Javed Jabbar vs. Pervez Hoodbhoy: Ten Rounds

By Anjum Altaf


Mr. Javed Jabbar has posted a public video titled “Two Nation Reality” to refute certain statements about Pakistan by Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy. I feel the issues raised in this exchange are worthy of a detailed analysis.

In this introduction I wish to explain my motivation for undertaking this analysis and laying out how I have organized it.

The video was forwarded to me with a ‘must-watch’ label by someone whose opinion I respect. He was impressed by how Javed Jabbar had successfully refuted Pervez Hoodbhoy with infinite gentility. That statement intrigued me sufficiently to make an exception to my standard policy of deleting, without watching, all videos sent to me via social media.

The issues debated in the exchange go to the heart of the controversies that are generally avoided in Pakistan much to our disadvantage. Mr. Jabbar’s initiative is therefore to be greatly appreciated and it becomes incumbent on us to take it forward with the seriousness it deserves. After watching the video, I scrolled through the more than a hundred comments posted by viewers and felt that the seriousness required was lacking. The commentators acted more as partisans than analysts with the majority labeling Dr. Hoodbhoy as “anti-national,” “angry,” and “vitriolic” while lauding Mr. Jabbar for being “calm,” “reasonable,” and “patriotic.”

This raised a red flag because it is common for people to remain loyal to pre-existing views and dismiss contradictory perspectives as not just being wrong but vitriolic as well. They also tend to consider opinions that coincide with their own as being reasonable and, in particular, give undue credence to those they deem to be uttered in a calm and collected tone. In my view, there is no such one-to-one association between the manner of speaking and the truth or correctness of what is said.

I felt there was need to deconstruct the statements in order to give readers the opportunity to consider them in more detail. I also decided to remove any possible subliminal bias that may result from either watching the video or listening to the audio. I therefore had the audio transcribed in order to present the statements made by both protagonists in writing which is as neutral a form as is possible — the visual and tonal clues being stripped out.

There is one potential bias that I have not been able to circumvent. Since the video was made by Mr. Jabbar, he had the discretion of presenting very brief selected extracts of statements by Dr. Hoodbhoy so that the viewer is not cognizant of the surrounding text, before or after, in which the statements might have been embedded. For his refutations, Mr. Jabbar, seated in a relaxed manner with soft music, and at one point the national anthem, playing in the background, has as much time at his disposal as he desires. The readers of this analysis would have to discount any bias that may accrue from the fact that the video has been made by one protagonist and is not on a level playing field.

The video opens with the following text on a slide:

“At the Adab Festival, Karachi end-January 2020, Professor Pervez Hoodbhoy made certain remarks. On viewing a recording later Senator (r) Javed Jabbar disagreed… as follows.”

Mr. Jabbar then makes his appearance and speaks the following preamble:  

“I respect, Professor Sahib, your right to freedom of expression, everyone’s right, and I don’t think there should be any curbs on responsible freedom of expression. But if that freedom of expression uses half truths, quarter truths and no truths, then it is my humble duty to respond.”  

This preamble sets the context for the exchange: Mr. Jabbar believes the statements made by Dr. Hoodbhoy are false and feels obliged to set the record straight. The exchange is organized in a format in which a statement by Dr. Hoodbhoy is followed by a response from Mr. Jabbar. There are in total ten such statements and responses.

This format brought to my mind the image of a boxing match and I have accordingly framed this analysis as a contest. I will present each statement and response separately as one round of the contest, score it very much as referees do in a boxing match, and give my reasons for the assigned score. At the end of the series, the scores for each round would be aggregated to determine the winner of the contest — in my assessment. Readers would be free to disagree and assign their own scores which would open up the opportunity for an extended and much-needed discussion.

To conclude, I would write a summation of my views with a focus on what I learned from the exercise.

Round 1 – Pakistan

Pervez Hoodbhoy: Pakistan is in a state of confusion because it was born in a state of confusion. 

Javed Jabbar: Confusion. Confusion is actually good. Confusion means change; confusion means evolution. Every nation evolves. The United States in the late 18th Century had a declaration which said “all men are created equal.” Equal? The Afro-African Blacks were never equal. The Native Americans were never equal. Even in the 21st Century they are fighting for equality with White Americans. Pakistan from the word go said “all citizens are equal.” The French revolution said, Liberty, Fraternity, Equality. It took France 150 years to give women the right to vote in 1944. Evolution. Not confusion.


In this case, we can set aside Dr. Hoodbhoy’s assertion because, whatever its merit, Mr. Jabbar has declined to respond to it. He has dodged the assertion by channeling it into a completely different direction.

The only connection of the response to the assertion is the repetition of the first word “Confusion.” After that, Mr. Jabbar makes an assertion of his own — that “Confusion is actually good.” This is strange because, while confusion might do some good at times, in general it is not considered a positive state or attribute. When one says to someone “You are totally confused,” it can rarely be interpreted as saying “You are a really good fellow.”

Next, Mr, Jabbar defines confusion as change and evolution. I doubt if anyone will subscribe to this definition. The dictionary defines confusion as follows: “uncertainty about what is happening, intended, or required” and “the state of being bewildered or unclear in one’s mind about something.” The synonyms offered by the dictionary for ‘confusion’ are uncertainty, indecision, hesitation, bewilderment, perplexity, puzzlement, etc. all of which have negative connotations. There is not even a remote connection to change or evolution.

