Dr. Haider Shah

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


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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


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OVER A COFFEE: Political pandemonium: who are the winners and losers?, The Daily Times, August 30, 2014

We had wrongly assumed that after the disgraceful exit of Musharraf a democratic order had finally come to stay in Pakistan in which the prime minister would be the sole architect of public policy

Dr Haider Shah

In the last few days, the honourable Supreme Court (SC), led by the Chief Justice (CJ) of Pakistan,twice ordered the clearance of Constitution Avenue. These orders went unnoticed as far as the two leaders of the revolutions were concerned. And not a minute was wasted in hurrying to the office of the army chief after Imran Khan and TahirulQadriwere summoned through a messenger.As this painful melodrama is taking an inauspicious turn,I am not sure what will form the political landscape by Saturday. Instead of predicting the future, I would like to share my opinion on the events of the last two weeks and their fallout.

Like a flood, political movements, despite causing a short-term upheaval, can bring fertility if they remain within the constraints of the legal order. If the political movement engineered by Imran Khan and TahirulQadriis examined dispassionately, we can find a mix of positive and negative effects. First, let us examine the social impact of the political mobilisation. We have seen a large number of young girls in a lively and festive mood while becoming a part of this political activity. As we have long been under the spell of a Taliban-related discourse on the electronic media, scenes of middle class females becoming the public face of a political movement can be seen as a happy break from the norm. It seems that Pakistani society has not only become more receptive to the proactive role of females but has also become more gender neutral towards the right of people having fun in public. They are, however, sceptics contend, being used as a marketing banner only as their significance in decision-making is still minimal.

The political fallouts of this agitation are quite dangerous because a very risky precedent has been established. Imran Khan quite confidently mentioned the intervention of an umpirethat finally raised its finger, as predicted by Khan and Qadri.For all democrats, the events of the last two weeks are quite disconcerting. We had wrongly assumed that after the disgraceful exit of Musharraf a democratic order had finally come to stay in Pakistan in which the prime minister would be the sole architect of public policy. Ever since Hamid Mir was shot in Karachi we had, however, been gradually witnessing thebrittle nature of the democratic order in our country. Through a section of the media, the judiciary as an institution was systematically maligned and its primal role questioned. Imran Khan took this hype to a new climax by pointing fingers at the judiciary and slandering parliament.

While the terrorists, including Punjabi Taliban, appear to be on an extraordinary long leave, the capital was made hostage by the activists of Imran Khan and TahirulQadri. Islamabad flashed back memories of Malakand and Waziristan. Just as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) established their own security check posts there, the private militia of Qadri was seen checking the cars of even judges. In speeches, people were asked to rise in mutiny against the state. Some demands were more radical evenby the standardsset by the TTP leaders. Some media channels have been playing the role of ShahidullahShahid. Many anchors speak like the judges of martial law courts where they try and summarily execute all those they dislike. Speeches asking children as little as a few months to spill their blood were relayed live day and night with no respite. The last time, when the ISI chief was accused of a murder attack, we saw how the biggest channel was punished. Now the prime minister is being accused day and night but no one is bothered.

The economy is one of the major casualties. The stock market alone has registered a loss of Rs 350 billion. International investors are very risk averse to political uncertainties. The positive impact that some recent reports by credit rating agencies had made seems to have been erased by the negative sentiment created by unruly scenes in Islamabad.

Politically, who come out as the winners and losers?In my last piece, ‘Insanity, thy name is inqilabin Pakistan’ (Daily Times, Aug 16, 2014), I had already predicted that whatever the final outcome, the prime minister as the civilian head of the country would be weakened. Both international and domestic analysts believe that the new lease of life for the prime minster will be given in exchange for Musharraf’s release and, like Asif Ali Zardari, giving the army its traditional overseeing role in matters of foreign policy, especially India, Afghanistan and the US.

While I see TahirulQadri as a major winner, I find Imran Khan to be the loser after a very tiring show. His underdeveloped oratory skills have exposed all the rough edges of his personality. Movements gain momentum as the popularity of their charismatic leaders soars. However, we saw a downward slide as Imran Khan painfully pleaded for better attendance during his evening shows. The latest polls by Gallup and Pew also reflect the downward trend in his appeal as a leader. Some mainstream media anchors, who I have always identified as the greatest heroes of PTI supporters, have also turned into outright critics of Imran Khan. Nonsensical advice given to the public regarding civil disobedience and commission of criminal offences did not help in boosting Khan’s public image as a national leader. Interestingly,SirajulHaq,the head of the Jamaat-e-Islami, emerged as a very respectable and eloquent political leader.As the melodrama is still unfolding, it is therefore a bit early to be definite as to who will have the last laugh.


