Karachi Literature Festival: History lesson leaves many squirming in their seats

Published: February 17, 2013
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(From left to right) AG Noorani, J Ahmed, Andrey Demidov and Hamida Khuhro. PHOTO: EMA ANIS/ EXPRESS

(From left to right) AG Noorani, J Ahmed, Andrey Demidov and Hamida Khuhro. PHOTO: EMA ANIS/ EXPRESS

KARACHI: 

An emotive voice resonated in Room 007 of the Beach Luxury Hotel in Karachi on Saturday. “We were exploited by him!” said Indian constitutional expert and historian A G Noorani, when somebody mentioned Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. “We don’t know this because we’ve been taught not to question.”

The session titled ‘Does History Matter in Pakistan?’ held on day two of the fourth Karachi Literature Festival left many audience members squirming in their seats. Others made no effort to hide their frowns.

“The problem is that we aren’t ready to sacrifice the sacred cows,” thundered an aging Noorani, obviously upset by what he termed as the “exploitation of Indian Muslims at the hands of Jinnah.”

A lady from the audience stood up in a huff and called out, “This is Jinnah’s Pakistan, sir. And that’s the end of it.” A gentleman chimed in and said, “Spare the Quaid, please!”

“It isn’t just about the Quaid,” responded Noorani. He counted Jawaharlal Nehru, a central figure in Indian politics of the 20th century, and the much revered Mohandas Gandhi, among such “sacred cows”. Historian and academic Hamida Khuhro seemed to agree with Noorani, but with some caution. “Indeed, the Quaid himself was not a true democrat.” More frowns, more squirming, some angry whispers.  “The problem is that facts are hidden. The problem is that the truth is caged. There are things nobody can question, and so nobody can tell you exactly what happened in the past,” she said. “People get punished for asking certain questions. Hence, the closure of research is no surprise. Neither are unfounded beliefs.”

Having taught history in universities all over Sindh, Khuhro said she is very dissatisfied by the research which trickles down to classrooms. “There are just too many taboos. Teaching suffers because you have to be chary of ideologies all the time. The bigger problem is that Pakistan’s ideology is contested. It has not been defined properly, and yet it holds you prisoner.”  The panel, which included Khuhro, Noorani, and Russian diplomat Andrey Demidov, agreed with what Khuhro pointed out as a “rather skewed” approach to Pakistan’s history.

“The narrative of history which people buy is an example of ‘official historiography’ – a version of history written to favour those in power. In both India and Pakistan, the most popular version of history is of this kind,” said Noorani.  Having been posted to Pakistan only recently on a diplomatic assignment, Demidov finds the current scholarship on the country’s history lacking both detail and depth. “There is no shortage of books on the Partition. But what about Mohenjo Daro and Taxila?”

Being interested in the histories of various civilisations which left their mark on Pakistan’s soil, the diplomat is forced to refer to foreign scholarship. There are hardly any good historians in Pakistan who have researched the “glorious intermingling of the Greek and South Asian cultures which happened in Taxila in around 5 BCE” or the “impact of the Mughals – a people of art, beauty and philosophy.”

Published in The Express Tribune, February 17th, 2013.

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Reader Comments (27)

  • Zeeshan
    Feb 17, 2013 - 12:32PM

    Quiad-e-Azam exploited you since you said “we”? On behalf of whom were you speaking? Quiad-a-Azam spoke on behalf of Muslims which swept much of Muslim electorates in our journey to 1947. An Indian needs to remove his blind to see that. Condemning “official historiography” while constructing another monolithic version of history driven by one’s agenda is not far fetch from the version being condemned.

    “Demidov finds the current scholarship on the country’s history lacking both detail and depth. “There is no shortage of books on the Partition. But what about Mohenjo Daro and Taxila?”

    In the people’s history of Pakistan, the creation of their homeland and the long struggle for that freedom is far more important than Mohenjo Daros and Taxilas. Perhaps historians can spend their lives discovering those remnants for foreign diplomats untouched by the present and past of Pakistanis but spare us from your Mohenjo Daros, Indus Valleys and Taxilas.

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  • Zeeshan
    Feb 17, 2013 - 12:35PM

    Quiad-e-Azam exploited you since you said “we”? On behalf of whom were you speaking? Quiad-a-Azam spoke on behalf of Muslims who swept much of Muslim electorates in our journey to 1947. An Indian needs to remove his blind to see that. Condemning “official historiography” while constructing another monolithic version of history driven by one’s agenda is not far fetch from the version being condemned.