Mr. Jabbar then makes the statement “Every nation evolves” which, whatever it means, does not address Dr. Hoodbhoy’s statement. If this means that every nation changes, it is a truism since one cannot really expect that any nation would stay frozen over time. If it means that every nation develops or grows, this is by no means a certainty. There are many examples of nations and even civilizations declining.

Following this, Mr. Jabbar takes the response in the direction of “Equality” with examples that Native Americans or Afro-Americans were never equal in the United States and that women in France got the vote only in 1944. But what has this got to do with Mr. Hoodbhoy’s statement which was not even remotely concerned with equality in Pakistan unless Mr. Jabbar redefines confusion to mean equality or inequality as well.

Mr. Jabbar ends his response with a curt “Evolution. Not Confusion.” One can concede that Pakistan is evolving but that sheds no light on whether either its starting point or its state today can be characterised as one of confusion in its standard meaning of being uncertain or bewildering. 

This is a really puzzling response given that Mr. Jabbar had infinite time at his disposal to think through and frame his answer. One can only conclude that he really had no answer and decided to evade the question by talking of completely unrelated things.

If this were a real boxing match, I would award it here to Dr. Hoodbhoy by a Technical Knock Out (TKO). But, it is not and the contest has to continue. I only hope that Mr. Jabbar recovers and picks up his performance to make the challenge of greater interest to readers.

ROUND 1 to Hoodbhoy (by default) 

Round 2 – Nationhood

Pervez Hoodbhoy: The basis for Pakistan as articulated by Mohammad Ali Jinnah was that there are only two nations that live on the subcontinent. They are mutually hostile. They can not ever live in peace. That was Part I. Part II was that Muslims form a nation. The second part is completely nonsensical. 

Javed Jabbar: Who invented the Two Nation Theory? Not Mr. Jinnah, not Chaudhri Rahmat Ali, not Allama Iqbal. The Arya Samaj, an exclusive Hindu organization, was set up in 1875. The Hindu Mahasabha was set up in 1915. The RSS was set up in 1925. Mr. Jinnah was acknowledged as the ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity. But even Mr. Gandhi introduced religion into politics. When all these people started taking about Hindu Rashtra, that the whole nation should be the Hindu nation, Allama Iqbal, Chaudhri Rehmat Ali, finally Mr. Jinnah were obliged to say No. Within this region live two nations. There are other nations but the two major nations are the Muslim nation and the Hindu nation. Because we have different beliefs, we have different heroes, we have different diets, we have different customs and cultures, which doesn’t mean that the Two-Nation Theory promoted hatred against Hindus. Never. Mr. Jinnah was a man who believed in peace and non-violence. 


In Round 1, Dr. Hoodbhoy stood in the centre of the ring for the entire duration but Mr. Jabbar failed to come out of his corner. He sat on his stool and threw misdirected punches. Here again, Mr. Jabbar refuses to engage with Dr. Hoodbhoy’s statement head-on. Is it “nonsensical” or not to claim that Muslims form a nation? Instead, Mr. Jabbar lurches into whodunnit territory, a search for who invented the Two Nation Theory. This is irrelevant because if the claim is nonsensical, it remains so no matter who came up with it first.

Mr. Jabbar affirms that Mr. Jinnah was acknowledged as the ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity and only when people started talking about the Hindu Rashtra, he felt obliged to assert that two nations lived in India.

Mr. Jabbar’s affirmation gives rise to two possibilities. Either Mr. Jinnah realized that Muslims were a separate nation only when people starting talking about a Hindu Rashtra or he always believed that Muslims were a separate nation even when he was the ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity.

Which was it? If the former, Mr. Jinnah’s assertion was a purely political gambit. If the latter, he must have believed that different nations could live together in the same country despite their differences. In which case, it is not clear why he argued that Muslims needed a separate country because they had different diets, etc. After all, Muslims had coexisted in India with Hindus for over a thousand years despite different diets and beliefs.

All this is of great interest but Dr. Hoodbhoy’s assertion that it is nonsensical to claim that Muslims form a separate nation remains unrefuted. This is not to claim that it cannot be refuted, just that Mr. Jabbar fails to do so.    

ROUND 2 to Hoodbhoy

Round 3 – Scholarship

Pervez Hoodbhoy: He [Mr. Jinnah] never wrote a single research paper. He never wrote an essay. 

Javed Jabbar: Mr. Jinnah was a political leader. He was a statesman. He created a new nation. He created a new nation-state. He changed the map of the world. He was not a professor or a lecturer who was supposed to write an essay or write a research paper. If that is what you wanted him to be, fine. Then perhaps we should have waited for another 50 years for someone to come along, an academic, a respectable professor, to give us Pakistan.


Dr. Hoodbhoy is on weak ground here, although, to give him the benefit of doubt, it is not obvious in what context this very brief statement is embedded. However, given that we can’t speculate on that, it is not clear why the statement is relevant. It is by no means necessary for every leader to have written a research paper or an essay.

In boxing parlance, Dr. Hoodbhoy has slipped on the mat and Mr. Jabbar homes in for some quick punches. He easily shows that the statement has no real import. Mr. Jinnah was a political leader and he created a nation-state. One doesn’t need to be a scholar to be able to create one. Mr. Mujibur Rahman was also a political leader and created a nation-state without ever having written a research paper or an essay. 

