Book review: Pakistan: Origins, Identity and Future

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Pakistan: Origins, Identity and Future, by Pervez Hoodbhoy, Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, London and New York, 2023, 477 pages, Paperback, $42.36, ISBN: 978-1-032-27023-4
by Arnold Zeitlin     21 December 2023
      In a world according to Pervez Hoodbhoy, distinguished nuclear physics professor and long an advocate of reform in Pakistan, the country would undergo a complete re-make. “The very idea of Pakistan must be rethought if the country is to ever become viable as a state,” Hoodbhoy writes in the concluding chapter of his book. “….To become viable, Pakistan must eventually become a secular state that treats all citizens alike irrespective of faith. Religion could remain important but not central….”
      He goes on to write: “….the active agents for change in Pakistan society are those who clamor for the rights of religious minorities, economic justice for the lower sections of society, democracy and genuine civilian control, the right of provinces to their fair share of resources, the rights of women and children, education reform, and environmental causes.”
      Hoodbhoy follows with what he calls his “wish list”, which a reader can determine by reading subheads he uses in his final chapters:
      End legalized discrimination between citizens of different religions; spread the wealth to end economic inequality; end what he terms as Punjabistan, the dominance of Punjabis in the running of the country; uncage women and raise their status in society; give skills in an education system designed to create skills required by modern economy; cool down the Kashmir issue as thoughtful Pakistanis must understand their country’s military-made Kashmir policy has led nowhere; send the army to the barracks and end the role of the military in governance.
      Hoodbhoy seems to believe, with reservation, such change is possible. ” Empowerment and people’s participation can come to Pakistan even without a major wand if we are so determined,” he writes in his final chapter. “…..Let my country awake….It’s ours to grab the chance or to squander it….”
       But such change in unlikely with the military control deep in society and a fervent, often violent religious right which fails at elections but still moves society. To demonstrate the difficulty of achieving a secular state, Hoodbhoy quotes a Pew Global Survey which found 82 percent of Pakistanis polled wanted sharia law the law of the land.
      As for his reservation, in a chapter headlined “Jinnah Trounced Muslim His Opponents”, Hoodbhoy assesses the impact on Pakistan by Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the country’s founding father who advocated a land open equally to all faiths, and Maulana Abul A’la Maudud, a fiery Islamic ideologue, who opposed the creation of a Muslim homeland because Islam could not be contained within political borders.
       “Maududi ….turns out to be a clear winner”. Hoodbhoy concludes. “….a look at today’s political landscape tells us that actually Maududi trumped Jinnah….while Maududi has no mausoleum (ed: as does Jinnah in Karachi), his followers are spread around the world, shaping discourses and fighting secularism tooth and nail. Maududi had gained power and influence much beyond what he could have aspired to in undivided India.”
      No charismatic leader or people’s power movement seeking reform exists in Pakistan. The Sharif family seeks power, not reform. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, despite exploiting his grandfather’s name, will never match Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s potential for changing society (Hoodbhoy calls the elder Bhutto a “political genius” endowed with a “magical” personality, an attribute he also awards to Imran Khan, despite his claim that Imran has talked of taking Pakistan back to 7th century Medina).
        As his book’s subtitle asserts, Hoodbhoy deals with origins as well as a potential future. He reaches back to an era when Indians identified more with their occupations and home regions than with faith and lived in relative peace. He notes that in 1924 — six years before Allama Iqbal in a speech in Allahabad outlined an independent Muslim state in northwestern India –Hindu reformist and advocate of an independent India, Lala Laipat Rai, suggested a partition confining Muslims to four independent states: the Northwest Frontier, Western Punjab, Sindh and Eastern Bengal, an eerie forecast.
      Allama Muhammed Iqbal, Pakistan’s national poet, is one of the three men Hoodbhoy profiles as the founders of Pakistan. The other two are Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, a 19th century Muslim modernist who founded the first college for Muslms in South Asia, and is credited with originating the so-called Two-Nation-Theory asserting that Muslims, with their own language, history, culture and faith are a nation separate in India, and Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Pakistan’s founding father and its first chief executive.
      Hoodbhoy admires Sir Syed and has problems with both Iqbal and Jinnah. He unloads his pique on Iqbal, insisting it is “important to disaggregate, demystifty” iqbal, who, he writes, “attacks the foundations of modern science, dismissing science as “mere” pragmatism and says that religion is ‘far more anxious to reach the real than science’. Insisting Iqbal “was appallingly uninformed of math and physics fundamentals”, Hoodbhoy devotes page after page examining Iqbal’s beliefs on faith and discrediting his views on science.
      As for Jinnah, Hoodbhoy repeatedly asks in his text why the man hailed as the Quaid-i-Azam, great leader, did not have a plan once Pakistan achieved independence.
     ” The fact is that sometimes Jinnah called for an Islamic state and sometimes a Muslim state,” Hoodbhoy writes, ” but he always insisted that he would not tolerate a theocracy. Seventy-five years into Pakistan, these mutually incompatible demands continue to puzzle but remain important and relevant….we can only guess how Pakistan’s founder envisaged his country-to-be… we cannot know for sure what his ‘business plan’ was…But choosing not to look ahead and focusing on the immediate meant that one becomes the proverbial ostrich which buries its head in the sand rather than face danger…The absence of a clear vision meant that Pakistan would continue to wallow in confusion, unable to fix its national priorities and goals.
     Hoodbhoy refers to the celebrated speech of Jinnah’s four days to a Constituent Assembly before Pakistan achieved independence in August, 1947. Jinnah advised citizens of the new state: “You may belong to any religion or caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the State….We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all…equal citizens of one State.”. By 1949 that vision died in the Objectives Resolution passed by the Constituent Assembly that proclaimed Allah as sovereign and a new Pakistan constitution would be based on the ideology of Islam.
     Hoodbhoy provides a wealth of facts and information and makes at least two errors. He places Thomas Jefferson’s famous “pursuit of happiness” in the U.S. Constitution instead of the Declaration of Independence, where it belongs. He quotes Deuteronomy, the fifth book of the Hebrew Bible, as advising Christian soldiers to seize beautiful women as plunder when Deuteronomy was revealed about the 6th century BC, well before Christianity arose in Palestine.
      Hoodbhoy’s anger as well as his devotion to the land of his birth has produced a wide-ranging book that surely disaggregates and demystifties the standard story of Pakistan’s origins, idedology and future. For readers hunting for a contrarian look at Pakistan, this account more than satisfies.