PREFACE: So much has been written by much better people about the fallacy and inaccuracy of the history taught in Pakistan’s curricula that I can hardly add any dimension or wisdom to it. But let’s try and address the subject from a different angle. The fact of the matter is that the history taught in our schools has tended to encourage the most general and terrifying of existing evils, human presumptions and particularly intellectual arrogance, which can be termed as self-righteousness. That wrong history is being taught at all academic levels in Pakistan also means that the first need of the people like me is to unlearn most of what has been taught. In Pakistan it unmistakably becomes the kind of prejudice and conceit that led Paul Valery to call history the most dangerous product ever concocted by the chemistry of the brain. Valery wrote: “It (History) causes dreams, it makes nations drunk, it saddles them with false memories, it exaggerates their reflexes, it keeps their old sores running, it torments them when they are at rest, and it induces in them megalomania and the mania of persecution. It makes them bitter, arrogant, unbearable, and full of vanity.” All of this – prejudice, paranoia, conceit, arrogance, false memories, exaggerations, and absurdities – rings true when one considers the history that is being taught in the academic institutions of Pakistan.
As evidenced by the comments coming forth, my article “The White Legend of Pakistan’s Creation” seems to have received warm attention. I always value the viewpoints that diverge from mine as difference in views opens the doors unto learning. However, many of the comments suggest that I need to clarify a bit my article’s perspective. As I said right at the beginning of my article, so much has been written, by better minds, to debunk the inaccuracies in our history curricula that there is very little value I can add in that respect. Therefore, the purpose of the article was simple and can be recapitulated in three points as follows:
1. Like Physics, Chemistry etc, history too is a subject and should be viewed as such. History has nothing to do with religion. Also history is not a matter of opinion, belief may be.
We often base our opinions on our beliefs and, rather than facts driving beliefs, our beliefs can dictate the facts we choose to accept. They can cause us to twist facts so they fit better with our preconceived notions. So many people in our society inhabit a closed belief system on whose door they have hung the "Do Not Disturb" sign, that they pick and choose only those facts that will serve as building blocks for walling them off from uncomfortable truths. Any journalist or writer whose reporting threatens that belief system gets sliced and diced by its apologists and polemicists. Examples include the rampant obfuscation of Shia Genocide, minorities’ persecution, women’s abuse, paedophilia etcetera. To be fair it happens in other societies too, but without violence. For example in the US many people still believe Obama was born in Kenya, not Hawaii, as his birth certificate shows; or that he is a Muslim, when in fact he is a Christian.
Therefore, History’s main purpose is to "set the record straight” with no judgment or steer as a narrator. Thus the history exposes what beliefs had obfuscated at the time of an occurrence. For example, we are beginning to come to terms with the realities of 1971. Descendants have a duty to reflect on "sins" of ancestors (we all have our share of skeletons) just to make sure these are never repeated. For example, an Indian may feel it a duty to think of the horrors of the caste system, even if he himself is not guilty of caste prejudices. Similarly, we need an honest account and appraisal of what we did wrong in East Pakistan. The problem I have with our curriculum is its lack of critical balance.
How do we expect to connect the present to the past, stretching young imaginations across the time zones of our experience, by rigging the account of the procession that brought us here? If that wise man George Orwell were around today he would confirm that "like the rattling of a stick inside a swill bucket," this kind of propaganda engenders a "protective stupidity" almost impossible for facts to penetrate. I have realized that it is only through an unsullied honouring of reality that we can approach the myriad and messy truths of human experience. Young minds must be nurtured to draw the right lessons to lasting effects from the truths that must be told. Otherwise we will see a Pakistan that will be more and more unable to deal with reality.
2. It is true that Pakistan does not enjoy a monopoly over toxic textbooks or demonization of minorities. Many countries do it. However, any number of wrongs cannot add up to one right.
That it takes place elsewhere also does not lend legitimacy to what is wrong or false. The nations that have prospered in modern times are the ones that exercise introspection and seek improvement in their matters. Justifying one’s shortcomings by citing others’ examples only denies progress. That’s why, in my writing or speech, I never cite analogies from elsewhere unless these serve a constructive purpose in helping understand the issue at heart. Otherwise I focus on what is wrong with us and what we need to correct it. What happens in (for instance) India or China is their problem and not mine. Similarly, in my previous article I confined myself to our curricula and that we need to correct it in order for our country to make progress.