It is quite possible that Dr. Hoodbhoy was placing this in the context of the Indian freedom struggle in which, surprisingly, most of the political leaders had both read and written a lot. (Actually, not surprisingly. They were not elected leaders; they became leaders on the strength of their intellect.) The most towering intellectual of the movement was undoubtedly Baba Sahib Ambedkar who, with two doctoral degrees, had command over a very wide spectrum of disciplines. Gandhiji was very well read and wrote copiously — his collected works have been printed in 98 volumes. Mr. Nehru was the author of at least four highly regarded books.

Mr. Jinnah was not in the same league being solely a very highly regarded barrister although it is not clear what difference it might have made had it been otherwise. It should be pointed out that among the Muslim leaders, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Maulana Husain Ahmad Madani were very well read and had written a lot and both argued from within Islamic scholarship that nationhood needed to be territorial, not religious. In this regard it is paradoxical that modern, born-again, Muslim leaders like Mr. Jinnah and Muhammad Iqbal, who was well-read but not in Islamic scholarship, took the opposite view.

As it turns out, Mr. Jabbar also subscribes to territorial nationhood. On accepting a position as the representative of Balochistan, he writes: “While it is also correct that I am not a resident of Balochistan, one is a citizen of Pakistan and about 45 per cent of the territorial dimension of my national identity is derived from Balochistan!” The exclamation mark would seem to reflect that it is a revelation for Mr. Jabbar — a pity that he seems unaware of the scholarship of Maulana Azad and Maulana Madani.    

ROUND 3 to Jabbar

Round 4 – Contradictions

Pervez Hoodbhoy: He [Mr. Jinnah] gave a lot of speeches which at different times said very different things. He didn’t have an idea of Pakistan. I am sorry although many of you believe that he did, he did not. The audience here will applaud what he said on 11th of August 1947 but do they want to hear what he said in the Frontier where he said you are Muslims first and Indians second? And this is before Pakistan was formed. In 1948, here in Karachi, addressing the Bar Council, he said this will be a land where Islamic law will be applied. 

Javed Jabbar: What he said on the 11th of August is not contradicted by what he said in 1945 or 1948. What did he say? He said Pakistan will be a country which will be guided, governed, by Islamic principles. What are those Islamic principles? Look at Surah Al-Baqarah, Ayat number 62, the same Ayat comes as Ayat number 65 in Surah Al-Maida. What does God tell us? He says whether you be Muslims, Christians, Jews, any other faith, as long as you do good and believe in the Day of Judgement, you have no fear. So the Quaid was actually endorsing pluralism, democracy, participation. There was no contradiction between what he said on the 11th of August and all his other pronouncements.


This is a difficult round to judge. Mr. Jinnah did give a lot of speeches and said different things at different times but that should not be a surprise as times change. All political leaders say different things at different times — think of Imran Khan who has made innumerable somersaults within a few brief years and is still considered  a great leader. It can be conceded that Mr. Jinnah did not have a clear idea of Pakistan. It was not certain till the very last whether it was going to be one state or two and he himself conceded that what he got in the end was moth-eaten and not what he had in mind. But the main assertion here is that Mr. Jinnah said different things at different times.

Mr. Jabbar could have finessed that charge by arguing that it is quite natural for politicians to say different things at different times when circumstances change. Mr. Gandhi, for example, was well-known for saying very contradictory things during his political career. Instead, he goes on the defensive to argue that there was never any contradiction between anything that Mr. Jinnah ever said. This claim can be demolished by any serious scholar who sifts through the collected speeches of Mr. Jinnah. This line of defence was unnecessary because, as stressed earlier, there is no politician who does not change his views over time as circumstances demand.

Mr. Jabbar diverts the argument into what God tells us which is that “whether you be Muslims, Christians, Jews, any other faith, as long as you do good and believe in the Day of Judgement, you have no fear.” If that is indeed the case, it is not clear why Muslims who were all doing good felt afraid in India. Or was it only the Muslims who were not doing good who felt afraid and wanted a place of their own where they could continue in their ways, as they have? Mr. Jinnah seemed quite convinced that both Muslims and Islam were in danger despite the fact that all Muslims, barring a few “showboys,” were doing good and based on this conviction he rejected pluralism, democracy and participation in the larger polity. It is not possible that Mr. Jinnah was unaware of what God tells us.

ROUND 4 – Draw 

Round 5 – Science

Pervez Hoodbhoy: How would Pakistan survive in a world where science and technology is what makes countries strong? He [Mr. Jinnah] had no plans for that.

Javed Jabbar: Professor Sahib, if you look through the speeches and statements of Mr. Jinnah, you will find an extraordinary focus on literacy, on education, being the basis for development. He went out of his way to encourage women to achieve education. He stressed this to civil service officers, he said it to armed forces officials. Education. Science and technology is part of that process. So, to dismiss all his utterances and to assume that he never made any plans for science and technology, perhaps you are right. He should have sat down and written out five-year plans even before he had created the country.  


Dr. Hoodbhoy is right that countries cannot survive today without science and technology. However, and I am sure Dr. Hoodbhoy intended that, it is not just science and technology that is borrowed from abroad but one that emerges from inculcating a scientific attitude in a nation’s own students and citizens. But it does not seem fair to assert categorically that Mr. Jinnah had no plans for that. It is a tall order to expect in the midst of an an intense battle for nationhood to be devoting attention to what could wait for the creation of the nation. Mr. Nehru was deeply attuned to the importance of science and technology but it was only after independence that he put his beliefs into practice with, for example, the setting up of the very high quality Indian Institutes of Technology. Had Mr. Jinnah lived for a few years after 1947 and still done nothing for the promotion of science and technology, Dr. Hoodbhoy’s charge would have carried more weight.

