The Year That Was 2007

By Joseph Gathia
Regular readers of newspapers need no reminder that 2007 was another terrible year for the cause of religious freedom.
In 2004, Indians voted for a change in direction, and got a change in parties by bringing the Congress led UPA to power. But by the end of 2007 this changed.
Nearly three out of four Indians feel that the country is heading in the wrong direction.  It’s not hard to see why: looming large are job loss for millions of people, rising prices of eatable  items , more people than ever without access to health coverage, persistent threat to farmers and continued  federal inaction in cases of violence against innocent minorities  and privatization which threatened livelihood sources of ordinary citizens. These calamities detonated in 2007 but were years in the making. 
The year was not entirely bereft of hope. The nation’s sensex continuously rose .The UPA Govt. announced special economic package for the minorities and grant in aid for low income students. Private companies made their operations more environmentally sustainable as well. Many Multi National Corporations pledged to social responsibility policy.
Yet several important policy announcements grounded to a halt in 2007, short of finding solutions that would actually benefit Indians. The push for investment in retail business collapsed amidst fear and hateful rhetoric. An overwhelmingly popular effort to enter into nuclear pact with USA failed to overcome a bitterly ideological veto. Rather than seeking a new direction on trade consistent with our new vision and the Man Mohan Singh Government yielded to the pressure of the Left.
Meanwhile, we had the first Dalit, K. G. Balakrishnan, elected Chief Justice of India. Middle of January was the Ardh Kumbh; almost one million devotees washed their sins in the Sangam at Allahabad.
The beginning of the year was plagued by the Nithari case of  Moninder Singh Pandher which made headlines  as skeletons of girls and children whom he and his servant allegedly raped and murdered emerged from his house in Noida adjacent to the capital  of  India.
With nationalist parties re-asserting themselves a new phenomenon emerged. Shiv Sena with Bal Thackeray’s son Udhav, instead of the recalcitrant nephew Raj, won the Mumbai Municipal Corporation elections. More significant was the Akali-BJP alliance defeating the Congress-led government by Captain Amarinder Singh and forming government in Punjab under Prakash Singh Badal. In Uttranchal the BJP-led by General Khanduri ousted the Congress from power. Of the three states that went to the polls only Mizoram stayed with the Congress.
March saw resurgence of Naxalite and Maoist in Central India. Violence also erupted in Nandigram (West Bengal) 11 farmers protesting against acquisition of their lands were shot by the police.
On April 1, Laurie Baker (90) who designed homes for the poor and had made India his home died at Thiruvananthapuram. Three days later Jagjit Singh Chauhan (80) founder of the Khalistan Movement died in his village Tanda. Anyone who thought BJP was a spent force was proved wrong; it swept the Delhi Municipal polls.
May was eventful. India’s biggest state was won by Mayavati’s Bahujan Samaj Party ousting Mulayam Singh’s Samajwadi, with BJP in the third position and Congress in the last. Dalit leader and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati forged a rainbow electoral coalition that embraced upper and lower castes and Muslims in one magic formula that brought her to power in India’s most populous state.
 In Punjab, Sikhs were up in arms against the head of Dera Sacha Sauda for having imitated Guru Gobind Singh in dress and ritual. More sinister was an explosion in Hyderabad Makka Masjid, killing 12 worshippers. Police remained clueless about the culprits.
Large-scale protests by the Gujjars of Rajasthan demanding scheduled tribe status privileges as granted to Meenas and Jats. They started their agitation at the end of May in Rajasthan when six people lost their lives, and spread to Haryana ending in Delhi bandh.
In all those turmoil environment India got first woman President Pratibha Patil.
In July, the monsoons flood revealed chinks in the armour. The financial capital Mumbai was water logged.
August started with cheerful news for Congress party. Renowned scholar Dr. Hamid Ansari of the Congress defeated Najma Heptullah of the BJP to become Vice President of India.
