Pakistan Ka Matlab Kya?: Javed Jabbar Aur Pervez Hoodbhoy Ke Mabain Aik Mubahisa
By Anjum Altaf
Aks Publications
ISBN: 9789697311255

The book under review, Pakistan Ka Matlab Kya? [What is the Meaning of Pakistan?] has an interesting origin. It started with a panel discussion on the topic of ‘The never-ending battle for the Pakistan narrative’ at the Adab Festival in Karachi on February 1, 2020. One of the four guests there was academic and nuclear physicist Prof Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy.

During the course of the discussion, Prof Hoodbhoy raised certain questions, while making some observations about the Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the two-nation theory, Pakistan’s ideology, etc., which appeared as “half-truths, altered-truths and no-truths” to the former Senator Javed Jabbar. He decided to give his counter-narrative on 10 points raised by Prof Hoodbhoy, through a video message recorded a month later.

This video was sent to academic Anjum Altaf, who likened it to a boxing match and decided to review the arguments advanced by the two stalwarts, assuming the role of a ‘referee’. The present book is based on those reviews. There is also a nicely written essay by Ahmed Kamran on the ideology of Pakistan. As per Altaf’s assessment, Prof Hoodbhoy won five of the 10 ‘rounds’, while Senator Jabbar won one, with four rounds ending up in a draw.

Round one begins with Dr Hoodbhoy’s stating: “Pakistan is in a state of confusion, because it was born in a state of confusion.” Jabbar responds by equating ‘confusion’ with change and evolution. He states: “Confusion? Confusion is actually good. Confusion means change. Confusion means evolution.” ‘Referee’ Altaf does not agree with Jabbar’s contention and declares him the loser in the round.

A book born out of an intellectual debate about the history of Pakistan grapples with questions about the country’s genesis, identity, ideology and its founder

Here, one may differ with Dr Hoodbhoy’s contention. Being born in a state of confusion does not necessarily mean that the nation has to remain in perpetual state of confusion. Several other countries, too, have come into being amid uncertain and confusing conditions, for example China and Bangladesh. But they were able to discard the undesired baggage associated with their birth and started moving ahead with new vigour.

The debate then moves on to the ideology of Pakistan, with Dr Hoodbhoy stating that the “basis of Pakistan, as articulated by Mohammad Ali Jinnah, was that there were only two nations that live in the Subcontinent, [that] they were mutually hostile, [and that] they cannot ever live in peace. That was Part One. Part Two was that Muslims formed a nation. The second part was completely nonsensical.”

Jabbar responds by tracing the emergence of the ‘Two-Nation Theory’, stating that it was neither a creation of Jinnah, nor Chaudhry Rehmat Ali, nor Allama Iqbal. Jabbar contends that the ‘Arya Samaj’, which was completely a Hindu organisation, was established in 1875, the ‘Hindu Mahasabha’ in 1915 and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in 1925, while Jinnah advocated Hindu-Muslim unity. As per Jabbar, the problem arose when these movements started to convert non-Hindus to Hinduism, which compelled Jinnah, Iqbal and Rehmat Ali to review and revise their earlier stance of unity.

Altaf, in his assessment, is not convinced much with Jabbar’s arguments and declares Dr Hoodbhoy a winner again. On his part, Kamran gives a detailed account on this subject in his essay and cites adequate references.

However, the point mostly lost in the debate was that the responsibility for Partition could not be placed on the shoulders of any single person or entity. In the 1940s, there were three parties — the British, the Congress, and the Muslim League — each having a sort of veto power, in the sense that, in case of anyone’s substantive disagreement, Partition would have hardly taken place. But the scheme of a partition suited all three, including the Congress and Hindu-India.

Stephen Philip Cohen has elaborated the Congress’s multifaceted interests in Partition in his book The Idea of Pakistan. He states: “In B.R. Ambedkar’s [later, the architect of the Indian Constitution] opinion, India actually stood to benefit from a separate Pakistan. For one thing, separation would leave most of the Indian Subcontinent’s wealth in predominantly Hindu India and make Pakistan, with its poor resource base, a weak state.”