It is a fact, for instance, that in many of our books religious minorities are often portrayed as inferior or second-class citizens who have been granted limited rights and privileges by generous Pakistani Muslims, for which they should be grateful. No amount of our rabble rousing fanatics and self-serving politicians could match the damage inflicted by toxic textbooks. Released in July 2010, the Brookings Institute report claims that the real cause of militancy in Pakistan is the public education system and not religious schools (madrassas) because the majority of Pakistani students attend public school whereas only ten per cent attend madrassas. It states that Pakistani public schools disseminate militancy, hatred, and jihad and distort history.
3. Many countries gloss over the painful episodes of their past while teaching history to their younger generation. That is fine; there is no point in unnecessarily reliving the trauma. However, as I explained in my article, our narrative of history is engineered to inculcate in our kids the attitudes that are not positive. For example, the right to judge, arrogance, superiority, self-righteousness.
The account of history can be rectified later in life but these early-age attitudes remain with us for life. And that to me is the main drawback of our curricula. This attitude is evident in some of the e-mails I have received in response to my article, which instead of looking for the balance are pompous bits of meaningless fluff following our textbooks in presenting ourselves as noble people who are incapable of murder, genocide, and intrigue and assert that it is actually other races and religions who have been targeting us. This also reflects what is largely happening in Pakistan and, to me, we have reached this pass through a designed and steady distortion of history and textbooks.
I want to hammer home that the history and curricula we teach in our schools have a huge human impact. Clinical experience and research show that a child brought up in narcissistic environment grows into an adult with emotional and psychological problems without a clue about how he or she got that way. Denial is rampant in the narcissistic system. The narcissistic system hides profound pain. Hence, our calculated doctoring of the facts has a massive psychological, social, and human impact on young impressionable minds and psyches. It impacts lives as did the financial crisis of 2007-8 by looking single-mindedly for profits, without taking into account the collateral damage. Bloodshed is the result when one uses religion (or nationalism) for politics and enduring prejudice takes roots after finding its way into the kids’ history books.
CONCLUSION: I won’t undermine my chances of keeping your attention by a lengthy summary here.
Our curriculum exposes the difficulty of navigating a world where one is expected to partake of western secular education and all the values and privileges that come with it, and still be hostage to the commanding beliefs of one's own culture. It is a simple narrative of the practical difficulties in governing societies under two conflicting political systems rooted in incompatible values. While we yearn for western-style governance, we view many of its values –like equality, freedom of expression, liberation of women- cloaking sinister anti-Islam motives. Against these tendencies it is an uphill fight to stay the course of proclaiming the truth. We have to keep reassuring ourselves and one another that it matters and we have to join forces to defend and safeguard our independence. If we don’t we would be left to the mercy of the agitated extremist amnesiacs who make their own reality, banishing history to the memory hole, where inconvenient facts simply disappear, like does Big Brother in Orwell’s novel “1984”. Control of the present rests on obliteration of the past. While they may have not been able to ‘squeeze us empty’ they are surely ‘filling our children with themselves’.
I have had to spend long hours with my children helping them understand why ransacking the temple of Somnath, pulling down the Babri Mosque, demolishing the statues of Budhha, and blowing up the shrines of Sufis and Imams deeply revered by millions are all equally wrong and profane. Now, you can understand how it is that search for truth became for me a continuing course in adult education, matriculating as a perpetual student in the school of life. That's what keeps us going, isn't it? The conviction that all the bias and ignorance notwithstanding, truth is what matters to critical thinking, that if we respect and honour it, it just might help us right the ship of Pakistan before it rams an iceberg too big for it to survive.
PROLOGUE: This article attempts to examine the rise of sectarian conflict in Pakistan and how it has assumed genocidal proportions in the extermination of Shias in the country. The attempts to Islamize the state after 1947 reached a high point of social transformation in 1980’s on the heady mix of Islamization and Jihad.