In September the country witnessed two bombing episodes: one in the Chisti dargah in Ajmer and the other in a Ludhiana cinema. The biggest sensation of October was a sting operation carried out by Tehelka on perpetrators of atrocities on Muslims in Gujarat following the arson in Sabarmati Express at Godhra. Chief Minister Narendra Modi, was explicitly named as giving them permission to do what they liked.
Mumbai Christians got some good news in Oct 2007.  The Archbishop of Mumbai Oswald Gracias, head of the almost 600,000-strong Catholic community in the city -became a cardinal , the only Asian in the latest list announced in Rome.
In November significant development was the erosion of power and integrity of the CPI (M) government in West Bengal. It started in Nandigram, predominantly a Muslim area. They resisted taking over their farmlands for industrialization. It led to clashes between the police and peasants in which some lives were lost. The CM apologized for the excesses by his police.
On 21 November, 2007, a political pressure group, dominated by religious Muslims, demonstrated against Ms Nasreen’s books in Kolkata (where she had been based for some months) and the protest turned violent. Soon afterwards, Ms Nasreen left Kolkata (Calcutta), the capital of the left-run state, Bengal, for Rajasthan, a northern state near Delhi, dominated by the rightist-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
December was marked by electoral battles in Himachal and Gujarat, Congress versus the BJP. The Bharatiya Janata Party registered spectacular victory in both the states.
The Gujarat election results have sent tremors across the political spectrum, thrilling the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and unnerving its opponents. Modi’s success showed, his developmental efforts, which made Gujarat attain a 10.6 percent growth in the Tenth Plan period, played a considerable part in boosting his prospects along with the combative pro-Hindu subtext of his campaign. Whether one likes it or not the Modi brand of middle class Hindu youth power is like to stay. During the Gujarat election several analysts made mountain out of mole by stating that the BJP suddenly brought Shri L.K. Advani fearing that Modi’s stature was growing. This was no where near to the truth. Those of us who were in Gujarat hearing the echoes with out ears to the ground could feel that the masses to know who the strong man at the center leadership level is ?
The year 2007 threw two possibilities before India: one, which of Sushri Bahan Mayawati who is defining aspects of affirmative actions in deeply caste divided Indian society and second Shri Narendra bhai Modi. Whatever the critics say, it’s likely that this is not the last time that the BJP will attempt to mix politics and the past.
The third alternative of Congress – Rahul baba – would have to await the results of ten assembly elections scheduled in 2008. But Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan are crucial for the congress. The signs of the Congress’s weakening hold on the ruling coalition at the centre can already be seen in the meeting which took place between two erstwhile inveterate adversaries in Maharashtra – the Shiv Sena’s Bal Thackeray and union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).
If the Congress has hit a low patch in its fortunes, the Left remains embroiled in its own troubles. There has been a rupture in the Left unity in its stronghold of West Bengal following political and administrative miscalculations during Chief Minister Buddhadev Bhattacharjee’s industrialisation drive.
The Christmas was overshadowed by the violence against Christians in Orissa.
After every instance of turmoil and trauma, “dialogue” offers itself up as a panacea. The word is everywhere, especially now. The desire to transcend differences through discussion and peaceful communication is a powerful one, but by itself, dialogue means nothing. The tenor of  the conversation—its richness, its nuance, its integration of the personal and the factual—is as important as the effort toward dialogue itself; perhaps more important. Though this review is not a direct response to events in Orissa and Gujarat, it is an attempt to take ourselves—and our thoughts—seriously. I hope that you’ll agree that our leaders need to enter into dialogue, and that they pay attention to what they say and how they say it. But whether you agree or not, I urge you to start dialogue with the people of other faiths.
With that, dear reader, I must leave you, so that 2008 can take its course. Happy New Year to you all. Who among us can predict the future?  (END)
Joseph Gathia is senior media and human rights analyst and can be reached via e mail: Mobile  09810270489

