Tag Archives: Linguistics

Exclusive interview with Noam Chomsky on Pakistan elections

By Ayyaz Mallick |

Professor Emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Noam Chomsky, is without doubt the most widely heard and read public intellectual alive today. Although trained in linguistics, he has written on and extensively critiqued a wide range of topics, including US foreign policy, mainstream media discourses and anarchist philosophy. Chomsky’s work in linguistics revolutionised the field and he has been described as the ‘father of modern linguistics‘. Professor Chomsky, along with other luminaries such as Howard Zinn and Dr Eqbal Ahmad, came into prominence during the anti-Vietnam War movement in the 1960s and has since spoken in support of national liberation movements (and against US imperialism) in countries such as Palestine, El Salvador and Nicaragua. In fact, his prolificacy in terms of academic and non-academic writing has earned him a spot among the ten most cited sources of all time (alongside Aristotle, Marx and Plato). Now in his mid-80s, Professor Chomsky shows no signs of slowing down and maintains an active lecturing and interview schedule. Here we caught up with him to get his views on upcoming Pakistani elections, American influence in the region and other issues.

As a country which has spent almost half of its existence under some sort of direct military rule how do you see this first ever impending transition from one democratically-elected government to another?

Noam Chomsky: Well, you know more about the internal situation of Pakistan than I do! I mean I think it’s good to see something like a democratic transition. Of course, there are plenty of qualifications to that but it is a big change from dictatorship. That’s a positive sign. And I think there is some potential for introducing badly needed changes. There are very serious problems to deal with internally and in the country’s international relations. So maybe, now some of them can be confronted.

Coming to election issues, what do you think, sitting afar and as an observer, are the basic issues that need to be handled by whoever is voted into power?

NC: Well, first of all, the internal issues. Pakistan is not a unified country. In large parts of the country, the state is regarded as a Punjabi state, not their (the people’s) state. In fact, I think the last serious effort to deal with this was probably in the 1970s, when during the Bhutto regime some sort of arrangement of federalism was instituted for devolving power so that people feel the government is responding to them and not just some special interests focused on a particular region and class. Now that’s a major problem.

Another problem is the confrontation with India. Pakistan just cannot survive if it continues to do so (continue this confrontation). Pakistan will never be able to match the Indian militarily and the effort to do so is taking an immense toll on the society. It’s also extremely dangerous with all the weapons development. The two countries have already come close to nuclear confrontation twice and this could get worse. So dealing with the relationship with India is extremely important.

And that of course focuses right away on Kashmir. Some kind of settlement in Kashmir is crucial for both countries. It’s also tearing India apart with horrible atrocities in the region which is controlled by Indian armed forces. This is feeding right back into society even in the domain of elementary civil rights. A good American friend of mine who has lived in India for many years, working as a journalist, was recently denied entry to the country because he wrote on Kashmir. This is a reflection of fractures within society. Pakistan, too, has to focus on the Lashkar [Lashkar-i-Taiba] and other similar groups and work towards some sort of sensible compromise on Kashmir.

And of course this goes beyond. There is Pakistan’s relationship with Afghanistan which will also be a very tricky issue in the coming years. Then there is a large part of Pakistan which is being torn apart from American drone attacks. The country is being invaded constantly by a terrorist superpower. Again, this is not a small problem.

Historically, several policy domains, including that of foreign policy towards the US and India, budget allocations etc, have been controlled by the Pakistani military, and the civil-military divide can be said to be the most fundamental fracture in Pakistan’s body politic. Do you see this changing with recent elections, keeping in mind the military’s deep penetration into Pakistan’s political economy?

NC: Yes, the military has a huge role in the economy with big stakes and, as you say, it has constantly intervened to make sure that it keeps its hold on policy making. Well, I hope, and there seem to be some signs, that the military is taking a backseat, not really in the economy, but in some of the policy issues. If that can continue, which perhaps it will, this will be a positive development.

