Understanding Pakistan: Looking Behind to See Ahead

Posted on June 26, 2007
Filed Under >iFaqeer, History
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Over the last month or so I have been involved in a project that has been very edifying. But that is not the surprising part.

I could go on and on about the project and I will provide further information about the project in a minute. But here’s an excerpt form a recent post that there’s very little chance will not startle you. Read it and then decide whether the site Understanding Pakistan is worth a visit:

“At the time of their independence, with resources and destinies so interlinked with each other ( i.e. Pakistan’s dependence on India’s for its water, and India’s dependence on Pakistan’s raw material for its factories), much was dependent upon the goodwill between the two countries. Leaders on both sides made public statements that suggested that they expected nothing short of that. Some had, in the past, even suggested the possibility of a joint-defense pact between the two countries. However, in reality the relationship that emerged, as the ashes of the partition settled, was everything but cordial. This took leaders on both sides by surprise…”.

They had been colleagues in a heartfelt movement, if representing different threads in it, for decades up till that point. This something, I believe, that both Pakistanis and Indians (and, if you ask me, Bangladeshis) should sit down and think about.

“Most of us Pakistanis today”, says Dr. Athar Osama, the Coordinator and Editor of the Understanding Pakistan project, “are not only criminally apathetic to our present and future but also shamefully ignorant of our own past. The Understanding Pakistan Project aims to correct that by providing an online platform for systematic collective exploration, learning, and dissemination of the country’s history. Through the collective reading and writing of Pakistan’s history–and present–it is an attempt by us–the third generation of Pakistanis after the founders (our fore-fathers) and the second generation (our parents) and–to collectively try to find meaning and perspective on Pakistan.”

Each week, from June 4, until October 13, 2007, Understanding Pakistan will feature a series of historical and contemporary thought pieces aimed at exploring a particular period in Pakistan’s history. These will include an anchor piece to set the context of the week’s interaction, commentaries and critiques by a panel of regular contributors, and guest pieces featuring diverse perspectives of people who have been at the center of various events in the country’s history. In doing so, we hope to gradually build a comprehensive catalogue and archive of events and documents pertaining to Pakistan’s history and attract a civilized debate on issues that have confronted our country and have escaped resolution for over five decades now. It is only by deconstructing our past that we can hope to construct the future.

Understanding Pakistan also provides a great opportunity for those in the West to learn about a country that has been an enigma for the international community in recent times, and in a manner that is both substantive (or academic) and interactive (or personal)”, says Syed Asif Alam, the President of Association of Pakistani Professionals (AOPP) that supports the Understanding Pakistan Project.

Understanding Pakistan hopes that by learning about the challenges, successes, and misfortunes that have been a part of Pakistan’s history, both Pakistanis and others will learn to appreciate the complexity of the country’s past, acknowledge and build upon its diversity, and learn to navigate the future.

The most important objective, however, is to create an informed citizenry that looks at the multifarious issues confronting its own country and the world with an open and analytical mind and plays its own little part in dealing with these. Understanding Pakistan is an investigation into the life and times of a nation that has demonstrated a remarkable ability to not learn from its own past and has, therefore, often found itself on the wrong side of history and going against the currents of time. Pakistan’s accomplishments aside, political stability, democracy and good governance, law-and-order and internal security, international respectability, and human development are not ideas Pakistanis can be particularly proud about.

Only by better understanding our own past and avoiding the mistakes that we have made before, can we make a new beginning to build a more tolerant, just, and prosperous Pakistan. A Pakistan that really works for everybody not just a few of us.

This is precisely the kind of conversation–an honest and open conversation about our country’s history–that Pakistani establishment and the vested interests–the bureaucrats, the army, the politicians, and even the judiciary–does not want all of us to have. Over several decades these forces have attempted to not only restrict our access to this history (in the creation of the text book boards and the standardization of curriculum) but have also attempted to (and quite successfully so) re-engineered history. This makes it all the more important that we have this conversation now rather than later.

Understanding Pakistan invites all Pakistanis and interested international audiences to visit the website and experience the story of Pakistan’s roller coaster history spanning over 60 years. We promise you would be surprised, once in a while, and thrilled, most of the time. Find out for yourself by visiting Understanding Pakistan where the conversation is just getting started.

16 Comments on “Understanding Pakistan: Looking Behind to See Ahead”

  1. hakim says:
    June 26th, 2007 10:49 pm

    iFaqeer: I have been following Understanding Pakistan for the last few weeks and it is indeed a great effort. There is a lot of information to take in, but what appeals to me most is the idea that different perspectives can allow us to better understand our collective history.

