‘Pakistan: Origin, Identity and Future’ is an outstanding historical record of Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy, a well-known physicist and educationist from Pakistan. He analyzes the history of the subcontinent, its partition, and the last seventy years of Pakistan’s existence in a skeptical tone, diving deep into socio-political dimensions. The author also criticizes the myth of national identity created by Pakistan. The book is divided into five parts, and each part is a treat for the minds of readers.
Delving deep into the history of the subcontinent, the author, in the first part, provides a detailed historical account of the subcontinent. He sheds light on the social stratification, identity, and religious inclinations of the people of the subcontinent. He explains that the word ‘Hindu’ at that time was not associated with any kind of religion; rather, it was used for the people of Sindudesh. He sternly lambasts the usage of Hindutva by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). As far as the Muslims are concerned, he opines that the Muslim reformers – Sheikh Ahmad Sirhindi and Shah Waliullah – pushed the society back to ultra-religiosity and didn’t allow the Muslims to develop as a modern nation. On the other hand, he praises Akbar’s Din-i-Ilahi on the pretext that it was the first attempt by any leader to unite a heterogeneous society where people could live according to their religion without any fear. He states that both the Muslims and Hindus of the contemporary era are nostalgic fools living in a romanticized past built on several myths. He advises the masses to separate realities from myths and break free from the vicious false consciousness inculcated in their minds. The populace needs to realize that the ancient subcontinent was not solely controlled by Muslims or Hindus; rather, it was a kaleidoscopic accumulation of both.
The author then moves on to describe the romance of Great Britain with the Indian subcontinent. The colonizers clipped the wings of the golden sparrow by inculcating hate among the masses and depriving it of resources. At first, they solely focused on the exploitation of resources and earning hefty amounts from it. However, after the 1857 War of Independence, they feared that unity among the populace might threaten the English government. Consequently, they pursued the policy of divide and rule more vigorously. They started prioritizing Hindus over Muslims and instilled a mentality of division in the general public. The author opines that this occurred as a result of Muslims’ intellectual deficiency as well, but the imperialists played an important role.
The second part of the book focuses on Muslim heroes. The first in line is Sir Syed Ahmad Khan. The author highly praises his efforts, explaining that without Sir Syed, there would have been no movement for the division of India. Although Sir Syed belonged to a conservative family and initially held orthodox religious views, he eventually realized the importance of the English language and the intellectual development of Muslims. Additionally, the author commends his bravery in his scientific interpretation of the Quran and Sunnah. This is why conservative religious scholars of the contemporary era vehemently criticize Sir Syed.
The second hero of the freedom movement, described by the author, is Allama Muhammad Iqbal. The author regards him as an outstanding poet but not a shrewd philosopher. He also sheds light on the ever-changing course of Iqbal’s views. Before his foreign education, he was anti-communalist, but after his foreign education, he became the voice of communalism in pre-partition India. The author also remarks that Iqbal was a self-contradictory man. According to me, every man has self-contradictions in his mind, and with time, he jumps from one theory to another. The same happened with Iqbal. As he aged, he continuously changed his perspective. Many bright minds of the past have done the same, such as David Hume.
Muhammad Ali Jinnah is the last hero debated in the book. The author openly acknowledges Jinnah’s extraordinary political capabilities. The author opines that Jinnah had an opportunistic style of politics and a deep understanding of the social mindset of the people. According to me, Jinnah, using religious rhetoric, built a political narrative to gain the support of the vast majority of people, but he had a plan of making Pakistan a secular state. I mean, what can we expect from a man who spent most of his life in England and had hobbies of an aristocratic eccentric millionaire? Sadly, he was unable to construct the first constitution of Pakistan. If he had done so, we would have found a clear answer to the dilemma of what Jinnah’s Pakistan would be like. At the end of this part, the author gives a short detail of Muslim leaders who opposed the idea of Pakistan – Abu Ala Maududi, Abul Kalam Azad, and Ghaffar Khan. The strangest thing that hit me hard is that Maududi supported Zia’s dictatorship.
