Dissecting Hoodbhoy’s Logic

We often say things without really realizing what we are saying.

Pervez Hoodbhoy’s latest article on Pakistan (Whither Pakistan? A five-year forecast) begins as follows:

First, the bottom line: Pakistan will not break up…. That’s the good news.

Now why exactly is that good news? And from whose perspective is it good news?

Clearly Pervez Hoodbhoy has assumed that to be a statement of the obvious that merits no further discussion. But it is really an unexamined assertion.

I am not taking a personal position on the issue of whether the break up of Pakistan is good or not. I am just using the claim to make the pedagogical point that we need to examine all the assertions we make.

Let us look at some historical events to place this issue in context:

Suppose in 1945 someone had written an article entitled Whither India? A five-year forecast that began as follows: “First, the bottom line: India will not break up…. That’s the good news.”

Now clearly there would have been many people in India who would indeed have considered that good news. But the many demanding a Muslim state at that time would have considered the same news terrible. And those people were actually very happy that India did break up.

So, if the breaking up of India could have been good news for some at that time, why couldn’t the breaking up of Pakistan be good news for some now? At the very least the possibility of such a perception should remain open. It cannot be taken as a self-evident truth that has universal acceptance.

Or take Pakistan in 1970 and imagine an article entitled Whither Pakistan? A five-year forecast that began the same way as Hoodbhoy’s latest article. One can easily imagine that many Bengalis would not have shared the sentiment. In that sense, Tariq Ali’s logic was more sound in titling his book Can Pakistan Survive? It is less categorical and non-committal about whether that would be good or bad. That is reasonable because Pakistan’s survival could be considered good or bad depending upon the perspective of the reader.

It does not make sense to take moral umbrage at the expression of such opinions and label people with differing perceptions as traitors followed by the use of force to coerce them into staying together. That kind of a reaction can further strengthen the desire to break off.

Let us now come to the latest article by Pervez Hoodbhoy and argue with it for the sake of argument. What is the basis for the uncategorical statement that Pakistan’s not breaking up is good news? Could not one make a plausible argument that the break up of Pakistan would be the best outcome for some people in Pakistan?

Take the people of Balochistan for example. With its huge natural resource reserves, a long coastline, and very small population, is it not conceivable that Balochistan would have been much better off as an independent country. Balochistan is just as tribal as the Gulf Emirates whose tribal society has not hampered development. Could Balochistan not have been a part of the rich Gulf club rather than being stuck with the impoverished lot in Pakistan?

And why should Balochistan, with its secular and nationalist leadership, be stuck with the cost of indulging the religious and anti-India obsessions of the dominant groups in Pakistan?

Once again, I am not saying that the break up of Pakistan would be a good thing and I have no way of knowing whether the Balochis would make a go of their own country or screw it up completely. But then again, I can’t see anyone screwing up things any worse than the Pakistanis have done.

All I am saying is that if I put myself in the shoes of some Balochis I would not be able to agree with Pervez Hoodbhoy’s assertion.

I am in general agreement with Pervez Hoodbhoy’s conclusions:

Pakistan’s political leadership and army must squarely face the extremist threat, accept the United States and India as partners rather than adversaries, enact major reforms in income and land distribution, revamp the education and legal systems, and address the real needs of citizens. Most importantly, Pakistan will have to clamp down on the fiery mullahs who spout hatred from mosques and stop suicide bomber production in madrassas. For better or for worse, it will be for Pakistanis alone to figure out how to handle this.

But as I mentioned earlier the subject of the article was not what I wished to discuss in this post. I am just using the article as an illustration to convey the message that we should always examine the assertions that we make.



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