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Home > General > Questioning Pakistan’s history: Akbar Zaidi and I.A. Rehman

Questioning Pakistan’s history: Akbar Zaidi and I.A. Rehman

14 September 2015

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Dawn, September 5th, 2015

’History in Pakistan has been badly treated’

Maleeha Hamid Siddiqui

KARACHI: With Pakistan just two days away from observing Defence Day and marking the 50th anniversary of the 1965 war, historian and political economist Dr S. Akbar Zaidi dispelled ‘the victory myth’, saying that there can be no a bigger lie, as Pakistan lost terribly.

People are unaware of this fact because the history that is taught in Pakistan is from an ideological viewpoint, said Dr Zaidi during his thought-provoking lecture titled ‘Questioning Pakistan’s history’. “Students are not taught the history of the people of Pakistan rather it is focused on the making of Pakistan,” he said.

The event was organised by the Faculty of Social Sciences, Karachi University.

Dr Zaidi who also teaches history at the Institute of Business Administration, Karachi, began his lecture by raising a couple of questions: what is Pakistan’s history and is there a need to question Pakistan’s history. And when was Pakistan formed? Aug 14, 1947 or Aug 15, 1947? For him the fact we are still talking about historical events 68 years later that are apparently settled is interesting. “These events and questions have not been settled. They are constantly being reinterpreted, this is because history does not die, it keeps reliving by questioning facts and truths.”

Coming to the question when was Pakistan created, he said one obvious answer is it did so on Aug 14, 1947 but he read out an excerpt from a Pakistan Studies textbook in which it was claimed it came into being in 712AD when the Arabs came to Sindh and Multan. “This is utter rubbish!” he exclaimed, rejecting the textbook account. He said the first interaction with Muslims and Arabs occurred in Kerala in South India for trading purposes.

Some historians claim the genesis of Pakistan lie in the Delhi Sultanate or the Mughal Empire. He, however, reminded everyone that the India as we know today did not exist during the Mughal era. It was during the 19th century the concept of nation-state was formed. There are others who state Sir Syed Ahmed Khan laid the foundation for Pakistan. Dr Zaidi felt this statement was partially true, because Sir Syed always maintained that Muslims should get their rights but he had also said: “Hindus and Muslims are the two eyes of the beautiful bride that is Hindustan. Weakness of any of them will spoil the beauty of the bride.”

The 1940 Pakistan Resolution called for the recognition of Muslims within Hindustan and not for a separate entity, Dr Zaidi added.

Social history

He then led the debate towards the questions: “Is the history of Pakistan, a history of the people of Pakistan or is it the making of Pakistan?”As far as he knew everyone is taught a history that includes the Mughals, freedom movement, the Quaid-i-Azam leading the All India Muslim League etc but was completely unaware about the history of the Baloch and the Pakhtun. “I cannot understand Pakistan’s history without knowing the history of the Baloch, Pakhtun, Punjab, Shah Abdul Latif and his relationship with the land.”

He said he was ashamed as a Karachiite that he had been unaware of Sindh’s history. It was important to know about indigenous histories because the “issues we are confronted with, we would have a better understanding in dealing with them”. He gave the example of East Pakistan to illustrate this point. “East Pakistan has been erased from memory. The Bengalis of East Pakistan have been reduced to they were traitors, India interfered and East Pakistan decided to separate. But what about Pakistan Army’s role in its separation?”

According to Dr Zaidi, history in Pakistan has been badly treated due to several reasons. Students are forced to study history or Pakistan Studies as a compulsory subject and hence the focus is just to pass the exam and get over with it. It is focused on rulers and generals and not on the social history. He highlighted another important reason for history getting a step-motherly treatment, citing that it is a subject that is taken when a student is unable to get admission in other departments in universities.

A robust question and answer session followed the talk during which students and teachers wanted to know why they were being taught distorted version of history, why the contribution of religious minorities to cities such as Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar was not mentioned in their textbooks, why does one have to wear separate identities and how can identification crisis be resolved to make Pakistan into one nation.

Dr Zaidi responded to these queries, explaining that Parsis and Hindus contributed hugely in the educational development of Karachi and in a similar manner the Sikhs in Punjab. “History in Pakistan is taught from an ideological viewpoint. Pakistan needs to be seen as a geographical entity.”

Referring to the distorted history, he said: “With the celebration of the victory in the 1965 war round the corner, there can be no bigger lie that Pakistan won the war. We lost terribly in the 1965 war.”

He appealed to the attendees to read Shuja Nawaz’s book Crossed Swords that exposed the reality of the war.