Mr. Jabbar is right that Mr. Jinnah stressed the importance of education but not right to assume that science and technology is automatically a part of the process of education. Had that been so, there would have been a lot more science and technology in Pakistan with the spread of education. What we have experienced has been the contrary. The understanding of science and technology, and especially that of mathematics, has declined precipitously, especially since the period of Zia ul Haq when education was turned into a political weapon and transformed into indoctrination. Education is now biased towards Islamic Studies and Pakistan Studies which are taught from the cradle to the grave. Science, without experimentation, has become the memorization of facts and even History and Geography have been marginalized in the curriculum.   

ROUND 5 – Draw

Round 6 – Ideology

Pervez Hoodbhoy: Today we do not need an ideology for Pakistan. Countries survive without ideologies.

Javed Jabbar: Every country is inspired by a set of principles, dreams, aspirations. That is what we call ideology and we are proud that Islam has given us the elements of an ideology. Which doesn’t mean we don’t respect non-Muslims. They are also equally entitled to all the protections of that ideology. Historic countries like China, which has been there for thousands of years, China needs an ideology. Whether it was the original communism or today’s communism, needs an ideology. The United States has an ideology. They call it the Constitution. 


Both arguments have problems. One can understand where Dr. Hoodbhoy is coming from because Pakistan has a very overt ideology called the ‘Ideology of Pakistan’ which is consciously taught in all schools and colleges and there is no room for dissent. Anyone questioning this ideology is labelled ‘anti-Pakistan’ and courts harassment of various sorts. As a dean at a university, I received directives from the Higher Education Commission warning that some instructors were propagating ‘anti-national’ views and urging institutions to instil patriotism in students by stressing the ‘Ideology of Pakistan’ in the curriculum.

However, this does not mean that we do not need an ideology for Pakistan or that countries can survive without ideologies. This is a misreading of the concept of ideology.

Mr. Jabbar is also subject to the same misreading. Even if every country were to be inspired by dreams and aspirations, that cannot be called an ideology. In reality, not all people in a country have the same dreams and aspirations.  So, the question arises immediately: Whose dreams and aspirations? Did the ideology of Pakistan reflect the dreams and aspirations of the Bengalis?

Second, Islam may give us a set of principles but it does not give a country an ideology. If it did, the ideologies of Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey would have been the same, which they are not. In fact, the ideologies of all three contradict each other completely. The Turks don’t love the Saudis, the Saudis don’t love the Iranis, and the Iranis don’t love the Turks. 

Mr. Jabbar is right that all countries need ideologies but these ideologies are not fixed for ever. The ideologies of the original and present communisms in China are very different — Mao would never have agreed with Deng Xiaoping’s dictum that “it doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white so long as it catches mice.” And the ideology of the USA is certainly not its Constitution. That reflects a complete misunderstanding of the concept of ideology. If a constitution can serve as an ideology, no country would need anything else because each country, including Pakistan, has one.

One has to see an ideology as a set of ideas that are needed to legitimize the distribution of power and privilege in a particular society. The more unjust and unfair these are, the greater is the need for an overt ideology and the greater the efforts needed to get the people to subscribe to that ideology without the need for coercion. 

Before the age of democracy, the ideology that legitimized the dominance of monarchs was the ‘Divine Right of Kings’ and the dominance of the Church by the ideology that the poor on earth would be rewarded in heaven which could only be reached with the blessings of the clergy. The evil of colonialism needed the ideological construct of ‘The White Man’s Burden’ obligated to civilising benighted natives. Many a learned person in Europe subscribed to this convenient ideology.

In the economic domain, the dominant ideology for long was the ‘trickle-down theory’ which legitimized the rich getting richer while the poor were to wait with patience. The ideology of the United States is not its Constitution but a set of ideas centered around meritocracy and the free market. The population has bought into the myth of the ‘American Dream’ that everyone can make it through hard work with the corollary that those who don’t just have themselves to blame. The accompanying idea is that the best way to make it is via the free market with the corollary that it is inefficient for the state to intervene in the interest of those who have failed. The global version of this ideology is the neo-liberalism incorporated in the ‘Washington Consensus.’

No country is really without an ideology and ideologies can also change over time. Today, one can see very clearly the contest of ideologies in the USA with Bernie Sanders advocating Socialism while Joe Biden represents the Free Market status quo. It is also very clear that the American Establishment, wishing to retain its privileges, has thrown its money behind Biden just as it backed Hillary Clinton four years ago.

It is true that if one looks at a country like Sweden there does not seem to be something called the ‘Ideology of Sweden’ but a little more reflection would reveal that Swedish society and economy are organized around the ideas of ‘Democratic Socialism.’ The more just and fair a country’s system, the more its ideology becomes invisible and the less the need to impose it on people. 

Seen in this framework, Pakistan’s ideology is crafted around the ideas that both Pakistan and Islam are in danger and that this danger can only be contained by extreme centralization of power, militarization, and elimination of dissent. Note that if Islam is in danger, it must be so at the hands of non-Muslims. So, how can such an ideology respect non-Muslims as Mr. Jabbar claims? This ideology that ends up privileging guns over butter imposes certain costs on society in terms of freedom of expression, innovation, beneficial trade, regional autonomy, and spending on social services. What has this ideology bought us over seventy years and whether its continued cost is worth paying is for the readers to decide?

