History 101: Writing a new Pakistani history

Published: May 17, 2012
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" You can’t bypass
history. The only way
to come to terms
with one’s history is
to understand it,"
Professor Dr Ayesha Jalal. PHOTO: AYESHA MIR/EXPRESS

" You can’t bypass history. The only way to come to terms with one’s history is to understand it," Professor Dr Ayesha Jalal. PHOTO: AYESHA MIR/EXPRESS

LAHORE: 

Pakistanis must delve into their history with open minds, historian Dr Ayesha Jalal said during a talk on Wednesday.

Speaking to over 200 students at the Forman Christian College in a lecture titled Writing Pakistani History: Problems and Challenges, Dr Jalal said that open minds allow historians to hear and sift through contesting narratives on a subject in history.

‘Voice everyone’

“The task of a historian is to voice everyone,” she said.

A historian cannot be uncomfortable with change, she said.

“Pakistan presents a particularly complex subject matter,” she said.

“When we read historical narratives from outside Punjab, they criticise the Punjabi elements in the establishment and the military,” Dr Jalal said.

Baloch and Sindhis tell their own tale of how the Pakistani state has maltreated them, she said.

Traditional Pakistani history excludes the narrative of marginalised segments in our society, she said.

Historians must broaden the sources they use, Dr Jalal said.

Official archives must be complemented by unofficial records and oral histories, she said.

The tradition of oral history has always played an important part in the recording of history the subcontinent, she said.

“Historians are now using far more creative and imaginative sources than they were just a few years ago,” she said.

‘You can’t bypass history’

Answering a student who asked why people had not gone beyond debates on Pakistan’s history, Dr Jalal said, “You can’t bypass history. The only way to come to terms with one’s history is to understand it.”

“The absence of a historical conscience is more to blame for feeling deprived as a nation,” she said.

Political will is needed to revise the history curriculum in Pakistan, she said.

Without undertaking reform in the official curriculum, she said, “Pakistan is living in delusion.”

Asked about the feeling of exploitation felt by Baloch, she said that an open debate had been started in the country on the issue and more non-Baloch were taking part.

Pakistan’s great paradox:

Pakistan’s ‘great paradox’ is that after being created for a minority, Pakistan has been unable to honour and safeguard its own minorities, Dr Jalal said.

She expressed the view that Pakistan’s fledgling democracy could be stabilised despite its flaws if allowed to complete its course.

Asked why the army was criticised for the civilian government’s failures, she said that it was army intervention in the political system that was criticised.

‘Don’t use religion to discriminate’

“We need to decide whether religion is a matter of personal faith or an identity,” Dr Jalal said.

“It is an integral part of people’s lives but it should not be used to discriminate against people of different faiths,” she said.

A great disservice to Islam has been done by allowing it to be used for discrimination, she said.

Speaking about discrimination against Ahmadis, she said that while the state has ostracised them, it cannot deny them the right to life.

“The debate on Ahmedis is not a theological debate but a debate on equal citizenship for all.”

She said that the greatest challenge we have is to create a society willing to extend equal rights to all its citizens, regardless of religion.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 17th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (20)

  • kaalchakra
    May 17, 2012 - 1:57AM

    Islam does not discriminate. So if we follow Islam, there will be no discrimination.

    The only thing I don’t like about Ms Jalal is that I have heard she claims the real Quaids of Pakistan were (Edwina) Nehru and (Original Modi Gujrati) Patel. :(

    Does anyone know if that is true? I can’t believe any Pakistani would say such a thing, even imply it indirectly. It makes me very angry.

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  • Blame Punjabis
    May 17, 2012 - 6:22AM

    Everything bad is happening in Pakistan because of Punjabis. Even an ant that dies in Pakistan is blamed on Punjabis. Every cat and dog that dies in Pakistan dies because Punjabis are animal rights’ violators. Punjabis do everything bad in the country.

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  • Indian
    May 17, 2012 - 12:35PM

    “Pakistan is living in delusion.”
    One truthful statement made by a Pakistani at last….

