Dr. Haider Shah

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

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Sovereignty puzzle in Pakistan, Daily Times, 16 July, 2016

Last year millions of Pakistanis saw on their TV screens merciless beating of a police officer, and ransacking of PTV building in broad daylight. The two most conspicuous icons of the state were publicly humiliated. More deplorable was the fact that the miscreants got away with their display of mocking the state.

And one year later, the open challenge is out on the roads again. This time banners making seditious calls to army appeared mysteriously all over the country in a highly organised manner. To add insult to injury, the perpetrators have begun doing press conferences as well. The Constitution of the country prescribes death penalty for any tampering with the Constitution, and Section 131 of the Pakistan Penal Code says: “Whoever abets the committing of mutiny by an officer, soldier, sailor or airman, in the Army, Navy or Air Force of Pakistan, or attempts to seduce any such officer, soldier, sailor, or airman from his allegiance of his duty, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to 10 years, and shall also be liable to fine.” Despite these clear provisions of the law of the country it is shocking to see how some miscreants can so easily get away with mockery of the law.

The situation therefore gives rise to a very fundamental question. Who is the sovereign in Pakistan? A state is defined as a territory with three further constituents: people, government and sovereignty. When Pakistan came into being in 1947 the question of sovereignty became a thorny issue. Religion and greater powers for the provinces were the two main demands of the founders of Pakistan. Once Pakistan came into being the two became the source of all problems for our early lawmakers as well as they struggled to find an amicable solution to the competing demands of dividing powers between the central and provincial legislatures, and to find the right place for religion in the scheme of things. At that time, army, commanded by British generals, was in its teething age. It was in mid-1950s that army with the first native chief Ayub Khan also entered the fray, thus further complicating the sovereignty puzzle. The 1973 Constitution to a varying degree was successful in resolving the competing demands of the two original sets of problems. While sovereignty was declared to belong to Allah, its exercise was entrusted to the people of Pakistan through their chosen representatives. The thorny issue of federation was also amicably settled by federal and concurrent lists. The 18th amendment addressed the issue again and assuaged the concerns of smaller provinces.

While the challenges of sovereignty at the constitutional level have been settled the issue of civil-military relations has proved to be like throwing a spanner in the works of constitutional governance. Let us examine two occurrences of public importance in the recent past. The ISPR spokesperson in a televised PowerPoint presentation on the achievements of the Zarb-e-Azb said that army and government are on same page on the Afghan issue. We can easily identify two underlying norms and beliefs in this statement. One, army is something separate and distinct from the government and second, army is in the leadership role and government follows it. If we look at the Constitutional arrangement, army is a department of the ministry of defence (MOD), and all uniformed forces including their chiefs are subordinate officers of secretary, MOD. Either the ISPR spokesperson should avoid public presentations, or he needs proper tutoring in choice of words so that disregard for Constitution of the country is not seen to be floating on the surface.

The second example is the namaz-e-janaza (funeral prayer) of the great humanist Abdul Sattar Edhi. While president of the country, chairman of Senate, and chief ministers of various provinces stood on sidelines, the army chief who is a subordinate officer of one of the ministries of the government, stood in the middle. If in the real world that is the situation, it should better remain hidden from the public eye as the veneer of constitutionalism should not be so brazenly peeled off.

When the British parliament through its government decided to use army in Ireland the army generals acted accordingly, and when the government settled for an Irish solution army did not cry foul. Similarly, when the British government held a referendum in Scotland on the independence question, no one asked the army chief about his opinion. Recently, when the British people voted in favour of leaving the EU by a thin majority, again no press release from the British Army was released. No doubt, input of the security establishment on strategic and security issues is always obtained and considered important, but the final say is always of the political masters in democratic countries. One can clearly ascertain this in Bob Woodward’s Obama’s Wars with regard to development of the Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy.

It seems that Pakistan is passing through a crisis of multiple dimensions. Externally, it is at daggers drawn with its neighbours. Internally, it is fighting a war with the militants that it once itself created. And now the corpse of sovereignty of the state is being dragged in the streets of major cities of Pakistan, while the government helplessly watches the gory scene. Today the state in Pakistan is as much threatened by sycophants and ambitious messiahs as by militant extremists.

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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.”


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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.

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OVER A COFFEE: Can Azhar be Pakistan’s Mladic?, Daily Times, January 16 , 2016

Can Azhar be Pakistan’s Mladic?