Maybe, something like what has happened recently in Turkey. In Turkey also, for a long time, the military was the decisive force but in the past 10 years they have backed off somewhat and the civilian government has gained more independence and autonomy even to shake up the military command. In fact, it even arrested several high-ranking officers [for interfering in governmental affairs]. Maybe Pakistan can move in a similar direction. Similar problems are arising in Egypt too. The question is whether the military will release its grip which has been extremely strong for the past 60 years. So this is happening all over the region and particularly strikingly in Pakistan.

In the coming elections, all indications are that a coalition government will be formed. The party of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif is leading the polls with Imran Khan’s (relatively) newly-emerged party not far behind. Do you think an impending coalition government will be sufficiently equipped to handle the myriad problems facing the country that you have just pointed out, such as civil-military imbalance, drone attacks, extremist violence etc.

NC: Well, we have a record for Nawaz Sharif but not the others. And judging by the record, it’s pretty hard to be optimistic. His [Sharif’s] previous governments were very corrupt and regressive in the policies pursued. But the very fact that there is popular participation can have impact. That’s what leads to change, as it has just recently in North Africa (in Tunisia and Egypt). As far as change goes, significant change does not come from above, it comes through popular activism.

In the past month or so, statements from the US State Department and the American ambassador to Pakistan have indicated quite a few times that they have ‘no favourites’ in the upcoming elections. What is your take on that especially with the impending (formal) US withdrawal from Afghanistan?

NC: That could well be true. I do not think that US government has any particular interest in one or another element of an internal political confrontation. But it does have very definite interests in what it wants Pakistan to be doing. For example, it wants Pakistan to continue to permit aggressive and violent American actions on Pakistani territory. It wants Pakistan to be supportive of US goals in Afghanistan. The US also deeply cares about Pakistan’s relationship with Iran. The US very much wants Pakistan to cut relations with Iran which they [Pakistan] are not doing. They are following a somewhat independent course in this regard, as are India, China and many other countries which are not strictly under the thumb of the US. That will be an important issue because Iran is such a major issue in American foreign policy. And this goes beyond as every year Pakistan has been providing military forces to protect dictatorships in the Gulf from their own populations (e.g. the Saudi Royal Guard and recently in Bahrain). That role has diminished but Pakistan is, and was considered to be, a part of the so-called ‘peripheral system’ which surrounded the Middle East oil dictatorships with non-Arab states such as Turkey, Iran (under the Shah) and Pakistan. Israel was admitted into the club in 1967. One of the main purposes of this was to constrain and limit secular nationalism in the region which was considered a threat to the oil dictatorships.

As you might know, a nationalist insurgency has been going on in Balochistan for almost the past decade. How do you see it affected by the elections, especially as some nationalist parties have decided to take part in polls while others have decried those participating as having sold out to the military establishment?

NC: Balochistan, and to some extent Sindh too, has a general feeling that they are not part of the decision-making process in Pakistan and are ruled by a Punjabi dictatorship. There is a lot of exploitation of the rich resources [in Balochistan] which the locals are not gaining from. As long as this goes on, it is going to keep providing grounds for serious uprisings and insurgencies. This brings us back to the first question which is about developing a constructive from of federalism which will actually ensure participation from the various [smaller] provinces and not just, as they see it, robbing them.

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The fascist terrorists want violence because their survival lies in it

By: Zulfi

We live in our Urdu speaking brothers dominated areas of Hyderabad for centuries and have very good connections and social relations with people of other linguistics and ethnic groups, especially with our urdu speaking brothers and sister – for the last couple of months I have been noticing a debate on the issue of new province in Sindh and an expected Sindhi-Urdu Speaking conflict. Most of the reports are coming from MQM related circles.

MQM has asked its people to get ready for any unexpected (which in fact is already planned by the fascist terrorists of MQM) fight with Sindhis, Balochs, Pakhtuns and other communities of Sindh.

Political parties working for Sindh interests should give as head to it issue.

Courtesy: Sindhi e-lists/ e-groups, May 13, 2012.