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  • BlackJack
    May 17, 2012 - 12:52PM

    @kaalchakra:
    She probably means the intransigence of Nehru and Patel in the face of the League’s unreasonable demands (you didn’t have to stoop to the level that you did in your comment, but no surprises), resulting in partition – Mahatma Gandhi wanted to throw in everything and the kitchen sink in the hope of keeping India united. The architect of Pakistan was definitely Jinnah, and I for one, will forever be grateful to him.

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  • Abhi Sinha
    May 17, 2012 - 12:54PM

    @kaalchakra:
    If that makes you angry then i am pretty sure you will not be able to handle truth.
    well i doubt most Pakistanis will be able to handle truth.

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  • Muhammad
    May 17, 2012 - 3:55PM

    just dont miss out the big events like East pakistan break up because of Ayub Khans use of the territory as a raw material colony

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  • Uza Syed
    May 17, 2012 - 5:06PM

    By passing history would mean, at least, some awareness and acknowledgement of its existence—– that’s why we just manufacture it according to our delusional and hallucinatory sense of our being as gods’s special children out here to make this world a “better” place for the rest of the bad bad wo/mankind to live a “better” life.

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  • May 17, 2012 - 5:24PM

    @Kaalchakra:

    your comments begins like this:
    Islam does not discriminate. So if we follow Islam, there will be no discrimination.
    Great so far. and then you go on:

    The only thing I don’t like about Ms Jalal is that I have heard she claims the real Quaids of Pakistan were (Edwina) Nehru and (Original Modi Gujrati) Patel. :(
    Does anyone know if that is true? I can’t believe any Pakistani would say such a thing, even imply it indirectly. It makes me very angry.

    Wow! you ‘HEARD’ someone saying Ms Jalal making a statement, you are not even sure whether this is true or not, and to what extent is it true (if it is), and the context in which the alleged statement was made. yet, without bothering to confirm from authentic sources you decided to pass a judgement and express anger.

    My advice: Please read more about Islam’s code of ethics and introspect yourself.
    Peace.

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  • Cautious
    May 17, 2012 - 6:32PM

    Pakistan’s ‘great paradox’ is that
    after being created for a minority,
    Pakistan has been unable to honour and
    safeguard its own minorities, Dr Jalal
    said.

    Pakistan isn’t unique – Israel comes to mind but even they treat their minorities better.

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  • kaalchakra
    May 17, 2012 - 6:56PM

    sana iqbal

    History is important. Some people say evil things about history. We all know about Edwina Nehru and Modi Patel. Some evil people have been saying that these two were the true Quaids of Pakistan! I am just trying to confirm from those who might know better. Please, explain (if you know these things) that that was not true. Of all the shocking things a Pakistani can hear, being told that Mr Jinnah was not the real Quaid e azam is the most painful. I am ready to hear the truth. Did these two evil men ask and fight for Pakistan?Recommend

  • Nazir Shah
    May 17, 2012 - 7:01PM

    I wish more people had the intellectual honesty which Dr. Ayesha Jalal has shown. Pakistanis would then be able to discern between lies and truths, fact and fiction, and, in effect, between right and wrong. History has been so distorted by Pakistanis to suit certain vested interests in the country that the common Pakistani is the most confused person on our planet. Religion, as Dr. Jalal hints, is a private matter and should be treated as one. The nation that was created for a minority has long forgotten how to treat its own minorities (by which I mean Ahmedis, not to mention the low-key communities of Hindus, Christians, etc.). On the other hand, the majority Hindu nation next door has not treated its minorities badly — when you consider they had four Muslim presidents, politicians/ministers and, the most ubiquitous of them all, Bollywood stars. Just ask them if they, as Muslims, would like to migrate to Pakistan. You will get an answer to your malaise.

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  • M
    May 17, 2012 - 8:14PM

    @Sana Iqbal:
    That Sardar Patel was instrumental in letting muslim dominated areas secede is an unspoken truth. He saw a larger good for India. The results are in plain sight. 60 years ago he foresaw the morass that Pakistan is in today 60 years ago. We Indians are blessed to have such visionary founding fathers.