There cannot be a better illustration of the deliberate reinforcement of ideology through innocuous entertainment than the Prime Minister of Pakistan, in the midst of a pandemic, ordering the national television channel to serialize a play from Turkey in order to make our young “familiar” with Islamic history. Turning pseudo-history into emotional myths that inculcate the veneration of rulers is the aim of ideological indoctrination. And the way the population is lapping up the myth shows that the propagation of ideology works. Some have already put up a statue of the Turkish hero in Lahore.

There is a major sociological puzzle for readers to think through. Why do people accept and not reject myths? How come we can put up a statue to a little-known Turk from Anatolia but can’t rename a square to honour Bhagat Singh, a real son of Lahore? 

ROUND 6 – Draw 

Round 7 – Two-Nation-Theory

Pervez Hoodbhoy: In 1971, the Two-Nation-Theory went into the Bay of Bengal.

Javed Jabbar: After breaking away from the state of Pakistan, did Bangladesh go back into West Bengal? Did it say now we want to re-merge with India because religion is no longer the basis for our existence? Today, Bangladesh remains proudly Muslim, predominantly Muslim Bangladesh. Muslim Bangladeshi nationalism is the foundation of Bangladesh. The Two- Nation-Theory today is beautifully alive and well. 


This argument rests on what one considers the Two-Nation-Theory to be. If it is taken to mean, as originally propounded, that Muslims and Hindus are separate nations then the theory cannot be argued to have gone into the Bay of Bengal in 1971. For the people who believe that Muslims and Hindus are separate nations, nothing has changed. In their interpretation, Hindus conspired to break a Muslim nation into two.

It is the unstated extension of the Two-Nation-Theory that needs to be the focus of attention. If this extension is taken to suggest that because Muslims are a separate nation that was enough to warrant a separate country for them or sufficient to sustain one, then the second part of this extension certainly went into the Bay of Bengal in 1971. But this is an unwarranted extension. There are many countries, like Pakistan, comprised of groups who consider themselves distinct nations but that is not automatically taken to mean that each nation should have a separate country even if it wants one. In fact, the various nations are being continually advised to live together amicably and assured that their grievances would be addressed over time. As for the sustainability part, Muslims have been fighting each other since almost the very birth of the religion.

The central contention of the Two-Nation-Theory remains to be addressed. Are Hindus and Muslims separate nations? he answer to this question is independent of whether Hindus and Musims love or hate each other or whether Muslims can live together or not.  

Mr. Jabbar’s argument is also problematic. East Pakistan rebelled against West Pakistan not because it wanted to yield its autonomy to India; rather, it wanted more autonomy from West Pakistan which the latter was not prepared to concede. Religion had nothing to do with the struggle. 

Mr. Jabbar argues that ‘Muslim Bangladeshi’ nationalism is the foundation of Bangladesh but does not ask which dimension of this nationalism is dominant. Clearly, since the province was already predominantly Muslim, the Bengali part was more important to the people of East Pakistan than the Muslim part. This would suggest that ethnicity and language are stronger attributes of a sense of nationhood than religion. In this framework, one can also understand the perpetual problems in Balochistan.

It cannot be maintained that the Two-Nation-Theory is “beautifully alive and well” if we have arrived at the conclusion that ethnicity and language are stronger attributes of nationhood than religion. If India had to be divided, it might have made more sense to devolve it on the basis of ethnicities or languages — the more than a million deaths resulting from the division of the Punjab and Bengal and the ethnic cleansing that followed leaving ten million more homeless might have been avoided. For proof, see how amicably Punjabis of all religions get along when they meet outside the subcontinent despite the legacy of terrible religious conflict at the time of Partition. In India, the subsequent reorganization of states and the creation of new ones on the basis of language is a recognition of the centrality of language to the sense of nationhood. Why does the sense of being a muhajir continue to exist in Pakistan and why is there a continuing demand for a Seraiki Subah despite a common religion?

In advocating a nationalism based on geography and not religion, Maulana Husain Ahmed Madani credited his experience in Saudi Arabia for shaping his perspective. He mentioned that the Saudis referred to all visitors from India as ‘hindis’ quite independent of their religion, caste, ethnicity, language or province of residence. For further confirmation, ask migrant workers in Saudi Arabia from Pakistan how they are received and treated there. Is it their religion or their place of origin that dominates the social interaction? It is clear that for the Saudis, being Arab carries more weight in the interaction than being Muslim. 

ROUND 7 – Draw

Round 8 – Bangladesh

Pervez Hoodbhoy: We mistreated the Bengalis, we thought of them as lesser people, we exploited them, and then we massacred them. 

Javed Jabbar: The massacres that occurred in which thousands of Bengali brethren were killed were unpardonable. Should we forget. Should we forget those tens of thousands of children, women, men, who without weapons were also massacred only because they were West Pakistanis? Should we forget? 


Mr. Jabbar has conceded the case by accepting that the “massacres” that occurred in East Pakistan were “unpardonable.” But then he has offered a mitigating argument that we should not forget the West Pakistanis who were also killed. 

This attempt to equate two negatives does not make them equal. Recall, Mr. Jabbar’s defense of the Two-Nation-Theory in Round 2 where he seeks to assign blame to the side that initiated the theory. He should be consistent and apply the same principle in this case too. The aggravation was all on the side of the West Pakistanis, first with the resort to the One Unit Scheme in 1955 and then with the negation of the electoral verdict in 1971 in which the party from the majority province had earned the right to rule in a fair election.

