Pakistan 3.0: The "CIA Jihad" and the Whirlwind Today

Click to listen to Chris’ conversation with Pervez Hoodbhoy (34 minutes, 17 mb mp3)

It is well known that the term ‘Pakistan’, an acronym, was originally thought up in England by a group of Muslim intellectuals. P for the Punjabis, A for the Afghans, K for the Kashmiris, S for Sind and the ‘tan’, they say, for Baluchistan… So it was a word born in exile which then went East, was borne-across or trans-lated, and imposed itself on history; a returning migrant, settling down on partitioned land, forming a palimpsest on the past. A palimpsest obscures what lies beneath. To build Pakistan it was necessary to cover up Indian history, to deny that Indian centuries lay just beneath the surface of Pakistani Standard Time. The past was rewritten; there was nothing else to be done.

Salman Rushdie, in Shame, his “modern fairytale” of Pakistan. (1983)

Pervez Hoodbhoy is among the eminent cosmopolitan Pakistanis who press two urgent points about today: (1) that the clear and present danger at home is truly scary; that nuclear-tipped Pakistan (not Stone-Age Afghanistan, nor youthful, half-modern Iran) is the epicenter of Islamic extremism; that as Salman Rushdie said in closing a talk at Brown last Spring, “if Pakistan goes down, we’re all f**ked.” And (2) that it might help if Americans and their government understood what most Pakistanis observe: that it was a “CIA jihad” in the late ’70s and ’80s that implanted the virus of killer-force fundamentalism in Pakistan and Afghanistan, in the last battle of the Cold War.

Physicist, film-maker and leading public citizen in Pakistan, Pervez Hoodboy is recounting how Pakistanis, “across the board,” came to hate intrusive America long before today’s drone missiles. 1979 was a turning point when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan and then American arms and Saudi money constructed a counterforce in Pakistan:

You had the CIA bringing in the strongest and most ideologically charged of fighters from across the globe. It was billions and billions of dollars that got pumped into the creation of the mujahedeen, celebrated by Ronald Reagan and Charlie Wilson. You had the CIA distributing millions of Korans in the madrasas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. It was this monster that grew so big that it was out of control. It ate up its master, the United States and now Pakistan… Osama bin Laden and Al-Zawahiri and all these people who are being sought after so eagerly by the United States — these were creations of the CIA.

And now the whirlwind:

PH: I’m tremendously worried about how Pakistani culture is being morphed into something that looks suspiciously like Saudi culture. We used to be taught about the world; we used to be taught about history, geography. Now … everything is regarded through the prism of religion—and a particular variant of the religion. And that is the Saudi, Wahhabi way of looking at things. It’s infiltrated our language. We used to say while parting, Khuda Hafiz, that is, God be with you. Now we say Allah Hafiz. Now there is a subtle difference over here. The Persian God, Khoda, has been replaced by the Arabic God, Allah… There are now burkas everywhere. So, when I teach my class in the University, physics classes, I cannot see half the faces of my women students.

CL: You have seen this face of Islamism that most Americans haven’t. What makes it so powerful, so threatening?

PH: I’m threatened because Islamism threatens to drag us back to the 7th century… After the 2005 earthquake, which affected many areas of Pakistan, there were the mullahs who came out and said: this happened because you were watching television. And so there were thousands of televisions that were broken. After I returned from those areas and went back to my class — I was teaching Atomic Physics and Statistical Mechanics — I said to my students: “You know I have been over there, seen this terrible devastation and we have two duties. One, as Pakistani citizens, is to help our brethren. The other is, as students of science, we have got to tell these people that is was not the wrath of god. It wasn’t that people were sinful that the earthquake happened. It happened because tectonic plates were moving on a fluid surface of the earth and this is how mountains grow… And there was outrage in the class, against me. They said: but Professor, don’t you know that it is written in the Koran that this is how God punishes doers of bad. At the next class, I got exactly the same response. A few students later on came to me and said to me: Professor, we are really sorry; we thought you were right, but we couldn’t speak up. kwame

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  • Isa Daudpota

    The US government needs to stop selling arms to Pakistan and its neighbor, India.

