Pakistan Unhitches Hitchens

By Anjum Altaf

Pakistan is like the spouse who makes one froth at the mouth and take leave of one’s senses. In the ensuing rant, it is possible to get almost all the facts right while getting the big picture almost entirely wrong, leaving one feeling, the next day, sheepish and deeply embarrassed – the real damage done, in any such fight, being to oneself. Pakistan’s latest enraged ex is Christopher Hitchens, who could not have done himself any worse damage than what he has accomplished with his ironically titled Vanity Fair blowup, “From Abbottabad to Worse.”

Hitchens delivers his verdict right off the bat:

Here is a society where rape is not a crime. It is a punishment. Women can be sentenced to be raped, by tribal and religious kangaroo courts, if even a rumor of their immodesty brings shame on their menfolk. In such an obscenely distorted context, the counterpart term to shame—which is the noble word “honor”—becomes most commonly associated with the word “killing.” Moral courage consists of the willingness to butcher your own daughter.

What, Hitchens asks, can one expect of a “degraded country,” an Islamic republic burdened with “sexual repression” of this order?

There is no denying the sexual repression prevalent in Pakistan, but a more even-tempered Hitchens would have considered squaring it with the recommendation at end of his article, which is to shift alliances and instead embrace India, “our only rival in scale as a multi-ethnic and multi-religious democracy, and a nation that contains nearly as many Muslims as Pakistan.” Surely Hitchens has heard of honor killings in India, of women being paraded naked in villages as panchayat-sanctioned punishment? And surely, the next day, a becalmed Hitchens would have thought to wonder what exactly sexual repression and “degradation” have to do with Islam, if there are nearly as many Muslims in India as in Pakistan.

This kind of reductive psychology makes no sense: Would a second marriage survive such flying off the handle? Would one not write off India as well because human beings there are considered untouchable in the 21st century or Saudi Arabia because women are forbidden to drive? And would one not have written off, for whatever obscene oppressions and suppressions, many societies of the past that are now exemplars of the liberal world?

None of this is to argue that Pakistan is not plagued by very severe problems, some of which Hitchens has enumerated. The appropriate response to Hitchens is not a defense of Pakistan’s civil and military elite, of the kind Christine Fair has penned for The Huffington Post, with its accounting of Pakistan’s cooperation in the war against terror. Nor is it the dismissive posture adopted by many Pakistanis, pointing out their country’s various positives. These are weak defenses, the staples of many a domestic fight: This is all I’ve done for you, think of the good times, we were happy once, and ultimately those defenses are as far from the point as a Hitchens-style diatribe.

The response calls for the kind of unglamorous analysis that won’t make it into Vanity Fair or The Huffington Post. At any given time, a society is characterized by many currents and counter-currents, positives coexist with negatives, and struggles for human rights wax and wane. So has been the case in Pakistan. Hitchens’ statement that “Pakistan takes its twisted, cowardly revenge by harboring the likes of the late Osama bin Laden” is so unnuanced as to call into question the author’s credibility as an analyst; the greatest damage he has done here is to his own reputation.

There is no one Pakistan: There are many Pakistans, and the question to ask is why the forces of repression have been gaining the upper hand in the country. A part, but only a part, of the answer is provided by Hitchens himself – the “sick relationship between the United States and various Third World client regimes, many of which turned out to be false friends as well as highly discreditable ones.” The US has not reached out to those who have been leading the struggle for dignity and decency in many countries. Rather, under its umbrella, those who championed the rights of people were picked off and the most unsavory characters protected for decades. The fear and passivity in societies that see courageous journalists die horrible deaths without protest, protection, or support is not a surprising outcome.

And at the same time, one sees respected think-tanks in Washington churn out analyses that recommend continued assistance to the very clients that have forestalled social progress in these societies. What are the proponents of progress meant to make of these signals? Just that there is a long road ahead and not much help is to be expected from friends like Hitchens, who forsake analysis for anger and do not ask what kind of degraded society can accept such cynical manipulation of people in the Third World.

The sick relationship between the United States and various Third World client regimes is of course not the entire answer. India has escaped such a relationship with any power from the outset, and yet degrading conditions and obscene evils, including the willful murder of unborn daughters, plague India as well. It is not that Indians are not aware of these; many have been struggling against them for years, fearlessly and fiercely. Progress, however, remains painfully slow.

There are other reasons as well for this uneven development, this social stasis, that go beyond the consequences of propping up discreditable client regimes. Some would point to the post-World War II neo-liberal global order that favors the market over social welfare, an order in which Shining India focuses on repressing its indigenous people to exploit mineral resources while outsourcing the solution of its most degrading poverty and gender discrimination to handouts from the UK’s Department for International Development.

