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Punjab: Did you hear what the Chinese president said?

April 24, 2015

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President Xi Jinping is escorted to his plane by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. ─ PM Office
President Xi Jinping is escorted to his plane by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. ─ PM Office

Would the prime minister, the cabinet ministers, the members of the National Assembly, the senators and other power wielders pause for a moment and ponder over what the president of the People’s Republic of China said in the beginning of his address to the joint session of Parliament held this week in Islamabad.

He described Pakistan as a country ‘young and ancient’. In the euphoria created by a huge pile of MOUs (which definitely would have economic bearings on our future) no one would care to understand the implied suggestion this apparently simple statement carried. But anyone who knows how Chinese are subtle in the matters of statecraft, politics and diplomacy will not miss how significant is the unsaid in what he said.

We all know we are a young country. The president reminded us that though a young country we have been a product of a brilliant ancient society spanned over thousands of years. What prompted him to iterate that is obvious? Our attitude towards the past and what it offers! Our past and what it offers constitutes ‘ancient’.

It’s precisely this very ‘historical mess’ that we abhor and are scared of, thus exposing an unbridgeable gulf between our being ‘young’ and ‘ancient’. So far we have tried though not successfully to build everything around the fact of our being young in search of ideology driven utopia that has landed us in a grey zone of historical dis-orientation.

With the emergence of Pakistan in 1947 our ruling elite strengthened the faith-based narrative, exclusive and monolithic, which was and is still being touted as a raison deter of the new state. Such an unnatural and a historical thinking caused an almost complete rupture with our long past especially the shared one spread over at least five thousand years.

Read: Pakistan was with us when China stood isolated: Xi Jinping

In our world of make-belief we thought as if we came into being out of thin air of abstraction forgetting that we are what we have been and what we have been belongs to the irretrievable, the past. One can interpret and re-interpret the past but cannot change it.

It does not in way mean that humans are mere prisoners of history. On the one hand they are product of history and on the other they are capable of making history. However it is to be remembered that though ‘men make their own history they do not make it as they please. They do not make it under the circumstances chosen by themselves but under the circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past’. Our elders made history by creating a new state but they did this under the circumstances created by history itself which made the peaceful co-existence of Hindu and Muslim communities a distant dream cherished by many.

The new state while endeavouring to realize a different and secure future for its citizens suffered from a fatal fallacy. That is that the past can be declared an alien territory having no presence in the collective conscious and subconscious of people and hence one can have absolutely clean break with it.

The past, to the dismay of ideologues, is not something completely solid that can be demolished and buried under the debris of intellectual claptrap. What is most tangible about the past is its ever present intangibility as submerged experience at subterranean level that refuses to fade out from the psychic space.

Pakistani state and the elite with a deep sense of insecurity have been trying to build an exclusive national identity based on the denial of the past that we shared and still share with India.

The irony is that what is conceived as Indian and debunked is the cultural and intellectual manifestation of our ancient culture. What is the Indian civilization san Indus valley?

Can you imagine Indian civilization without Harappa and Mohenjo Daro, Rig-Veda (composed by Rishis at the banks of river Ravi), Gandhara and Taxila? Can you write the history the political science ignoring the Chanakya Kautilya’s Arthshastra, the first book on statecraft and art of politics?

Can you trace the history of linguistics without knowing the Panini’s Ashatadhyayi, the first book on grammar? Where did all this flourished? In the land which now constitutes Pakistan if you know a bit of history! What appears apparently ‘Indian’ as a result of our cultural self-loathing legitimately belongs to us.

Change of faith cannot change our ethnicity and our cultural/historical identity shaped by our past. This is precisely what the Chinese president very discretely reminded the high and the mighty when he called Pakistan a country; ‘young and ancient’.

Pakistan is no doubt young as a state but surely ancient as a society. Chinese being a history conscious nation know our history better than our leaders. They still remember that it was Taxila, the glorious learning centre of the ancient world, where their forefathers sent their sons to get educated in sciences; religious and non-religious.

Much talked about ‘economic corridor’ is not something entirely new. You can still find indelible foot-prints of Chinese students, Buddhist monks and traders who traversed the Karakoram route way back in time. If we persist in treating the history as a dust bin, future will surely be a dust-bin for us. What is up-rooted dries up and what stands rooted can weather storms however ferocious they may be. — soofi01@hotmail.com

Published in Dawn, April 24th, 2015

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