Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy, former Professor of Physics at the Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad, is a distinguished Pakistani academic and a prominent public intellectual. He has written several insightful articles not only in his field but also on topics ranging from education and extremism in Pakistan. I’ve profound respect for Dr. Hoodbhoy despite the fact that I do not agree with much of what he stands for.
On October 10, 2020 (yesterday), Dr. Hoodbhoy wrote a piece, A military is only for war, for daily Dawn, Pakistan’s most respected English language newspaper. I found this piece problematic on several accounts. However, in this short essay, I would like to point out that not only Dr. Hoodbhoy’s conceptual scheme of comparing Pakistan with the UK is flawed but his thesis about the role of the armed forces is contestable on historical accounts.
Broadly speaking, Dr. Hoodbhoy failed to understand—perhaps due to the fact that he never formally studied Comparative Politics and History—- all societies in the world were never like they are today. The current form of all societies is an evolved version of their cultures and civilizational backgrounds. For the sake of conceptual clarity, evolution does not necessarily make progress in a unidimensional (or in the positive) direction; for example, the 8th and 10th centuries Muslim world was as liberal and open as the present-day America or the UK. The contemporary Muslim world is what Europe was what Dr. Will Durant calls the Age of Reason. History offers many laws but in its own sense and way; these laws are never like the laws of Physics.
Precisely, the UK was never as open (where diverse groups can live peacefully) as it is today. The process started off in the late 17th and early 18th centuries after the dawn of classical liberalism as proposed by Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. It was proposed as a ‘pragmatic tool’ for managing ideologically/ethnically diverse societies. Prior to the advent of liberal doctrine, and the idea of separation of power and role autonomy, the kings and popes ruled the UK and other adjacent territories. The point, I want to make here, is that societies evolve with the passage of time; comparing a society having a great intellectual past with a country that was born only seven decades ago is not only unfair but theoretically misleading.
Why is it thinkable to have a coup in the Pakistani system?
Dr. Hoodbhoy raised an interesting question: [A] military coup in the British system was and remains unthinkable. Why?
To answer the question, there needs to be serious deliberation over a few important points; the past of the post-colonial states, the nature of class relations, structure of bureaucracy, and political parties. In other words, the current form of institutions must be studied in a wider historical context in order to comprehend the origins of institutionalized authoritarianism in states like Pakistan.
I hope Dr. Hoodbhoy would have definitely given a read to Dr. Shashi Tharoor’s Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India. However, I seriously doubt if he has read Hamza Alavi’s work.
In his groundbreaking study, The State in Post-Colonial Societies: Pakistan and Bangladesh, sociologist Hamza Alavi argued that the colonial masters had a unique strategy to ensure their rule in India. He argued that to manage and control the indigenous classes (indigenous bourgeois, the Metropolitan neo-colonist bourgeoisie and the landed masses), it is pivotal for the colonial forces to develop a strong state apparatus. In doing so, bureaucracy and military were developed as an institution to maintain order and ensure the survival of the colonial rule. After the partition, Pakistan had an over-developed state apparatus (military) and under-developed agrarian and industrial classes.
Dr. Hoodbhoy’s claim that “the British military officers, whether serving or retired, are not given preferential treatment outside of their specific skills” is legitimate, but generalization of the same is a sheer manifestation of his reluctance to see these developments in a broader historical context.
Finally, Dr. Hoodbhoy—perhaps to demonstrate that he holds a Ph.D. from MIT— questions; “In working out complicated Brexit policy options, would a retired lieutenant general negotiate British interests better than a Ph.D. in economics from Cambridge?”
As a known progressive thinker, Dr. Hoodbhoy is expected to have some respect for the people’s will in a democratic community; democracy is ultimately what the majority decides within the defined jurisdiction (here meaning liberal component of democracy). Precisely, it is a policy question to be determined by the people, not by a Ph.D. from Cambridge or MIT. Experts deal with technicalities of the policy, they don’t decide it, Dr!
Note: I intentionally did not address his thesis that “[s]uccessful societies know that those who fight wars well are not always best suited for running industries, academia, or government”. I still don’t know how Dr. Hoodbhoy defines success. It’s another debate for another time.
Farah Adeed works as an Assistant Editor with Global Village Space (GVS). The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s Editorial Policy.