Note also the implicit bias in Mr. Jabbar’s statement when he enumerates the deaths on the two sides — “thousands” of Bengalis versus “tens of thousands” of West Pakistanis when, by all accounts, the count was overwhelmingly the other way around.

Note also the emotionalism in the argument — Bengali “brethren” “killed” as opposed to “children, women, men” “without weapons” “massacred.” This, when the overwhelming weapon power was in the hands of the West Pakistanis.

It could be argued that this tragedy was a direct outcome of the confusion that prevailed at the time of the movement for Pakistan as asserted by Dr. Hoodbhoy in Round 1. Till the very end there was confusion as to whether the demand was for two independent states or one and it was allegiance to the Two-Nation-Theory that tilted the balance towards an unsustainable outcome as prescient statesmen like Maulana Azad were quick to predict.

One presumes Mr. Jabbar is aware of what Ayub Khan had to say about our Bengali “brethren” as early as the 1960s. Here are just two quotes from his diaries: 

When thinking of problems of East Pakistan one cannot help feeling that their urge to isolate themselves from West Pakistan and revert to Hindu language and culture is close to the fact that they have no culture and language of their own nor have they been able to assimilate the culture of the Muslims of the subcontinent by turning their back on Urdu.” 

Without meaning any unkindness, the fact of the matter is that a large majority of the Muslims in East Pakistan have an animist base which is a thick layer of Hinduism and top crust of Islam which is pierced by Hinduism from time to time.” 

If Mr. Jabbar has missed these observations, he can find them on pages 132 and 138, respectively, of the Diaries of Field Marshal Mohammad Ayub Khan, 1966-72, Edited by Craig Baxter, Oxford University Press, Karachi, 2007.  

This also highlights the ironies of politics. Before the creation of Pakistan, Bengali Muslims were a leading component of the Muslim nation advocating a separate state. The Muslim League was founded in Dhaka on 30 December 1906 on a proposal by Nawab Salimullah Khan, the fourth Nawab of Dhaka. After the creation of that state, the same Bengalis were deemed insufficiently Muslim and advised to learn about Islam by reading Urdu. This ideology of oppression could rightly be termed the “Light Brown Man’s Burden.” How is it different from the attitude of Churchill who said he “hated Indians” and considered them “a beastly people with a beastly religion”? Note that he did not differentiate between Muslims and Hindus.  

It is also a commentary on the calibre of our political leadership. With such sagacity at work, is it any surprise the Bengalis finally decided to bid farewell to the enlightened West Pakistanis?

ROUND 8 to Hoodbhoy 

Round 9 – Balochistan

Pervez Hoodbhoy: If Muslims could always live in peace together, you would not have the separatist movement in Balochistan, which again no body is allowed to mention. 

Javed Jabbar: 99 percent of them, if not more, want to remain part of Pakistan. They want the fulfillment of their rights, which we owe to them, make all possible efforts to make sure they obtain their due rights. We launched a new book on Balochistan, self-critical, by a serving Major General of the Pakistan Army. So there is no restriction on freedom of expression on Balochistan. As for a secessionist movement, this is a problem many nation-states face. States in North-East India have been wanting to secede. Scotland wants to break away from the United Kingdom. In Spain, the Basques and the Catalonians want to secede from Spain. It is not unique to Balochistan. It is a challenge for us to reconcile and to give them their due rights and everyone wants that to be settled peacefully. 


Dr. Hoodbhoy’s statements are completely unambiguous. It is a straightforward application of logic to say that “If Muslims can always live in peace together, you would not have a separatist movement in Balochistan.” No one can disagree with the logic of the statement.

It is also just a slight exaggeration to say that “no body” is allowed to mention Balochistan. There are very clear constraints in place on the discourse related to the province. As a former dean at LUMS, I am personally aware that a discussion on the topic was disallowed at the university. 

Mr. Jabbar begins his response with an assertion — “99 percent of them [the Baloch], if not more, want to remain part of Pakistan.” If this is indeed true, it is wonderful news but what is the evidence on the basis of which this statement is made? Is it a survey that is available for others to see?

Mr. Jabbar says that the Baloch want their due rights which we owe them and we should make all possible efforts that they obtain them. The obvious question comes to mind: If these are their due rights and we owe them, then what has prevented us from giving them the rights till today?

As for limits on freedom of expression on Balochistan, Mr. Jabbar claims they don’t exist because a serving Major General has written a self-critical book on Balochistan. Dr. Hoodbhoy is likely to argue that this supports his contention — the army can have its say but many others can’t.

I presume Mr. Jabbar has read The Wandering Falcon (Penguin Books, India, 2011) by Jamil Ahmed who served as the Chief Secretary in Balochistan. In it, he wrote (pages 33, 34): There was complete and total silence about the Baloch, their cause, their lives and their deaths. No newspaper editor risked punishment on their behalf. Typically, Pakistani journalists sought salve for their conscience by writing about the wrongs done to men in South Africa, in Indonesia, in Palestine and in the Philippines — not their own people. No politician risked imprisonment: they would continue to talk of the rights of the individual, the dignity of man, the exploitation of the poor, but they would not talk of the wrong done outside their front door. No bureaucrat risked dismissal. He would continue to flatter his conscience through the power he could display over his inconsequential subjects.” This clearly contradicts Mr. Jabbar’s assertion thatthere is no restriction on freedom of expression on Balochistan.”

