Saving Pakistan: A Physicist/Political Philosopher May Represent Iqbal’s “Spirit of Modern Times”

Saving Pakistan: A Physicist/Political Philosopher May Represent Iqbal’s “Spirit of Modern Times”

by Subroto Roy

First published in The Statesman, Editorial Page Special Article, August 13 2007, http://www.thestatesman.net

Pakistan’s Nobel winning particle physicist Abdus Salam (1926-1996) was, like Pakistan’s most eminent jurist Zafrullah Khan (1893-1985), treated badly by his country and compatriots merely because of his religious beliefs as an Ahmadiya/Qadiani. This itself may be an adequate reason for secular thinking when it comes to identifying Pakistan’s or any country’s interests. Pakistan has had eminent poets and writers but there have been no dedicated first-rate technical economists ~ and no serious political philosophers other than, recently, Pervez Hoodbhoy who is a physicist. Most political economy by Pakistanis about Pakistan has tended to be at the level of World Bank bureaucratic reports or traveller’s tales, which have their uses but hardly amount to profound insight or significant scholarship. (We in India also have had numerous minor World Bank/UN bureaucrats, with or without PhDs about anything, passing themselves off as experts on India’s political economy.)

Yet during Pakistan’s present national crisis (and Pakistan has continually faced crises ever since 1947) people must go back to first principles of political economy and ask questions like “Who are we?”; “What are we doing to ourselves?”; “What is our future?” etc ~ questions about national identity and national viability and national purpose.

Abu Dhabi Pact

On 29-30 July, a deal was reportedly struck in Abu Dhabi after a secret face-to-face meeting between Pervez Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto: he would stay on as President for five years, she would be PM and Head of Government, have prosecutions against her dropped and get back her enormous frozen wealth. Such would be the intended outcome of the long-touted return to fair competitive elections later this year. The deal was brokered by British, American, Saudi and other go-betweens outside Pakistan, and is an overt way of keeping Musharraf in power while also seeming to allow a large concession by way of the return of a purported symbol of democracy like Benazir.

But Benazir seems out of touch with reality. When she returned two decades ago as a young unmarried woman confronting General Zia ul-Haq, she was a genuine popular hero. Her father’s judicial execution at Zia’s hands was still fresh in public memory, and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, no matter how misguided his ideologies, had some makings of a serious modern Pakistani nationalist politician.

Benazir as a middle aged matron is not her father and has lost almost all political credibility with her flip-flopping opportunism, and is now seen merely as a face agreeable to the West. Her good looks were discussed on American TV by the comedian Bill Maher while Musharraf’s publicity agent had him sharing jokes on a rival TV comedy – however, American TV audiences are or should not be a Pakistani constituency.

Benazir also forgets that Zia had set up Nawaz Sharif as an ally of the Pakistan military against her own populism in the late 1980s, just as she is being set up now as an ally of the same military against people like Sharif, Javed Hashmi, Maulana Fazlur Rahman and Imran Khan. Musharraf overthrew Sharif and jailed Hashmi and they are his declared foes; the other two have expressed opinions hostile to Western military presence in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Maulana made a nationalistic overture towards India, while Imran has openly praised Indian democracy despite its faults. But Indian foreign policy has not responded and seems under manifest influence of the Western powers ~ had we felt and thought with genuine independence we could have, for example, easily declared and implemented large-scale humanitarian food-aid from the FCI’s wheat-stocks for the people of Afghanistan and Iraq as was suggested in these pages a year ago.

A Musharraf-Benazir alliance is hardly destined to save Pakistan and will be no more than a cynical example of short-term opportunism: we in India can expect them to use J&K as traditional rhetorical camouflage for their own continuing misgovernance and corruption. As in Iraq, Palestine and Afghanistan, the Western powers face the dilemma that any government they support in Pakistan will be perceived as lacking legitimacy while a genuine hands-off policy could result in legitimate popular governments which seem to Western Governments beyond their control and hence seemingly adverse to Western interests.

The West has long ill-understood Pakistan, partly because it has seen Pakistan merely to be used as a source of convenient military manpower and real-estate for itself as and when necessary. American diplomats were reporting as early as November 1951 that Maulana Maududi’s Jamaat were hostile to the “evils” of Western materialism which they wanted to “do away with root and branch” in the country. In January 1976, American diplomats were reporting Pakistan’s “crash program to develop nuclear weapons”, and by June 1983 that Pakistan was close to nuclear test capability, intended to deter aggression by India “which remains Pakistan’s greatest security concern”. For Islamic revivalism to coincide with nuclear weapons in the last decade has been something long-predictable if there had been adequate will to do so.

Right wing politicians and religious fundamentalists have come to power in countries with nuclear weapons without untoward results, e.g., Likud in Israel or the BJP/RSS in India. (It is America’s present leaders, as well as all main Democrat and Republican presidential candidates except Ron Paul, who have unilaterally threatened nuclear attacks on a non-nuclear country that has not committed aggression against anyone.) There is no obvious reason why an elected legitimate “conservative” or right wing government in Pakistan must come to pose a special nuclear danger to anyone. If it is serious about governance (which Musharraf-Benazir may not be), it may even succeed in finding enough sobriety and political honesty to start to face up to Pakistan’s real economic and social problems which are vast in size and scope.

Wali Allah vs Iqbal

“We are an Arab people whose fathers have fallen in exile in the country of Hindustan, and Arabic genealogy and Arabic language are our pride,” said Wali Allah (1703-1762). Two centuries later, Mohammad Iqbal (1877-1938), in his 1930 Presidential Speech to the Muslim League in Allahabad conceptualising today’s Pakistan, wished precisely to become free of that Arab influence: “I would like to see the Punjab, NWFP, Sind and Baluchistan amalgamated into a single state… The life of Islam as a cultural force in this living country very largely depends on its centralisation in a specified territory… For India it means security and peace resulting from an internal balance of power, for Islam an opportunity to rid itself of the stamp that Arabian Imperialism was forced to give it, to mobilise its law, its education, its culture, and to bring them into closer contact with its own original spirit and the spirit of modern times.”

That “spirit of modern times” is today represented most prominently in Pakistan by Pervez Hoodbhoy. In a December 2006 speech, Hoodbhoy suggested a new alternative to MA Jinnah’s ”Faith, Unity, Discipline” slogan: “First, I wish for minds that can deal with the complex nature of truth…. My second wish is for many more Pakistanis who accept diversity as a virtue… My third, and last, wish is that Pakistanis learn to value and nurture creativity.” And he has spoken of bringing “economic justice to Pakistan”, of the “fight to give Pakistan’s women the freedom which is their birthright”, and of people to “wake up” and engage politically. We shall witness a most engaging battle if Benazir and her new military friends all representing the jaded and corrupt old political power structures, come to face in the elections a new conservative alliance of people like Sharif, Hashmi, Fazlur Rahman and Imran all infused with Hoodbhoy’s scientific liberalism representing Iqbal’s ”spirit of modern times”.

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