But this is picking up the story midstream; the uneven development has something to do as well with the episode of colonization, which not only stifled the processes of industrialization and urbanization, the essential ingredients of social progress in the now developed societies, but irrevocably harmed the industries and movements that existed prior to colonization. The flattening of the social hierarchy never reached the stage in India that it did in Europe, there was no social revolution, and the ancien regime entered the 20th century unscathed. The Carpenters, Barbers, Taylors, and Masons of the Anglo-Saxon world all became equal citizens, retaining their anachronistic surnames only as reminders of a pre-industrial guild economy, but in India they were categorized into Other Backward Castes and, having lost their occupational status, turned into objects of pity and condescension to be manipulated as vote banks in the new mechanism for legitimizing power. This is the process that has yielded what Hitchens terms “our only rival in scale as a multi-ethnic and multi-religious democracy” but whose peculiar characteristics have meant that gains at the bottom have been painfully slow.

Christopher Hitchens should, and does, know all this. The story of human development is uneven; the lags are long, the evolution is slow, the journey is fraught with obstacles, including the interventions of those “in the lead” (who, themselves, never had to contend with such). It is tough going even in a country like India, where the vote is indeed chipping away at the power structure, let alone in one as benighted as Pakistan. Moving the entire world to one of decency, dignity and moral courage is a struggle that can do without the rants. Hopefully Hitchens would agree with that on the morning after.


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49 Responses to “Pakistan Unhitches Hitchens”

  1. Aakar Patel Says:

    I’m not sure how America can embrace India any more than it has, or whether it should. Perhaps Hitchens can embrace India.
    I propose he exchange his Washington home with mine in Mumbai for a few months. He may also have my column.

    • Anjum Altaf Says:

      Aakar: Your column is actually fun to read. That would be too big a loss. I suggest you stop at swapping houses.

  2. S. M. Naseem Says:

    Very well-reasoned, yet hard-hitting without being impolite, article. Mr. Hitchen’s rants (accompanied by severe thrashing) are comparable more to that made by a medieval lord to his heavily-indebted serf, than of an estranged spouse against the dalliance of his partner at a cocktail party, badly bruising his ego. His crude attempt to drive a wedge between India and Pakistan and to promote, rather than assuage, the unfortunate rivalry between them, has been aptly rebuffed by Mr. Aakar Patel, in the preceding comments.

  3. Narmeen Says:

    Mr. Hitchens is right, rape is a punishment, because it is a crime of power, one perpetrated by the powerful on the powerless.

    The emotional impact of the US SEAL operation to get Osama has been likened in Pakistan to that of the act of rape.

    Consider the similarities:

    • Pakistan was caught unawares…its radars were ‘sleeping’ because it was not expecting an attack from its ‘ally’. Most women have extra-sensitive radars that are active all the time but they let down their guards for people they trust….and the majority of rapes are done by acquaintances.
    • The first reaction to the operation in Pakistan was how the military and intelligence could have allowed it to happen… surely they were in on it. Most women when they cannot show signs of resistance on their bodies are accused of having colluded in the crime.
    • People said Pakistan’s policies of having sold out to the US were taken as an invitation for this sort of a violation. Women are often told that they ‘invite’ rape by behaving in certain ways.
    • People say they felt humiliated, shocked, hurt, angry, ashamed, dishonored, violated and depressed. Women victims use the very same words.

    It is a shattering experience for a woman, just as it has been a shattering experience for the people of this country.

    No woman deserves to be raped. There is a lot wrong in Pakistan, but the bottom line is this. Nothing can justify its exploitation.

    So how does the healing start? It starts from ‘within’. Women survivors are told to believe in themselves, in their self worth and to tell themselves that no one can take away their honor if they honor and respect themselves.

    Pakistan too has to look inwards. Our incestuous relationship with external powers has to stop. The solutions lie with Pakistan’s leader and its people. Another argument against American aid.

    • addicted Says:

      Really? Killing your #1 enemy, without telling your “ally” (whom you give billions of dollars to), because they are likely to prevent you from killing him, is like raping a woman?

      And then you add the additional hypocrisy factor of Pakistani people complaining about this (you know, the guys who trained and sent terrorists across the border for decades).

      There is a lot wrong with America, but its hard to take any Pakistani seriously who feels that the US “violated” them by killing Osama Bin Laden. You know what would have been an easy way to not get violated? Capturing Osama Bin Laden yourself. In fact, he made it ridiculously easy by living right next to Pakistani military academies.

  4. Vikram Says:

    Another illustration of the garbage that results when journalists and ‘pundits’ think they are historians and sociologists.

  5. Anil Kala Says:

    After I read your piece i thought Hitchen’s article was hugely rhetorical so read his article as well. I must say your piece is misleading. You pick a few rhetorical sentences from his article and build up response here. Sorry, Hitchen’s article is essentially about US and its client state like relationship with Pakistan which is not working to the satisfaction of US. Hitchen’s is merely pouring out his frustration at repeated betrayal by Pakistan and he is blaming both US administration and Pakistani oligarchy equally. Saying a few rhetorical things for impact is no big deal.

    • Anjum Altaf Says:

      Anil: It is all about the line that delineates no-big-deal. On the red clay at Roland Garos, the line is fixed and the mark reveals precisely where the ball bounced with reference to the line. In what we are attempting, different people draw the line differently. Clearly you and I are drawing it very far apart.