Christina Lamb on Construction of New GHQ in Islamabad

Angry Pakistanis Turn Against [Pakistan] Army
By Christina Lamb

(The Sunday Times) – It is the most expensive -and talked about – property development in Pakistan, but few can get
near it. Hidden behind barbed wire, the new state-of-the-art
[Pakistan] Army headquarter to replace a garrison in Rawalpindi is costing a reputed 1 billion UK pounds and will cover 2,400 acres of prime land in Islamabad, including lakes, a residential complex, schools and clinics.

Originally intended to represent the best of Pakistan, the new Army HQ is now being seen as a symbol of all that is wrong with the country.

Amid nationwide anger over the killing of Benazir Bhutto and a widespread belief that the country’s military or intelligence may have been involved, the population is turning against
the Army for the first time.

From the wailing rice-pickers at Bhutto’s grave in the dusty village of Garhi Khuda Bakhsh in the southern province of Sindh to the western-educated elite sipping whisky and soda in the drawing rooms of Lahore, the message is the same: Pervez Musharraf, the [tyrant], must go and the Army must return to its barracks.

Feelings are running so high that officers have been advised not to venture into the bazaar in uniform for fear of reprisals.

“The interests of the people of Pakistan are now totally at odds with those of the Army,” said Asma Jahangir, the head of Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission, who was one of hundreds of lawyers placed under house arrest in November.

“If a civilian President had done what Musharraf has done, he would have been dragged by his hair to the sea.”

It is not just civilians who argue that, if the country is to stay
together, power must go back into the hands of the politicians,
however corrupt or inept.

Asad Durrani, a retired General, headed the notorious Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) bureau during the 1990 elections when, he admits, it spent millions of dollars to prevent Bhutto being voted back into power. Now he believes the Army should step back.
“If you are in charge for such a long time, you can’t blame anyone else for the state of the country,” he said. “You have to take responsibility for the situation.”

“We are all trying to get across the message [to Musharraf] that ‘you are the problem’,” said another retired General. “I am hearing the same from serving generals.”

For decades children in Pakistan have grown up on text-books glorifying the Pakistani Army and glossing over its defeat in three wars and loss of half the country in 1971 (to become Bangladesh). When Army chiefs have seized power they have generally been welcomed. The news of Musharraf’s takeover in [October] 1999 was greeted with people handing out sweets. But none of Pakistan’s military rulers have stepped down voluntarily and Musharraf, it seems, is no different, picking an unpopular fight with the country’s judiciary when they tried to take him on.

Elections scheduled for last week were delayed after Bhutto’s
assassination. The new date is February 18 [2008], but there is scepticism about whether they will go ahead. A bomb that killed 22 in Lahore last week was seen as another step in creating a climate of insecurity that makes voting impossible.

Even if they do go ahead, the elections are widely expected to be rigged in favour of Musharraf’s allies [terrorist PML-Q and terrorist MQM]. The head of the European Union observer mission visited the [dictator] with a list of 10 concerns about a lack of transparency.

Bhutto’s death has left her one-time rival  Nawaz Sharif, leader of the Pakistan Muslim League [PML-N], as the main Opposition figure. Although he emerged on the political scene in the 1980s under the patronage of Pakistan’s last military ruler, General Zia ul Haq, he now insists the Army must stop interfering in politics.
“The only way to move forward is for people to defy the Army and to realise that these generals who keep staging coups are our real enemies,” he told in an interview at his heavily guarded farmhouse outside Lahore.

“It is not the job of generals to hold the Prime Minister, Cabinet or Parliament accountable,” he added. “They are accountable to the people. The Army has to go back to barracks or we will never have a functioning state.”

Resentment against the men in khaki is particularly acute in Bhutto’s home province of Sindh. To Sindhis, she was killed not because of her stand for democracy and against terrorism but because of where she came from. After her death many Sindhis went on the rampage, burning lorries, trains and banks.

They have been reined in by Bhutto’s husband, Asif  Zardari, who has taken over running her PPP. But he warns: “If elections are rigged or don’t go ahead, this may be
impossible to contain.”

Those close to Musharraf say he still believes he is the only person able to sort out Pakistan, even though under his rule bombs have become an almost daily occurrence.

“The problem is that 9/11 went to his head,” said Durrani. “After that I found him a changed man. He went from being a pariah to applause, saviour of Pakistan and the West.”

Washington and London are clinging to Musharraf for want of other options and the [false] belief that he represents the best hope of preventing Pakistan’s 50 or so nuclear warheads falling into militant hands. The West had hoped that Bhutto would be brought in as PM to provide his regime with a democratic face, but are now working on co-opting Sharif or Zardari.

Sharif, who has received three calls from David Miliband, the [UK] Foreign Secretary, since Bhutto’s assassination, was the PM ousted by Musharraf in [October] 1999. He insists that
working with Musharraf is not an option.

Were free elections to go ahead and the Opposition parties to achieve a two-thirds majority, they would be in a position to impeach the President. But few believe that, with Musharraf’s hand-picked caretaker government overseeing the elections, this is a realistic possibility.

The only way he might go is if the Army were to decide he had outlived his purpose.