(For the purpose of this article ‘Religiosity’ means ‘exaggerated or affected piety and religious zeal’)
I am often astounded by the amount of religiosity on display in the present day Pakistan.
To me, yes. Initially I felt like writing a detailed article on this on my blog but then decided against it because I thought that the act of doing so would leave me depressed for several days.
Pakistan has strong cultural and historical roots as the country has withstood countless invasions and has preserved the essence of its conquerors in the form of present day monuments and archaeological heritage. Half a dozen civilizations have flourished here and left their imprints. Historically, Pakistan is one of the most ancient lands known to man. Its cities blossomed even before Babylon was built: its people practised the art of good living and citizenship long before the celebrated ancient Greeks. Hence, Pakistan is home to archaeological sites that are relics of some of the earliest settlements rivalling those of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia.
With a population of above 180 million, Pakistan is the sixth most populous country in the world and the second most populous Muslim country. Pakistan is a multi-ethnic society with over sixty languages and diverse cultures in its midst. Modern Pakistanis are a blend of their Harappan, Indo-Aryan, Indo-Iranian, Saka, Parthian, Kushan, White Hun, Afghan, Arab, Turkic, and Mughal heritage. Waves of invaders and migrants settled down in Pakistan through out the centuries, influencing the locals and being absorbed among them. Thus the region encompassed by modern-day Pakistan is home to the oldest Asian civilization.
Pakistan covers 340,403 square miles (881,640 km2), approximately equalling the combined land areas of France and the United Kingdom. The country has a highly varied geography adorned by tall mountains, eternal glaciers, unfathomable gorges, hills, beautiful valleys, vast fertile plains, both sandy and rocky deserts, high plateaus, lagoons and mangrove swamps, lakes, rivers, and friendly beaches; demarcated in the south by a 700 mile long coastline and in the north by forbidding mountains. Hence, Pakistan displays some of Asia's most magnificent landscapes as it stretches from the Arabian Sea, its southern border, to the world’s most spectacular mountain ranges in the north.
Pakistan is home to three of the largest mountain ranges in the world -i.e. Himalayas, Karakoram, and Hindu Kush, which turn it into an unmatched alpine wonderland with the densest concentration of high mountains in the world. The country has five (of the world’s 14) peaks of over 8,000 metres (26,250 feet), and 101 peaks of over 7,000 metres (23,000 feet) above sea level, some of which are still unclimbed. Karakorams have an average height of 6,000 metres, higher by a long way than any other mountain range in the world. Karakorams and Himalayas are among the youngest mountains in the world and were formed some 55 million years ago when the Indian subcontinent (now South Asia) drifted northwards and collided with the Asian land with a small Island plate crushed in between. India is still trundling northwards at a rate of 2 inches per annum, pushing the mountains up by 7 millimetres annually. The gigantic forces involved here have created the most chaotic landscape on earth. The oldest rocks are exposed at Pattan soon after Besham and the newest layers at Chalt after Gilgit. Nowhere in the world is there a similar region where one can travel down to the centre of the earth from the surface of the earth. It is possible to stand on the road near Gilgit and see Rakaposhi to the north, the highest point of the island volcano close to the Eurasian plate, whilst to the south moving towards it is Nanga Parbat standing on the Indian peninsula like the bows of an advancing ship. The last major collision of the continental plates took place on 8/10/2005 and 30,000 square miles of scenic mountain area was ripped through by a very powerful earthquake.
Pakistan also has some of largest alpine glaciers on the planet, having more glaciers than any other land outside the North and South Poles, with some of the longest glaciers outside Polar region; Siachen (72 km), Hispar (61 km.), Biafo (60 km.), Baltoro (60 km.), Batura (64 km.), Yenguta (35 km.), Chiantar (34 km.), Trich (29 km.) and Atrak (28 km.).