    The blog allows for an open debate and once it is complete its value would lie in the diversity of opinions collected in such short a time.

    Keep up the good work!

  2. checker47 says:
    June 27th, 2007 12:08 am

    It might not be known to many. It was the action of India which made Pakistan to think about setting up its own industrial base.
    During the Korean war demand for Pakistani cotton from its western wing and jute from its then Eastern wing was in great demand
    bringing in foreign exchange. India was dependent on both these raw materials. British Pound and US dollar was devalued but Pakistan rightly did not devalue its currency because of the expected advantage. India applied pressure on Pakistan to devalue by banning trade with Pakistan, forcing Pakistan to set up its own manufacturing base to consume its own raw material. This was the time when the world’s largest Jute mill was established in then East Pakistan. At the same time cotton mills were set up in West Pakistan.
    Hence it can rightly be deduced that India never acted magnanimously when its interests were threatened. More so by injuring the interests of its neighbors.
    This action by India made both the countries compete with each other instead of complementing each other.

  3. Aqil Sajjad says:
    June 27th, 2007 3:58 am

    Very true checker47. It’s a bit ironic that while there is plenty of talk of open trade these days, it is not widely known that the two countries had fairly open borders for about two years. Since Pakistan totally lacked an industrial base, it was dependent on India even for basic consumer items. This dependence would probably have continued for quite some time if it weren’t for India’s move to cut trade links with Pakistan in 1949 when the latter decided not to devalue its currency.

    It is also surprising that while our Pak studies books are fairly “generous” when it comes to criticising India, they do not mention this very important event in our economic history. I guess it shows the lack of importance that we have been assigning to our economy.

  4. Mubarak says:
    June 27th, 2007 6:19 am

    It is heartening to know about this “Understanding Pakistan” project and am surprised that some of us really know that:

    “Over several decades these forces have attempted to not only restrict our access to this history (in the creation of the text book boards and the standardization of curriculum) but have also attempted to (and quite successfully so) re-engineered history. ”

    95% of our population do not know that our history is a re-engineered one. There indeed is a lot to know.

    Keep up the good work!!

  5. Kruman says:
    June 27th, 2007 6:29 am

    Pakistan was created by lawyers. It will be saved by the lawyers. History repeats itself.

  6. axiomatic says:
    June 27th, 2007 6:57 am

    Why is it so that all our history/Pak Studies text books stop at 1947? What happened after that? Why doesnt someone tell us how corrupt, incompetent rulers sold out the future generations of this country, along with most of its wealth? Is that a part of Understanding Pakistan? I hope it would be.

    Along with honoring heroes (unsung, most of them), Understanding Pakistan should also expose the traitors.

  7. Pervaiz Munir Alvi says:
    June 27th, 2007 9:27 am

    Understanding Pakistan Project (UPP) appears to be an interesting exercise. One hopes that this project accommodates ALL points of view originating from various Pakistani scholarships and is not used to promote just some particular views of choice. Also since there is no shortage of apposition to the ‘Idea of Pakistan’, is this project going to accommodate those points of view as well? If so then this project will end up as a debate on the ‘Idea of Pakistan’ and not on the strengths and short comings of Pakistan as a state and as a nation. So for Mr. Athar Osama appears to be the main person behind this project. Perhaps readers of ATP could be informed about the backgrounds and affiliations of Mr. Osama and other personalities involved with this project.

  8. faraz says:
    June 27th, 2007 10:25 am

    Well, the greatest stage of a good leadership is to turn followers into leaders. Quaid-e-Azam though a great leader himself not created other great leaders which could took his place.

    I don’t want to tun into specific but this weakness is very eminent in throughout muslim history.

    India is a great democracy because forefathers of India had a vision which our forefathers lacked. Quaid had not given last vice-roy governership of Pakistan, but Pakistan took 9 years to make its constitution and British Queen remained constitutional head of Pakistan.

  9. axiomatic says:
    June 27th, 2007 11:05 am

    Well, I have seen the website and it pretty much looks like an extension of Matric level Pak Studies textbook, with naming Khwaja Nazimuddin among ‘founding fathers’, (the term itself is american inspired).

    Soory to whoever is launching this project…not impressed. In its present form, wont fly!

  10. axiomatic says:
    June 27th, 2007 11:16 am

    Btw, Khwaja Nazimuddin is just one example, there are others as well. Do you, in your right mind, think that ‘all’ of these people (listed among founding fathers) worked ‘selflessly’, without a vested interest for creation of Pakistan?

    Moreover, the content and language is very docile to say the least. It appears yet another piece of daydreaming by patriots.