    • Anil Kala Says:

      If we disagree the matter would have rested there but when you make that disagreement seem unequal it is a different matter. Drawing parallels is never good argument, two sets of occurrences have different parameters governing outcome nevertheless you have drawn a parallel to make a point so let me extend the analogy. Not every line matters all the time in Roland Garros courts. The side galleries are merely decorative embellishments in singles match. It is up to you to regard those lines as the most important line.

      The article of Hitchens is highly emotional and your response is hysterical that is the point I am making.

      • Anjum Altaf Says:

        Anil: I see no problem in disagreeing because one can discuss the disagreements. We also disagree on drawing parallels; I find them useful and you don’t. The point I wished to make was that in some situations the relevant line is well defined (I don’t see why you would assume that I would pick an irrelevant line). In other cases, the line is subjective. What is a big deal is very subjective and it is alright if we differ on that.

        I explained in the article the problem with the analytical framework used by Hitchens. This explanation may or may not be convincing and can be discussed further. My response could well be hysterical but just labeling it as such is not enough. If you point out what is hysterical in it, it would help me respond better next time.

      • Anil Kala Says:

        Anjum: As I mentioned in the first post the impression one gets from your response to the article is misleading. There is nothing seriously analytical about Hitchens’ article.It is one highly emotional roller-coaster ride harping repeatedly on US and Pakistan’s client state kind of relationship going sour for US. ‘Rape being punishment’ or “India being useful partner’ or “degenerative religion creating havoc’ are not central part of his theme where as you make these assertions central part of your response.That is why you response is hysterical.

        • Anjum Altaf Says:

          Anil: From your description, I deduce you consider Hitchens’ article a poorly written one. What is it that makes it a poor article? Suppose a class of students in logic or rhetoric were given the assignment to assess the weaknesses of the article. What would be their verdict? Whether an article is good or bad, it relies on an implicit analytical framework. To determine the strengths or weaknesses of that framework is in my view a useful function.

          I don’t see how you can claim that rape is not a central part of Hitchens’ theme. He starts his article by emphasizing “the crucial part played by sexual repression in the Islamic republic.” This leads him to conclude: “If the most elemental of human instincts becomes warped in this bizarre manner, other morbid symptoms will disclose themselves as well.” This is his diagnosis of the underlying sickness in Pakistan and it is this sickness that causes the relationship going sour for the United States. Hence, at the end he wishes the US embrace a country with as many Muslims but one not afflicted by this disease. How much more central can it get?

      • Anil Kala Says:

        Anjum: It is too much work going through that article again and I am not doing it. Besides I am not really good at arguing. The thing is that after going through your piece it seemed Hitchens’ article is all about everything bad in Pakistan culturally, religiously and socially while remaining blind to similar evils prevailing in India. After going through the article the impression I got was that the author is really after US Administration for handsomely awarding Pakistan after every betrayal.

        The article is not poorly written, in fact it is brilliantly written. It is not about systematically arguing a point of view but the purpose is to dazzle the readers emotionally. If it can rattle a person like you, who is normally clinically unemotional, to respond in the manner you have then it is certainly a brilliant piece of writing.

        • Anjum Altaf Says:

          Anil: In my view your impression of Hitchens’ article is incomplete. He does accuse the US administration for rewarding Pakistan after every betrayal. But this is common knowledge and there is no value added in repeating this charge. His key contribution, in his own eyes, is to offer a new explanation of why Pakistan will betray every time. Just look at the opening paragraph again. Every tutorial in essay writing advises one to put the central thesis up front. Does Hitchens put his accusation of the US administration there or does he put his insightful explanation of what ails Pakistan?

          Your stance should provide great comfort to demagogues who dazzle the audience with emotions but whose arguments can’t stand any serious scrutiny.

        • Anil Kala Says:

          “Your stance should provide great comfort to demagogues who dazzle the audience with emotions but whose arguments can’t stand any serious scrutiny”

          The jibe is really uncalled for. Aren’t you drawing strange inference here. You appear to be the one who is dazzled, certainly not me.

          • Anjum Altaf Says:

            Anil: It is not a strange inference. It is the implication of your characterization of Hitchens’ article. You consider something brilliantly written that dazzles readers emotionally but is logically flawed. Isn’t that what demagogues thrive on? – to sway audiences with emotive messages that are weak on logic. If you consider them calmly they are full of contradictions. It seems to me dangerous to give more weight to emotion than to reason in such situations.

          • Anil Kala Says:

            Is it my stance?

          • Anjum Altaf Says:

            Anil: I was basing it on the following comment:

            The article is not poorly written, in fact it is brilliantly written. It is not about systematically arguing a point of view but the purpose is to dazzle the readers emotionally. If it can rattle a person like you, who is normally clinically unemotional, to respond in the manner you have then it is certainly a brilliant piece of writing.

            Excuse me if I misinterpreted it and let me know where I got it wrong.

