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Meet Perevez Hoodbhoy

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  • shaji john
    ================ SACW
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 31, 2002
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      ================================>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
      in Kashmir.

      "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?"
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