Another concern for the Congress was the predominant Muslim majority in undivided India’s army. Cohen quotes Ambedkar stating that, in case of Partition, “India’s army would no longer be dominated by Muslims (the British had drawn most of their manpower from districts that would become Pakistan), and its primarily Hindu civilian government would not be vulnerable to the army.” He quoted Ambedkar saying: “A safe army is better than a safe border.”

The third round moves to Jinnah’s intellectual credentials, with Dr Hoodbhoy proclaiming that “He [Jinnah] never wrote a single research paper. He never wrote an essay.” In response, Senator Jabbar appears to be a bit apologetic, stating that Jinnah was not a professor or a lecturer, in a way agreeing that he did not write much.

The fact is that Jinnah was a prolific writer. The usual practice with him was to write detailed pieces of composition on a wide variety of subjects but, instead of sending them for publication to the newspapers and journals, he presented them on the floors of assemblies and other political platforms. From there, almost all the newspapers, instead of just one, carried his message. Many of his writings are available even to this day in the archives of the assemblies where he served as a member, and are worth reading.

It is also pertinent to state here that the first collection of his writings was published way back in 1918, under the title Mohomed Ali Jinnah: An Ambassador of Unity — His Speeches and Writings (1912-1917), which were compiled by Sarojini Naidu. This book had 212 pages and about 57,000 words. Another collection that immediately comes to my mind is The Collected Works of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Vol. I (1906-1921) by Syed Sharifuddin Pirzada, a volume spread over 429 pages.

In addition, he also wrote articles for newspapers and periodicals on a variety of issues. One of his earliest writings was published in the Times of India on February 20, 1909 under the title ‘Indian Minorities’. Another detailed article, spread over more than four thousand words, was published in the Fortnightly Review of London, in October 1914, on the subject ‘Reorganising India Council.’ There are several more such published articles, which cannot be mentioned here due to space constraints.

It may also be noted that the above-mentioned writings were in addition to his professional writings in his capacity as India’s topmost lawyer.

In another round, Dr Hoodbhoy states: “How would Pakistan survive in a world where science and technology is what makes a country strong? He [Jinnah] had no plan for that.” Jabbar responds, pointing to Jinnah’s speeches and statements wherein he emphasises the importance of education, including for females, for the development of the nation. Altaf declares this round as a ‘draw’.

Here, it is pertinent to state that the Quaid-i-Azam had a futuristic vision about science, technology and education, which he shared on November 27, 1947 with the participants of the Education Conference. He stated: “There is [an] immediate and urgent need for giving scientific and technical education to our people in order to build up our future economic life and to see that our people take to science, commerce, trade, and particularly well-planned industries. We should not forget that we have to compete with the world, which is moving very fast in this direction.”

This was not limited to words. Jinnah showed his practical commitment to education when he bequeathed his entire hard-earned wealth and property to six educational institutions in his will. The beneficiaries of his largesse were the University of Bombay, the Aligarh University, the Islamia College of Peshawar, the Sindh Madressah of Karachi, the Anjuman-e-Islam School of Bombay, and the Arabic College of Delhi. I have yet to discover an example of such generosity and commitment to education on the part of any other national or international leader.

The other issues discussed in the debate were alleged contradictions in Jinnah’s various proclamations, the separation of East Pakistan and the human tragedies associated with it, the army action in Balochistan, and vision for the future of Pakistan.

Overall, this debate is a good effort to demystify many myths and to clarify several misconceptions and misunderstandings about the founder as well as the genesis of Pakistan. This would ultimately strengthen the country — provided these debates are held in an environment of tolerance and openness, and have a little more scholarly depth as well as contain intellectually stimulating content.

The reviewer is an academic and a biographer of the Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

He can be reached at

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, November 26th, 2023



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