Afraid of history

Published November 22, 2015
Illustration by Abro
Illustration by Abro

For the ruling classes, history writing is important because they can control and monopolise it and use it to their advantage. In this way they can be remembered by future generations as benefactors and deliverers. In the past, rulers employed historians in order to highlight their achievements and glorify their personalities for which they were rewarded with financial patronage, and titles were bestowed upon them. This is why often the official narrative survives while the alternative interpretation which brings forth facts against the misdeeds of their rule is discouraged or disallowed.

Cervantes in his novel Don Quixote highlights that historians transform the follies and stupidities of knights as wisdom and sagacity and glorify them. In democratic societies, there are independent historical research institutes and universities where scholars critically examine historical events as well as current affairs; however, in Third World countries where there is either dictatorship, kinship or distorted forms of democracy, historians have no freedom to undertake any research work which accuses or blames the policies of their governments. Different methods such as censorship, banning books and supervising work of dissident scholars are used to suppress historical facts. The other tools which are used to silence their voices are restrictions on official appointments, harassment by intelligence agencies and controlling their financial resources, if they somehow manage to challenge the veracity of government facts and bring to light the hidden aspects of history. These historians not only provide an alternative interpretation but also create a historical consciousness among people to struggle and fight for their rights.


Swindon: I can’t believe it! What will history say? Burgoyne: History, Sir, will tell lies, as usual. (Devil’s disciple by G.B. Shaw)


In Pakistan, from the very beginning, historical writings were controlled by the state and the point of view of Muslim League was expressed in academic books as well as textbooks of schools and colleges written by professional historians. Muslim League asserted that it was the sole and independent political party, which worked for the creation of Pakistan. Therefore, all other movements which contributed to the freedom struggle such as the Ghadar party, Bhagat Singh and his comrades, and the several leftist groups either ignored or marginalised are not credited for their share in shaping historical consciousness. Therefore, the ideology of Pakistan was constructed by historians to justify all acts of the ruling classes.

Two important pillars of this ideology are the two-nation theory and religion. Anyone who opposed and criticised the ideology are condemned as traitors and agents of foreign country. Bacha Khan and G.M. Syed are excluded from the national narratives but on the other hand, Muslim League’s leaders became the founding fathers of the new country.

With the deterioration of the political, social and economic conditions of the country, people began to question the role of Muslim League leaders as well as the other political parties who came to power but completely failed to solve the problems of the common people. They are criticised and accused of maladministration and corruption by the public. As a result of people’s disappointment, the bureaucracy is trying to protect the interests of rulers and emotionally rely on the Pakistan ideology. Recently, the government sent directives to universities and colleges about disallowing any research project that contradicts Pakistan ideology.

Why are they afraid of history? Because of their misrule, misdeeds and anti-people policies? Can such directives save their reputation from the historical narrative? One can find that history writing in Pakistan is very weak. Public universities and colleges are controlled and supervised by the government while private education institutions focus on IT management and provide no space for social sciences. Under these circumstances, it is easy for the ruling classes to employ historians and assign to them the task of describing their positive role in history. Army generals, bureaucrats, and politicians are writing their autobiographies and distorting history without facing any challenge. In the absence of genuine historians, fake and manipulated historical events will survive and continue to mislead and misguide the people.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine November 22nd, 2015

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