EVEN as they prepare to celebrate the 70th anniversary of their birth, Pakistan and India may want to reflect on why they have not been able to live as amicable neighbours. Both nations saw triumph and tragedy in 1947 — colonial rule was at an end, but the bloody events of Partition are seared in the subcontinent’s memory, a legacy that should have taught them to cherish freedom and to promote peace. Instead, the decades have been marked by conflict and tensions, recriminations and threats. The tendency on both sides to constantly paint the other in an unfavourable light has not helped. Perhaps one example of this is contained in some of the textbooks used by students in both countries. As a recent news story points out, students on both sides of the border are getting a skewed version of history, at times even bare-faced lies. For instance, there is little mention of Gandhi’s contribution to the independence struggle in history textbooks here, while Indian students are told that the Muslim League sided with the British colonisers.
Given such an education in the history of the subcontinent, what is the younger generation to think? Should we be surprised if biases against the ‘other’ creep in? True, there have been occasions at a people-to-people level where such gloom has been dispelled — joint cultural initiatives for instance, or the warm reception of Indian cricket fans in Lahore some years ago, indicating that common interests can promote friendship. But there can be little hope for lasting amicability unless the two states come to terms with their past and acknowledge the facts of history. As long as Pakistan and India continue to raise successive generations that are formally taught from early schooling onwards to be suspicious of the other rather than courageously delve into uncomfortable truths, the grounds for unthinking animosity will only grow more robust. The process towards rectification will take time, but cleaning up the textbooks is a long overdue first step.
Published in Dawn, August 7th, 2017