    President Obama was is in India largely on arms selling mission amounting to over USD 15 billion. This is obscene!

    Earlier, Pakistan bought 35 F-16 fighter aircrafts for USD 3 billion, each costing USD 80 million. This while the common citizen is deprived of education, health and security. Amongst these lie the disgruntled minority who wish to rise against the injustice.

    I estimated that for USD 3 billion, Pakistan could build about 50 good universities or, better still, improve its existing ones. The money saved ought to be spent on human development, including the education of the radical Islamists who are bent on the violent overthrow of the State.

    Isa Daudpota


  • Khojikhaja

    First of all let me correct Professor Hoodbhoy is not what is stated about him here… viz film-maker and leading public citizen in Pakistan. By voicing such anti-Islamic crap he’s only trying to fetch some cheap publicity.

    It is not only Muslims who believe in the Quran but also the Christians….even the Hindus believe in the wrath of God. Okay, the earthquake was the result of tectonic upheaval but WHO directed it to occur at that specific place?? Okay, you will say that place was in the quaker zone but why didn’t the quake hit other places??

    The writer is clearly denying the word of the holy Quran…for getting cheap publicity and to please his masters.

    May I suggest he read the whole Quran and when spewing ill about its commands and followers also

    care to quote those verses. Better still it would be for him to write an Interpretation of the Holy Quran rather than cussing Muslims.

    Someone rightly termed him a self-pitying wretch!

  • The obscenity of the USA in selling arms to both countries is made much worse by the stupid religionism that we see happening and getting worse every day. No non-Muslim is really safe in this country. No ‘white’ (regardless of religion) is safe here. People go out into the streets and we wonder if they’ll be back. Atheists and Apostates cannot say so as they are likely to be killed, not by the state but by some idiot.

    Teachers teach a completely distorted view of Evolution. They say, “It’s in the course. Mug it. Answer it, Forget about what it says coz it is wrong.” I spoke to Grade 9 students today and they remembered hearing Darwin’s Theory as something they’d learnt and have now forgotten. “But it was wrong, anyway,” is what they all said in a very decent class at a decent school. Haah.

  • I am in complete and total.agreement with Parvez Hoodbhoy. The nation is decelarating very rapidly and will implode unless this religious fundamentalism is not only checked but reversed. Unfortunately, these self-serving mullahs have preached ‘revenge, death and destruction” to the gullible and simple minds of the populace. They have sacrificed the truth: that God is love, not revenge, fire and brimstone. People have been brought up to believe that God’s wrath is ubiquitous. They must be taught that God is not about vengeance and punishment. But who will do that? Even the so-called educated class is totally silent on this matter. Who authorized the mullahs to do so? Has not anyone told them, that there is no priesthood in Islam?

  • Rick

    “What would it take to undue the American influence in Pakistan’s problem?” this is like asking what the rapist can do to help the victim. The US foreign policy arsenal includes coercion, rape, destruction and denial. Which of these tools do you think would help the situation anywhere in the world. Let me ask you “How does the successful serial murderer change his tactics?”

  • Andrea

    Excellent point Rick. That beggs the question of who does America trust to do the right thing in our government over the course of the next two years or four or even ten?

  • NP

    Thank you for this excellent interview. And special thanks to Prof. Hoodbhoy for his thoughtful commentary and for his courage.

  • Rick

    “who does America trust to do the right thing in our government over the course of the next two years or four or even ten?” It is unfortunate that you can trace US foreign policy at least back to people like General Smedley Butler: “War is a racket” or even earlier in the words of Richard Pettigrew: “Imperial Washington” or even earlier in the warnings of Alexis DeTocqueville: “Democracy in America.”

    It matters not which “Party” is gorging itself at the Public Trough, the same forces remain in motion.