    “Demidov finds the current scholarship on the country’s history lacking both detail and depth. “There is no shortage of books on the Partition. But what about Mohenjo Daro and Taxila?”

    In the people’s history of Pakistan, the creation of their homeland and the long struggle for that freedom is far more important than Mohenjo Daros and Taxilas. Perhaps historians can spend their lives discovering those remnants for foreign diplomats untouched by the present and past of Pakistanis but spare us from your Mohenjo Daros, Indus Valleys and Taxilas.

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  • Indian
    Feb 17, 2013 - 1:09PM

    Congratulations to Pakistanis and to Express Tribune for being open minded… we all need to be more open minded about history whether Indians or Pakistanis…

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  • Arzoo
    Feb 17, 2013 - 1:15PM

    Those who do not know where they came from certainly cannot know where they are going. In my interactions I have found my fellow compatriots to be totally devoid of the spirit for questioning and research and totally unable to digest factual realities. Pakistanis would rather believe the historical fantasies as written by Nasim Hijazi (no disrespect meant to that great novelist) than well-researched and probed writings of Hector Bolitho or Stanley Wolpert. Of course writing objective history ourselves based on facts and figures is not our domain. Indians are ditto copies, and for a good reason: as history will tell you they are same people. Kudos to Mr. Noorani, Madam Khuhro, and Mr. Demidov to attempt to point this out to the distinguished gathering.

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  • Arzoo
    Feb 17, 2013 - 1:28PM

    But, there is Hope. A nation that has produced the likes of Iqbal, Faiz, Habib Jalib, and Sahir Ludhianwi cannot forever live in the ignominy of darkness:

    Isi Sabab Se Falak Ka Gila Nahi Karte
    Tere Faraq Mein Hum Dil Bura Nahi Karte
    Jo Tujh Se Ahd e Wafa Istiwar Rakhte Hain
    Ilaaj e Gardish e Lail o Nahaar Rakhte Hain
    (Faiz Ahmed Faiz)

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  • Khan Jr
    Feb 17, 2013 - 2:47PM

    @Zeeshan
    You have managed to overlook three important facts:
    1. It was a “the long struggle” for independence made in fact by the struggle of the Congress party – whose leaders went to jail for legnthy periods – that rid the subcontinent of the British and freedom from foreign subjugation. (BTW not one Muslim Leaguer went to jail during this period)
    2. In 2010 there were 179 million Muslims in India and 175 million Muslims in Pakistan. It be ones obvious that there are few million more Muslims in India than the proclaimed ‘homeland, of subcontinental Muslims.
    3. Jinnah wanted an India with confederated autonomus provinces with the centre in Delhi enjoying very limited powers (defence, foreign policy and currency). The Quaid himself expressed disappointment at gaining only, in his words a ‘moth eaten and truncated’.

    Lastly, a few hundred years hence whether national states exist or not, the histories of Mohenjadaro and Taxila will remain important as they relate to the unique history of humans and the progress of mankind.

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  • Hassan
    Feb 17, 2013 - 3:27PM

    People can have and infinite number of different opinions about a particular topic. What we must learn to do is respect them, even if we don’t agree with them. If someone thinks, Jinnah exploited us, we should listen to him at least. Then we can counter his statements if we don’t agree. The important thing is: Be able to digest other people’s opinions, and don’t get sentimental.

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  • Hassan
    Feb 17, 2013 - 3:30PM

    @Zeeshan You are wrong my friend. For us it is important. But in history, Taxila and Mohenjo Daro are far more important. The Indus valley civilization was one of the earliest civilizations of humans. They have far more importance in history terms than a country.

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  • Hassan
    Feb 17, 2013 - 3:32PM

    @Zeeshan You are wrong my friend. For us it is important. But in history, Taxila and Mohenjo Daro are far more important. The Indus valley civilization was one of the earliest civilizations of humans. What is more fascinating, the creation of an ordinary country, or one of the earliest civilizations of mankind? Every country in the world has its own huge story of independence or creation. But Indus valley civilization is something unique, something that the whole world is interested in. Open you mind.

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  • Waleed Khan
    Feb 17, 2013 - 3:34PM

    Obviously a feudal sindhi khouro would say that!

    Remember in what words did Zardari’s father remembers the Quaid?