        • Anil Kala Says:

          Beats me! I just can’t see some easy logic that can translate quoted text to my stance being comfort to some demagogue. Besides I am not the focus of discussion and I am not willing to defend here some non-existent (in my view) attribute of mine. I don’t consider jibes, barbs regular arguments; they are diversionary devices to stun or rattle someone or shift focus of discussion.

          Anyway I have nothing more to add. I regret though, I was quite blunt in stating my views. I could have done that with some finesse.

          • Anjum Altaf Says:

            Anil: I have tried to refocus the discussion with greater precision in a follow-up post.

  6. Shahenshah Says:

    This is rubbish. This is another attempt of shifting the blame. And pouncing about India with insulting insinuations shows how pathetic the piece is in reality. The logique is as follows, ‘Forget about my problems when other nations have problems’. And the difference in India is that there is public power, which has shown itself to remove governments. Also, many of the public plagues in India are by some people or local government. But there is no central cum state co-ordinated attempt to domineer people. India is far too heterogenous to maintain such conspiracies. In Pakistan, however, the central ISI directs and co-ordiantes central cum local policies affecting Chaos in an already devastated country. Also, saying that there are different Pakistan is to undermine the Pakistani Identity. It is, effectively, say there is no Pakistan; for, as you suggest, the parts are greater than the sum of the parts. Also, India is improving. Pakistan is not improving nor is it stagnating. It is sinking.

    • Anjum Altaf Says:

      Shahenshah: The logic, appearances to the contrary, is not ‘Forget about my problems when other nations have problems’. The logic is to get to a better explanation of the problems.

      You are giving primacy to the unity of a mythical Pakistani identity over the reality of its divisions. If India can be heterogeneous why can’t Pakistan? Diversity is independent of the ‘goodness’ or ‘badness’ of a country.

      Pakistan is indeed sinking and that would be the central concern to one looking at the issue as a Pakistani. For an analyst, the central concern is the methodological validity of the analysis. It is possible to separate one’s identity as a Pakistani from that as an analyst.

      • Shahenshah Says:


        I do not believe it is impossible for Pakistan to become a heterogeneous nation. But that should be idealism, and I am lent little towards such quixotic forays. The reality is stark there. How can Pakistan maintain a heterogeneous state whilst entertaining draconian laws from ages past or tacitly condoning their employment by local people?
        Also, the very idea of a sovereign Pakistan is threatened by American dismissal of it when they bomb Pakistanis. The Americans claim to be bombing terrorists; but more often than not, it is the children, the feeble, indeed, the civilians who are blown apart. I am an Indian, but I do not relish these things. A child dying anywhere is a lamentable thing.

        I say ‘Pakistan is sinking’ because her people have not enough force, it seems, to fight against the Military. The same military supported by the Americans. How can the ISI and the Army eat so much of the budget? Why should Pakistan not build their own schools and hospitals and water treatment plants? They built Nuclear Bomb, nay? I think they can. They should build such things.

        I appreciate your desideratum, Sir. You can be satisfied only with ‘methodological’ and, I suppose, empirical justifications. There are. And for some aspects of dynamic nations such as Pakistan, the data are qualitative at best. I hope you understand my reasoning.

        Best of Luck,


        • Anjum Altaf Says:

          Shahenshah: I am afraid I don’t understand your reasoning and you will have to help me a little to figure out your meaning.

          1. Pakistan is not trying to be heterogeneous. It is very heterogeneous. Believe me everyone is not alike in Pakistan. Ironically, it is trying to be the exact opposite, a homogeneous nation by stressing the commonality of religion, which is the source of many of its problems. Even here it has failed because sectarian differences have been increasing. I have elaborated on this in my review of MJ Akbar’s book Tinderbox: The Past and Future of Pakistan. (Excerpt: “the idea of India that won out stressed unity through a celebration of diversity, while the one that emerged as the easy way out for Pakistan attempted unity through an abolishment of diversity.”)

          2. I can’t figure out what the heterogeneity or homogeneity of a society has to do with draconian laws from ages past. In every country laws, whether draconian or not, apply to all citizens. That does not render society homogeneous.

          3. The idea of sovereign Pakistan is not threatened by American dismissal or bombing. It is threatened by the policies of Pakistan’s rulers. The Americans bombed Vietnam much more intensively. That did nothing to the idea of the sovereignty of Vietnam. Bombing can threaten the existence of a country but not the idea of its sovereignty.

          4. Countries can sink and then rise again. Consider the examples of Germany and Japan. Our lives are much shorter than the lives of countries. No one was thinking that the people would Egypt would fight against the military but after half a century they did.

          5. In what sense is Pakistan a dynamic nation? And what are the empirical justifications and qualitative data you are referring to?

  7. addicted Says:

    I actually read the Hitchens article before reading this.

    Your entire article is a response to a one-sentence throwaway mention of India in the second to last paragraph of an over 15 paragraph article. A mention that is on par with “How could it be “worse” if we listened to the brave Afghans, like their former intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh, who have been telling us for years that we are fighting the war in the wrong country?”

    You have not even tried to refute the basic thrust of his argument (which actually matches your argument) which is for the US to stop enabling Pakistan.