PML-N and MQM alliance returning to Zia’s roots

LINGUISTICS AND NEW PROVINCES – PML-N and MQM alliance returning to Zia’s roots

by: Iqbal Tareen

Javed Hashmi is either desperately fishing to carve a new political platform where he can clearly distinguish himself or PML-N has thrown a bombshell to shakeup PPP-ANP-MQM ruling coalition in center and in the province of Sindh. Dividing Punjab in multiple parts will not dilute its effective power unless Pakistan army is transformed into a true national army from its current regional structure and characterstics. For all practical purposes Pakistan army is the only political party, which has been in power since the birth of the country. The windfall benefits of Army rule always flow to Punjab.

Continue reading PML-N and MQM alliance returning to Zia’s roots

Linguistics and new provinces

By Dr Tariq Rahman

Since the debate about the Seraiki province began it is being assumed that anybody who is writing in support of creating it is jumping on the political bandwagon and making a new demand which is the product of some sort of an agenda and not an issue that has been seriously thought about.

Let me remind readers that I have been a supporter of dividing Pakistan along linguistic/ethnic lines for the last 15 years. I have always supported a Seraiki province as well as other linguistically based provinces in the interest of the inhabitants of those areas. My only agenda is to reduce conflict.

Briefly, my proposal is that not only Punjab but other provinces of Pakistan should also be divided into linguistic units. This would mean the division of Punjab into a Seraiki-speaking area and two other provinces. The exact map could be determined by the government in consultation with Seraiki leaders.

The other two provinces would be the central Punjabi-speaking areas and the hilly districts speaking Pahari Hindko and Potohari. Apparently, Punjab stands to lose but if it is taken into account that it will no longer be perceived as a hegemonic, dominating mammoth then it will gain in psychological terms. Such a move will strengthen the federation by removing the mistrust of the smaller federating units.

There can also be a Pushto-speaking province which may be called Pakhtunkhwa. It will include the Pushto-speaking parts of Balochistan but exclude the Hindko and Khowar and Pahari-speaking parts of the NWFP. It will also include the Pushto-speaking agencies whether controlled federally or by the provincial authorities.

In time the whole area will have a uniform law and a similar, equitable level of development. What the present NWFP loses in terms of its non-Pushto-speaking areas it will gain if the Pushto-speaking parts of Balochistan are included. This will certainly be a good bargain and much of the tension with the Hindko and Khowar speakers will vanish.

There will be Hindko-speaking minorities in the cities but formulas to please them can be found. Balochistan will have Baloch and Brahvi-speaking areas but areas taken from Punjab and added to Balochistan during British rule will be excluded. It will also lose its Pashto-speaking areas to the Pakhtunkhwa province mentioned above. This is a proposal with which many Baloch nationalists have agreed in the past and it will reduce Pathan-Baloch rivalry and conflict in Balochistan politics.

The Northern Areas and Chitral can be divided into Burashaski-, Shina- and Khowar-speaking regions. These can be small units which need not have the same structure of rule as the provinces but sufficient autonomy to fulfill the desires of their people.

Now we are left with the province of Sindh. In my book Language and Politics in Pakistan published in 1996 I said that the consequences of creating an Urdu-speaking province in Sindh could prove worse than ‘the present tension between Sindhis and Mohajirs’. I am glad to say that the tension appears to be less but I still repeat that Sindh is a special case. If the province is divided there should be consensus between the Sindhis and Mohajirs on this move. If consensus is not there then it is best not to divide the province.

I do not say this because I support Sindhis more than other ethnicities in Pakistan. On the contrary, my goodwill towards all ethnicities of the country is equal. However, Sindh has seen ethnic conflict between the Mohajirs and Sindhis in the past and no easy solutions can be prescribed because of the volatile politics of this region. What may be suggested is dialogue and peaceful negotiations which will either accept the de facto division of the province or find some other solution of unity in diversity.

The aim of the linguistic division of federating units is to reduce ethnic conflict, prevent Punjab from dominating the smaller federating units, make administration efficient, ensure that people do not have to travel long distances to get justice, and give all units a stake in the system.

Having smaller provinces is not a new idea. The Ansari Commission once proposed as much. Earlier, in 1942, the Communist Party proposed to divide India into 17 ‘nationalities’.

