Dr. Haider Shah

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

Leave a comment

Chabahar — another game changer?; COMMENT: Daily Times, 11 June, 2016

As Pakistan has not facilitated Indo-Afghan trade by extending the transit land route to India, India aims to use the new link for a maritime route to enter Afghanistan

Chabahar — another game changer?
Dr Haider Shah

Pictures can, at times, say more clearly what verbose writings and lectures fail to deliver. A photograph showing the presidents of Iran and Afghanistan, and the prime minister of India joining hands as a show of unity is a potent commentary over the changing dynamics of the South Asian region. If the shared smiles of the heads of governments of three neighbouring countries are the most telling feature, the absence of Pakistan is not a less conspicuous observation as well.

For the last year or so, Pakistan has been declaring the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) a game changer in the region with massive Chinese investment amounting to around $46 billion. In terms of monetary value the Chabahar project appears to be peanuts as it is worth only $500 million, but the symbolic and strategic value of the initiative cannot be overemphasised. The Indian Ocean has traditionally attracted a huge maritime trade. Controlling choking points of a water route is a strategic ambition of every imperial power. As China does not enjoy direct land connection with the Indian Ocean it began expressing an interest in persuading the coastal nations such as Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Maldives and Pakistan to let it acquire ports in the ocean to secure Chinese strategic lines of communication, a plan that is popularly known as China’s “String of Pearls” strategy. CPEC is the latest manifestation of this renewed interest of China to have a firm foothold at the entrance of the Indian Ocean. Chabahar in Iran is less than 100 kilometres from Gawadar and is closer to the Strait of Hormuz. Both China and India can now use ports to keep an eye on maritime activity on the busy maritime route. If India was uncomfortable with Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean by acquiring Gawadar port, now Pakistani security analysts are not very happy about Indian presence in the Gulf area. If colonial India and Russia were engaged in the Great Game in the 19th century to enhance their influence in the Central Asian region, now the same game is being replayed between India and China.

Chabahar project, on a smaller scale, is like CPEC. It not only aims at the construction and operation of new port facilities by India, but also includes the creation of special economic zones and development of road and rail connections through Iran to Afghanistan and further into Central Asia. The agreement for developing Chabahar as a full deep seaport was signed between India and Iran in 2002. Iran is facing the same problem of an over-congested single seaport as Pakistan has been experiencing with overreliance on the Karachi port. Currently Iran’s main port is Bandar Abbas that handles about 85 percent of the country’s maritime trade. Just as Pakistan hopes to ease off its load on the Karachi port by developing another port in Gawadar, Iran wants to see Chabahar developed for the same reason. And as Gawadar is to be connected with the Silk Road project of China, Chabahar will be integrated with the North-South Transport Corridor (NSTC). Russia, Iran and India are the founding member states of the NSTC project when in 2002 they signed an agreement. Central Asian countries are also part of this project. Chabahar, therefore, provides the necessary hub for this intercontinental trade route.

The Chabahar port will give India direct physical access to Afghanistan. While Pakistan has relied heavily on its strategic assets like the Haqqani network to remain a key player in the Afghan game, India has been enhancing its influence by forging stronger economic ties with the war-battered country. As Pakistan has not facilitated Indo-Afghan trade by extending the transit land route to India, India aims to use the new link for a maritime route to enter Afghanistan. In times of estranged relations, the US may also like to use this route thus minimising its reliance on Pakistan.

The project is important for Iran as well. After years of economic sanctions the reformist government wants to play a more active role in the world affairs. Without economic revival such a vision is however not achievable. The Iranian hardliners, on the other hand, want to see President Hassan Rouhani fail in his attempts, as the state of despondency is always beneficial for radical elements. Chabahar is the first sign of international investment coming to Iran. Tehran is opening itself up to the world. As one analyst puts it, “Iran has become a major destination for several world leaders looking to get in on a piece of the pie that Iran is now offering. From consumer goods to automobiles, from big industry and infrastructure projects to banking, every part of Iran’s economy is wide open.” While Iran is keen on embracing new strategic partners, we thought that the visit of President Rouhani was the best occasion to play ‘tit for tat’ game with India by parading an alleged RAW agent before the media, and publicly accusing Iran of harbouring Indian agents. Perhaps recalling advice of the early 20th century French prime minister Georges Clemenceau is in order: “Not just wars, but foreign policy is also too serious a matter to be left to military men.”