    Your article really is an indication of one of the major problems impeding progress in Pakistan. An extremely unhealthy obsession with India.

    • Anjum Altaf Says:

      addicted: The intent of the article is not to defend Pakistan or attack India. It may seem like that but it is not. The point (which could have been made poorly) is that Hitchens has most of the facts right but his explanation is wrong. And the explanation is wrong because his analytical framework is flawed. He is treating a country like a person that does this or that. There are diverse opinions in every country and they can become indistinguishable when the observer is angry or frustrated.

      The reason India is mentioned in the article is because it is a polar opposite to Pakistan – considered successful in every way that Pakistan is a failure (see the linked article from the New Yorker). If honor killings occur in India as well, then honor killings are a wash; they should have no place in the Hitchens article. Unless, of course, you can present a good argument why honor killings in India are different from honor killings in Pakistan. It is possible that such an argument exists.

      The Double Game: The Unintended Consequences of American Funding in Pakistan

      Excerpt: India has become the state that we tried to create in Pakistan. It is a rising economic star, militarily powerful and democratic, and it shares American interests. Pakistan, however, is one of the most anti-American countries in the world, and a covert sponsor of terrorism. Politically and economically, it verges on being a failed state.

      • addicted Says:

        I would submit that his analytical framework is not wrong, considering it is grounded in the reality that this is how the US government does look at state-actors.

        I think we can all agree that no nation has a single personality, and it is made up of million of differing persons. However, that is irrelevant, because the US government does not deal with every individual in the nation. The US government (whose actions Hitchens’ article is intended to change) deals with the Pakistani government (and military) in particular.

        In this sense, treating the Pakistani leadership as a single actor (or more appropriately, as a family of actors, since you have to additionally consider the military) does make sense for the US government.

        At the end of the day, I guess I am disappointed that this was the route taken to debunk what was largely a simple point (The US needs to stop enabling Pakistan for both Pakistan, and the US’s good), embellished with a lot of hate and invective.

        • Anjum Altaf Says:

          addicted: If that is how the US government looks at state-actors why does it agonize so much about winning the ‘hearts and minds’ of the citizens and shifting its allegiance from the military to civilian leadership? I would argue that conflating the country with its rulers has been the main problem with the US approach in the past and one it is trying to rectify, and not just in Pakistan.

          The concluding point was indeed simple. But the diagnosis of what led to that conclusion in my view was not correct. A patient may have fever but it is still important to know what has caused the fever. Otherwise, the remedy can be grievously flawed. And where do you see the hate and invective?

          • addicted Says:

            Anjum, it has seem pretty obvious to me that “hearts and minds” has only been a rhetorical device used by the American government. You don’t think they really care about actually winning hearts and minds, do you? If they did, they wouldn’t be sending unmanned drones to bomb the crap out of people.

            I agree that the US government’s biggest flaw has been its dealing with (and strengthening) a largely terrible leadership. However, that is the reality, and I don’t see any chance of the American government trying to engage the people directly (besides, that well has been far too poisoned at this point, IMO).

            I apologize if my last sentence wasn’t clear. I saw the hate and invective in Hitchens’ article, not your rebuttal. Because that is largely what his article was…Lots of Terrible Words. Get out of Pakistan, US. Lots more terrible words.

          • addicted Says:

            Having had another read, after having read your comments, I do see where you are coming from, rebutting Hitchens’ framework, and I apologize for missing it earlier.

            I do feel, however, that this was largely a wasted effort, because Hitchens’ framework is really hard to miss since his article is really just a long diatribe, rather than a reasoned argument. Unfortunately, the war on terror seems to do that to him (I blame it on his extreme need to be a soldier in an existential war, much like his father, and grandfather were, in WW2 and WW1 respectively. Unfortunately for him, the “War” on Terror is nothing like those episodes in human life).

          • Anjum Altaf Says:

            addicted: Thanks for persisting with the argument. The premise of this blog is that conversations, however painful, are better than no conversations. There is at least the possibility of learning something new. Part of the misunderstanding was my fault. I was not sensitive enough in my writing to the likelihood of being misinterpreted and of the discussion going off in an unintended direction.

            As for it being a wasted effort, I would tend to agree with you at the personal level. Christopher Hitchens is a leading and very influential commentator in the English-speaking world but like many others, I too stopped reading him when he adopted a pre-determined ideological position on issues. However, this blog is intended as a learning resource for college students and one of the aims is to show students how to tell good analysis from bad. There is a section on Analysis where opinions of people who carry weight with the public are deconstructed. The logic of the argument is under scrutiny while the identity of the author becomes irrelevant. You can see some samples here:

            If you wish to see a statement of the blog’s objectives and its pedagogical approach, they are described here:

    • Yasmin Says:

      The writer “Addicted” is accurate in stating that some Pakistan elites do have an unhealthy obsession with India and make too many comparisons to India only with a focus on the outward and not enough inward analysis to understand their own nation’s mess and then scrutinize writers who don’t agree with their perspective or interpretation of the “mess”.