    Dont focus on what was, focus of what ought to have been.

  11. Pervaiz Munir Alvi says:
    June 27th, 2007 12:22 pm

    Today’s Pakistan consists of Parts of Punjab, Kashmir, Frontier, Balochistan and Sindh. That is Pakistan; a geographical entity. All of its citizens including those with families that migrated to Pakistan are full citizens of this country and must work hard for the betterment of it. That is my understanding of Pakistan. Project “Understanding Pakistan” is OK if it is not designed to create an other “History of Pakistan” suitable to a certain group.

  12. faraz says:
    June 27th, 2007 12:30 pm

    Well I agree with Pervaiz that we all are citizens of Pakistan and will remain Pakistani even if we live in USA or Europe.

    Debate on idea of Pakistan is very counter productive because we can no go back in time and fix things. Also India with its recent economic developments has no intention of taking back Pak with its problems.

    So Pakistan is a geagraphical entity and as all ppl live in Pakistan creates a “gene-pool” or race.

  13. June 27th, 2007 1:51 pm

    Thank you all for your comments, both critical and not-so-critical. I think, nobody would disagree with the fact that we are being taught a false engineered history in our schools and that there is a need to correct that. In responding to these comments, I will just make two quick points:

    First, to those who believe that reading about our history–i.e. Understanding Pakistan, really–is of no use, I would only re-iterate for following: You cannot hope to chart a future without understanding your past. Over the last few years of reading history, I’ve learnt that our problems are so severe and complex, that we don’t even properly understand them–what to talk of solving them. Anybody who claims the contrary is in denial or in wishful thinking.

    Second, with regards to projecting a particular viewpoint on Understanding Pakistan. We have no such desire. As you’ll see on the posts tonight–when we address the role of Islam in Pakistan–we look at both sides of the debate. Understanding Pakistan’s credo, if there is one, probably is “Read, and Decide for Yourself.” Unlike Pakistan’s rulers–for its 60-year old history–we do not believe that Pakistanis, given the opportunity, are incapable of thinking or deciding for themselves. We are open to all points of views as long as they’re relevant and are either published with appropriate disclaimers or backed by evidence. There are no “ideological frontiers” here.

    Understanding Pakistan is an attempt to write a truly collaborative Peoples’ History of Pakistan. The more you participate, the better it would be. If you can provide evidence in support of your arguments, you’re as much a writer as anybody else on UPP Panel. However, if we ever deviate from that course, we would welcome our readers to remind us of this promise and “keep us honest”.

    We encourage you to give this debate a chance. Visit often and enjoy the rollar coaster ride of Pakistan’s history.

    Athar Osama, Editor – Understanding Pakistan Project.

  14. Kruman says:
    June 27th, 2007 2:03 pm

    Here’s why the history books stop at 1947. If you criticize the role of generals you get tried for treason or get hounded out of the country, like Dr Ayesha. If you criticize judges you get tried for contempt of court. Criticizing the mullah earn you a fatwa of kufr.

    For our own good, we need to study our history since 47 and learn from our mistakes. Infact there should be a year dedicated to debates in schools where students take various issues and debate on them e.g. Role of the Army, The secession of east Pakistan, Unrest in Balochistan.

  15. axiomatic says:
    June 28th, 2007 8:23 am

    Athar Osama,

    I appreciate your response and will to improve the project. Let me tell you that the task you have chosen is anything but easy. You cannot rely on popular media and publications because the reiterate the same version that has been used to fool us about our history and leaders.

    You will have to take into account splinter views and radical thinkers. That will definitely involve discarding or at least questioning historical lies, that have been deeply imbedded in our national psyche.

    Questioning and rejecting such lies will definitely trigger uproar, even allegations of treason from powerful quarters. But then, there is always a price to pay for truth.

  16. Pervaiz Munir Alvi says:
    June 28th, 2007 10:42 am

    Dr. Athar Osama, editor Project “Understanding Pakistan” & pseudonym ‘axiomatic’.

    You both are saying that:

    ‘you been taught a false engineered history in your schools and that there is a need to correct that’….and;

    ‘history version that has been used to fool you about your history and leaders’…. and;

    ‘historical lies that have been deeply embedded in our national psyche’.

    These are some serious allegations that you need to substantiate, particularly those related to the pre-independence period. In my observation, each ethnic group of Pakistan would like to see a particular version of history more suitable to its own taste. Also history of post-independence period is still in making and there is plenty of evidential material that by itself will correct any historical falsehood. As a reader I am also interested to know the academic background and professional affiliations of Dr. Osama.

Have Your Say (Bol, magar piyar say)