INTERVIEW WITH BARRISTER SHAHIDA JAMIL, A WOMAN PAR EXCELLENCE
Aug 13 - 19, 2012
PAGE: TELL ME SOMETHING ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR PROFESSION, PLEASE?
BARRISTER SHAHIDA JAMIL: I hold the degree of a Barrister-at-Law from Gray's Inn, London, UK and I am an Advocate of the High Court of Sindh. I am a member of the Sindh and Lahore High Court Bar Associations. My legal practice is on the civil side and my expertise is in drafting laws, rules, constitutions for associations, bye-laws, agreements and various other documents and legal opinion on corporate and constitutional matters. I am also a Senior Lecturer, termed Professor, at the S.M. Law College, Karachi for the LL.M Programme on the subjects of "Human Rights" and "Comparative Study of World Constitutions" (which subject, besides Pakistan, India, UK and US Constitutions, includes the Swiss, Turkish and Chinese Constitutions on which I lecture). I have been a Lecturer at this College since 1987. I graduated with a B.A. Degree from Karachi University in Politics and English Literature and a Fellowship of Arts Degree in History, Advanced Economics and Civics, from St.Joseph's College for Women, Karachi. I am fortunate to be the daughter of Shah Ahmad Sulaiman (businessman), eldest son of Dr. Sir Shah Muhammad Sulaiman, LL.D (Cantab.), Bar-at-Law, Federal Court Judge of British India and the Vice-Chancellor of Aligargh Muslim University(1938-1941); and Begum Akhtar Sulaiman (prominent Social worker), daughter of Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, BCL (Oxon.), Bar-at-Law, former Prime-Minister of Pakistan (1956-1957) and former Premier of Bengal, British India (1946-1947). I am married to Barrister Ch. Muhammad Jamil, former Vice-President, Supreme Court Bar Association, and have two sons, Barrister Zahid Jamil and Barrister Shahid Jamil.
PAGE: HOW WOULD YOU COMMENT ON POVERTY IN THE WORLD IN GENERAL AND IN PAKISTAN IN PARTICULAR?
BARRISTER SHAHIDA JAMIL: Poverty, in my view, is the result of a lack of ability to generate a livable income and meet the basic needs of a good and decent life for "khush-hali", i.e. 'the pursuit of happiness'. The populace must be provided with access to opportunities by which it can develop enough skills through sensible education and useful vocational training to generate that livable income. Denied such skill development that can make them useful and capable of earning, they become redundant, helpless and get bogged down in the poverty trap of poor food intake, ill health, depression and criminal mafias. Poverty has always been a social indicator by which governments assess the quality of their administration and governance. If it grows, it generates disaffection which can topple governments. Neglected in the extreme, it can lead to food riots, chaos and civil war and become a threat to the very stability of the State. Hence, all governments are careful to govern in a manner that keeps poverty down to a very low percentage. Pakistan has always had a good management culture and we have been able in the past to contain poverty levels. Yet strangely, in Pakistan today, we see governance being conducted in a manner that is producing more poverty through measures undertaken that have ensured joblessness and the disablement of a citizen's ability to generate a livable income and lead a reasonable life. The facetious governmental response and strange vacuum in providing security to life, honour and property; the restrictions being ordered in supply of utilities especially electricity and water that stops production and work; the policy of Government in not paying their huge electricity and other bills and printing of currency notes to pay their own salaries regardless of the effect on inflation; and the increase in corruption, all indicate either bankruptcy of governance or a deliberate attempt to crash the societal structure. The administrative trend set in motion is clearly leading us to the point, like in Mali, where citizens rot at home, unable to do any work and armed elements roam free threatening the personal security of all. Already these symptoms are visible here and are spreading in the country like the plague.
PAGE: HOW HAS THE ISSUE OF POVERTY BEEN TACKLED IN DIFFERENT TENURES SINCE INDEPENDENCE?