Leave a comment

COMMENT: The Panama leaks hysteria, Daily Times, 14 May, 2016

Before I sat down to write this piece, an editorial of The New York Times caught my attention as it was titled “Time to Put the Squeeze on Pakistan.” Referring to the America’s frustrating experience of fixing Afghanistan, Pakistan was accused of playing double games in the region. “It remains a duplicitous and dangerous partner for the United States and Afghanistan, despite $33 billion in American aid and repeated attempts to reset relations on a more constructive course”, laments the editorial. Referring to the continued operations of the Haqqani network the editorial contends that a military campaign against the Taliban in the tribal area was launched by the Pakistani military under American pressure, but the Haqqani networkcontinued to enjoy safety in Pakistan. The editorial blames Pakistan army of helpingintegration of the members of the Haqqani group into the Taliban leadership. The newspaper recognises the importance of Pakistan in brokering peace in Afghanistan but makes it clear that aid to Pakistan would remain linked with Pakistan’s role in peace talks.

Already our relations with Afghanistan have nosedived after some initial enthusiasm. The pacifist Ashraf Ghani has also begun accusing Pakistan of hobnobbing with the Afghan Taliban to destabilise Afghanistan. The Afghan Torkham border is feeling the heat of worsening relations as it remains shut for three consecutive days over border management issue. Though Nawaz Sharif government, as was largely expected, tried repairing Pak-India relations but events like Pathankot and RAW agent stories released by the ISPR have effectively snatched the initiative away from the office of the prime minster. Iran has also been accused by our military spokespersons of helping Indian intelligence network. Interestingly,Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Raheel Sharif met the Iranian president to complain about Iranian involvement. Two years, COAS Sharif visited the US as well and met some civilian officials. Such tasks in other countries are performed by defence and foreign ministers. Pakistan surprises everyone in many ways.

Pakistan’s relations with its former half Bangladesh have gone sour as Hasina Wajid’s government has opened guillotine centres to benefit from populist nationalist sentiment in the country. The only country in the region that Pakistan can claim to be friends with is China, which is investing about $46 billion in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor projects. But in the globalised world affairs it is a very risky business to put all your eggs in one basket, especially when most other key players in the international affairs are unhappy with you.

Pakistan is faced with dire challenges on various fronts. The country needs stability and statesmanship in order to address these challenges. But we have chosen to rock the boat in the midst of whirlpools around us. Sensation is to electronic media what water is to fish. And when it comes to Pakistani electronic media it likes to keep flogging sensational news for a long time even if the news had long expired due to incessant beating. A few years ago, it was the ‘Memogate’ story that held the media captive for months. Now there is no reprieve from the Panama leaks. No doubt, the Panama leaks story drew massive attention all over the world but the hysteria that we are gripped with is unique to us.

Asking difficult questions and keeping government on its toes is the job of the opposition. Asking the head of the government for a transparent account of the business dealings is a legitimate demand. But creating an anarchic situation is something that a democratic system that has yet to mature can hardly afford. The obsession of electronic media with issues like the Panama leaks is understandable. On the British TV channels, on average, there is only one political talk show every day. In Pakistan each channel runs a large number of talk shows every day. Capabilities are limited while demand for stuffing these shows with some content is always pressing. Consequently, if they get hold of a sensational news item then they keep milking it as it is a readymade topic that requires least amount of hard work. Day and night the same line-up of analysts comprising a few retired generals or air marshals and a few politicians can be seen discussing issues of security, economics, trade and, given a chance, even literature. One can figure out exactly what each participant is going to say in such talk shows. These days whichever channel one turns to one cannot escape the endless debates on the Panama leaks.

Once there was much furore over the Mehran bank and ISI funding case. What happened in the end? As two retired generals were found guilty no politician ever asked for implementation of the court’s judgment. I would have high regard for the leaders of opposition that are in forefront of Panama leaks campaign if they had launched a similar campaign for enforcement of Mehran bank case judgment. Digging graveyards of the bygone era can obscure the gravity of the challenges we face today. On practical grounds neither General Pervez Musharraf can be hanged for the offence of ‘high treason’, nor can we bring any money back from offshore accounts. Instead of wasting our energies on endless pursuits its better we focus on the present and the future. “Guzashta ra salat, aaenda ra ehtiat”(forgive the past, be more careful for the future) perhaps is a sensible approach for dealing with the Panama leaks issue.