More than 700 Pakistani soldiers have been killed in the fight in the tribal areas against militants said to be linked to [fictitious] “Al-Qaeda”, and officers admit that morale has not been so low since they lost Bangladesh in 1971.

“We are being asked to bomb our own people and shrug it off as collateral damage,” said a Mirage pilot. “I call it killing women and children.”

Hope rests on  General Ashfaq Kayani who took command of the Army in late November [2007], when Musharraf succumbed to pressure to take off his uniform and become a civilian.

Little is known about Kayani apart from his love of golf and his professionalism as a soldier. He is said to be unhappy about the Army’s involvement in politics and might pull back if elections proceed smoothly.

“Nobody is anyone’s man once he becomes commander-in-chief with 700,000 soldiers under his command,” says Imran Khan, the former cricketer turned politician.

Source: The Sunday Times – newspaper – Sunday, 13 January 2008 -London, UK.


Higher Education in Pakistan

Sham university reforms

By Pervez Hoodbhoy

GEN Pervez Musharraf’s regime boasts of its successes in science and education at home and abroad. Recently I saw Pakistan’s successes trumpeted by a large official delegation headed by Dr Atta-ur-Rahman, chairman of the Higher Education Commission (HEC), at a conference in Trieste, Italy.

They came to address a special session on science development in Pakistan — the only country that had requested and paid for such special treatment at the conference. Those who did not know about the state of science in Pakistan were amazed by the claims made. Those who knew better were stunned by the flood of self-serving lies, half-truths and deceit.

The claims made were several. A 300 per cent jump in research publications shows that academic activity in Pakistan has vastly increased; nine new engineering universities with European teaching faculty will soon be established; the 3,000 Pakistani students sent overseas for higher degrees will revolutionise the university system upon return; PhDs produced annually from Pakistani universities will soon approach the spectacular figure of 1,500; mathematics is now a strong discipline in Pakistan; and so forth.

The truth is very different. Even though spending on higher education has increased 15 times over the last five years, the improvements have been cosmetic. Genuine science in Pakistan has actually shrunk, not grown, over the last three decades. The trend has not been reversed. Euphoric claims notwithstanding, public university education in Pakistan remains miserably backward by international standards. Its real problems are yet to be touched.

Take the HEC’s first claim: the three-fold increase in Pakistani academic publications. Fantastically large per-paper monetary rewards to university teachers — a practice not adopted anywhere else in the world for excellent reasons — have indeed boosted publication rates. But publishing more papers is not the same as doing more research. Instead, the high rewards have caused an explosion of plagiarism, theft of intellectual property, publication of trivial results and falsified data, and publication of slightly different versions of the same paper in different journals. Most published papers are worthless academically and scientifically.

The reader can readily verify the last point. All that is needed is a computer and an Internet connection. Simply type into your browser, and then the name of any individual scientist or scholar you want. (Academic databases even more comprehensive than Google are available but not free.) A list of publications of that person, together with a count of the number of times his/her papers have been cited by other scholars, will be displayed. Remember that a piece of scientific work is important only if it is useful to other scientists, or to industry in the form of patents that lead to new products (a separate database exists for that). So, in a matter of seconds, one can see which individuals are considered important by the world of science and academia.

The results of such database searches are eye-opening. A majority of papers by Pakistani authors, even if published in international journals by hook or crook, have exactly zero citations (once self-citations are removed). Such papers have contributed nothing. They may just as well have not been written. The average number of citations per Pakistani paper is 3.41 (includes self-citation), which is much below that in scientifically advanced countries.

Still more shocking is the citation record of some of Pakistan’s most well-advertised scientists, whose relentless self-promotion at government expense would be considered a crime in another country. While they have hundreds of papers and books to their credit, most of these have zero citations. Others in their field seem to have scarcely noticed any of their work. On the other hand, the reader can check that about 25-30 other Pakistani scientists, who are unadvertised and relatively unknown, have a far better citation record and a moderately good international standing in their respective fields.

Now for the HEC’s nine Pak-European universities project. This is a stunning disaster. The most advanced university (in terms of construction and planning) was the French engineering university in Karachi. Named UESTP-France, with a completion cost of Rs26bn, it was to have begun functioning in October 2007. There is still no official explanation for why this did not happen, no new date has been set, and no account given of the money already spent.

On the face of it, making Pak-European universities sounds like a wonderful idea. Pakistan would pay for France, Sweden, Italy and some other European countries to help set up, manage and provide professors for new universities in Pakistan. It would be expensive — Pakistan would have to pay the full development costs, recurrent expenses, and euro-level salaries (plus 40 per cent markup) for all the foreign professors and vice-chancellors. But it would still be worth it because the large presence of European professors teaching in these Pakistani universities would ensure good teaching. High-standard degrees would subsequently be awarded by institutions in the respective European countries.

Even common sense said that the project could not work. Perhaps one can persuade beefy mercenaries of the French Foreign Legion to go to some country where suicide bombings happen daily and killing of ordinary citizens by terrorists is routine. But it takes an enormous leap of faith to think that respectable academics from France — or any other European country for that matter — will want to live and teach in Pakistan for a year or more. Travel advisories issued by several European governments warn against even brief visits. That the French professors did not turn up at UESTP-France is scarcely surprising. But, lost to their mad fantasies, HEC planners are now working on the vain assumption that the Germans and Swedes are made of sterner stuff than the French.

A wiser leadership would have aimed for one properly planned new engineering university, set up under the European Union. It would have sought external help for adding engineering departments to existing universities, as well as to massively upgrade existing ones. But these relatively modest goals are unacceptable to the present HEC leadership that believes, like the Musharraf regime as a whole, in grand plans rather than practical, feasible reforms.

Showing the hollowness of the other official claims of progress would take more space than available here. Slick PowerPoint presentations by HEC officials throw one figure after another at dizzying speed giving the impression of fantastic progress. But the intelligent listener must ask many questions: does it make sense to select thousands of students on the basis of a substandard high-school level numeracy and literacy test, and then send them for an expensive graduate-level education in Europe? Will the quality of Pakistani graduates not be further degraded by pushing PhD production far beyond the capability of the present universities?

It is time to end the fetish of buying tons of expensive scientific equipment that, at the end of it all, produce only zero-citation papers and zero patents. Curiously, after a bunch of projects were exposed as phoney, the HEC broke with its past practice and now no longer puts on its website details of HEC-funded projects. It is also time to stop HEC officials and HEC delegates from gallivanting across the globe at public expense on the vaguest of excuses for ‘fact-finding’ missions and conferences.

There must be an independent investigation of the HEC’s plans and financing, a review of its programmes and a full audit of accounts. The inquiry should be jointly done by the future government through the PAC and NAB, assisted by a citizen’s committee. Individual whims and personal ambitions must be checked to protect the national interest. Pakistan is a poor country although, looking at the HEC’s spending patterns, one would conclude the opposite.

In my next article, I shall argue that there are far better uses for the enormous funding that is now available for higher education.


Who Killed BB? By ALI H. ALYAMI

(The Weekly Standard) –

The Assassination of Benazir Bhutto is a great tragedy for her country, but also for pro-democracy Muslims, and especially for Muslim women, worldwide. For all her shortcomings, Bhutto was pro-democracy and adamantly opposed to extremism. Because of her beliefs and her firm stance on democracy, Bhutto was close to the West. She was a shining symbol for Muslim women in general, but especially in places like Saudi Arabia, where women have no rights under the Saudi-Wahabi [religious] law.

From all reports, it is evident that Bhutto’s assassination was well orchestrated. The media and analysts in the West quickly exonerated [Pervez] Musharraf’s government of any hand in the murder. This habitual rush to judgment obscures basic facts and possibilities. The political pundits argue that Musharraf had nothing to gain from Bhutto’s death. First, this argument ignores the way dictators have historically disposed off their opponents. Dictators rarely spare any effort at eliminating possible threats to their regimes, regardless of who gets hurt, even their country and its people.

Second, Musharraf may have deemed it necessary to send a message of defiance to the West for having urged him to allow Bhutto to return to Pakistan. The United States and England virtually forced him to allow Bhutto to challenge him for power by running for election.

Third, [pro-Musharraf] religious terrorists or [Musharraf] agents from outside Pakistan may have been involved in the assassination. When Bhutto returned to Pakistan in October 2007, she was met with open arms by many Pakistanis who, over time, had become disillusioned with Musharraf’s military rule. Furthermore, when Bhutto started campaigning, she discovered that her popularity far exceeded her expectations. But she made a colossal mistake by calling on Musharraf to step aside in order to pave the way for a government under her Pakistan People’s Party [PPP]. Musharraf resented the move, just as he resented pressure from the West. Musharraf was not the only party threatened by Bhutto’s popularity. The Saudi royal family, who had hosted Bhutto’s competitor, former [Pakistani] Prime Minister [Muhammad] Nawaz Sharif (ousted in a military coup by Musharraf in [October] 1999), feared Bhutto would win the election. Her rise to Pakistan’s highest office would weaken Saudi- Wahabi political, economic and religious influence in Pakistan, Afghanistan and the rest of Central Asia. The Saudis, who loathe Bhutto, summoned Musharraf in November 2007 and talked him into allowing Sharif to return and run against her. Three days later, Sharif was on his way to Pakistan. This is an intriguing turn of events given the fact that the previous month, Musharraf had rebuffed Sharif when he had shown up in Pakistan, forcing Sharif to return to Saudi Arabia on the same plane that had brought him home. Bhutto’s assassination is a catastrophe for pro-democracy Arabs and Muslims, and for millions of aspiring Muslim women worldwide. Arab and Muslim dictators will continue to murder advocates of democracy, liberalism and secularism, whom they fear more than terrorists and religious extremists. Sadly and dangerously, the West cooperates with these dictators, whose ability to stay in power depends on the threat posed by the very extremists they claim to be fighting.

[Dr. Ali H. Alyami is Executive Director of the Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia (CDHR), based in Washington, DC, USA. Prior to founding CDHR, Dr. Alyami served as a Senior Fellow at the Saudi Institute in Washington DC, as the Director of the educational peace program for the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) in San Francisco, CA, and as a Representative for the Arab Organization for Human Rights (a Cairo-based group) in North America. He has spoken at conferences throughout the U.S., Egypt, Sudan, Israel and London. Dr. Alyami has offered expert testimony before the U.S. Congress and has advised senior officials at the Pentagon, U.S. National Security Council and U.S. Department of State. He has a Ph.D. degree in Government and Diplomacy from Claremont Graduate University, a Master’s degree in International Relations and a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from California State University. He is also fluent in Arabic. ] Source: The Weekly Standard – magazine – Friday, 11 January 2008 – Washington DC, USA. DW: INFORMATION PRESS – News Views Media –

Hoodbhoy Talks Against Musharraf

Two Pakistani scientists are known throughout the world. Disgraced engineer A. Q. Khan helped the country get the bomb. By contrast, Pervez Hoodbhoy has spent more than 30 years opposing it. A professor of physics at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad, Hoodbhoy is a long-time critic of religious extremism, irrationality and military rule. With the regime of President Pervez Musharraf facing an uncertain future, Hoodbhoy has emerged as an unlikely pioneer of the pro-democracy movement. Ehsan Masood caught up with him during a meeting of the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World in Trieste, Italy.
There are daily demonstrations in universities across Pakistan. What are the students and faculty members demanding?

They want the restoration of the constitution and the rule of law, and an end to the state of emergency imposed by General Musharraf on 3 November. They want the chief justice and members of the supreme court to be reinstated. Pakistani campuses have suddenly woken up to social and political issues after two decades of being utterly quiet. I think we are witnessing something new and good.

Can the international scientific community do anything to help restore democracy?

The western scientific community should make it plain that it is opposed to the current state of emergency and the suspension of democracy. It should not communicate with or welcome representatives of the Pakistani government, nor allow them to address meetings or take part in conferences. On the other hand, it would be wrong to ban or discourage Pakistani scientists and students from visiting the west or its institutions.

Do you share the concerns of many in the international community about what would happen to Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal if the present government were toppled?

The government says there is absolutely no danger. But I wouldn’t be so sanguine, because extremists have penetrated into the depths of the army and the intelligence agencies.

You live in a part of the world where nuclear weapons are regarded by many as an article of faith. What is your view of Pakistan’s nuclear capability?

I take a moral position: there should be no nuclear weapons anywhere in the world. But nuclear weapons in the possession of India and Pakistan are particularly dangerous because of the countries’ proximity to each other and the fact that an accident can happen with no chances of controlling the consequences. Those of us who opposed the tit-for-tat nuclear tests of 1998 were absolutely right in thinking that this would be the beginning of an arms race. The arms race is definitely on. We in Pakistan are making as many warheads as possible. In spite of this, Pakistan is in greater danger today than it was in 1998. The threat is from within.

