Dr. Haider Shah

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

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OVER A COFFEE: New security policy and national narrative, The Daily Times, 29 March, 2014

New security policy and national narrative

In the 21st century, we are made to believe that God wanted underage girls to be married against their will and that polygamy was every male’s divine right

Sometime back, I wrote a piece titled, ‘Operation or a comprehensive solution?’ where I had contended that militancy was a result of our national narrative of extremism and therefore a military operation on its own would be meaningless unless it was a part of a comprehensive anti-extremism policy. Embracing this approach, the NISP envisages a Comprehensive Response Plan (CRP) as the overarching anti-extremism policy. The second pillar of the policy, the Composite Deterrence Plan (CDP), deals with operational level initiatives. Today, I restrict my analysis to the CRP, which deals with the long-term sustainability of the state by addressing the origins of the militancy problem. 

The CRP aims to focus on five key areas, which are given as ‘infrastructure development’, ‘rehabilitation of victims of terrorism’, ‘national narrative reconciliation’, ‘reintegration’ and ‘legal reforms’. The central theme of the CRP boils down to the need for a new narrative. The following provision of the policy encapsulates the main thrust of the new policy: “Construct a national narrative on extremism, terrorism, sectarianism and militancy to dispel the wrong perceptions created by the terrorists on an ideological basis by engaging media, civil society organisations, overseas Pakistanis and the international community to elicit support and cooperation.” 
The NISP also identifies the need for bringing madrassas into mainstream education. As a policy objective one cannot disagree with the need for modernising religious institutions but the authors of the NISP seem to be assuming that radicalism was a problem restricted to madrassas alone while a very enlightened narrative reigns supreme in other parts of the country. Nothing is farther from the truth. The sad reality is that the environment of many higher education institutions is no less dogmatic. If one gets a chance to discuss national issues with officers belonging to various prestigious services, one finds their narrative highly obscurantist and often extremist. I once wrote about the need for a national deradicalisation programme and suggested that it should begin in military institutions like the Pakistan Military Academy and National Defence College. The jihad-related propaganda and India-fixated doctrines should give way to new doctrines based upon the nationalist vision of a progressive Pakistan. Similarly, the syllabi of schools should also be purged of any extremist content because brains damaged at a young age are harder to heal later on. There is also an urgent need to make higher education institutions genuine seats of learning and critical thinking. The state needs to establish its writ in the University of Punjab where a student wing related to a religious political party runs a parallel administration. 

No sooner had the NISP with its emphasis upon a new progressive narrative been announced than the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) reminded us what kind of narrative our religious leaders wanted us to remain attuned to. In the 21st century, we are made to believe that God wanted underage girls to be married against their will and that polygamy was every male’s divine right. In one of my earlier writings I mentioned that, when in 1890 the British government raised the minimum age of consent from 10 to 12, after a very young Hindu bride died of haemorrhage, both Hindu and Muslim clerics showed uncanny solidarity in opposing the new law as they argued that their scriptures fully endorsed child marriages. The Indian legislature has, however, embraced changes by bringing the family law into consonance with the demands of the social consensus of the 21st century world. Our clerics, however, wish to stay frozen in their imaginary world of the past. One must give full credit to Marvi Memon of the PML-N who has tabled a bill in the National Assembly seeking tougher punishments for the offence of child marriage. We need to give such befitting answers to the likes of Maulana Shirani.

How serious is the government in creating and promoting an enlightened and pluralist narrative? The proof of the pudding is in the eating. The narrative of negotiations with militants hardly serves the aim of a new progressive national narrative. The current discourse has glorified the militants to such an extent that they are seen as an equal party to the state. By meeting them at a place of their choice, which was guarded by their men, we seem to have accepted their de facto sovereignty over that region. Similarly, few will believe in the sincerity of the stated objective of a new narrative if on the one hand YouTube remains banned while on the other hand websites of extremist radicals remain fully operational. 

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OVER A COFFEE : Drones of different types — Daily Times, 1/6/13

The constitution is also like a confused Hamlet, trying to please the clerics as well as advocates of human rights and democratic ideals 

The new governments in Islamabad and Peshawar have not yet fully set their feet in the saddles and both have received warning shots from all around. The bomb blasts in mosques of Peshawar and Swat are a rude reminder to the new Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) that lofty wishes are not horses. Polio vaccination workers have been killed, with a stark realisation that the exit of a perceived enemy of extremism from the political scene of KP has not made any sobering effect upon preachers and promoters of hate and violence.

