‘I’m not so optimistic’: Prof Dr Muhammad Nazimuddin on Pakistan’s social progress
The family of Prof Dr Mohammad Nizamuddin migrated from Hyderabad Deccan to Karachi after partition of India in 1947.
He got his master’s degree from University of Chicago, USA in 1968 and came back to Pakistan and worked as Director Research Centre, Lahore, Government of Punjab for six years. He got Ford Foundation fellowship to do PhD. Then he worked with UNO, as an adviser for 24 years. He joined University of Columbia in 2002 in Social Sciences.
He was then selected by Higher Education Commission to work in University of Punjab where he ran PhD programme in Sociology. In 2006, he was selected as V.C University of Gujrat. He is one of the leading sociologists of Pakistan.
People are going abroad and you came back, why did you make this decision?
I always had a vision of coming back and working in Pakistan because I feel more comfortable in Pakistan. Also I feel more useful in Pakistan. I can do more work, more productive work.
I go to USA in summer to teach. I think there are more challenges here and more satisfaction that one can do things here. There I can teach a class of thirty people, youngsters, they will take classes, courses and go away. Here I can make a difference by talking to young Pakistanis about real issues and challenges. So I feel happy.
Did you make decision before or after 9/11?
At 9/11, I was in New York but my decision to come back has nothing to do with it. I still have a home in New York but I did make decision to come back and work here.
What kind of challenges Pakistan faces today?
There are challenges of defining ourselves as a nation. Different people have been writing different scenarios, different interpretations throughout the sixty years. We have not reached to an agreement because different people are interpreting same principles differently.
We agreed on unanimously passed 1973 constitution. Each one is pulling them separately. Extremist forces are taking central place which is very unfortunate. No nation, nowhere historically speaking extremism has been positive. It has always brought negative forces along. It remained short time or long time depending on other forces. But extremism basically derails you from natural path. So this is what is happening.
Today we face extremism in not just religious form, but ethnically and racially too. It does not give you security, prosperity and cohesion, so nation is divided. Our youth are divided, people are divided. They don’t know, they are scared, they cannot say what they want, even what they feel they cannot say because they feel they can be misinterpreted. And then they could be punished. There is not rule of law because there is no justice system here so people are scared. As a Professor, I can’t teach them what I should. I will be immediately be hassled and harassed and may be killed. Even professors are very cautious about it.
You look very pessimist but the question is how to cure, what could be the first step?
I stress that I don’t see the signs. I see the signs of economic progress but progress without national cohesion and unity is not going to last long. You got to have established rule of law, full justice and sense of security.
People don’t feel confident even in campuses. We can’t express openly, honestly. There is lot of talk about freedom of media but those people who speak on media are being targeted. So freedom of press does not mean that Dubai channel can release a program, freedom of press means you have a system at its place. So nobody can touch on the basis what you have said on TV or wrote an article in the paper.
How can you interpret justice system? Do you know what is going on in Pakistan?
For that you have to make certain decisions, very solid policy decisions based on consensus, decisions and agreements based on priorities. Our priority today is to see why extremism is spreading so rapidly. How can you allow two group of people to kill each other and in the process they are destroying security, ultimately of the whole population.
Schools of girls, school teachers are being targeted. There is no rule of law. I don’t know how a state can tolerate it. In what name they are tolerating it I don’t know. This cannot be acceptable.
You have talked about progressive forces, they are in disarray, who will unite and bring them together? Is it possible to bring consensus among themselves?
This is the unfortunate thing, somebody has to come out, taking away the difference and look what happened in Calcutta. The party still holds, the ideology state holds. They can still shut the whole city with one call of strike because they are organized. They believe in it. They are sincere.
You have given the example of India, in Pakistan from the day one elite was anti-people, anti-left. So left was never given the chance to grow, right?
I won’t say the elite, the ruling classes. I would say feudal class and few parties and there was confusion right from the beginning. They took about eleven years and did not agree on a constitution. They kept on debating. I mean to say they should have started something in hand. They could adopt some other constitution but they kept on debating and of course new element, new party politics came with it.
This is unfortunate, in one way you can praise Bhutto at least for bringing them together and getting every body’s signature on that constitution. They did not respect that.
The majority of members from Balochistan never signed 1973 constitution
But majority signed it.
But Bhutto did not follow his own constitution?
Yes, I think that is where the unfortunate history begins after attaining consensus. The whole processes should have been democratic. There Bhutto erred, he thought ‘I have the majority and I can amend the constitution’.
As a sociologist how do you look at Pakistani society? Do you have any hope that it will emerge into a real nation some time?
Well nations do survive but I don’t know in what form and nature Pakistan will survive. People will survive of course. They have survived for hundreds of years. But I don’t see emergence of a strong Pakistani nation. I don’t see signs. I don’t see foundations of one nation, standing together with one vision to the country.
Here we have always variations. At least there should be one national vision but nobody has it except those in authority. President Musharraf says I have the nation with one vision. I don’t see coming from press, media, from Pakistani intellectuals, from religious leaders. I don’t see it. Nobody is coming forward with one nation vision. So I don’t see. I am not so optimistic, really.
The interview was conducted in 2006
Zaman Khan is a journalist and former staffer at Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.