  • Potter

    It’s a very troubling, scary, reality that Mr. Hoodbhoy dares to talk about with regard to Pakistan’s instability especially in regard to it’s nuclear program. He has the right complaints, right remedies, sensible and very easy to agree with, but how are the trends described and all that is in place to support them ( religious fundamentalism-madrassa education, American intervention- our military industrial complex) actually going to be changed?

    Wikileaks reveals how Arab leaders do not want a nuclear Iran. Does this mean they want Israel and the US to do the dirty work? Will the US be able to avoid war with Iran over nuclear weapons? There are those leaders in the US who have no fear to talk about military action. Leaders still think that the US can and has to play a leading role.

    Mr. Hoodbhoy said (beginning of the interview) that Palestinians are “principally with Hamas” meaning turning towards religious extremism. My impression is that Palestinians are mostly or preferably secular and that Hamas does not have support of the majority.

    I think Mr. Hoodbhoy is right about settling the Israeli Palestinian conflict- that it would have a very positive effect on other conflicts in the world. It would, he says, transform the world. I think it does have that potential because as he says it would be symbolic. Hoodbhoy in essence talks about spiritual evolutions that need to happen. Settling the I-P conflict would be a change, or the beginning of a gradual change in this realm and it would be a good example, an encouragement to others. He says that might decrease the ability of religion to promote conflict. Maybe this is placing too much hope on the results of ending of this seemingly interminable conflict, but surely it would be very meaningful. One has to wonder why this realization has not hit home. No small matter either that it would be a very positive development regarding implementation of international law, and in doing so encourage implementation of other international laws, thereby strengthening the UN. World government needs to be given the power to get the US out of the business of minding everyone’s business.

  • Muhammad Usman Rana

    First of all its written about Professor Hoodbhai that he is some sort of leading citizen, its absolutely wrong… for two years i have worked as a lecturer, then for 7 years as a field services engineer in every corner of Pakistan and belongs to a political family whose survival depends upon strong and close coordination with common ppl in rural areas…. on the basis of all these factors i must say neither he is a leading citizen nor he is some sort of highly respectable political analyst….

    Secondly problem of Pakistan is interpreted very immaturly by such analyst and that makes me very sad that people in US trust on such analysis and create a perception of Pakistan according to such analysis, and moreover policies which US is making for Pakistan seems very highly inspired from this type of Analysis which is making situation more worst and out of control.

    We need to understand that terrorism is like a tree, cutting branches will not effect the tree, new will come out, but if we can cut the roots, the tree will soon dry out … real root lies in Kashmir and Palestine problem. 60 years of patince with no result has given a certificate of authenticity to the extremists propoganda that west will never care for you, only solution is jihad… live with dignity and die with honor…. Also we need to understand the culture of the troubled areas. People in those areas have their own norms and values, you can not teach them on gun point any thing, Also there is a tradition in tribal belt of Pakistan where young ones take an oath (called pakhton wani) which states that the pakhtoon will never forgive blood of his family member… illogical drone strikes kill one militant alongwith 5 civilians hence turning 10 families into suicide bombers and jihadis ….

    Corrupt leadership of Pakistan (imposed by USA) is also adding fuel to the fire …. and analysts like Hoodbhai who come across some people from a specific class (which is not more than 2% in Pakistan) gives some non sense analysis to people (regarding religion, while he is completely ignorant about Islam as religion), totally against ground realities, hence his analysis are answered very strongly with facts and logics by jihadis .. making it very easy to recruit young ones….