The debate on drone attacks also started casting its shadows on the new governments. While the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has historically preferred strategic silence over the issue, the PTI leadership remained vocal about downing drones. The drone attack that allegedly killed Tehreek-e-Taliban’s number two, Wali ur Rehman, brought a clear message to the new political masters that the recent Barack Obama speech on drone policy notwithstanding, drones were still in business as far as the safe havens of Pakistan were concerned. Arguably this puts the new Prime Minister-elect Nawaz Sharif in a very awkward situation. He has expressed his eagerness to take up energy crisis as the top priority for his administration. But without availability of huge funds this would remain mere wishful thinking. Not only new projects for power generation need huge foreign investments but even maintaining the existing infrastructure is in a dire need of a significant cash injunction to plug the gaping hole of circular debt that keeps piling up and might reach one trillion rupees by 2014. As Mr Sharif wants to address the energy problem on a war footing the drone attack at this juncture might prove ominous for his new government. From the Jamaat-e-Islami to the PTI, almost all opposition parties would attack the PML-N government if more drone attacks happen.

Of late, the biggest drone attack, however, came from the clerical establishment. Heading a constitutional body, the Council of Islamic Ideology, Maulana Muhammad Khan Sherani, recommended to the legislature that DNA tests cannot become primary evidence in rape cases. The learned maulana sahib declared that only four witnesses can be the primary evidence as laid down in the Quran. It is interesting to see that when women rights are involved our religious establishment is only interested in the literal interpretation of the scripture without considering context of the verses. Where monetary matters are involved the clerics, however, resort to all kinds of ifs and buts to accommodate their mundane needs. For instance, in the case of riba (interest) there are clear admonitions to the extent of calling interest taker and giver an enemy of Allah and his Prophet (PBUH). We have not seen any extremist bombing banks and related monetary institutions though. In the Quran there is no mention of TV, mobile phone or motor vehicles but our maulvis have no hesitation in embracing these gifts of modern civilisation. But they are not ready to allow the consequential advancements made in the realm of human rights and jurisprudence benefit the disadvantaged sections of our society. Historically, all societies have suffered from racism, gender discrimination and class divisions. At times, religions have tried to introduce reforms but they have also institutionalised many injustices as well. Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism and all faith systems can be charged of male chauvinism towards females. But by separating legislation from religious scriptures all modern human societies have minimised pernicious effects of old times when man did not know that the earth was round and collective knowledge about human body was less than that of a normal primary school student today. 

In Pakistan the situation is entirely different. As intoxicating emotionalism keeps us agitated round the clock, we are unable to separate law-making from our religious faith. The constitution is also like a confused Hamlet, trying to please the clerics as well as advocates of human rights and democratic ideals. Islamic Ideological council is a spanner in the works of modern democratic country. Sovereignty cannot be shared or divided. Even if the preamble of the constitution declares that sovereignty belongs to Allah, it is parliament alone that executes that sovereignty. In this 21st century we do not need any cleric telling us how a crime be investigated and culprits brought to book.

The religious lobby ignores three key facts when it discusses the rape issue. First, law is an organic institution. As societies evolve the notions of rights and responsibilities also change and, consequently, laws also undergo changes. As it is known, 100 years ago women could not vote in the UK. Today it is unimaginable to stop any woman from exercising this right in any democratic country. Second, the four witnesses’ requirement in the Quranic verse 24: 2-5 was in relation to the adultery accusation levelled against Hazrat Ayesha and aimed at providing legal protection to women who were customarily charged of adultery in the then Arab society. Third, our clerics do not take cognizance of the fact that the notion of rape as a crime was not developed in the then Arab society. Unlike Greek mythology or Roman law, we do not find rape mentioned as a crime in the Quran even though adultery is mentioned many times. Clerics, therefore, make a great mistake when they apply adultery provisions to cases of ‘rape’, a notion that like smart phones and a four-wheel vehicle is an invention of modern times.

If clerics find it hard to understand this, why should we give them any importance in our scheme of things? If the government genuinely wants to bring down one, the drone fired by the maulvis establishment should be the clear choice.

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