Leave a comment

OVER A COFFEE: The ordinary is extraordinary, Daily Times, 16 April, 2016

Self-indulgence has attained the status ofan art as social media has become an integral part of our daily life. We often get inundated with a deluge of selfies and boastful status posts of friends and relatives, some of whom make a running commentary on their daily routine from dawn to dusk. Someone who uses social media only for sharing ideas on public issues, I avoid making my personal life publicin an excessive manner.This piece can,therefore, be treated as an exception. The purpose, however, is to extrapolate personal experiences to the outside world as, at times, reflecting on life and its many shades can be a refreshingly rewarding exercise.
“The more the merrier”, they say in English, and “Aik se behter do”(two are better than one) in Urdu. But when you wakeup in the morning and find that the two images produced by the lenses of your eyes fail to merge into one, and hence you see an interplay of images,you would certainly not agree with the wisdom of such sayings.A few weeks ago on a Saturday morning I woke up with this annoying experience. Undaunted, I watched a T20 match with one eye shut,and when after considerable time the situation didn’t settle I had to call the medical helpline. I was advised to see an eye doctor who referred me to the local hospital for further investigation.So what I had been treating as a minor eye issue got me admitted in the Acute Medical Unit (AMU) where patients with serious symptoms and conditions are treated.
The AMU of the hospital is a ward with eight cubicles separated by curtains. Shakespeare says that life is a stage where we perform different rolesas we advance from infancy to old age. The ward appeared to me a stage where watching the human lifecycle and lying in a cosy bed I was reflecting on mystical questions, as I could hear stories of patients around me as they briefed the doctors and nurses. Suffering from chronic diseases most of these patients were quite elderly. I could clearly see that such elderly people need round-the-clock support and medical attention for carrying out simple tasks like going to the toilet or taking a meal or medicine. Old age homes where such elderly patients can be looked after round-the-clock by medically trained, adult-care staff are, therefore, a natural public policy answer to this challenge as society is ageing due to longer life spans and smaller family sizes.We in Pakistan are also experiencing this issue in our urban areas but we are in the habit of burying our heads in the sands of denial. Ideal solutions to social problems seldom exist as every remedy comes at some social cost. But feigning that a problem does not exist is also not a remedy at all.
In the neighbouring cubicle on my right I could hear an elderly patient complaining in a very feeble voice that he was feeling a bit warm. The nurse was telling him that his temperature had been checked and was found to be normal. I then fell asleep for some time before subdued crying of a female in the same cubicle woke me up. I thought that a new patient had been admitted, but, gradually, the exchange between the sobbing female and some younger voices made it clear that they were talking about the patient who had passed away. The young were trying to calm the lady by saying that the deceased died in grace and comfort after leading a good life. I could figure it out that my neighbour had left the stage after performing the final act of life. As a keen observer I also reflected upon how different cultures deal with various phases of human life cycle and get them ritualised.
The examinationsabout my situation included various blood tests, CT Scan and MRI to rule out any sinister causes. Luckily, no cause of concern was found. I was, therefore, allowed to go home with a few scheduled follow-up visits. During my stay at hospital and later visits I was greatly impressed by the caring and friendly nature of the medical staff of a free public hospital. Over the past few years, like other public sector organisations, the British national healthcare has faced efficiency savings demands. Despite the squeeze, I always found the staff to be smiling and affectionate.
The purpose of sharing these experiences is to remind my valued readers that what we take for granted is often the most precious in life. Don’t think that you will be happy when you touch the sky. The fact that you are firmly standing on the ground should give you the real pleasure. You can feel the warmth of a loving hand, be it of a cuddly child or of a caring mother or of a loving partner, or that you can have a hot cup of tea and can walk down the stairs. These may appear to us very ordinary things, but it is the ordinary that is the real extraordinary. Awareness of this can bring bliss and contentment to our lives.

Leave a comment

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.