Nawaz Sharif has been consistent in urging the need for redefining our relations with India and Afghanistan, and hence one can expect that the official heroes of the past will be deprived of their patronage in the same way as has happened in Serbia

The Pathankot attack, like any terrorist incident, was a deplorable act of savagery committed by a band of glory seeking fanatics. Unlike many other tragic incidents it, however, has brought the promise of peace to the region. Clothed in Dickens’ duality, it unfurls before the people of South Asia both the summer of hope and winter of despair. While all stakeholders are waiting for the final outcome of reported high-level investigations in Pakistan, I deem it pertinent to draw a parallel with the situation that existed in Serbia at the beginning of the new millennium.
Five years ago, I made a clarion call to decision makers to learn from the Serbian example of effecting a paradigm change in state level policy. While the case of Germany and France already serves as a good example of how to reorient policies, Serbia is of particular significance for Pakistan because of many common contextual factors. I can count at least six such factors. First, just as a strong sense of narcissism runs deep in Pakistan, Serbians, owing to forces of history, got embroiled in genocidal wars against other communities and a strong sense of national pride became necessary to preserve their identity. If we have gory stories of mass murders as refugees crossed borders in 1947, the period of political turmoil after breaking up of communist Yugoslavia exacerbated ethnic tensions, which resulted in the notorious bloodbath of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Second, just as we saw the rise of jihadi characters as our officially certified national heroes, Serbians found their military commanders with bloodstained hands as their heroes. Mladic, serving as a general of Bosnia’s Serbian army, rose to prominence as a war hero in the1990s. The military commander earned notoriety as he was accused by the International Criminal Tribunal (ICT) of being responsible for the illegal siege of Sarajevo and the Srebrenica massacre.As a parallel, we have Maulana Masood Azhar who is accused by India in particular, and the international community in general, of masterminding terrorist attacks. Third, just as there is a strong perception that Masood Azhar, when in trouble, was given protection by the deep state, Mladic could not be apprehended for a trial on war crimes charges. In 1997, when NATO troops were searching for war criminals, Mladic slipped into Serbia where the then dictator, Milosevic, and the Serbian military establishment provided refuge to the general on the run. Despite a huge bounty on his head, the general eluded capture for 14 years. Four, in addition to official protection by the military establishment, both Mladic and Azhar also used the threat of terror to keep potential informers silent and hence remain in a safe haven like a mafia boss.
Five, when military dictator Milosevic fell from power in 2000, the protective shield around the general also began cracking. Milosevic was arrested and sent to the Hague tribunal for a trial by the new democratic Serbian government. Nawaz Sharif has been consistent in urging the need for redefining our relations with India and Afghanistan, and hence one can expect that the official heroes of the past will be deprived of their patronage in the same way as has happened in Serbia. Arguably, the most important parallel is the sixth one: the socio-economic objective. Serbia officially applied for EU membership in December 2009 and cooperated with the EU in arresting and handing over all accused war criminals, including Mladic. Even though the public opinion in Serbia, as reported by various surveys, favoured Mladic, the new government showed courage and worked towards changing the public’s opinion. The security state decided to transform itself in favour of a welfare state driven by economic argument. It, therefore, made a conscious break with its jingoistic past in order to gain EU membership.
Pathankot, though tragic in terms of loss of lives, is a golden opportunity for the two South Asian countries to begin a new era of cooperation in dealing with terrorists and their handlers as a common cause. When in Paris terrorists caused mayhem, France and Belgium worked jointly to nab the ringleaders by sharing information and conducting raids. For terrorists there are no borders. States should also work in the same spirit when it comes to cross-border terrorism. India, despite the media furore, has responded maturely and honourably. Now the ball is in Pakistan’s court. Nawaz’s sincerity on this issue can hardly be questioned. Whether the security establishment will prove a spoiler or a supportive partner for change is yet to be seen. The future of South Asia hangs in the balance, as we wait to see what Pakistan does after India shares actionable intelligence and evidence. The early indicators are no doubt encouraging and the emerging perception is that Pakistan might have finally decided to go the Serbian way. When it is busy finalising the economic contours of its future along the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and repairing its relations with the international community, it must be realising that jihadi characters such as Azhar do not fit in the new paradigm. Just as Serbia traded its generals for economic prosperity, Pakistan can also trade the jihadis that have outlived their utility for its economic development

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OVER A COFFEE: Welcoming the New Year, Daily Times, January 02, 2016

One should not be surprised at how IS related identities are gradually emerging in the country. The state of denial in the ruling elite is a cause for great concern

