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 responses to “Understanding Pakistan: Looking Behind to See Ahead”

  1. axiomatic says:

    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.

  2. Kruman says:

    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.

  3. Athar Osama says:

    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.

  4. faraz says:

    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.

  5. Pervaiz Munir Alvi says:

    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.

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