Pervez Hoodbhoy, Pakistani Nuclear PhysicistThe Pakistani nuclear physicist on how casualties on both sides are increasing and why leaders in India and Pakistan must step up.
Pakistani nuclear physicist and scholar Pervez Hoodbhoy has been a tireless crusader for rationalism and freedom of speech. Through his writings, activism, and teaching, Hoodbhoy has emerged as one of the wellknown members of the Pakistani intelligentsia. Born in Karachi, Hoodbhoy completed his PhD in nuclear physics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1978, and has been a visiting faculty in institutes around the world. He was one of the earliest to describe A Q Khan, considered the father of Pakistan’s nuclear programme, to be a “bomb-maker and not a scientist”.
In a hurried visit to United Kingdom where he had come to meet his daughter and attend a seminar organised by the London based Democracy Forum, Hoodbhoy spoke on Indo-Pak relations, the Army in Pakistan, and the teaching of history.
• What are your thoughts on the harassment of diplomats in both the countries?
The way in which India and Pakistan are dealing with each other’s diplomats is descending to a new low in civility. One is absolutely astonished that door bells are being rung at three in the morning; that Indian diplomats in Pakistan are being denied membership in Islamabad club — this is not the way for two countries who will be forever in proximity with each other to behave. And this reflects the rise of ultra-nationalist sentiments in India and the assertion of the Pakistani establishment in opposition to the former government of Nawaz Sharif. On one hand you have Indian nationalism, which is definitely on the rise, and on the other hand, within Pakistan there has been a rise in the relative power of the Army with respect to the civilian government.
• How do you see the relationship between India and Pakistan evolve in the long term?
Presently, it is very hard to say how things will go because domestic politics is so important in determining international relations between Pakistan and India. In the long term, India and Pakistan have to make peace with each other — they have to trade, establish means where people from both sides can go from one side of the border to the other. But in the short run, things are not looking good because of domestic politics. What’s happening at the LoC is very dangerous. There is shelling practically every day. The Indian doctrine which is represented in the Pakistani doctrine now is: For every one violation of the other side, we shall do two from our side, and then as weapons change from hand held to automatic to artillery, this is going to get worse. The casualties on both sides are increasing and this is not a tenable situation and cannot continue for long. At this time, the political leadership of both the countries have to step up and say ‘enough of this’.
• With Nawaz Sharif gone, the Army in Pakistan seems to have an upper hand. What drives the Army to take charge of the country’s administration?
The Pakistani Army feels that they (civilians) are not sufficiently educated, sufficiently well-versed in the running of public affairs and are corrupt and incompetent. There is a feeling in the Army that ‘we are the real stakeholders of Pakistan — the true patriots’. In the past, there has been martial law but I do not believe there will be a martial law in the next few years. However, an attempt will be made to have an army-friendly government unlike the government of Nawaz Sharif and a lot of effort is being expended to ensure Sharif is forever banned from politics. In fact, the recent steps such as the senate elections testify to that and the corruption case against him achieve that to an extent. But in his place, there will be an alternative, perhaps in the form of Imran Khan, who is much more pliable and willing to listen to the Army.
• You have spoken against wrongful depiction of events in history books. Tell us some of the most brazen things that you have encountered
In a conversation with the then vicechancellor of my university, Dr Daler Khan of Quaid-e-Azam University, I once complained that Pakistani school and college books were filled with inaccuracies and sometimes outright lies. I quoted examples of two extreme distortions of history: Our supposed victory over India in the 1965 war and the separation of East Pakistan in 1971. ‘You don’t have to tell the truth all the time, he said, else our students won’t learn to love Pakistan. It is all for a greater good’, he said.
• Has social media aided the distortion and misrepresentation of historical facts?
For the untutored mind, social media is exceedingly dangerous. Every kind of nonsense can get freely propagated, in some cases achieving a life of its own. By tracking conversations on political and historical matters, one can get to see how ignoramuses mutually support and reinforce each other’s views while totally rejecting evidence that might stand in the way. Contrary opinions get shouted down abusively. The anonymity of the internet makes possible the use of language, which would be considered impermissible in face-to-face discussions.