  8. ganji Says:

    A mention of India by Hitchens and a whole post devoted to why India is not-so-awesome after all. Kind of childish.

    Not a word responding to Hitchens other arguments, like Pakistan “dispatching death squads” across its borders.

    • Anjum Altaf Says:

      gangi: The post is not devoted to “why India is not-so-awesome after all” but it can be read that way if one wishes to reduce it to an India-Pakistan contest. The post is not even intended to “respond” to Hitchens’ arguments. It is not questioning the facts; it is questioning the explanation of the facts. An earthquake is an earthquake but one can believe it an act of divine wrath or a movement of the tectonic plates. There is a difference between the two. It is necessary to mention India because that best demonstrates the weakness of the analytical framework that Hitchens has employed.

  9. anon4cecymous Indian Says:


    More than anything else, what seems to have riled you up about Hitchens’ is “how dare he say India is better than Pakistan? By God, Pakistan may be a hellhole, but India is no better!”.

    I see this childlike foot-stomping from so many Pakistanis every time anything is mentioned about the Islamo-jihadist degeneracy of the society that now I just find it amusing. So normally, I don’t take troll baits but you seem to be particularly trollish about honor killings in India and other assorted points so let me make just one key point:
    the key difference between India and Pakistan is what is the norm vs. exception, and what is the present vs. aspiration.

    The honor killings you talk about in India? They are not the norm, they are exceptions. When they do happen, those who commit them are not seen as doing something normal – they are condemned by the society, and punished by the legal machinery. See this:

    Contrast that with the treatment of those who commit honor killings or other misogynist crimes in Pakistan. The vast majority of Pakistanis see them not as doing anything wrong.

    There in lies the key difference, my friend. Hindu extremism exists in India. But not even the most lunatic among their fringes are trying to bring India under some sort of an ancient legal code from Manu Smriti or bring women under subjugation. Your country, on the other hand, does have a religious fundamentalism codified right in your legal system – whether it’s your blasphemy laws or treatment of Ahmadiyas or a conscious re-fashioning of your collective identity away from your Indian/Hindu roots to an Arabized slavish mindset to glorification of Islamist murderers such as Ghori. All you need to see is a picture of educated lawyers cheering the assassin of Salman Taseer on the front pages of Pakistani newspapers to see how backward the mindset of Pakistani society is and how Islam has poisoned it.

    A society’s vision determines the path its people walk on. Pakistani society’s collective vision is to be a Sharia-driven Islamic utopia. So that’s the path it is walking to with the zeal of the neo-convert. India’s vision is far more progressive. That’s why slowly but surely, India is pulling its backward and poor out of the hole and inexorably walking on a path to a better future.

    • Anjum Altaf Says:

      anon4cecymous Indian: A citizen is not obliged to defend his country regardless of the facts, events or incidents. A country never does anything; people in a country do and particular acts must be judged or their moral and ethical merits. There are many things wrong in Pakistan and the nationality of the person who points them out is not relevant. For a discussion to be useful one has to move beyond the ‘my-country-your-country’ stage. And it would also help to stay with the arguments and not jump to conclusions about motivations.

      You have made an argument regarding what is different about honor killings in India and Pakistan. This is a fair argument and I don’t have a problem with it.

      Your claim about the backward mindset of Pakistani society and how Islam has poisoned it needs further discussion. The mindset may well be backward but there has to be some additional cause beyond Islam. Islam is present in many other countries without a similar backward mindset. This is the question I had asked in the article – how can we explain the increasing dominance of obscurantist forces in Pakistan?

      The claim that Pakistani society’s collective vision is to be a Sharia-driven Islamic utopia also needs further discussion. If it is indeed the collective vision, why is it taking so long to put into place?

      I am not saying your premises are incorrect, just that it is not enough to assert them. The arguments should not be incomplete. There was a post on this blog some time back that tried to spell out the attributes of a complete argument:

      • anon4cec Says:

        Again, giving you the benefit of the doubt even though I think I am taking a troll bait, the evidence is all in front of you.

        Think about this: India and Pakistan is as close to a large-scale controlled historical experiment on the impact of an ideology as one can imagine. At personal elvel, we all know that Indians and Pakistanis are same people. We love each other when we meet. The warmth is genuine. The civilizational connection is undeniable, in spite of powerful and conscious attempts at socially engineered eradication of that connection. Both countries started at same level of socio-economic development and roughly equal size and power.

        The only difference: the ideology used as the foundational national mythos. For Pakistan, it was Islam (even though that’s not quite what Jinnah wanted). For India, it was a pluralistic liberal democracy (however flawed in its implementation). The river of history flowed in its own inexorable way since then. Slowly but surely the paths diverged as both countries used their founding ideology in solving the problems of incipient nationhood. So, for example, while India banned untouchability, created reservation for oppressed castes, arrived at language compromise within its democratic framework and vision a progressive socialist democracy. Pakistan instead chose Islam and virulent anti-Hinduism sanctified in the two-nation theory as its rallying point. Logically, what followed was its implementation in a range of social mythos from teaching school children about evil baniyas to the fashioning of the Muslim as a superior conquistador. Policies such as overt war in 1965, Zia’s Islamization, covert war in Punjab and Kashmir in 80s and 90s followed.