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Ending the deadly embrace — II

Over a coffee: Ending the deadly embrace — II —Dr Haider Shah

The chief US strategist strongly supports long-term engagement with Pakistan so that it is able to end its deadly embrace with terrorism. Bruce, in fact, finishes his book with a chapter on helping Pakistan and is frank in admitting that the US proved a very unreliable friend in the past

In the previous part of this article, primary elements of Obama’s strategy on Afghanistan were analysed with the help of Bruce Riedel’s recently published book. A strategy is defined as answering three basic questions. Where are we, where do we want to go, and how do we get there? But in order to understand where we are it is also important to know how we ended up there in the first place. Like all other strategists, Bruce in his book also first traces the roots of Pakistan’s problems in its early history. In doing that, he appears sympathetic to Pakistan’s early security concerns and its scrambling for outside help. Pakistan’s fixation with India is identified as the defining feature of its foreign and domestic policy. When the US offered money and arms during the Afghan jihad, there was therefore a mismatch of strategic objectives. The US wanted to use Pakistan and jihadis for defeating the Soviet Union and communist threat while Pakistan viewed it as an opportunity for using the terror structure built with the US money against India. This theme has been discussed by both Bruce and late Saleem Shahzad in their respective books.

Appearances can be deceptive. This is what we discover from Bruce’s description of his meetings with our main political leaders. Bruce is intrigued by the dubious liberal leaders in furthering the cause of jihadis when in power. He laments, “It is one of the many paradoxes of Pakistan’s history that the most liberal and enlightened of its leaders Benazir Bhutto would be the one to help midwife the Taliban, an action that would ultimately lead to her assassination.” Similarly, Musharraf portrays himself as an enlightened moderate but under his watch double gaming continued unabated. Ironically, he too had a narrow escape from the assassination attacks by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and other militants that had long benefited from Pakistan’s warm embrace. Based on his confidential meetings, interestingly, Bruce is less damning about Nawaz Sharif. He equates Sharif with Hamlet who is torn between making his personal desire of making difficult decisions but is hard pressed by circumstances surrounding him. Bruce observes that in a one to one emergency meeting Sharif expressed his readiness not to go nuclear if the US could assure the resolution of the Kashmir issue as, without that, Sharif is quoted as warning Strobe Talbot that if nuclear tests were not done, “next time Strobe came to Islamabad the prime minister would be a jihadist with a long beard”. Unfortunately, in the establishment, media and politics, there are many such jihadists without any beard at all.

Like Saleem’s book Inside Al-Qaeda and the Taliban: Beyond Bin Laden and 9/11, Bruce also in his book views the present terror network in Pakistan as a troika comprising al Qaeda with an international jihad perspective, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT) with Indian and Kashmir focus, and their common connection of ISI. Saleem wrote about radicalisation of military officers in his reports and book. Bruce also examines the nexus between the military establishment and militant groups. He emphasises the social dimensions of this affinity by stating that the Pakistani Army and LeT recruit in the very same villages and towns in Punjab. The result is that some family members go to the army while others join LeT. Therefore militants and the military enjoy very cordial family level relations in Punjab. The author claims that both al Qaeda and LeT have gained synergistic gains by working together as they pooled their resources for strategic planning, training facilities and monetary channels. Bruce reviews LeT’s attacks on the Indian parliament and Mumbai and concludes that both attacks were carried out to heighten tensions between Pakistan and India so that Pakistan is forced to shift its forces from the western border to the eastern one and consequently the pressure on al Qaeda is eased in the tribal area.

The chief US strategist strongly supports long-term engagement with Pakistan so that it is able to end its deadly embrace with terrorism. Bruce, in fact, finishes his book with a chapter on helping Pakistan and is frank in admitting that the US proved a very unreliable friend in the past. He severely criticises the short-term US policy in which the US provided massive aid to all military governments in Pakistan but imposed economic sanctions when democratic governments were in power. Like all analysts he is also alarmed at the future economic figures relating to Pakistan. Just consider some basic facts, e.g. by 2050 the Pakistani population will be expected to be 460 million, making Pakistan the largest Muslim country surpassing Indonesia.

About 54 percent of the population is below 19 and 38 percent between 20 and 39. Water availability per capita has already gone down drastically from 5,000 cubic meters in 1951 to below 1,000 cubic meters in 2010. The country is also suffering from an acute power shortage as against the required 14,600 megawatts the supply is only about 10,200 megawatts. As per the official Economic Survey of Pakistan, up to 36 percent schools do not have a boundary wall, flush toilet or drinking water facility while 60 percent schools are without electricity. A recent Brookings study claims that illiteracy is actually increasing and that the education infrastructure resembles that of a poor Sub-Saharan nation. The fragile economic situation can be remedied if Pakistan is able to transform its negative image. The $ 1.5 billion a year aid arrangement under the Kerry Lugar-Berman Act already signalled a shift in emphasis from the military to social and economic sectors like education, water and energy.

While advocating full economic assistance to Pakistan, Bruce emphasises that two red lines must be drawn for engagement with Pakistan. First, safe havens for the Quetta Shura and the Haqqani network must be shut down. Second, the deadly embrace with LeT, which Bruce claims operates with impunity in Pakistan, must be ended. Since the US engagement in Pakistan is going to be a long term one, it is better that we use this renewed interest to our best advantage. The strategy of bleeding neighbours with the help of jihadi organisations has not worked and has instead backfired. It is in our own larger interest that we end our embrace with the terrorists and instead follow a clearly articulated national strategy of economic revival of the country.

(Concluded)