Twenty-three years past the independence of Pakistan, history writing has been rather disappointing. Official historians and textbook writers focus exclusively on and reiterate the Pakistan movement and there is no research on ancient India, the medieval period or the colonial era.
In the absence of any alternative school of history, grandiose national narratives come across as dull and boring. According to official history, partition not only divided the subcontinent into two separate countries but it also partitioned history. Consequently, ancient India is not a part of our historiography.
History writing in Pakistan is controlled by the bureaucrats and politicians who direct historians on how to write history which suits their interests and justifies their policies. It is in the interest of the state to use it to historicise the ideology of Pakistan. This task was faithfully accomplished by I.H. Qureshi in his two books Muslim Community in the Indian subcontinent and Ulema and Politics, in which he skillfully distorts events and adjusts them within the framework of the ideology of Pakistan. The next historian to follow him was S.M. Ikram, who traced the roots of two nations in medieval India.
Hence officially, the history of Pakistan begins from the Arab conquest of Sindh. According to this point of view Sindh became Bab-ul-Islam or the gateway to Islam. It linked our history with the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphates, alienating it from ancient Indian history. This interpretation creates a Muslim consciousness that seeks its identity outside India. However, the truth of history is quite different. Sindh became separate and independent as soon as the Abbasid caliphate declined and local dynasties replaced Arab rule. Arabs who settled in Sindh assimilated in the local culture and identified themselves as Sindhis.
Pakistan has rich cultural heritage and a glorious ancient past. The discovery of the Indus valley civilisation astonished and amazed the world of its achievements. Its important towns, Harappa and Mohenjodaro, located in Pakistan, boasted of the advanced and developed culture of this area unlike the Mesopotamian and Egyptian civilisations. Although there were no palaces here, the temples and tombs indicate that the common man was not exploited like in other civilisations across the world.
When the Aryans arrived in India, they initially settled in Punjab and the first veda was composed there. When they moved to the valleys of Ganges and Yamuna, Persians had already occupied the region. Alexander’s invasion and the Greek settlement produced the Gandhara culture. Scholars like Panini, the author of first Sanskrit grammar compilation and Kautillya, the author of Arthshastra emerged from Taxila’s university.
This was a part of the Mauryan Empire and witnessed the peaceful and non-violent policy of Ashoka who had converted to Buddhism but there was tolerance for other religions. Here’s a lesson that we could perhaps learn from our past.
From time to time, a number of invaders such as Kushans, Huns, Persian and Greeks came to India. Once they settled here they became Indians. Therefore, the Arab invasion of Sindh was also like other invasions and the Arabs eventually assimilated in the local culture. Therefore, the Arab conquest should be studied as a continuous historical process and not as an isolated incident.
In northern India, Turks, Afghans and the Mughals ruled for centuries and eventually integrated into the Indian culture. In the 1920s, when communalist feelings emerged, Hindu communalists called them foreigners. But on the other hand, nationalists regarded them as Indians and were proud of their heritage. Pakistani historians seem confused on how to treat this period with Akbar being a major issue for them, as I.H. Qureshi and other historians hold him solely responsible for the fall of the Mughal Empire.
We must understand that history is a continuous process and if continuity is broken, historical consciousness is damaged.
When writing history of Pakistan, it is important to note that history should not be influenced by religious beliefs since history has no religion. It is neutral in character. Secondly, the events happening in this part of the subcontinent should neither be ignored nor neglected but be accepted for their cultural and historical significance. We must also realise that our past is related to the Indian subcontinent and to the outside world.
Pakistan came into being in 1947 but our history existed before this which cannot be deleted. A shared history and culture not only broadens our minds but eliminates a narrow outlook of history. Just like we cannot delete the rule of the Sultans of Delhi and the Mughals, we should include ancient Indian past in our heritage.
Some intellectuals argue that Pakistan should link with Central Asia and break its historical affinity with India. These intellectuals fail to understand that sharing the same religious belief is not enough to be accepted by other cultures. There are tremendous differences between Pakistanis and Central Asians. We have to trace our roots in our own land and not outside of it. To rewrite the history of Pakistan, we must begin our history from the ancient period and link it to the present. This continuity would create a mature historical consciousness.
European countries are independent and sovereign but culturally they are unified. A contribution by a German philosopher, a British economist or a Dutch painter is regarded as European. South Asians can follow this model and culturally own one another. This would lead us to peace and prosperity.