Karakoram Highway (KKH), that runs across the tallest mountains in the world for about 800 miles, is definitely the greatest wonder of Pakistan’s modern history. It runs in the most difficult terrain of the world, cut through four of the highest and mightiest mountain ranges in the world: Himalayas, Karakorams, Hindu Kush, and Pamirs. The KKH runs through the middle of the continental collision belt, where some places experience an average of one earth tremor per 3 minutes. That the KKH was completed at all -in the face of the glaciers, brittle rock structures, strong winds, extreme variations in temperatures (from 48 C in summer to – 35 C in winter), and the seismic activity- is a miracle of human endeavour. So difficult was the task that in most areas the progress was measured in terms of yards rather than miles per month. Several hundred remote valleys which had been mountain locked for centuries have now been connected with the civilization through KKH, thus opening a passage through the areas that had remained the cultural backyard of humanity since the dawn of the history.
The 2,000 mile-long Indus River –plunging through some of the world’s deepest and steepest gorges before it reaches the plains- is Pakistan’s lifeline and, with its tributaries, provides water for the largest irrigation system in the world comprising over 64,000 kilometres (39,500 miles) of irrigation canals.
From the mighty stretches of the Karakorams in the North to the vast alluvial delta of the Indus River in the South, Pakistan remains a land of high adventure and nature. Trekking, mountaineering, white water rafting, kayaking, hunting, angling, mountain and desert jeep safaris, camel and yak safaris, trout fishing and bird watching, are a few activities, which entice the adventure and nature lovers to Pakistan.
Pakistan has produced many scientists of worldwide renown including Dr. Abdus Salam –a Nobel laureate in Physics- who in 1979 became the first Muslim to win a Nobel Prize. His work in theoretical physics still remains influential. Hailing from a poor peasant family in a desolate village in Pakistan, Dr. Salam, at the age of 30 in 1957, became the youngest Professor in the history of Imperial College London.
Pakistani professionals are admired for their expertise and intellect around the world and include internationally celebrated doctors and engineers, renowned bankers, and world-class corporate leaders. Sir Zafarullah Khan, for instance, was the Vice President of the International Court of Justice, the Hague, and was then President of the UN General Assembly for years.
Abdus Sattar Edhi is a philanthropist of tremendous international acclaim. Mr. Edhi’s foundation runs an efficient and dense network of social services in Pakistan, including a network of hospitals, clinics, maternity homes, mental asylums, homes for the physically handicapped, blood banks, orphanages, adoption centres, mortuaries, shelters for runaway children and battered women, schools, nursing courses, soup kitchens, and community centres extending to even the remotest parts of a vast and heavily populated country which has scant public resources or amenities. According to the Guinness World Records, Edhi Foundation has the largest volunteer ambulance service network in the world. The Edhi Foundation is acknowledged as largest and best organized social welfare system anywhere in the Third World. Through his organization, Abdul Sattar Edhi gives the world a vision for implementing humanitarian aid. Mr. Edhi is a recipient of numerous international awards.
Benazir Bhutto in 1988, on assuming power at the age of 35, not only became the youngest elected Head of Government of a modern democracy but also the first democratically elected woman ruler of a Muslim country.
With 76 women among its 338 current members, Pakistan’s parliament has a higher proportion of women than Canada (68/308), UK (126/646), or USA (73/435). Fahmida Mirza, the speaker of the parliament in Pakistan, is the first woman parliamentary speaker in the Muslim world.
With the country being a nuclear power, the armed forces of Pakistan are the sixth largest and one of the best-trained in the world. Pakistan possesses a sophisticated defence industry and, apart from boasting an advanced missile system, produces high-level arms, APCs, frigates, battle tanks, submarines, and military aircrafts. Pakistan is the single largest contributor of UN peacekeeping forces, with more than 11,000 Pakistani military personnel serving in UN peacekeeping operations worldwide. The Karachi Shipyard and Engineering Work Ltd., (KSEW) is ISO-9002 certified for shipbuilding, submarine and warship construction and general engineering works.
Pakistan is a semi industrialized economy with a GDP of about USD 500 billion on a purchasing power basis, which makes it the 27th largest economy in the world. The structure of the Pakistani economy has now changed from a mainly agricultural base to a strong service base with services sector accounting for 53% of the GDP. Pakistan is the fourth largest cotton producer in the world and, in terms of quality, its silver fibre cotton is rated among the very best in the world.