BOOK REVIEW: Hoodbhoy Critically Examines Pakistan's National Project

BOOK REVIEW: Hoodbhoy Critically Examines Pakistan's National Project
BOOK REVIEW: Pervez Hoodbhoy, Pakistan: Origins, Identity and Future, London and New York, 2023

Pakistani nuclear physicist and social activist Pervez Hoodbhoy has written a compendium on the flawed nature of the Pakistani national project. He delves deep into the multifarious problems which have accumulated over the last 75 years. Today, Pakistan is not only a failed democracy, but a failing state.

His work is a worthy addition to the critical literature on the Indian freedom struggle culminating in the partition of India and the creation of Pakistan on the basis of the two-nation theory. Having been founded, argued and attained through a bloody division of India, the Pakistani national project is now afflicted by the politics of hatred and exclusion turning inside and opening the Pandora’s box of sectarian and sub-sectarian divisions among Muslims. That non-Muslims were ipso facto alienated from that national project should not surprise anyone with any sense of what to make of politics and ideology. His book follows on the path that my volumes, Pakistan: the Garrison State and Jinnah: His Successes, Failures and Role in History, have abundantly demonstrated and substantiated. Hoodbhoy’s contribution adds many other depths to that literature.

The book is a demonstration of his vast reading and his engagement with ongoing controversies and polemics pertaining to Pakistan. Hoodbhoy introduces a welcome personal dimension by sharing his own experiences from childhood onwards, how the Pakistan dream went sour for him and why.

Regarding the origins of Pakistan, he delves deep into history, presenting an overview of pre-modern identities, Hinduism, Islam, their cults and sects and how nationalism evolved during the colonial period. During that period evolved also Hindu and Muslim communalist organizations. He focuses on what he describes as the three ‘Founder - Heroes’ of Pakistan, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, Allama Muhammad Iqbal and Muhammad Ali Jinnah. All three at one stage were not averse to Hindu-Muslim cooperation, but later became communalists. The mantle fell upon Jinnah to carry forward communalism to the ultimate climax through the partition of India. The research is sound and convincing but his sharp eye misses the real unrecognized fourth founder of Pakistan, Choudhary Rahmat Ali whose crass arguments dichotomizing Hindus and Muslims as hostile nations fed the campaign and slogans raised by Jinnah and the Muslim League.

Hoodbhoy, reviewing the existing literature on Jinnah’s role, hesitates to take a stand on the controversies and polemics on whether Jinnah wanted an Islamic, democratic-Muslim or secular state. That is understandable because Jinnah can be quoted making contradictory statements on his envisioned future for Pakistan. And the contradictory statements were made to lure skeptical Muslims to support his demands, that without India being partitioned, Islam will be annihilated and Muslims obliterated. He demonized Hindus, the Indian National Congress - dubbing it as the soft image of the Hindu Mahasabha and denigrated Gandhi, Nehru, Azad and others as enemies of Pakistan.

These were not stray incidents of sensationalism, but without exception the leitmotif of all his speeches after 22 March 1940, until Pakistan came into being. Jinnah not only wanted India partitioned, but also balkanized.

In any case, to start looking for a consistent and coherent vision that Jinnah had for Pakistan is a waste of time. That he was rabidly anti-Communist, ridiculed secularism, but believed that a state founded on the confessional two-nation theory can be some sort of Muslim democracy treating its minorities fairly is perhaps the closest vision one can associate with him. Hoodbhoy argues rightly that by demanding Pakistan in the name of Islam, he played into the hands of arch fundamentalist Abul Ala Maududi.

More importantly, it should have been possible for Hoodbhoy to examine the claim that Jinnah wanted a power sharing deal in a united India with credible evidence. Any hidden declassified document confirming that he was using the Pakistan demand as a bargaining chip could have been cited by those who pedal such a thesis, but the truth is that there is not even one such speech or statement of Jinnah after 22 March 1940 until Pakistan came into being. In my book, Jinnah: His Successes Failures and Role in History, I have quoted Jinnah angrily denouncing those who alleged that the demand for Pakistan was purported to keep India united through the Hindu and Muslims sharing power.

Hoodbhoy could have relied on my findings in his literature review, but my book does not figure in his impressive new book, except as a citation on two occasions. That is surprising because literature review is where an author establishing the contours on the existing debates and controversies and then demonstrates his contribution, which undoubtedly is considerable.

Considering that Hoobdhoy’s whole life has been about his insistence that research in Pakistan is poor and flawed, because without credible evidence, truth-claims have no value and are distortions and mystifications, he should have taken a stand on this controversy also. After all, if he decides to step out of the natural sciences to write on history and politics, then he should be able to decide what evidence is needed to make truth-claims in humanities and social science to set forth a qualified thesis. Evidence is evidence, and suppressing evidence which flies in the face of a thesis is as bad as plagiarizing a thesis.

The chapters on the nature and role of the military in Pakistan, the India – Pakistan imbroglio, the need to make Pakistan a state for all Pakistanis and not just Muslims are done with erudition and enlightened humanism. On the whole, the book is a good addition to the literature which dissents from the state narrative and is written in the best spirits of concerned intellectualism.

The writer is Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Stockholm University; Honorary Senior Fellow, Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore. He can be reached at: