Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Off-Topic: War of necessity in Aghanistan

Pervez Hoodbhoy was at Hampshire College recently for the Darwin & Evolution in the Muslim World conference. However, a day before the start of the conference, he gave a lunch talk, Can the Taliban win in Pakistan and Afghanistan? The answer to this question now largely depends on the US decision about troops. While Pervez has been an anti-war activist all of his life, he made it quite clear that the US should not withdraw troops from Afghanistan. Such a move would be a morale booster for the Taliban - both in Afghanistan and Pakistan - and it will lead to a major turmoil in the region. In fact, his main point was that even if the US leaves right now, it will have to come back - and when it does - it will find the situation much messier than it is right now. I think he is right - the current Afghan war has now become a war of necessity.

Echoing these views, here is Ahmed Rashid on Fresh Air. This gives a good idea of the over all situation in Afghanistan. Regarding the destabilization of the region, listen to his answer about 34 minutes into the interview. Also, check out his article, The Afghan Impasse, in The New York Review of Books.

4 comments:

Dr. Muhammad Akbar Hussain said...

I would label this aging pseudo-analyst and pseudo-intellectual an utterly insane person.

1. Where did topic about Afghanistan and Pakistan come into discussion of Darwin and Evolution? Bringing in this topic into a scientific discussion at an international gathering removes any doubts about the motive behind these thoughts.

2. Talking of Taliban "winning" in Pakistan? Has this man got any knowledge of geopolitical differences between Afghanistan and Pakistan?

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We as overseas Pakistanis are trying our best (and having a difficult time) clearing up the bad image of our country that has been created by extremists and further exaggerated by media. But our entire efforts go down the drain when someone like Hoodbhoy turns up and smears shit all over our efforts.

As an amateur astronomer, I had always been a fan of this man and liked his TV shows about science and astronomy very much. It was my good luck when I happened to read Hoodbhoy's article in Dawn newspaper just a few days after 9/11 which centered around his claim that average Pakistani youth were jubilant at the destruction of towers. What was the purpose of writing such a vicious article? That article was a wrong thing at the wrong time by the wrong man, aimed at defaming us as Pakistani youth.

I am a paediatrician (childrens doctor) by profession working in the UK. I am not a scientist. I am not a graduate with some degree in astronomy and physics etc. Yet I felt the need to do something for amateur astronomy in Pakistan and we dared to fill in this embarrassing gap. We at Pakistan Amateur Astronomers Society are working under extremely scarce resources with poor equipment. But at least we are doing something. One would find us whenever someone searches Google web and images for Astronomers in Pakistan. This is our contribution for our country. Perhaps this is the best we could do, so being Pakistanis, we did it.

Being a scientist, what contribution Hoodbhoy has made for his country? What innovation he has brought? What benefit Pakistan had from him being a scientist? I always see him smearing the political image of his own country.

If you have no contribution towards your people and your country, you dont even have a right to talk about it either, let alone talk nonsense.

Muhammad Akbar Hussain said...

And what really excited me is that Hoodbhoy is actually thinking that Americans are foolish enough and have made a "mistake" invading Afghanistan and now repenting!!
US has the best strategic planning minds and only a fool like Hoodbhoy would think otherwise. Destabilizing the entire region was they were up to and what they achieved.
And Salman, where did you get this idea that Hoodbhoy is an "anti-war activist"? Next you would suggest that Asma Jahangir is a "Human rights activist" and Harun Yahya is the greatest scientist and thinker of all times. Wouldn't you?

Salman Hameed said...

Couple of quick comments:
"Where did topic about Afghanistan and Pakistan come into discussion of Darwin and Evolution?"

Actually this was before the conference - at one of the lunch talks at Hampshire.

"Talking of Taliban "winning" in Pakistan? Has this man got any knowledge of geopolitical differences between Afghanistan and Pakistan?"

Hmm...He actually lives in Islamabad (QAU campus) and has traveled extensively in the northern areas of Pakistan - including leading earthquake relief efforts a few years ago. Plus, you may have noticed a "?" at the end of his title. He was not saying that the situation is the same in Pakistan and Afghanistan - but rather how to analyze the threat of Taliban in each country.

As far as contributions to Pakistan, I'm glad to hear that you have been active in promoting astronomy in Pakistan. This, of course, has a soft corner for me, and I'm also thrilled by the amazing work that Khwarizmi Science Society has done this year (another post on their latest event coming up). At the same time, I would not denigrate Pervez's contributions because you disagree with his political stance - nor would it be a good idea to compare one's contributions with another's. However, since I have known Pervez for the last 20 years (he came to one of our amateur astronomy meetings in Karachi in 1989), let me list a couple to answer your question about his contributions to science in Pakistan:

First of all, he has been a professor at the physics department at Quaid-e-Azam University since the mid-1970s - and currently he is the Chair of the department. He had the opportunity to stay at MIT - where he got his physics degree - but he chose to return and stay in Pakistan. That is already much more than many of us can say. During the years, he has mentored many exceptional students who went on to get PhDs in physics from abroad.

As far as his own work, he was awarded the Baker Award for Electronics in 1968 and the Abdus Salam Prize for Mathematics in 1984. In addition, as you also alluded to, he made 13-part science documentary series in Urdu (because he wants to make sure that science goes beyond the elites in Pakistan) and was awarded UNESCO's Kalinga Prize in 2004 for the popularization of science in Pakistan. And just like you, I'm sure he worked with scarce resources as well in making the science series. Oh - and he has spearheaded efforts to translate science books in Urdu - books such as The Brief History of Time, etc.

It's possible that these may not satisfy your high standards, but I'm completely in awe of these efforts and consider him a role-model to emulate. You may disagree with his arguments, but lets not mix-up his contributions and question his "right to talk" about Pakistan.

P.S. Yes, I do have tremendous respect for Asma Jahangir also and her work as a human rights activist in Pakistan.

Muhammad Akbar Hussain said...

Thanks for not deleting my comments.
The human cost of the US War of Terror is of biblical proportions. Being an "anti-war" activist and having a soft corner for US imperialistic interests are entirely opposite things and is hypocrisy beyond any doubt.
For Asma Jahangir etc. too, the definition of human rights is limited to selective occassions by several factors, details of which I don't want to go into.
Pervez Hoodbhoy is a scientist and may have certain contributions and I would respect him as a scientist, a rank that should make him stick to his area of expertise. But if such people bring shame to my country's name by talking nonsense, like his Dawn article I mentioned previously, I would condemn his ideas in the strongest words I can come up with.