Part three of the book is the most enlightening one as it discusses the two realities of post-partition history that have haunted the state for some time. The first one is the separation of Bengal. According to the author, the 1954 elections of the legislative assembly, the Urdu-Bengali tussle, the December 1970 elections, and the negation of the result by the political leadership and the establishment created alienation in East Pakistan.
The death knell was Operation Searchlight. The rest is history. The establishment of Pakistan has always tried to construct a false narrative on the separation of Bengal. It always blames the political leadership. However, the main culprits were the establishment, General Yahya Khan, General Tikka Khan, and General Tiger Niazi. A question has been popping up in my mind for a long time: If Bengalis were that dangerous for Pakistan’s prosperity, then why is Bangladesh more advanced than Pakistan now? They do not have a nuclear bomb, a top-class army, or the best intelligence agency, but one thing they have is the socioeconomic development of the people.
The second stubborn angularity, according to the author, is Balochistan. According to the author, consecutive betrayals, insufficient development funds, improper education facilities, the absence of a formal social contract, the barbarous attitude of the enforcement agencies, incapable governance, and the failure to generate confidence in the people due to the luxurious lifestyle of warlords, as well as the prevalence of social inequalities on the streets, have led to the formation of a belligerent Balochistan. If the state wants to reverse the condition, it needs to demilitarize, deradicalize society, increase the divisible pool, provide employment opportunities, raise the confidence of Balochis in the state, and construct a soft strategy for the province.
In the next part, the author raises some thought-provoking and pertinent questions. He also attempts to provide brief answers to these questions. Firstly, he asks whether the partition was worth the price or not. In response, he presents both an optimistic and a pessimistic viewpoint. He asserts that the landed elites, military, salaried class, and middle-level peasants were the winners of the partition, while Muslims in Bengal, the Muslims who stayed in India, Balochis, and the communists were the losers. Secondly, he raises the question of the ideology of Pakistan. He opines that the establishment of the state has consistently weaponized the ideology of Pakistan to combat nationalist movements and exert social control.
Criticizing the ideology, the author rightly remarks that instead of setting a future strategy and the direction of our nationhood, we have clung to the past ideology. Thirdly, he ponders why Pakistan couldn’t become an Islamic state. The simple answer lies in the widespread prevalence of sectarianism in the nation. The author also discusses various models of an Islamic state.
Fourthly, he raises the question of why Pakistan has remained a praetorian state. In response, he expresses his opinion that a greater emphasis on national security rather than the economy, repeated interference of the establishment in foreign policy, legitimization of wars and jihad, adoption of a strongman syndrome, and the cultivation of a fake national identity have contributed to Pakistan becoming a praetorian state. His final question pertains to the true identity of a Pakistani. In addressing this, he suggests that nationality is a social construct, and as Pakistanis, we should strive to create a pluralistic and inclusive identity that fosters the formation of a harmonious society.
The final part of the book focuses on the future. The author highlights three significant challenges that lie ahead: climate change, nuclear war, and population growth. Additionally, he provides brief insights into the leaders of Pakistan, including Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Ayub Khan, Zia-ul-Haq, Pervaiz Musharraf, and Imran Khan. Lastly, the author asserts that Pakistan has become the sick man of Asia. To recuperate strength, the country must address legalized discrimination, promote wealth distribution and equality, empower women, foster technical and technological knowledge, seek a resolution to the Kashmir issue, and relegate the military to its proper role.
Undoubtedly, reading this book has been a rollercoaster ride. It has helped me dispel the false consciousness instilled by the state-controlled curriculum and offered a clear and pragmatic view of our history. History is a complex subject, and remaining ignorant of the truth can lead one to live in darkness. It requires courage to confront reality. Therefore, to gain a more accurate understanding, everyone needs to read this book.
The writer graduated from the School of Law, Quaid-i-Azam university. He is currently practising law with a special interest in socio-economic and political developments of Pakistan.