Mr. Jabbar has also dismissed the secessionist movement as no big deal since such movements exist in many other places as well. This does not refute the claim that a secessionist movement does exist in Balochistan. It is also strange logic to assert that because secessionist movements exist in other parts of the world, the one at home can be ignored. It is equally hard to square the concession that a secessionist movement does exist with the claim that “99 percent of them [the Baloch], if not more, want to remain part of Pakistan.”

However, equating the secessionist movement in Balochistan to that in Scotland is going too far since while 48 percent of Scots want to secede they are allowed to express their preference in a peaceful referendum as against which force has to be used in Balochistan where, according to Mr. Jabbar, fewer than one percent of the population wants to leave Pakistan. Need one remind Mr. Jabbar that a secessionist movement existed in India in the 1940s and in Pakistan in 1971. What is the principle on which he decides which secessionist movement to support, which to oppose, which to ignore, and which to deny?

Much of this confusion arises because the history of Balochistan is excluded from our textbooks. While we are told a fair bit about the nature of the accession of Hyderabad state to India, we know next to nothing about the nature of the accession of Kalat state to Pakistan. In Muslims against the Muslim League: Critiques of the Idea of Pakistan edited by Ali Usman Qasmi and Megan Eaton Robb (Cambridge Univesrity Press, 2017) there is a chapter on this history that can provide a useful starting point. The following paragraph (page 382) gives the genesis of the secessionist sentiments in the province:

“Following the partition of India, the rulers of [the princely states of] Bahawalpur, Khairpur, Chitral, Dir, Swat and Amb decided to accede to Pakistan. Kalat, the largest princely state to become part of Pakistan, only acceeded in March 1948, seven months after partition. The history of Kalat state, its politics and its intricate relationship with the British Raj and the All India Muslim League complicated the accession process with accusations and counter-accusations about the process still being raised by Baluch nationalists and the Pakistani government, seven decades after the accession. The fractured relationship between Baluchistan and the central government since the accession has resulted in five distinct waves of insurgency in the province. Much of the discontent stems from the way the accession was handled by Pakistan’s founding fathers and civilian bureaucrats.”  

Mr. Jabbar concludes with a feel-good statement that “It is a challenge for us to reconcile and to give them their due rights and everyone wants that to be settled peacefully.” It is not clear why this is a challenge and why it has remained one for over 70 years. When do “we” intend to meet the challenge given that “we” actually want to give the rights and “everyone” wants it to be done peacefully? 

Mr. Jabbar’s arguments have not been able to refute Dr. Hoodbhoy’s straightforward claims.

ROUND 9 to Hoodbhoy

Round 10 – People

Pervez Hoodbhoy: What we need is a Pakistan that is built upon common interests of the people. Of the people of Pakistan which must include the Baloch, the Sindhis, the Pathans, the Punjabis, the Gilgitis, Baltistanis. Everyone. This is not a country which was made for the armed forces of Pakistan.

Javed Jabbar: You know to single out the armed forces which have played a major role in our history and sometimes that role has not been what the armed forces should have done. For example, coming in to the political sphere, the armed forces should not have done it. But that is part of our history. And in the political sphere, particularly after the 18th Amendment, we have enormous provincial autonomy, levels unprecedented in our history. So, therefore, the concept of participation through regular elections, through democracy, is now a part of the Pakistani political psyche and merely the existence of the army does not negate that. We are a very democratic people. Throughout the year there are elections for bar associations, teachers’ associations, doctors, architects, engineers, chambers of commerce, private clubs. People of Pakistan love democracy from the word go despite four military interventions. So we are coexisting between the army and the civil. There has to be a balanced relationship which I hope we will evolve in the years to come. 


Dr. Hoodbhoy has made two non-controversial statements: That Pakistan should be built on the common interests of its people and that the country was not made for the armed forces.

The first is something no can disagree with but note that is the expression of an ideology that Dr. Hoodbhoy espouses which negates his earlier claim that Pakistan does not need an ideology. What he is asserting here, albeit indirectly, is that Pakistan needs an ideology based on justice, fairness, and equal representation of all its citizens.

The second is factually correct since there is no record in the narrative of the Pakistan movement that can be cited to prove that the country was being created for its armed forces.

There were really no grounds nor need for Mr. Jabbar to disagree with either statement but he has felt obliged to do so. After conceding that the armed forces should not have played the role they did and interfered in the political sphere, he whitewashes it by saying that is part of our history. There are many things like genocides that are part of the history of nations but cannot be absolved for that reason.

Mr. Jabbar’s defence becomes even weaker when he states that the mere existence of the armed forces is not problematic because Pakistanis love democracy and vote all the time and there is also a lot of provincial autonomy. Dr. Hoodbhoy has presumably no problem with the mere existence of the armed forces as long as it abides by the role assigned to it in the Constitution. His problem is with the armed forces overstepping its mandate which shows no signs of abating. This overstepping includes negating the very same democratic choices of the people that Mr. Jabbar celebrates. 

As for Pakistanis loving democracy, this claim needs to be supported with evidence. One comes across far too many people, especially amongst middle- and upper-income groups, who feel Pakistan would be better governed by the ‘danda’ because its people are “ungovernable.”  

Mr. Jabbar says “we are coexisting between the army and the civil” as if that is quite an acceptable state of affairs. He does not explain why we need to coexist in this way nor whether this coexistence has been good for the health of the country and its people. 

