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Past present: On record

December 16, 2012

Several approaches based on the political, social and economic development of a state are adopted by historians to document history.

Compared to other countries, the emergence of Pakistan in 1947 is considered fairly recent. The subcontinent was divided and Pakistan’s separate identity from India ensued as a significant issue.

Since the history of Pakistan begins from 1947, narration of limited historical material is a challenge if one is to present a comprehensive view of the developments that took place.

One approach is to write all events chronologically and provide information about what happened in the short span of time.

The history of Pakistan could be based on dictatorship or democracy — the two different political systems which Pakistan experienced like many other newly-independent states with the aim of bringing progress and prosperity to the country. Other countries experimented with western democracy and the socialist system.

Another approach is to document the history of evolution of colonial institutions like jagirdari, bureaucracy and the army in Pakistan. These institutions served the colonial hegemony and forced people to submit to the ruling authorities. There is a need to analyse if these institutions still force people’s will or follow the will of people. Other institutions which monopolised politics and are associated with the ruling class are feudalism, tribal system and gaddi-nasheen. These have also discouraged people from participating in politics.

Yet another approach to writing the history of Pakistan would be to point out new changes in the social structure of the society such as demography, urbanisation, growth of religiousness and, the sectarian and ethnic divide.

History can also focus on personalities such as Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan Z.A. Bhutto, Zia-ul-Haq and Pervez Musharraf who emerged as powerful individuals in the absence of weak democratic traditions and institutions. However after coming into power, they misused state institutions to fulfill their personal ambitions and further weakened democracy, distorted the system and disrupted its continuity. Sadly, they were supported by opportunistic intellectuals and politicians who helped them rule as popular leaders of the nation.

History is also documented through intellectual thought and ideas. What did Pakistani intellectuals contribute to the society in terms of guidance and support during social and cultural crises? Or did they silently support the status quo for personal benefits.

For writing history, it is important to include the common man’s perspective as it unfolds new venues which are generally dominated by the point of view of the ruling and elite classes. But historians tend to focus their attention only on the activities of the so-called leaders who by plundering and pillaging the country have damaged it beyond repair.

There is a need to bring to light the contribution of the common people who struggled despite adversities. This way their suffering, disillusionment and hopes can be highlighted as their contribution in making the country prosperous cannot be ignored. They deserve a dignified place in history as active contributors to society and not as mute and passive spectators.

Unfortunately, there are professional historians in Pakistan who focus their research on political history, glorify the ruling classes and condemn the people. This not only undermines the role of the people but information of cultural, social and political awareness is withheld. It remains an important task for historians to condemn the corrupt ruling classes and to strengthen democratic values and traditions.