Chomsky warns South Asians about their future in PIDE Debate


ISLAMABAD, JUL 27 /DNA/ – For Pakistan to start a new journey on the right track, first of all, it has to get itself free from the clutches of colonial legacy and institutions, said Professor Noam Chomsky – an American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, social critic, political activist and also known as “the father of modern linguistics.” Chomsky was in the ‘PIDE Debate’ conversation with Dr. Abdul Jalil, Professor of Economics at the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE), Islamabad.

When asked about his views on the reasons behind Pakistan’s sad state of affairs; on the economic front in particular, and where should be the starting point for Pakistan to reset with the current circumstances.

Chomsky started by mentioning multiple factors: country-specific, impeding growth, pluralism, openness within the society, and of course, development. Pakistan, over the decades, has been pushed towards a certain type of religious orthodoxy that limits the growth of culture and rationality. In parallel, it is in constant conflict with India. So, these are the biggest roadblocks for Pakistan on the road to development. Nonetheless, these things are not only Pakistan-specific. The United States is also feeling the heat of religious extremism in recent years โ€“ very unusual for a western country. This phenomenon is also gradually squeezing the space for cultural and intellectual development in the US.

According to the Press Release issued by the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE), Noam Chomsky mentioned that Pakistan is in a complicated position, as it has one foot in China and the other in America/West. Still, it can move with a degree of independence. However, Pakistani and India have to move towards a point of accommodation and constructive cooperation, and there is no other way. This may sound utopian now, but it may happen. It has happened in the past. Take, for instance, the case of France and Germany. Both, for centuries, massacred each other. Now both are cooperating.

The conversation between Professor Noam Chomsky and Dr. Jalil is part of the series of podcasts that PIDE regularly generates, with experts from around the world on various economic, governance, and public policy issues.

Chomsky believed that there is an inherent ambiguity when talking about intellectual honesty and responsibility. First of all, we should know what our moral responsibility as human beings is. Secondly, what service is expected of them within the existing power systems? I would mention Henry Kissinger here. He clearly identified that a polity intellectual’s role is to formulate the ideas of the powerful in a clear and applicable form. In simple words, it means to be a stenographer for power.

In contrast, there is a moral responsibility to be truthful and honest, certain values we should uphold, and so on. If you look at the history of intellectuals, almost all of them happened to be on the first side. They were in the chambers of power instead of being the critics. Those who had and have questioned have suffered and were dismissed to the margins, enunciated Professor Chomsky.

In a crux, for Pakistan to start a new journey on the right track, it first has to get itself free from the clutches of colonial legacy and institutions. Look at the history. To quote a few examples, Egypt at one time was equivalent to the US in terms of resources and development. The same is true for some parts of Africa, which were at par with Japan. Later, these two were colonized, extractive institutions were plugged in, and the rest was history.

On the other hand, the US escaped English control and its institution, becoming a vibrant state and society. Secondly, there is a need to tackle religious extremism. Thirdly, Islamabad and New Delhi have to chalk out a cooperation framework to move forward towards a point where there is convergence on most of the mutual domains of concern. I impress upon a sense of urgency here, as South Asia will be an unlivable region a few years down the lane. Temperatures are already rising, glaciers are melting, poverty and vulnerability are a serious concern, and water wars may soon erupt between the two. So, better for them to cooperate and complement rather than compete with each other. Otherwise, South Asia may not survive for long, warned Chomsky.