As for wearing separate identities, he replied there was no need to do so. “I can be a Sindhi, Hindu and Pakistani simultaneously.” He added that the diversity of nations should be acknowledged, since nationalities could not be imposed on people.

o o o

Dawn, September 6th, 2015

The September war that was
I.A. Rehman

THE September 1965 war days were, to borrow from Dickens, the best of times (for the people of Pakistan) and the worst of times.

For 17 days in September 1965, the Pakistani nation achieved a unity of action and purpose it had not demonstrated before and has not displayed since.

The people of Lahore woke up on the morning of Sept 6, 1965, to realise that what they had been told could not happen had come to pass. Contrary to the authorities’ belief that India could not attack Pakistan across the international border, its troops had actually crossed Wagah and then driven up to Jallo and withdrawn a little, frightened by the lack of resistance.
Several questions were asked in the aftermath of the conflict.

Within no time the undefended city found defenders who wrote with their blood tales of matchless valour and commitment to protect the motherland. Names of Sarwar Shaheed, Aziz Bhatti Shaheed and Shafqat Baloch rose to the top in the people’s pantheon of heroes.

The list soon grew with the addition of more heroes — Sarfaraz Rafiqui Shaheed, Cecil Chaudhry, M.M. Alam — who shot down many planes in the air and on the ground.

The Lahore front was soon stabilised and quick victory was won in the Khem Karan sector. The Lahorites could not decide what they liked better — the spectacle of aerial dogfight in daytime or the roar of Rani (a heavy gun) at night.

Soon afterwards the tank battle at Chawinda in the Sialkot sector caught the people’s imagination. The battle was grim but the spirits were high. Poets offered soul-lifting lyrics and Noor Jahan led a galaxy of singers to inspire soldiers and citizens alike.

It was wonderful to be buoyed up by belief in the justness of the national cause and confidence in the state’s capacity to meet the challenge.

But the heady feeling of victory faded quickly and many in Pakistan realised they had gone through a poor patch in their history. The story of those days has been told so often. How the victory in the Rann of Kutch was exaggerated, how the situation in Kashmir after Sheikh Abdullah’s arrest was misread, how the plan of sending guerrillas there did not work out, how the thrust towards Akhnoor was thwarted, and how Ayub Khan lost his nerve when his tanks sank in the marshes. Eventually, the international intervention and ceasefire came as a relief.

The question as to who won the war has been answered many times over. But soon afterwards questions began being asked; why was intelligence about India’s troop movement ignored? Why was the theory of inviolability of international borders accepted? Why were soldiers provided with old maps? Why was faith pinned on ‘guerrillas’? And why was US support expected when it had consistently declared that its arms could not be used against India?

The aftermath of the September war was far from pleasant. The objectives of Operations Gibraltar and Grand Slam were not realised and Pakistan’s case on Kashmir suffered a setback. The number of Kashmiris who backed Pakistan declined and so did Islamabad’s ability to invoke the UN resolutions.

For reasons still largely obscure, Pakistan did not derive full advantage of the Tashkent Declaration, whose denunciation started a new phase of Moscow’s disenchantment with Pakistan and ultimately persuaded it to sign the Friendship Agreement with India, without which the East Pakistan war of 1971 might not have ended the way it did.

In 1965, Pakistan received wholesome support from China and a number of Muslim countries — Indonesia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and even Afghanistan. Malaysia fell out of line and Islamabad had to break off relations with it. Factors as yet unknown caused these countries’ support to Pakistan to wane considerably by the time Islamabad landed itself in the fatal crisis of 1970-71

The 1965 war did the Indian Muslim some good in the sense that many of them stopped looking at Pakistan for succour and accepted, as Mohammad Ali Jinnah had advised them in 1947, their responsibilities as citizens of India.

The battle of Chawinda, which filled most Pakistani hearts with pride while tanks wrestled with one another, failed to impress the experts later on. They said the ritual of daily clash of metal, with neither side showing skill and capacity to clinch the issue, did not merit mention along with the tank battles in Africa during the Second World War.

On Sept 6, President Ayub appealed to the people to fight in the name of religion. His campaign for keeping faith out of politics came to an end. It was left to the editor of a Dhaka daily, Zahoor Husain Chaudhry, to remind him,” the more you swear by religion the smaller will your state become”.

One consequence of the war was a belated inquiry as to who had pushed Pakistan over the precipice. The story that Ayub was led up the garden path by his advisers is belied by his statements on the days preceding Sept 6. However, he dropped Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto from the cabinet, and Kalabagh forced a battle on him. The result: Pakistan was never the same again.

Meanwhile, throughout the 17 days of the conflict the East Bengal people were isolated from Pakistan and they were feeling defenceless and abandoned. The theory that East Bengal’s defence lay in West Pakistan was finally buried in 1971. The war directly led to the emergence of the Six Points.


The above articles from Dawn are reproduced here for educational and non commercial use