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  • Aamna
    Feb 17, 2013 - 4:35PM

    Hahahah, that is something my uncle was also trying to feed into my mind that we have been taught history the wrong way. According to him, British Viceroy came to both Gandhi and Jinnah so as to take their opinion on who’s going to be India and Pakistan’s first Governor Generals. Gandhi aptly replied that there’s no harm if British Viceroy becomes their GG, meanwhile they planned to create their constituition. When Jinnah was approached, the dictator inside him arouse and he said that the nation wants him to be the GG of Pakistan.

    Bottomline, the above thing is also someone’s version of history too, if I am taught Quaid was an emotionally driven person who only had the love of power and was an agent called upon by the then feudals who had made a hypothetical Muslim League, to create a country where feudalism could prevail, which would’ve been impossible in United India, then how can I judge if that’s true or the history in my Pakistan Studies book is?
    I’d agree to that person who called out loud ”Spare the Quaid, please!”
    Besides Zeeshan’s right I mean a Pakistani student needs to learn the history of his country’s creation, feel the goosebumps and strive to become a better and intellectual citizen rather than trying to decipher God-knows-what on those pots found at Mohen jo Daro which may or may not be fruitful at all.

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  • Genesis
    Feb 17, 2013 - 5:17PM

    @Zeeshan:
    Anything which is not Arabic needs to be proscribed or banished.Fair enough and sanitised history.History starts in Pakistan with the invasion by Arabs.that is somewhere around the 7 century.Before that it is amnesia!

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  • Manju
    Feb 17, 2013 - 6:11PM

    Demidov finds –
    1. “There is no shortage of books on the Partition. But what about Mohenjo Daro and Taxila?”
    2. “glorious intermingling of the Greek and South Asian cultures which happened in Taxila in around 5 BCE” or the “impact of the Mughals – a people of art, beauty and philosophy.”

    Thank you Mr. Demidov… Finally, people are speaking out the actual history of Pakistan as land of untold history right from the very first cities on this planet.. The very first human civilization on this planet.. The very first human culture on this planet.. The very first scientific thoughts on this planet… This is the actual Pakistan which was hidden from today’s Pakistanis who don’t know anything beyond arab invaders of Indian subcontinent….

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  • Optimiz3r
    Feb 17, 2013 - 6:34PM

    She is jealous because Jinnah suspended her father Ayub khoro, Now this lady comes out from no where, and started criticizing Quaid… What else can we expect from her!Recommend

  • Bakhtawer Bilal
    Feb 17, 2013 - 6:42PM

    Despite the outright rejection of the experts, I must say we have come up a long way. I will call it progress. We are today able to discuss the sacred cows, albeit with caution. There was a time not so long ago, when this topic was completely prohibited. We are not there yet, but we have certainly matured a little.

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  • Manju
    Feb 17, 2013 - 7:18PM

    @Aamna:
    Besides Zeeshan’s right I mean a Pakistani student needs to learn the history of his country’s creation, feel the goosebumps and strive to become a better and intellectual citizen rather than trying to decipher God-knows-what on those pots found at Mohen jo Daro which may or may not be fruitful at all.
    History is not just to feel goosebumps about your nationality. But more than that “his-story” is actually meant for one to learn from the past what is not to be done to end up as a bad example to your next generation (which exactly is what has been and is being done in Pakistan)…
    By the way do you know the latest scientific research is actually tracing the origins of Harappa and Mohenjodaro (‘The Indus Valley Civilization’ = actual history of the land of Pakistan) to more than 15,000 years (which is before the last ‘Ice Age’)….
    Those pots by the way are invaluable heritage… Please respect your history…

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  • Manju
    Feb 17, 2013 - 7:32PM

    @Zeeshan:
    Pakistanis but spare us from your Mohenjo Daros, Indus Valleys and Taxilas.
    Do you know what happens eventually to a patient of Dementia or Amnesia? (forgetfulness in common man’s parlance).
    Ans: The patient eventually develops Delirium (Confusion) and as a symptom of it – delusions and hallucinations….
    Does the above sentence look familiar to you? If Pakistan were to be the name of a human being, its diagnosis now would be “Delirium secondary to Dementia” admitted in ICU barely alive on a Ventilator (= Dollar assistance from the likes of WHO & America)…. That is the reason why you need to recall and remember about Mohenjo Daros, Indus Valleys and Taxilas….