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  • John B
    May 17, 2012 - 9:25PM

    @Kaalchakra

    Gandhi was an idealist and humanist. He saw good in all. Patel and Nehru and the rest of the congress block and the All India Muslim League faction were pragmatists and Jinnah was ambivalent-he saw autonomous state in federation of India whereas the other side saw Pakistan clearly.

    You can read about Nehru’s view on “Pakistan” and India in his own writing compiled in part in “Discovery of India” written long before the cry of Pakistan was heard. Nehru and Patel saw Pakistan and, one may say even Bangladesh in 1942 in the jail, while Jinnah was in London semi retired from politics.

    Pakistan was created as a buffer state by the British to prevent the Advancing communists and it was at that time an ideal situation for present day India. Without Pakistan, India is exposed on the western border from where all the conquerers once came. Despite Nehru’s interest in socialism he despised communism and he and Patel saw ideological conflicts between world powers on the western border.

    In short, Pakistan is necessary for Indian Union and Nehru and Patel who were scholars of world history saw it clearly and did not even blink on the thought of Pakistan.

    Same goes for Azad Kashmir.

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  • May 17, 2012 - 11:24PM

    Patrick french in his book Liberty or death called Nehru..The Western face of Gandhi. i never read this what mr/mrs kaalchakra wrote regarding Jalal. under the influence of centralism, congress leaders like nehru, pateel, gandhi and azad rejected cabinet mission plan . kanjidawarka das wrote about it and criticized his party leadership too. it was a plan based on decentralization and provincial autonomy. interestingly, our nationalists like ghaffar khan, g m syed and bazenjo too failed to support cabinet mission plan. yet Jinnah accepted it so u themselves decide who was wrong and who was right

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  • ashar
    May 17, 2012 - 11:32PM

    So much is being published in ET looks like pasting honey on the wall. An absurd article based on the remarks of an artificial and biased scholar so that the most unwanted debate of our time may take its course once again.

    We should equally respect all the leaders of Independence. What they did was the best according to vision and associations. At least they did not used cheap shots like the above so called scholar and the like who carry no rationale at all.

    You may skip my comments but read them at least and circulate them to the writers and reporters as an earnest advise to avoid being biased of highest order.

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  • May 18, 2012 - 12:01AM

    @ashar:
    what a neutrality. whenever you have no answer it is always good to pose neutrality as hide out. ET is becoming popular due to its progressive engagement with readers. others should follow it as it is a world of engagement and one way traffic is as bad as anything else. Aroosa Shaukat article is good and informative yet i cannot understand why mr ashar raised issue of neutrality here. i think this neutrality scam came from his pro congress mind set.

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  • Cynical
    May 18, 2012 - 12:34AM

    @John B

    Pragmatic and balanced view as always. Thanks.

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  • geeko
    May 18, 2012 - 5:34AM

    @John B:
    Coming up with slim fiction about an article which to be honest refutes historical distortion is quite a paradox, but a simple question : why would the British create a buffer state in the 40s against the Soviets when the Soviet Union only went in Afghanistan in the late 70s, which actually made Pakistan relevant in the whole conflict ? Did they predict Afghanistan’s fall ? Wouldn’t reveal you the fact that it was the USA and not the British which was in the Cold War, but a rapid awakening may be neurotically damaging.

    Concerning Pandit Nehru’s prediction about Pakistan, the only I ever read – not sure about its authenticity – was that Pakistan wouldn’t last more than 6 months… anyway, Aitzaz Ahsan’s The Indus Saga is an apt response to his Discovery of India.
    Apart from him, the only Indian politician who said something credible about Pakistan was Dr Ambedkar as far as I know, Patel not at all.

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  • Max
    May 18, 2012 - 6:40AM

    @John B. Thanks buddy.

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  • imposter
    May 18, 2012 - 7:24AM

    Dismantle Pakistan!

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