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OVER A COFFEE: Of courts and miscarriage of justice, The Daily Times, November 01, 2014

In Ziaul Haq’s era, insertions were made in chapter 15 of the penal code, categorising offences relating to religion. The non-discriminatory nature of the chapter was changed as the sensitivities of one religious community were valued much more than those of all other minorities

Dr Haider Shah

Recently, the issue of fresh elections came up before the Supreme Court (SC). Proving the pundits of doom wrong, the court trashed all petitions against the election results of 2013 and has hence shut the door for those who wanted to use the judiciary to engineer fresh elections. As the mightiest of Pakistan had a stake in this case, it attracted massive attention. There is another case that no one cares to talk much about as it does not concern any important player in the power game. It, however, threatens the life of an insignificant citizen of the country, a poor illiterate rural woman, Aasia Bibi. She is condemned to death as she was accused of blasphemy by a local maulvi after she picked a fight with bigoted women in her village over some petty water fetching issue. The Lahore High Court (LHC) recently confirmed her death penalty that had been awarded by the trial court on the basis of hearsay evidence. Her appeal now will be considered by the judges of the SC.

Miscarriage of justice is a major concern in societies where the rule of law is considered to be the foundation of their criminal justice system. Bias or fear in the minds of judges are the two main reasons that contribute towards miscarriage of justice. For instance, when the US was suffering from the slavery issue, racism was often cited by independent analysts as a cause behind biased judgements. Pakistan’s judiciary is tainted with judgments passed under the doctrine of necessity. After the restoration of Chief Justice (CJ) Iftikhar Chaudhry, we saw that the superior judiciary began rewriting its role in the public affairs of the country with many bold judgments. However, bias does not enter the judicial system through a single door. Religious faith can undermine the impartiality of a judge and fear of militants can also have a devastating effect.

There are videos available on YouTube where lawyers can be seen garlanding the killer of Salmaan Taseer. Included among those was a lawyer who was later made a judge of the High Court. In a civilised country this would have been unthinkable. How can a person accused of blasphemy ever get justice if presented before judges with such credentials? Browsing the internet once I accidentally stumbled upon a video where Justice (retd) Wajihuddin was addressing a seminar and accusing a fellow judge of being an Ahmedi. If judges carry such strong religious biases, the chances of miscarriage of justice become stronger. It is hoped that the judges in the SC will prove their independence and fearlessness beyond any doubt in cases where the defendant is powerless and a child of lesser gods.

Cases go to the SC on points of law. The Aasia Bibi case raises many such questions and the lawyers must use this opportunity to establish that the blasphemy law in its present shape contravenes our constitution. The Constitution of Pakistan, in its Article 8, declares all laws and usages in Pakistan void if they violate the fundamental rights spelt out by Articles 9-28 of the Constitution. Sometime back I had written a detailed piece on this issue. I will summarise some of the points I had earlier raised in my analysis. Our constitution derives its inspiration from the internationally recognised notion of equality of all citizens before the law. Besides guaranteeing fundamental rights like fair trial, freedom of speech and due process of law, Articles 20-22 guarantee all religious minorities of Pakistan equal rights of professing religion, running religious institutions and no discrimination in taxation matters. The upshot of specific fundamental rights is in Article 25 where all citizens have been declared equal before the law and entitled to equal protection of the law. It is therefore not difficult to conclude that our fundamental rights are based on the principal notion of equality of all citizens and even a hint of discrimination in valuing the life, liberty and dignity of any citizen would make any law, custom or usage void as per our constitution.

After the partition of India in 1947, both India and Pakistan adopted the same criminal code as one of the primary pillars of their legal systems. The chapter on religion-related offences was in line with the fundamental rights enshrined in the constitutions of both countries. Sections 295-298 of the penal codes made no distinction on the basis of religious faith and applied equally to all religious communities. They, therefore, reflected the spirit of non-discrimination guaranteed by the constitutions of the two countries. When Bangladesh came into being it also adopted this penal code and retained the same non-discriminatory provisions about religion-related offences. In Ziaul Haq’s era, insertions were made in chapter 15 of the penal code, categorising offences relating to religion. The non-discriminatory nature of the chapter was changed as the sensitivities of one religious community were valued much more than those of all other minorities. The rational scheme of one to three years of imprisonment also got lost by introduction of harsh punishments like death and life imprisonment.

Aasia’s lawyers’ prayer should ask for a declaration that the blasphemy law in its current shape is discriminatory and hence unconstitutional. The law should revert to its original shape.