History must not lie

By Shahid Javed Burki

EVER since gaining independence Pakistan has done a remarkable job of either ignoring its history or simply not telling the truth about it. The first is true for economic history, the second for the part of history that concerns the country`s political evolution.

In a well-known work Khursheed Kamal Aziz – or simply KK as he was known to his friends and admirers – wrote about the series of lies and distortions that crept into the writing of history. In , one of his last works, he confessed that he was also guilty of committing this crime. The Making of Pakistan

In the officially sponsored which for many years remained the definitive account of the founding of Pakistan as a separate state for the Muslim community of British India, Aziz gave greater prominence to Muslim nationalism as the reason for the creation of Pakistan than suggested by the facts.

This line of argument was pursued in a number of works by several other political historians who followed Aziz`s work. They identified religion as the motivating factor behind the movement for the creation of Pakistan. The question of why a segment of the Muslim population of British India came to believe that separation from the Indian mainland was the only way to protect their interests acquired importance in the writings on the founding of Pakistan. Increasingly, the answer came to be provided in religious terms.

This interpretation of history is not only wrong, it is also dangerous. What we are seeing now in terms of the rise of extremist Islam in the country can be attributed to this line of thinking. This approach to history has also resulted in casting `Hindu` India as the eternal enemy. I have advisedly put the word `Hindu` in quotation marks since India is not by any stretch of the imagination a Hindu state. It is a secular state that defines itself as such in the constitution it has followed carefully and dutifully. It is no doubt a Hindu-majority country but has permitted all religious communities to exercise their rights according to the law of the land. How to Win a Cosmic War

Distorting the Indian political entity has already done considerable mischief and has influenced Pakistan`s relations with its large neighbour. As Raza Aslan, the young Islamic Iranian-American scholar of some repute has emphasised in his recent book, , conflict based on ideologies can only be waged if the enemy can be defined as the `other` – an entity, political or otherwise, against which a struggle must be waged no matter what the cost.

These conflicts become dangerous, prolonged and unending when both sides take recourse to a higher being. This is what Al Qaeda has done globally and what various Islamic groups are doing in Pakistan at this time. For the first the Christians, Jews and what it calls the ‘crusaders’ constitute the `other`. For some of the Pakistani groups India has been cast in that role.

This approach has done an enormous amount of damage to Pakistan. As Raza Rumi recently wrote in a weekly newspaper devoting considerable space to K.K. Aziz`s work, the writing of history was brutalised during the Zia era. “Pakistan`s military-bureaucracy complex reinvented an ideological state based on a sectarian world view; history was an instrument propagating this ideology; and the jihad factories were flourishing. Jinnah`s Pakistan was irreversibly shattered and perhaps destroyed. For K.K. Aziz`s generation this was nothing short of betrayal.”

As I have written in several of my own works, the Pakistan movement may have used the idiom of Islam as a way of drawing mass support; it was not a movement for creating an Islamic entity but an attempt to secure a better economic future for the Muslims of British India. This is why there was a paradox in the way the movement achieved its ultimate objective – the creation of Pakistan.

The movement was led by a group of people who belonged to the Muslim minority areas of British India and who felt that their economic future would be threatened in a state in which the Hindu majority would rule. However, they created a state in the part of British India in which Muslims constituted a large majority and felt secure about their economic future even after the departure of the British from India. It was for this reason that Punjab and the Frontier were at best lukewarm to the idea of Pakistan. But once Pakistan came into being these two elements coalesced to define a view in which the economic betterment of the citizenry was the main goal to be pursued.

However, then Islamists under Gen Ziaul Haq entered the picture and began to distort the original idea of Pakistan. Mohammad Ali Jinnah`s famous words uttered as he was preparing to launch the new state of Pakistan – “You are free. You are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion, caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the state” – meant nothing to these ideologues. They got busy in rewriting the meaning of the idea of Pakistan. n

The inherent conflict between the two ideas of Pakistan remains unresolved. What is it that we want to create in what is now the second largest country in the Muslim world? Do we want a state ordered according to the `principles of Islam` whatever that term implies or to improve the economic and social circumstances of the country`s citizens? There is enough evidence around to suggest that it was the latter objective that was in the minds of the founders of the country. It is that objective that we need to follow.


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