Your anti-nuclear stance is not a popular one in the Islamic world today.

Things are changing. The interesting thing is that in Pakistan, nuclear weapons are no longer thought of as a panacea for our ills as they were following the tests. The reason is that nuclear weapons have not put Pakistan in the ranks of technologically advanced countries, nor made it wealthier or better regarded. In fact, nuclear weapons are being looked at today with a great deal of nervousness, in particular by the US and many of its allies.

Musharraf has transformed Pakistan’s science and higher education, with higher professors’ salaries, more PhD students and a 60-fold increase in the science budget. One in two people now has a mobile phone. These are concrete achievements.

There is a lot of showbiz here. Yes, mobile telephone use has increased, but that has nothing to do with indigenous technology. It is largely because of the entry of multinational companies: the size of the market means that they are not exactly making a loss. But in terms of science development, I’m afraid there is very little good news. PhDs are being handed out to those barely literate in their fields. It’s true that science funding has gone up, but so has the wastage. For example, vast amounts are being spent on importing scientific equipment, but very little use is being made of it.

“Science funding has gone up in Pakistan, but so has the wastage”
Any examples of this?

Yes. A Van de Graaff accelerator, worth some $7 million, was ordered for my university two years ago, but as yet there is no plan for using it. In all likelihood, it will spend its life in some basement and not much science will come out of it.

There has also been a massive university expansion programme. That must be a good thing.

What is most alarming is the speed at which new universities are being created. Over the past six years, some 50 new universities have come into existence. Many have been unable to recruit teaching faculty and the standards in some are so low that they should not be called universities at all. It’s sad to see an institution being called a university when its teachers lack basic skills. It makes little sense to have a department of English where the head cannot speak a single straight sentence in English. Nor does it make sense to have a physics department when the head is unable to solve A-level physics problems. I can give you examples of both. That’s our problem: not enough competent teachers.

At least more young people now have a chance of affordable higher education.

Access to higher education is indeed very small. Less than 3 per cent of those who are eligible are at university. But to award qualifications that have no real learning behind them is going to make the situation worse. University graduates without basic skills become a burden wherever they go, whether in industry, the service sector or education.

What would you say is the single biggest issue that needs addressing in Pakistan science and education?

I would say two things. First is the idea among our young people that knowledge is something that comes from above, or is something to be copied or memorised, rather than created through human endeavour. This needs to be tackled head-on. It is interesting that Urdu lacks a word or phrase for “creating knowledge”. In our society, learning is taken to mean learning by rote. Secondly, teachers in our schools and colleges are utterly authoritarian: your teacher is not just the boss, he is seen as a father figure, someone you do not question. This forces students to accept information instead of thinking about it or questioning it.

Are you optimistic about the future?

Absolutely. We are seeing positive changes in some places. Some years ago, I presented a series of popular science programmes for Pakistan Television. The response was phenomenal and very, very heartening. I received thousands of letters, some from remote villages. Dozens of students came to my department; I even had one entire village school come in. In my view, the only way to get a handle on many of today’s conflicts is to enable people to learn to think more rationally, and to move them away from extremist ideas, whether from religion or nationalism. Each is equally divisive. The message of science is that we are one human family.

The Nuclear Age – Learn more about all things nuclear in our explosive special report.

From issue 2633 of New Scientist magazine, 08 December 2007, page 50-51

Pervez Hoodbhoy has been at Quaid-i-Azam University since 1973. He has written and spoken extensively on topics ranging from science in Islam to education issues in Pakistan, and produced science television programmes for children. He is author of Islam and Science: Religious Orthodoxy and the Battle for Rationality (Zed Books, 1992). In 2003, he was awarded UNESCO’s Kalinga prize for popularising science in Pakistan.

– The world of education is like an island where people, cut off from the world, are prepared for life by exclusion from it. ~Maria Montessori

– If people never did silly things, nothing intelligent would ever get done. ~Ludwig Wittgenstein

– The courage to be is the courage to accept oneself, in spite of being unacceptable.            ~Paul Tillich

– Never compare your inside with somebody else’s outside. ~Hugh Macleod