Meet Perevez Hoodbhoy
- ================================>SACW<=====================================Newsday January 24, 2002
Lonely Voice of Peace In Warring Pakistan
By Mohamad Bazzi
Islamabad, Pakistan -
Pervez Hoodbhoy, one of only five nuclear physicists
in Pakistan, says his country should abandon its nuclear weapons. And that
idea - in a nation obsessed with military security and its powerful
rival, India -is regarded by many as treason.
For years, Hoodbhoy has been a lonely voice in Pakistan, arguing for peace
with India, nuclear disarmament, demilitarization and an end to religious
extremism. He is a leading figure in a small, politically marginalized peace
movement whose activists have been beaten, threatened with death and
subjected to government restrictions.
Hoodbhoy, who was never involved in his country's nuclear weapons program,
has spent 27 years teaching at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad - and
stirring dissent. In essays and speeches, he has criticized his government's
military spending and its support for militants fighting Indian rule
"For the past 10 years, I've been arguing that Pakistan's desire to bleed India
to death in Kashmir is a fantasy," said Hoodbhoy, 51, a soft-spoken MIT
graduate. "It's the fantasy of generals who live comfortable lives and use
these poor souls fired by religious fervor as cannon fodder in Kashmir. Our
government and military have created a Frankenstein to support a perpetual
state of war with India."
His friends compare him to the American academic and dissident, Noam
Chomsky. "He's an intellectual rabble-rouser and a peacenik," said
Rukhsana Siddiqui, chairwoman of the international relations department at
Hoodbhoy began his anti-war activities in the United States, as a student at
Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the late 1960s. He attended rallies
of Students for a Democratic Society and was deeply affected by the anti-
Vietnam war movement.
Pakistan's peace movement has existed for nearly two decades, and was
energized in May 1998, when Pakistan tested its first nuclear weapons
weeks after India exploded its own devices. About 1,000 activists scattered
throughout the country's major cities banded together as the Pakistan Peace
Coalition. Members of the group hold annual conventions with Indian peace
activists, alternating the meetings between India and Pakistan.
Pakistan's pacifists face a formidable task spreading their message in a
country of 140 million people, where the literacy rate hovers around 25
percent and the vast majority of the population lives in poverty. But the
activists are undaunted.
"All peace movements start out small," said A.H. Nayyar, a senior fellow at
the Sustainable Development Policy Institute in Islamabad and a leading
peace advocate. "It's only at great turning points that the society begins to
change and movements grow to huge numbers."
For Hoodbhoy, the turning point came in 1994, when two masked gunmen
dragged a neighbor out of his home and shot him in the neck. The friend, a
fellow professor, died in the back seat of Hoodbhoy's car as he drove the
bleeding man to the hospital. The killing came amid Pakistan's sectarian
warfare, and Hoodbhoy's colleague belonged to the Ahmadi sect of Islam,
whose members are considered heretical and are persecuted by other
"His only fault was that he was born into the wrong sect," said Hoodbhoy, his
eyes welling at the memory. "It's one thing to have a statistic in the
newspapers and quite another to have someone die in your car. It took a long
time to get those bloodstains out."
The pacifists' views have made them targets of persecution by the Pakistani
government and Islamic militant groups. Nayyar was attacked in 1998 by two
militants at a news conference in which he condemned nuclear testing. He
was hospitalized for several days. Pakistani newspapers ran articles saying
Nayyar and the other activists were traitors who should be publicly hanged.
Hoodbhoy has been barred from appearing on state-owned television, from
lecturing at the National Defense University, and, at times, from leaving the
country. Islamic militant groups have held demonstrations outside his office
and issued death threats against him.
But Hoodbhoy continues to dissent. He points out that Pakistan spends
about $3 billion a year - nearly a third of the state budget - on its military,
dwarfing what is spent on education, health, welfare or infrastructure and
severely reducing economic growth.
"The army has impoverished this country by taking a huge chunk of the
national budget for itself," he said. "And it has not allowed democracy to
grow on this soil."
Despite an entrenched military culture in a state that has been ruled by the
army for 28 of its 54 years, Hoodbhoy does not despair. "It's pointless to give
up hope," he said. "What do you do without it?"