BARRISTER SHAHIDA JAMIL: At first, it was used to gain aid to feed the populace, many of whom were those who migrated by opting for Pakistan. There was a determined approach to reduce poverty through making available both formal and vocational education and other income-generation skills, such as on-job training to make the populace capable of sustaining itself. By 1960, auditing became opaque. This opened the door to financial hemorrhaging of the huge aid packages received with much of it ending up in private pockets. By 1970s, a culture of black money generation and money laundering had grown to such enormous levels that it gradually transformed, over the decades, our white economy into an almost black one. Today, poverty is the wicket on which much aid is sought as a source of hidden treasure for replenishing the empty pockets of those in governance, as our governmental audit is used more as a tool for disabling political rivals than ensuring the establishment of transparency and accountability as a system within the socio-economic culture of Pakistan.
PAGE: HOW WOULD YOU COMMENT ON OVERSEAS PAKISTANIS?
BARRISTER SHAHIDA JAMIL: The large presence of Overseas Pakistanis abroad is proof of the poor governance in Pakistan since the 1960s that compelled them to seek a better economic existence abroad. Many of them, despite being highly qualified, were even denied good jobs and were literally pushed out of Pakistan by the hostile circumstances they found themselves in. They have attained high positions abroad on merits and shown great talent, besides building the image of a hard-working community. They still feel pain when they see Pakistan suffering or being humiliated. Their love for Pakistan is a matter pride for us all. Much of our middle class owes its development to our Overseas Pakistanis who have devotedly, over decades, sent remittances to their own family members here to improve their homes, send other sons and daughters to school, get better jobs and improve their lives. Fortunately for Pakistan, their remittances brought in foreign exchange into our FOREX reserves which gave us some strength and independence in its use. However, as the opportunities for jobs and immigration began to decline after the tragedy of 9/11, opportunities for Pakistanis took a direct hit. Foreigners began to be afraid of us, and job opportunities declined. Today, the defensive measures put in place in all immigration laws around the world, especially for us, have severely restricted the economic migration capability of Pakistanis. So we see a decline in legal migration. The illegal migration too has become unproductive and harmful and more fraught with danger as the vigilance of authorities abroad has increased. It merely ends up in trapping such unfortunate humans in a world of blackmail, nefarious activities, poor income and, at times, death. The vast majority of our Overseas Pakistanis, especially our lower middle class, who send remittances, still hold Pakistani nationality. However, there are those of our middle class who have taken Dual Nationality, which legally subjects their old oath to the new oath they have taken when they acquired their new additional nationality. They are subject to the laws of both countries and must be faithful to both national interests. This works well so long as there is no conflict of law or national interest between the host countries. The dilemma arises when there is a conflict of interest and they are forced to choose one loyalty. Denial of one oath results in a violation of the other host country's oath of fealty which can have serious legal consequences like arrest for treason or trading with the enemy, or withdrawal of nationality, if the host nation chooses to take action. Thus, it is fine, as long as there is no conflict of national interest or loyalty. I, therefore, strongly believe that our Overseas Pakistanis have a right to vote in our elections, take ordinary jobs, impart education, run medical or health facilities, run businesses and trade, put up factories, manage agricultural farms, agro-industrial units and any other economic activity or job that does not have any national security implications or responsibilities. Otherwise, they can be forced legally to disclose information to their other foreign nationality officials should the need arise. However, as regards taking up jobs or posts in sensitive or political institutions in Pakistan such as working for a sensitive organisation, representing Pakistan's sole interest or image abroad, or holding parliamentary positions or public office, it is an entirely different matter. Such positions carry sensitive responsibilities. For this, in my view, it is necessary that dual-nationality holders must surrender their foreign nationality status immediately - if they seek to serve Pakistan's national or sensitive interests as equals with other sole allegiance Pakistani citizens - and then stand for Parliament or public office, or take up sensitive jobs.
PAGE: WHAT BIG CHALLENGES DO YOU THINK PAKISTAN HAS BEEN FACING SINCE INDEPENDENCE?
BARRISTER SHAHIDA JAMIL: The main challenge thrown at Pakistan from the day it sought to come into existence has been the attack on the viability and legitimacy of its existence. It has been slammed ethnically, religiously and politically. However, we conveniently blame this on outside forces, but never ourselves. We live in a world of our own, refuse to see what is going on outside, and use 'Sovereignty' as a shield, to justify our double standards, mistakes and lack of vision to our own people. Our own state of denial has been our worst enemy. It is this state of denial that we must end if we wish to bring food on the table for our people.