Mr. Jabbar concludes with a recommendation for a balanced relationship between civil and military which he hopes will evolve in the years to come. There are two problems with this position. First, why does Mr. Jabbar wish to grant an equal role to the military when it has been mandated a subservient role in the Constitution? Second, given that he hopes the balanced role will evolve in the years to come, he is clearly acknowledging that the role has been imbalanced so far in favour of the armed forces. This was precisely the problem that Dr. Hoodbhoy had raised at the outset. What entitles the armed forces to this outsized role? Mr. Jabbar’s response that the military has played a major role in our history is tautological and not a reasonable justification. 

Finally, in the interest of transparency, Mr. Jabbar should have made a full disclosure that he served as a minister under a military government, during one of the interventions in politics he claims the military should not have made. 

ROUND 10 to Hoodbhoy 

Summing Up

And the winner is PERVEZ HOODBHOY.

After a 10-round contest, Pervez Hoodbhoy comes out ahead winning 5 rounds to Javed Jabbar’s 1 with 4 drawn.

It was a comfortable margin at the end but the contest was close for quite some time. Mr. Jabbar came out strangely groggy virtually conceding the first two rounds. He then clawed one back when Dr. Hoodbhoy slipped on the mat in Round 3. The next four rounds were drawn as neither contestant threw any convincing punches. Dr. Hoodbhoy was much more sure-footed in the last three rounds and Mr. Jabbar just wilted under the pressure.

The big surprise, indeed the big puzzle, was why Mr. Jabbar put up such a weak performance. He is by all accounts a seasoned professional but his skills were conspicuous by their absence. This is all the more a mystery because he was fighting on his own turf. Dr. Hoodbhoy’s remarks had been snipped out of a longer speech while Mr. Jabbar had all the time at his disposal to prepare his response. 

The only conclusion one can draw is that Mr. Jabbar really did not intend to engage with Dr. Hoodbhoy at the intellectual level. It was as if he saw his reward not in the contest but just in the showing up and being recognised. Stranger things have happened.

If the latter is indeed the case, it is a great pity because the issues being contested were of the highest importance. They are not, as many claim, old history that ought to be left behind in the interest of moving on. In fact, each one of them casts a big shadow on the present and weighs on the directions that are possible for the future.

Take the national question, for example. It was instrumental in the breakup of the country in 1971 and continues to mar relations between the Centre and the provinces to this day. Or, take the issue of a centralizing ideology that severely constricts the paths leading to the future. Not only that, it constrains both civil liberties and regional relations that are vital for the development of the country.

Among the most important questions is the determination of the intended beneficiaries of the struggle for Pakistan. For whom was the country intended and how has the reality played out? Both ideology and the national question have a bearing on the answer to that question. Pakistan has been badly left behind in the world because of the unexamined burden it has been carrying, a fact that is illustrated starkly by the faster progress in the erstwhile East Pakistan across all indicators that matter for the welfare of ordinary citizens. 

It is in this context that one should express one’s gratitude to Dr. Hoodbhoy for continuously raising the issues that many would like to brush under the rug. The fact that many viewers of the video produced by Javed Jabbar labelled Dr. Hoodbhoy “anti-national” for his efforts is greatly to be regretted. Dr. Hoodbhoy could easily have been a chaired professor at any of the leading universities in the world. The fact that he has chosen to train students in Pakistan and fight a lonely fight needs to be acknowledged, lauded, and appreciated.

The fact that Dr. Hoodbhoy is on solid ground is evident from the way Mr. Jabbar has conceded the former’s primary assertions even while trying his best to whitewash them. On Bangladesh, Mr. Jabbar’s response was “The massacres that occurred in which thousands of Bangladeshi brethren were killed was unpardonable.”  On Balochistan, he said “They want the fulfillment of their rights, which we owe to them.” On the role of the armed forces, he said “sometimes that role is not what the armed forces should have done. For example, coming in to the political sphere, the armed forces should not have done that.” Mr. Jabbar had no answer to Dr. Hoodbhoy’s claim that Pakistan was in a state of confusion; the best he could do was to redefine confusion as something desirable. Mr. Jabbar’s labelling of Dr. Hoodbhoy’s statements as “quarter truths, half truths, or no truths” is belied and his assertion insufficient to make them so.

These are major concessions by Mr. Jabbar confirming the strength of Dr. Hoodbhoy’s arguments. In an intellectual debate, readers have to learn to engage with the arguments on their merits and need to have the moral courage to acknowledge the truth even when it goes against their deepest convictions. Only the ability to come to terms with the past can guarantee a better future. The fact that Dr. Hoodbhoy’s tone is deemed aggressive and Mr. Jabbar’s gentle ought not to distract intelligent people from the merits of the views being expressed.

The future of Pakistan and its suffering people rests in the hands of its young students. It is their obligation to debate the tough issues and develop the ability to distinguish platitudes from truth no matter how unpalatable.     

The analyst, a PhD from Stanford University, was Dean at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) and Provost at Habib University in Karachi. He is the author of Transgressions: Poems Inspired by Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Delhi 2019, Karachi 2020.

This analysis was originally published as a 12-part series in Sindh Courier and was cross-posted on the Eqbal Ahmed Centre for Public Education.

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One Response to “Javed Jabbar vs. Pervez Hoodbhoy: Ten Rounds”

  1. Robbing The Revolutionary Theory Of Its Substance, Blunting Its Revolutionary Edge And Vulgarizing It …” – Lenin – Part 2 - The Social Science Collective Says:

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