The story of Pakistan’s past is intentionally written to be distinct from and often in direct contrast with interpretations of history found in India.
The many textbooks published in Pakistan under the title *Pakistan Studies* are particularly prone to the omissions, embellishments, and elisions that often characterize historical narratives designed for secondary level social studies classes.
Under the orders of General Zia-ul Haq social studies-a combination of history and geography was replaced by Pakistan Studies, which was made a compulsory subject for all students from the ninth standard through the first year of college including engineering and medical schools. Curriculum changes institutionalised during Zia’s Islamisation campaign required that all students also take a series of courses under the title Islamiyat, the study of Islamic tenants and memorization of Quranic verses. Committees formed under Zia’s guidance began to systematically edit the textbooks.
The University Grants Commission (UGC) issued a directive in 1983 that textbook writers were *“To demonstrate that the basis of Pakistan is not to be founded in racial, linguistic, or geographical factors, but, rather, in the shared experience of a common religion; To get students to know and appreciate the Ideology of Pakistan, and to popularize it with slogans, and To guide students towards the ultimate goal of Pakistan—the creation of a completely Islamized State.”*
Pervez Hoodbhoy and A.H. Nayyar published an article, “Rewriting the History of Pakistan” in 1985 when Zia’s policies were in full swing. They commence with a near prophetic comment regarding the inevitable and eventual blowback from General Zia’s efforts to Islamize the educational system, “the full impact of which will probably be felt by the turn of the century, when the present generation of school children attains maturity.”
Nayyar and Hoodbhoy explain that the UGC’s directives centered on four themes:
- n The ‘Ideology of Pakistan,’ both as a historical force which motivated the movement for Pakistan as well as its raison d’être
- The depiction of Jinnah as a man of orthodox religious views who sought the creation of a theocratic state
- A move to establish the ‘ulama as genuine heroes of the Pakistan Movement
- An emphasis on ritualistic Islam, together with the rejection of interpretations of the religion and generation of communal antagonism”
The broad expanse of South Asian history is a tabula rasa upon which Pakistani historians and policy makers have created the story of a new nation replete with cultural roots and millennia of socio-religious trajectories-from Muhammad bin-Qasim in 711CE to Quaid-e-Azam in 1947.
This manufactured view of the past narrates Pakistan’s emergence as an independent country: ‘In just seven short years, under the enlightened guidance of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Quaid-e-Azam, the father of the country, Pakistan rose from the strife and oppression of religious communalism in Hindu dominated India to join the comity of modern nations’.
Nayyar and Hoodbhoy explain, “The 'recasting' of Pakistani history [has been] used to 'endow the nation with a historic destiny'.” And that it is in direct contrast with interpretations of history found in India.
For most Indians, Pakistan is still seen as invalid, created without any real legacy of participation in the freedom struggle, without any sacrifice for the nation. Partition continues to be considered a terrible mistake, albeit, one that Indians must deal with diplomatically and sometimes militarily. Rather than a heroic leader of the oppressed South Asian Muslims, Jinnah is seen as almost Hitleresque, a ghostly messianic figure whipping up a false nationalism and leading a paper organisation that had no clearly defined concept for the actual form of Pakistan. Supported by opportunistic elites and capitalizing on the fear and ignorance of uneducated Indian-Muslims, Jinnah in collaboration with the British colonialists, was able to play his political cards, trump the Indian National Congress, and in seven short years destroy the pan-Indian nationalist movement and usher in a history filled with communal strife, espionage, terrorism, and warfare. Obviously, the interpretation of historical events leading to the British leaving India and the Partition of the Subcontinent are narrated from absolutely contrasting approaches and completely contrary angles within each nation.
Remembering how Indians speak woefully about the partition of the Motherland and listening to Pakistanis talk about India's hegemonic intentions; I'm reminded of a dysfunctional family. The parent, India, keenly feels the loss of one of her children. Pakistan, an uncooperative child, ran away from home, disrupting the homeostasis of the family. Pakistan does not see Mother India as his real mother. If anything, she is an evil step-mother who should be resisted at all costs. He looks to the Middle East as his germinal source, turning his back on his South Asian childhood. The grandchildren of the Pakistan Movement are armed and ready to defend their eastern boarders.
In the same way that guilt would cripple a man who has murdered his mother; elements in the Pakistani psyche pull the society in different directions. With roots in South Asia and sights on Arabia, they are torn between denying their non-Islamic past and the need to embrace a uniquely synthetic Pakistani heritage.
*Dichotomies of Discourse*
A comparison of several key historical events as represented in textbooks in Pakistan with parallel narrations in Indian textbooks reveals a dichotomy of discourse where guiding principals of interpretation are quite oppositional. Chronologically speaking, the first event that can be utilized to illuminate these poles of interpretation is the treatment of the conquest of Sindh in 711 CE by an Arab army under the leadership of Muhammad-bin-Qasim. Pakistan Studies textbooks appropriate Qasim as fuel for nationalist inspired discourses by portraying him as the initial Islamising agent, who less than a century after the death of Mohammed started a movement that transformed the Subcontinent.
On the other hand, Indian textbooks published by the NCERT, in an effort to laud Islam for the sake of Indian children of Muslim descent, write about bin-Qasim, that though “appreciative of the cultural and scientific consequences of contact at this time with what is generally perceived as the 'highly civilized' [Arab] world, consider that Arabs had a minimal impact on the history of the Subcontinent.” In *Medieval India: A History Textbook for Class XI*, Satish Chandra treats the “Arab invasion of Sind (sic) as a localized affair.”
In *Social Studies For Class VI*, published by the Sindh Textbook Board, the story of the Arabs' march up the Indus is narrated with a flourish as the first moment of Pakistan ushering in a new era and the glorious ascendancy of Islam on Pakistani soil. What is not mentioned in the textbooks is the fact that Arab armies attacked Sindh sixteen times prior to 712, but failed to overcome the “Hindu Rajas”.
When I was in Hyderabad, Sindh, in 1997, in 99, and again in 2001, I discussed the contents of this textbook with several Sindhis, who assured me that they told their children an alternative version of this story, where Raja Dahir is in fact a local ethnic hero.
Though I cannot surmise what percentage of Sindhis may have reason to disassociate their identity from Arabization brought by Muhammad-bin-Qasim, (or perhaps a few hundred years later, Turkey-ization) it is true that they are often sensitive about their position vis-à-vis Pakistani society. Three decades after calling for the creation of Pakistan in 1939, G.M Syed, the grandfather of Sindh nationalism, called on Indira Gandhi during the Bangladesh war of independence, to send troops to Sindh and free it from Pakistani exploitation, creating “Sindhudesh”. He spent the rest of his life under house arrest. *Next week this Column compares historical narratives in textbooks published by the National Centre for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) in India, with those published by the Curriculum Wing of the Ministry of Education in Islamabad*.
Yvette C. Rosser (The writer is also known as Ram Rami is an American Scholar who writes on Hinduism)