        The results are there for all to see – if you can open your eyes and analyze rationally. The smugness you feel about the oppression of backward castes, for example, can only be felt until you look at the real empowerment of the lower and middle castes ranging from real political power obtained by the likes of Mayawati, Narendra Modi, Lalu Prasad Yadav and so on. In 1947, it would have been unthinkable for anyone to imagine that a low-caste female born in poor family such as Mayawati could beome the Chief Minister of the largest state in India. In modern India, yes she can. The equivalent in Pakistan would be for a poor Hindu person to become the elected premier of a province with real political power. Pigs will fly in Karachi before that ever happens.

        There are few parallels in history where such a controlled experimentation of ideological efficacy has happened. The only other examples I can think of are East vs West Germany and North vs South Korea. In all of these instances, you have same people starting out at roughly similar socio-economic levels of development with the only difference being defining ideology for the society. In all instances, there is a clear winner and a loser. West Germany and South Korea proved the superiority of a market democracy over communism and totalitarian dictatorship. India proves the superiority of a somewhat leftist pluralist democracy over the intellectual bankruptcy of Islam as the defining ideology.

        You ain’t seen nothing yet – just watch out for Bangladesh. That former part of Pakistan whose people were abused so horribly by your military is already showing signs of far surpassing Paksitan in a variety of socio-economic indicators. However tenuous, the hold of a non-Islamic tolerant democracy is real in Bangladesh. Watch them develop much further and faster compared to Pakistan over the course of the next couple of decades even as your society remains tethered to the bankrupt Islamist ideology whose finest exports will be the foot-soldiers of the ummah.

        • Anjum Altaf Says:

          anon4cec: Thanks for the benefit of the doubt.

          I agree that India and Pakistan are as close to a large-scale controlled historical experiment as one can imagine. For that reason alone, it is legitimate to make comparisons between the two countries which should not be interpreted as ill-intended. Therefore, a mention of caste problems in India should not be attributed to ‘smugness.’ While I agree with most of what you say, I am still concerned about the ‘my-country-your country’ tenor of the dialog. We should be able to look objectively at the problems that exist (which are many) without feeling obliged to wear a cloak of patriotism and assuming that we only harbor negative feelings about the other country.

          • anon4cec Says:

            Thanks, bud – didn’t mean my viewpoint to be filtered through patriotism. For one, I consider patriotism to be as bad as religious fundamentalism. For another, I do know that there’re lots of things that are wrong with India too. My apologies if any unintended tinge of patriotism comes through my writing.

            Let me re-state my two key points in a nutshell.

            First: Pakistan is nothing but India + Islam. We are children of the same civilization, and it’s obvious that there is no difference between North Indians and Pakistanis except for the embrace of Islam. Therefore the failure of Pakistan is a direct reflection of the intellectual bankruptcy of Islam. No serious effort to improve Pakistan can even begin without a serious introspection by Pakistanis about how Islam has screwed them up.

            Secondly, it’s one’s vision that determines one’s actions, aspirations and ultimate destiny. This is as true of individuals as it is of organizations, societies, countries…whatever. Pakistan’s vision has been to become an exemplary Islamic society, turn itself into leading light of the ummah and win respect for itself from the “higher-ups” in the hierarchy of Islam, i.e., Arabs. This is totally understandable as the psychological longing of the neo-convert: the desire to prove one’s worth to one’s new ideological masters and to one’s own self about the rightness of one’s decision to abdicate one’s former identity are indeed some of the most powerful forces known to humans and societies. Unfortunately, that new ideology – Islam – happens to be a retrograde and regressive one – one that is the antithesis of all that is modern and progressive. Unless and until Pakistan changes its vision to discard Islam and choose to become a modern, liberal and secular society, it will continue on its current degenerate path.

            Clearly, the action of introspecting about the corrosive effect of Islam on Pakistan needs to happen before the imperative for change in the fundamental national mythos can be generated. Of course, we both know that neither of these is likely to happen. And therefore Pakistan will continue down the current degenerate path until it meets some sort of a gruesome end.

            And no, that prospect does not give me me any pleasure. I do wish good things for Pakistan and would like to see it evolve into a modern, secular country and a successful society. I just don’t think it’s likely to happen.

          • Anjum Altaf Says:

            anon4cec: This is turning into a fruitful discussion. I have spelled out the narrow area of my interest in a follow-up post.

  10. Narmeen Says:

    Addicted: I was describing the emotional impact of the Abbotabad operation on the average Pakistani. It has been amply clarified that it is unfair to consider countries as monoliths. The regular Pakistani citizens cannot be lumped into ‘the guys who trained and sent terrorists across the border’. Neither would they have wanted to shield Osama but the way the operation was conducted was wrong. Moreover, because of the way it was done, Osama’s death did not make Pakistanis feel any safer, in fact the fallout from that event has been horrendously deadly for us. The common man in the street wants peace and dignity. That’s all.