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  • talha rizvi
    Feb 17, 2013 - 7:45PM

    I advise Noorani saheb to go to India and say the same things about such peace-loving personalities like Narendra Modi and Bal Thakre.As for our Indian friends NO ONE except a few brainwashed Individuals denies our ancient history.My ancestors came from Iran to UP and later after Partition to karachi but I fully own the ancient Indus civilization and you will be happy to know that I have a great intersest in ancient hindu folklore.For me it is our culture,ancestral for those who converted from Hinduism and acquired for those who came from outside.NOT ARABS but mughals,persian and pathans.Even my Syed ancestors came via Iran and Although I’m a practising muslim I agree with you Guys.Our culture is not Arabic but INDO-PERSIAN(Synthesis of local traditions with PERSIAN and TURKISH traditions)

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  • talha rizvi
    Feb 17, 2013 - 7:51PM

    good

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  • C. M. Naim
    Feb 17, 2013 - 9:04PM

    Noorani lives in India, where he has written scathingly about Gandhi, Nehru, and many other ‘holy cows.’ In fact, he has also written much in praise of Jinnah in India. He is a lawyer and a scholar. People should read few hundred pages of his writings before jumping on him on the basis of a few sentences quoted in news report.

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  • Absar
    Feb 17, 2013 - 9:17PM

    Everyone has his version of history. India has always showed her dissent over the partition for clear and obvious reasons. Have a transparent survey in both countries, and I am ready to wager — which I don’t need to as what is apparent is apparent — the absolute majority in India will still show its remorse over the partition; whereas absolute majority in Pakistan will still express a keen approval of the partition.

    Now one may argue that, Pakistanis would favor partition because they are fed wrong version of the history. Who decides what is right or wrong? The people en masse. And they have decided already and have stuck to it for 6 decades plus.

    Ask the senior citizens in Pakistan who participated in practical migration and witnessed the blood and gore live. They will approve the partition still. They matter. Not Mr. AG Noorani’s version and reason.

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  • gp65
    Feb 18, 2013 - 8:25AM

    @Arzoo: Iqbal lived and died an Indian. Sahir Ludhianwi could have chosen to be Indian or Pakistani and he chose to be Indian. As for Faiz and Habib Jalib. Of course they were wonderful but did the nation honour them in their lifetimes?

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  • Mirza
    Feb 18, 2013 - 11:09AM

    We have changed our history. Iqbal has never used the word Pakistan and written “sare jhan se achha Hindostan humara”. In fact he never was in Muslim League. Even Jinnah was not in M. League till late. and always advocated Hindu Muslim Bhai Bhai.
    Those bashing FK for telling the truth should know that Muslim League was made to cooperate with the Brithis Raj and started with a meeting with viceroy by a delegate of feudal Nawab Khairul Mulk, Nawab Waqarul Mulk and Agha Khan. While I. N. Congress had a socialist program ML always had feudal outlook. This was the first of the three objectives of ML when founded:
    1. To inculcate among Muslims a feeling of loyalty to the Government and to disabuse their minds of mis-understandings and misconceptions out of it’s actions and intentions.
    It is not surprising that not a single ML leader ever went to jail during long Raj.

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  • Zeeshan
    Feb 18, 2013 - 2:20PM

    @gp65,

    Now you Indians want to reclaim Iqbal too? Iqbal was born and died as a Muslim and not as an Indian. He did not believe in India. He wanted a homeland for Muslims free from the Indian hegemony.

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  • Manju
    Feb 18, 2013 - 2:56PM

    @Absar:
    Ask the senior citizens in Pakistan who participated in practical migration and witnessed the blood and gore live. They will approve the partition still
    Brother, religion is not what led to blood bath during partition. Its partition based on religion which led to blood bath. And by the way has anyone bothered to tell you that equal if not more Hindus & Sikhs died at the time of partition… If you ask any ‘Senior citizen’ in India about blood bath during partition, they would give you mirror image of your thoughts…..
    And thank god partition happened and those who believed in the concept of a religion being equal to nationality left India to join Pakistan… And how bad has it been disapproved by history!!

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  • talha rizvi
    Feb 18, 2013 - 5:24PM

    let me tell something to all my Indian friends NOBODY except a few idiots deny the subcontinent’s shared heritage.You guys are absolutely right,our culture is not at all Arabic but Indo-persian(combination of local and Central asian traditions).I for one am a great fan of all periods of the Subcontinent’s history.

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  • Feb 20, 2013 - 5:04PM

    It would be unfair to characterize Noorani on the basis of these few lines. In India he is the staunchest defender of Jinnah. We must then also accept his criticism of the Quaid.

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