In India the Report of the States Reorganisation Commission, 1955, did take the bold step of dividing the country along roughly linguistic lines. I said ‘roughly’ because there are always speakers — and pretty large groups sometimes — of other languages in a certain linguistic state. In Andhra Pradesh, for instance, the city of Hyderabad has a large Urdu-speaking population. The needs of these minorities can be catered for provided the leadership wants the happiness and welfare of the people.

The linguistic states of India have solved some problems — the south is no longer at loggerheads with the Hindi-speaking north — but not all. Ethnic issues using symbols other than language still remain in Kashmir and the northeast. Conflicts are a product of perceived injustice and exploitation and merely re-adjusting borders does not help unless real justice and freedom is given to all. However, even if some problems are solved, the solution is worth considering in Pakistan also.

While writing the above I have not taken the politics of the PML-N and the PPP into account. Political parties and their short-term interests are transient. The inhabitants of this land are a permanent feature and their long-term interests are eternal. In my view, if creating several smaller federating units can reduce ethnic tensions and increase efficiency then this is what we should be considering seriously. After all, the aim of all policies — more provinces or less or the status quo — is to increase human happiness. Is there a more worthwhile goal?

Courtesy: daily dawn, Thursday, 09 Jul, 2009

Source- http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/news/pakistan/provinces/16-linguistics-and-new-provinces-hs-09

Sindh & Sindhis

Sindh and Sindhis- The modern literature in anthropology, sociology and linguistics

Ibn Khuldun: The Annihilations of Nations and Sindhis

by Gul Agha

To understand the on going social, cultural and linguistic decline among Sindhis, one can look at the modern literature in anthropology, sociology and linguistics to see how nations perish. But the causes have been long understood — the new twist is that the rates can be more precisely measured (each rapid shifts in vocabulary and grammatical forms). A classic work of Ibn Khuldun, *The Muqaddimma, *provides great insight and is a recommended read for any serious student. Ibn Khuldun, a giant of his time, understood how nations perish, and it is instructive to read him and then look at Sindhi society today. Fortunately, Sindhis were able to overthrown other invaders after short periods of time and never had a large scale invasion, at least after the Aryans, until 1947 when Sindh lost 20% of its native population to diaspora, and the remaining nation was linguistically, socially and culturally subjugated by millions of migrants. Here is Ibn Khuldun’s speculation:

*Book I: Kitab al `Ibar (on the nature of civilization) Chapter 2:23. A nation that has been defeated and has come under the rule of another nation will quickly perish.

**The reason for this may possibly lie in the apathy that comes over people when they lose control of their own affairs and, through enslavement, become the instrument of others and dependent upon them. Hope diminishes and weakens. Now, propagation and an increase in civilization takes place only as a result of strong hope and the energy that hope creates in the animal powers (of man). When hope and the things and it stimulates are gone through apathy, and when group feeling has disappeared under the impact of defeat, civilization decreases and business and other activities stop. With their strength dwindling under the impact of defeat, people become unable to defend themselves. They become victims of anyone who tries to dominate them, and a prey to anyone who has the appetite. * (translated by F. Rosenthal)

Another insight Ibn Khuldun provides is how society’s with greater diversity of ideas, sects and beliefs are better able to resist invaders (because, says Ibn Khuldun, they are not prone to conforming with the dominant ideology imposed by invaders, instead they are used to confronting ideas and beliefs, so if you suppress one sect, others dissidents arise). No doubt the deparature of 20% of Sindhi population seriously weaked the Sindhi nation because of the concomittant loss of diversity, but the continued breadth of Sindhi ways remains their strength, their culture of resistance to adopting a single dominant ideology (fundamentalism) and respect for different religious and anti-religious thinking, provides an immense source of residual strength to this day.

We will have to see if the current processes reach their final completion in the perishing of Sindhi nation (*dharnii panaah dde) *or, Sindhis rise to attain their cultural, linguistic, political and social freedom. There is no other stable equilibrium condition in which a nation can survive for long..