  • I am a great admirer of this show and its host but I am appalled to see a liberal hawk like Pervez Hoodbhoy described as a ‘peace activist’ and given a platform to promote his highly distorted view of events in Pakistan which propagandists like him are increasingly turning into an ethnic war against the Pashtuns. Hoodbhoy is a subscriber to a view that C. Wright Mills described as ‘military metaphysics’ — the cast of mind that sees political problems as military ones, and deems force as the sole means of resolving them. Here is what I wrote earlier:

    Hoodbhoy however is no mere tool; he is equally adept at taking his own message to foreign capitals. After attending his lecture at the Middle East Institute in Washington, a senior IPS journalist told me he was astounded by the extreme hawkishness of Hoodbhoy’s views. Counterpunch readers could not have missed the fact that Hoodbhoy was rather selective in choosing which war to condemn; he had nothing to say about Afghanistan, a war he supports. He speaks passionately about all the horrors that according to him afflict Pakistan today, but makes no mention whence they arise. In fact, for the past several years, Hoodbhoy has been advocating vigorous military action to quell the frontier unrest. During the years when the military was devastating the tribal belt using airpower and artillery, if Hoodbhoy had any objection at all, it was that Musharraf was not going far enough. He then turned to Western audiences, with alarmist stories about the looming Islamist threat to enlist support for his domestic crusade. He didn’t shrink from maligning even his own colleagues, branding some the ‘urban Taliban’: ‘There are indeed more than a few scientists and engineers in the nuclear establishment with extreme religious views’, he told Counterpunch readers last July.

    Under US pressure in May 2009 the Pakistani military launched a major incursion into Swat precipitating the largest refugee crisis since Rwanda. In his inimitable style Hoodbhoy described the incident that triggered this utterly avoidable human tragedy as ‘a miracle of sorts’. He denounced as ‘apologists for the Taliban’ all who urged caution, chief among them ‘opinion-forming local TV anchors’, and lamented that the ‘government’s massive propaganda apparatus lay rusting’. Anyone who suggested that the US presence next door or the indiscriminate drone attacks as possible destabilizing factors he accused of harbouring ‘festering resentments which [produce] a paranoid mindset that blames Washington for all of Pakistan’s ills’. At a time when most agreed that the problems were political and needed to be resolved accordingly, Hoodbhoy was gung-ho, advising the state to use ‘all possible means, including adequate military force’. In 2008 when eleven Pakistani soldiers were killed by US forces at a border post, Hoodbhoy described the resulting outrage as an instance of ‘anti-Americanism’. An incredulous Hoodbhoy wrote in Dawn that ‘some newspaper and television commentators want Pakistan to withdraw from the American-led war on Al Qaeda and the Taliban, to stop US fuel and ammunition supplies into Afghanistan, and hit hard against Afghan troops when provoked’. That newspapers and television commentators should reflect what according to an IRI poll is the wish of 80% of Pakistanis? Such temerity! (For background on Pakistan’s domestic ‘war on terror’ franchise, see my ‘Pakistan creates its own enemy’)

    Pakistanis recognize that what they face is a political crisis at its core, and a law enforcement issue at its margins. The use of force on civilian populations is not going to resolve it; it will only expose vulnerabilities, swell the numbers of the aggrieved, and compound the threat of retaliation.[3] Already Hoodbhoy is holding up the predictable—and predicted—blowback as confirmation of what he calls the ‘militant fanaticism of Pathan tribals’. This is an unfortunate use of words, considering, as the former CIA station chief in Kabul Graham Fuller notes, and the former chief secretary of Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province Rustam Shah Mohmand confirms, this is increasingly seen as an ethnic war against the Pashtuns.

    In Hoodbhoy’s monochrome vision there are no shades of gray, his worldview is Manichean: You are with us, or you are with the terrorists. Opponents can only be driven by ‘evil’: there are no innocents. Violence is its own explanation, there is rarely a cause. To suggest one is to be an ‘apologist for extremism’. This is no leftist talking, this is Sharon-speak.

  • Asjad

    Great talk show! I am following Dr Parvez Hoodbhoy since mid-80s when I also used to work in one of the University in Islamabad. I never seen that much dedication and consistency among any intellectual like him. I wish he should have better reading about comparative Islamic literature also then he would have better argument when he go to talk shows with Islamists.

    I just disagreed on one point with Dr Parvez – I believe still majority of Pakistanis are liberal Muslims but the problem is they are silent and scared with the escalated violence from fanatics.