Article 34 of the EU treaty, the EU Council adopted the Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters between the member states in May 2000, which finally came into force in 2005. The convention provided a number of modern investigation methods to fight cross-border criminality including the JIT as per Article 13 of the convention.

It is only in Pakistan that joint investigation means dilution of police authority. Members of intelligence agencies have now become a regular part of joint investigation teams. When things go wrong all stakeholders participate in ensuring further deterioration of institutional arrangement. Some quickfix is applied and then it becomes a regular feature without any sound legal basis. In a civilised criminal justice system functions of various organs of the state are clearly demarcated. Investigation is the exclusive domain of authorities with policing powers. Intelligence agencies perform the important job of collecting information about organised miscreants and help law enforcement authorities bust such gangs with the work that they carry out discreetly. In Pakistan,officials of Military Intelligence (MI), Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Intelligence Bureau (IB) are named as members of every JIT constituted to probe high profile cases. If the inclusion of the intelligence agencies in investigation helps in improving the credibility of the investigation report it also signifies the alarming state of the rot that has taken place in our institutional arrangement.

If the police authorities are considered to be either incompetent or untrustworthy to be watched over by scions of intelligence agencies in their normal work then it is better to provide a sound legal basis of JIT working in the criminal justice system of Pakistan. Roll back the 18th Amendment and declare law and order a concurrent area of responsibility. Give intelligence agencies, Rangers and the Frontier Corps (FC) full policing powers just as some agencies have been given anti-smuggling powers. Instead of ad-hocism stable institutional arrangements need to be in place to deal with problems. Sleeping over issues and resorting to quickfix solutions is not going to be helpful.

The JIT is one symptom of the complete erosion of our criminal justice system. Recently, we have observed some instances of the manufacturing of justice. Saulat Mirza in his death cell makes a movie, issues it to the media and the matter gets hushed up. The alleged killers of Imran Farooq reach Karachi airport and they are not taken into custody by the police but by intelligence agencies, and they remain hidden for years only to resurface again to undergo trial. Justice should not only be done but also seem to be done. There has been a genuine sentiment that, in the past, criminals have gotten off scot free due to political expediencies. But to remedy the situation we might be shifting to another extreme. From DrAsim to UzairBaloch, the manufacturing of justice seems conspicuous. Recently, in a press conference, the spokesperson of the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) paraded a few accused as terrorists before the media. The uniformed gentleman did not care about legal norms while taking such an unprecedented step.

In order to deal with the crisis of terrorism, we are creating new problems. The crisis of policing is one manifestation of fast paced deterioration of institutionalism. I hope someone knows clearly who is in charge of the situation these days.