    • addicted Says:

      I guess I find it hard to believe that Pakistanis find the killing of the #1 most wanted man in the world, by a country that is giving Pakistan billions of dollars, and regularly blowing stuff up (and killing Pakistanis on a daily basis), has made them less safe.

      I would imagine the fact that the #1 most wanted man in the world was able to live comfortably minutes away from a premier military institution for upwards of 3 years would make them feel less safe.

      Additionally, I would imagine the fact that the Americans HAD to conduct the operation in secrecy, because they were worried (justifiably so) that bringing in the Pakistani government, or military into play would only lead to Bin Laden’s hand being tipped would make them feel less safe.

      Honestly, I really find it amazing that THIS (one of the few clearly articulated goals of the outrageous “War on Terror”) was what has Pakistanis outraged, nearly a decade into their leaders prostituting their country and people for American dollars.

      • Narmeen Says:

        Another ‘woman’ analogy if you don’t mind. Wonder if you’ve heard the story of the man who would bully his wife to make her ask for favours from her father. It was fine as long as she complied. When she resisted, he beat her black and blue and sent her packing home. The father, seeing his daughter in this state, was furious. He then proceeded to beat her purple and sent her back with a message for the husband. ‘Don’t think you can blackmail me by abusing my daughter….dont forget I have your wife’.
        The big boys unable or unwilling to fight directly have a convenient proxy to achieve their interests and to show off their machismo. One sends in his SEALs and drones and the other blows up 60 school kids. Yet you wonder why the Pakistani people feel unsafe!
        The person of Osama had no significance as far as the broader picture is concerned. He was just one piece on the chess board, but the game continues without him. The Pakistani people have been abused by their own leaders as well as external powers. The solution lies in their standing up for themselves, somewhat like the Egyptians.
        As for the India Pakistan direction this post has taken, I find it non-constructive. We gain nothing by proving one is better than the other. The facts are there for all to see. As rational, peace loving (even patriotic) human beings, the aim should be to identify common ground and recognize fallacious arguments that pit people against each other.

  11. surya Says:

    This response to Hitchens by Altaf is amusing.It reminds me of Mexicans who blames America of all their short comings and problems and claim USA has very similar problems and faults similar to Mexico. I do understand this complex. it is pervasive in many Pakistanis.Good Luck.

    • Shahenshah Says:


    • Anjum Altaf Says:

      surya: There is an interesting phenomenon called confirmation bias. If you believe you already know what a text is going to say, you confirm your understanding no matter what the text says. If by Mexico and America you are referring to Pakistan and India, respectively, I could ask you to refer to the passage in the text where India is blamed for Pakistan’s problems.

      As for the problems, is it your claim that there are no social problems that are common to India and Pakistan? And if there are, is that itself a problem?

      Because you have gone off on this tangent, you have missed the thrust of the article. The argument, to repeat again, is that there are indeed very severe problems in Pakistan but the explanation provided by Hitchens is flawed. A better explanation (which is not the same thing as an excuse) is required.

  12. Kabir Says:

    I also find the “India vs. Pakistan” nature of the comments to be counterproductive. I believe that Anjum discussed India in his rebuttal to Hitchens in order to highlight the flaw in his argument that there is something inherently wrong with Pakistan or with Islam. Since honor killings occur all over South Asia and there are almost as many Muslims in India as in Pakistan, I do not think that Islam alone serves as a powerful explanation for the differences between our two countries. If Indian Muslims can function effectively in a pluralistic democracy than obviously Islam is not incompatible with democracy. Similarly the honor killing argument does not explain anything specific to Pakistan. The notion of women representing a family’s honor is something common to the entire subcontinent (as evidenced by Rajinder Singh Bedi’s short story “Lajwanti”, which is about a Hindu rape survivor whose husband takes her back but refuses to face the truth of her experience, instead treating her as some kind of a “goddess”). Clearly, there are some other reasons for the different historical paths that India and Pakistan have taken and Hitchens’s analysis fails because he ignores these.

    I think that most Pakistanis (who are not in denial) would admit that there are serious problems facing their society. Noting that Indian society has its share of problems as well doesn’t mitigate the need to deal with Pakistan’s problems on their own terms.

  13. Arun Pillai Says:

    I must say that after reading both the original article and the post above, I find myself a little disappointed that Anjum has focused on the issues of rape and India. The post is too defensive.

    Hitchens’s article, as I read it, was basically about the vile behavior of the Pakistani state. While he employs hyperbole, I think he is right to point out, among various other things, that it is rather shocking that Osama bin Laden was living comfortably in a villa not far from a military academy.

    But that is not the main issue. It is just an instance of the vileness. While perhaps all states in history are vile and ruthless to a certain degree, there are important differences in precisely that degree.

    It is important to call a spade a spade.

    • Anjum Altaf Says:

      Arun: There is more than one spade in the Hitchens article and we are interested in different ones. I have tried to refocus the discussion in a subsequent post.

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