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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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.

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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 : Roshan Pakistan: the good, the bad, the ugly , The Daily Times, 8/6/13

OVER A COFFEE : Roshan Pakistan: the good, the bad, the ugly — Dr Haider Shah

Perhaps now we can hope with some degree of conviction that Pakistan 
can enjoy uninterrupted democratic order and stability 

The roads from Islamabad now lead us to ‘Roshan’ (Bright) Pakistan while from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa we are destined for ‘Naya’ (New) Pakistan. Personally, I cannot complain much against the new government as whatever I had been repeatedly pleading for in my earlier pieces has appeared prominently in the declared priorities of the government. Energy, Balochistan, the economy and extremism were identified as open wounds that need immediate and sustained attention of the new administration. Balochistan is bleeding due to militancy with three separate components of Baloch nationalism, sectarianism and Taliban activity. The gesture of allowing Baloch and Pashtun nationalists to run the government with the support of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) is a positive one and has been applauded by friends and foes alike. Old wounds take time to heal but despondency has certainly given way to new born optimism. To what extent the new government in Islamabad and Quetta will be able to call the shots and enforce their will upon the law enforcement agencies operating in Balochistan is yet to be seen.

The sight of a civilian leader entering the National Assembly triumphantly to take oath as the new prime minister while the dictator that had arrogantly deposed him is holed up in a nearby farm house is itself enthralling for any democrat. A few years ago, the deposed Chief justice was brought back to his office. Now a deposed prime minister has returned. People’s power has done it again. Ascendency of democracy and rule of law seems complete. Perhaps now we can hope with some degree of conviction that Pakistan can enjoy uninterrupted democratic order and stability. 

The good omens in the new political order have received the attention of almost all opinion makers. But some worrying aspects should not be completely ignored. For instance, just look at all main positions of power in the new set up. Prime Minister, Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, governors of four provinces, key cabinet posts, expected nominee for the post of president, chief ministers. It is a government of men, by men and for men. The prominence that Maryam Nawaz and Marvi Memon received in the last few months through to the elections not only added some youthful colour to the party but also raised hopes that in the Roshan Pakistan women would be seen playing an important role as representatives of half of the population. If they can hoist the Pakistani flag over Mount Everest, why can’t they occupy important slots in any government? 

Though the prime minister’s speech was a sensible one, he came close to droning his economic revival agenda by flagging up drone attacks as a sovereignty issue without mentioning the need for reclaiming the ungoverned areas of Pakistan from the militants. By losing his pragmatic balance, Mr Sharif seemed to be slipping into the hands of parties like Jamaat-e-Islami and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI). One sincerely wished that the prime minister had also given some indication about his plans to deal with the issue of militant extremism. He could have declared that all extremists would be given one or two months time to make up their minds for negotiations. In case negotiations failed to establish peace within the constraints of the constitution, militancy of all types would be eradicated from Karachi to Khyber. Mr Sharif could have shared this resolve. No doubt, the energy crisis merits the most immediate attention but there is no harm in arriving at a nationally agreed action plan on terrorism within a month’s time as a matter of pressing urgency.

Pakistan People’s Party’s (PPP’s) Makhdoom Amin Fahim’s speech after Mr Sharif’s election as prime minster was tasteless as he tried to make an innuendo about the agencies’ role in helping the former return to power. Of late the PPP leaders have assumed an even more jingoistic role than parties like the Jamaat-e-Islami in condemning foreign powers and harping on national mythology around Thar coal, the Iran gas pipeline and Gwadar port. It had left Balochistan uncontested in the hands of the military establishment and seemed a willing follower in foreign policy matters. Why would then the agencies prefer a leader that proved hard to be controlled in the past? PPP will do itself no service if it fails to learn from the horrible five years of bad governance. A spree of visits of the chief minister of Sindh, Qaim Ali Shah, to police stations suggests that public statements notwithstanding, there is a genuine sense of emergency in the rank and file of the PPP. The party that once took pride in declaring itself ‘charon subon ki zanjeer’ (the chain that binds all four provinces) has shrunk to regional level in the 2013 election. The party has realised that if the PPP government fails to perform this time, the party risks losing ground in its stronghold of Sindh as well.

The PTI seems to have made a bumpy start. On women’s reserved seats, three out of four nominees happened to be close relatives of Chief Minster Pervez Khattak. This story was making the rounds in the social networking sites when Fauzia Kasuri provided further embarrassment to the party leadership. For a party that was marketed as a platform for justice and fair treatment, such episodes may have far reaching consequences. The murder of its MPA and bomb blasts have further put the party in the spotlight as it was the most vocal party supporting negotiations with the Taliban. 

At the moment, for the PML-N the good overshadows the bad and the ugly. But in less than six months we would be in a better position to judge which political party has strengthened its position and which one has lost the momentum.

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