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'History in Pakistan has been badly treated'

September 06, 2016
political economist Dr S. Akbar Zaidi making a point during his lecture ‘Questioning Pakistan’s history’ organised by the Faculty of Social Sciences, Karachi University, on Friday.—White Star
political economist Dr S. Akbar Zaidi making a point during his lecture ‘Questioning Pakistan’s history’ organised by the Faculty of Social Sciences, Karachi University, on Friday.—White Star

KARACHI: With Pakistan just two days away from observing Defence Day and marking the 50th anniversary of the 1965 war, historian and political economist Dr S. Akbar Zaidi dispelled ‘the victory myth’, saying that there can be no a bigger lie, as Pakistan lost terribly.

People are unaware of this fact because the history that is taught in Pakistan is from an ideological viewpoint, said Dr Zaidi during his thought-provoking lecture titled ‘Questioning Pakistan’s history’. “Students are not taught the history of the people of Pakistan rather it is focused on the making of Pakistan,” he said.

The event was organised by the Faculty of Social Sciences, Karachi University.

Dr Zaidi who also teaches history at the Institute of Business Administration, Karachi, began his lecture by raising a couple of questions: what is Pakistan’s history and is there a need to question Pakistan’s history. And when was Pakistan formed? Aug 14, 1947 or Aug 15, 1947? For him the fact we are still talking about historical events 68 years later that are apparently settled is interesting. “These events and questions have not been settled. They are constantly being reinterpreted, this is because history does not die, it keeps reliving by questioning facts and truths.”

Coming to the question when was Pakistan created, he said one obvious answer is it did so on Aug 14, 1947 but he read out an excerpt from a Pakistan Studies textbook in which it was claimed it came into being in 712AD when the Arabs came to Sindh and Multan. “This is utter rubbish!” he exclaimed, rejecting the textbook account. He said the first interaction with Muslims and Arabs occurred in Kerala in South India for trading purposes.

Some historians claim the genesis of Pakistan lie in the Delhi Sultanate or the Mughal Empire. He, however, reminded everyone that the India as we know today did not exist during the Mughal era. It was during the 19th century the concept of nation-state was formed. There are others who state Sir Syed Ahmed Khan laid the foundation for Pakistan. Dr Zaidi felt this statement was partially true, because Sir Syed always maintained that Muslims should get their rights but he had also said: “Hindus and Muslims are the two eyes of the beautiful bride that is Hindustan. Weakness of any of them will spoil the beauty of the bride.”

The 1940 Pakistan Resolution called for the recognition of Muslims within Hindustan and not for a separate entity, Dr Zaidi added.

Social history

He then led the debate towards the questions: “Is the history of Pakistan, a history of the people of Pakistan or is it the making of Pakistan?”As far as he knew everyone is taught a history that includes the Mughals, freedom movement, the Quaid-i-Azam leading the All India Muslim League etc but was completely unaware about the history of the Baloch and the Pakhtun. “I cannot understand Pakistan’s history without knowing the history of the Baloch, Pakhtun, Punjab, Shah Abdul Latif and his relationship with the land.”

He said he was ashamed as a Karachiite that he had been unaware of Sindh’s history. It was important to know about indigenous histories because the “issues we are confronted with, we would have a better understanding in dealing with them”. He gave the example of East Pakistan to illustrate this point. “East Pakistan has been erased from memory. The Bengalis of East Pakistan have been reduced to they were traitors, India interfered and East Pakistan decided to separate. But what about Pakistan Army’s role in its separation?”

According to Dr Zaidi, history in Pakistan has been badly treated due to several reasons. Students are forced to study history or Pakistan Studies as a compulsory subject and hence the focus is just to pass the exam and get over with it. It is focused on rulers and generals and not on the social history. He highlighted another important reason for history getting a step-motherly treatment, citing that it is a subject that is taken when a student is unable to get admission in other departments in universities.

A robust question and answer session followed the talk during which students and teachers wanted to know why they were being taught distorted version of history, why the contribution of religious minorities to cities such as Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar was not mentioned in their textbooks, why does one have to wear separate identities and how can identification crisis be resolved to make Pakistan into one nation.

Dr Zaidi responded to these queries, explaining that Parsis and Hindus contributed hugely in the educational development of Karachi and in a similar manner the Sikhs in Punjab. “History in Pakistan is taught from an ideological viewpoint. Pakistan needs to be seen as a geographical entity.”

Referring to the distorted history, he said: “With the celebration of the victory in the 1965 war round the corner, there can be no bigger lie that Pakistan won the war. We lost terribly in the 1965 war.”

He appealed to the attendees to read Shuja Nawaz’s book Crossed Swords that exposed the reality of the war.

As for wearing separate identities, he replied there was no need to do so. “I can be a Sindhi, Hindu and Pakistani simultaneously.” He added that the diversity of nations should be acknowledged, since nationalities could not be imposed on people.

Published in Dawn, September 5th, 2015

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