The quest for Pakistan’s lost identity

Published: February 8, 2015
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There is an ever-widening information gap among young people today which has resulted in an identity crisis. PHOTO: RASHID AJMERI/EXPRESS

There is an ever-widening information gap among young people today which has resulted in an identity crisis. PHOTO: RASHID AJMERI/EXPRESS

KARACHI: 

Any discourse on Pakistan’s national identity is inextricably linked with our notions of its history.

This was said during a conversation between veteran lawyer Aitzaz Ahsan and historian Hamida Khuhro on the third day of the sixth Karachi Literature Festival on Sunday. During the session, the significance of rewriting history to allow room for a more realistic portrayal of the country’s roots was the fulcrum of debate.

“The manner in which history is taught is deplorable,” said Ahsan. “Children are taught to trace the history of the subcontinent to the advent of Islam. However, they don’t have the basic knowledge about the civilisations that ruled Sindh before Muhammad bin Qasim conquered the province.”

According to Khuhro, there is an ever-widening information gap among young people today which has resulted in an identity crisis. “Unfortunately, they don’t realise it as they have been heavily influenced by glaring deficiencies in our education system,” she said.

Ahsan emphasised on the need to eliminate this identity crisis through a constructive debate. “For many years after Partition, little was known about Pakistan’s identity,” he said. “It was viewed as a recent breakaway from India, which did not have a history of its own. This would puzzle me as a young student and I delved deeper into the subject.”

According to Ahsan, his book, Indus Saga, which has recently been translated into Urdu under the title Sindh Sagar aur Qayam-e-Pakistan is a product of his discovery of Pakistan’s history and identity.

“I have tried to show that the identity of a person from the Indus region is fundamentally different from an Arab or an Indian,” he said. “In fact, the country’s diversity is its claim to unity.”

Ahsan also urged experts to challenge and eliminate myths about the subcontinent that have seeped into our history books. “More often than not, the notion of a conspiracy and superstition has overshadowed our notion of history,” he said. “We need to realise that wars weren’t lost because the so-called dark forces were against us.”

Khuhro voiced her concern over this trend and insisted that a cohesive solution should be sought. “At one point in time, people from the subcontinent were receptive to knowledge and education,” she said. “But after our encounter with British colonialism, we started rejecting everything that represents modernity.”

In order to counter this problem, Khuhro suggested that the internet could help people break away from superstition and rediscover their national identity. However, Ahsan insisted the medium would have no tangible effect on the status quo as long as senseless bans continue to be imposed on accessing websites.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 9th, 2015.

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Reader Comments (2)

  • Zafar
    Feb 9, 2015 - 6:10AM

    “I have tried to show that the identity of a person from the Indus region is fundamentally different from an Arab or an Indian,”

    The first one (Arab) is easy. But the second is impossible. Unless you bring in “Muslimness”. The history of the land and culture of pakistan is indistinguishable from the land and culture of north-western india. How could Jinnah whose grandfather was a Hindu rajput from Paneli have a separate historical culture. Or Iqbal whose ancestors where Kashmiri brahmins. The same people converted Islam over the last few centuries. That cannot mean different nation or culture, unless nation or culture = religion. That is why Pakistan had to become an Islamic state to become different from India. There is no other way out of the predicament.

    And Pakistan lost any local distinctiveness by adopting Urdu and ignoring the local languages (punjabi, sindhi, seraiki, brahui, pashto etc). After all Urdu is a language of the Ganga-Yamuna plains of India with no historical ties to the current land of Pakistan.

    Now, how about that for some honest history. Not feel good history. But just the unvarnished truth of the matter.Recommend

  • John B
    Feb 9, 2015 - 6:59AM

    @Zafar:
    Is it not funny, that the quest for PAK identity forum, tries to establish real history, yet cannot move away from the old spin yarn history!

    Your comment is the most comprehensive summary of PAK identity, and early history of people of PAK is India’s history, and PAK national history starts with the idea of estalishing a state for muslims of the region. From here on, there is no natural history but only the history of rationalization as to why separate state for Muslims and how it came about, and what was it failure and success.

    In a sense, the early history of Jews and Palestinians starts as one and the same, and diverge in narration but in the same land. And the same applies to People of Bengal india and east pakistan, start of as the same with India, picks up where PAK rationalization history starts, and then segregates from PAK narration when PAK writes its failure.

    Two generations of PAK went to school without a clear history of themselves and that is sad. Recommend

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