In Pakistan in 1999, the “war-like” conflict in Kargil was a powerfully relevant ‘real-time’ example of my scholarly research, as I was interviewing Pakistani scholars, historians and government officials, concerning my PhD dissertation research- an investigation of political pressures on the writing of history textbooks. Traveling on the Diplomacy Bus during the ‘war’ in Kargil brought the issue of official governmental disinformation found in textbooks and the media into sharp focus. In the newspapers, the government repeatedly claimed that the mujahideen were not physically supported by Pakistan; that Kargil was occupied by indigenous Kashmiri freedom fighters, not Pakistanis or Afghanis or Arabs.
However, the presence of satellite television, the Internet, and newspapers, which are now more connected to international media sources, prevented the usual government propaganda mechanisms from keeping all the facts from all the people. No one in Pakistan really believed that the army was not involved. A quick read of any newspaper easily revealed the contradictory stance– in one column an official spokesman had stated categorically that the Pakistani Army was not involved in Kargil, whereas an article on the facing page had announced a general’s promotion describing him as “a hero of the war in Kargil”. Many Pakistanis were indeed troubled by such contradictions.
There was at least one short-lived positive impact of the Kargil crisis, where hundreds of young men lost their lives. In the aftermath, there was a dramatic outpouring of newspaper and magazine articles attempting to analyze the brinkmanship from various angles. This critical reflexivity at the popular level is a positive development, though some of the essays in Pakistani newspapers called for the military to take over the government in the wake of “Nawaz Shariff’s sell out to the imperialist Clinton”, soon after which, General Musharraf obliged. However, post Kargil, most of the discussions, at least in the English press, were more circumspect.
Many writers looked at the Kargil debacle through a lens of history, trying to understand the cause of Pakistan’s repeated military failures. Some of the observations made during and after the Kargil crisis, such as the “complete inadequacy of Pakistan’s international diplomacy”, are also cited in Pakistan Studies textbooks regarding India’s perceived manipulation of world opinion during the 71 war and Pakistan’s inability to counter it.
When the textbooks and the clerics cry conspiracy and the majority of the newspapers, particularly the Urdu press, misinform the people, the tendency for Pakistanis to feel betrayed and persecuted, victims of international “Paki-bashing” is not surprising. During the Bangladesh War, the newspapers in Pakistan told nothing of the violent military crackdown in Dhaka in March 1971, nor did they keep the people informed of the deteriorating strategic situation.
The role of the Mukti Bahini  was practically unknown, and when defeat finally came, it was a devastating and unexpected shock that could only be explained by Indira Gandhi’s lies and treachery. Her comment that she had “sunk the Two-Nation Theory in the Bay of Bengal” is quoted in Pakistani textbooks.
This nationalized attitude of denial and historical negationism also colored General Musharraf’s response to the leaking of the classified Hamoodur Rahman report, a study of the mistakes made by the Pakistani military in erstwhile East Pakistan. Hamood-ur Rahman, a Bengali who opted to stay in Pakistan, led the commission. The report was never officially released and due to its criticism of the Pakistani military establishment, all known copies were immediately withdrawn and it was locked away until August 14, 2000, Pakistan Independence Day, when parts of the report were somehow leaked to the Times of India. The publication of excerpts from the long suppressed Hamoodur Rahman Report caused a furor in Bangladesh since it mentioned generals by name and alluded to not only military incompetence, but rape and other crimes against civilians that the conquering Indian army chose not prosecute . Pakistanis, on the other hand, across the board, ignored the 30 year old report.
At a news conference in New York, on September 12, 1999, during the Millennium Summit at the UN, General Musharraf was asked about declassifying the Hamoodur Rahman Report and whether there would be trials as recommended. Musharraf replied, “Let’s forget the bitterness of the past and move forward [. . . .] Something happened 30 years ago. Why do we want to live in history? As a Pakistani, I would like to forget 1971.”
Historical Pakistani negationsim was also apparent during the expulsion of a Pakistani diplomat from Bangladesh in December 2000 for remarks he made at a seminar in Dhaka blaming the violence in 1971 on Bengalis and denying that genocide had been perpetrated by the Pakistani Army. His comments triggered angry street protests. Yet, in its official statement the Government of Pakistan did not mention why he was withdrawn, much less apologize. These confrontations bolstered the Awami League’s campaign during the 2001 elections in Bangladesh. The Pakistan government has always opposed the Awami League, the party that led to the breakup of the country. The Pakistani government regularly gives money to the election campaign of the opposition, the BNP (Bangladesh National Party).
Most Pakistanis still consider the creation of Bangladesh to have been a great loss, which it undoubtedly was, to the morale and economy of the western half of the country. The split up of Pakistan is attributed to Hindu conspiracies. In Pakistani textbooks, there is little mention of East Pakistan, much less Bangladesh. When it is mentioned, the religious devotion of the Bengalis is brought into question, not the negative impact of overly centralizing government decrees and a decade of military rule and twenty-four years of unequal economic investment, and especially the imposition of Urdu, a totally foreign language with a different script as the “official language” of East Pakistan. The language riots in the early fifties were what eventually led to the civil war, twenty years later.
Pakistan’s denial of responsibility allows Islamabad to continue deriding the needs of the provinces. A lack of historical reflectiveness is one reason that the central government and its agencies, and the all-pervasive Pakistani military, could easily dismiss bilateral declarations in Lahore and risk repeated military adventurism into both politics and geography. Alas, this malaise of blinkered nationalism that governments do not learn from history, is not limited to Pakistan.
At the height of the Kargil crisis, newspapers ran stories, which referred to the occupation of Kargil as “Pakistan’s revenge for 1971”. There has historically been a lack of information available to the citizens of Pakistan about the 65 War, when on September 6 Indian troops invaded Pakistani territory. There is even less documentation regarding the Bangladesh War of Independence, when 90 thousand Pakistani troops surrendered to the Indian army after only an eleven day offensive. Yet the civil war that resulted in the split-up of the nation remains Pakistan’s most potent symbol of loss and shame, evidenced by a headline that ran in June, 1999 in The News, critical of the government’s domestic policies, “Nawaz Shariff’s Policies are Turning Sindh into Another Bangladesh.” Several newspapers called “Kargil revenge for 1971”. Both the breakup of the nation in 1971 and India’s surprise attack on Lahore in 1965 are inadequately explained in popular discourse and in the official historical narrative. Wars in Pakistani parlance hang out of context in history—censored and edited from cumbersome associations with cause and effect.
This is particularly true of PTV news, which few in Pakistan actually take seriously. Unfortunately, the BBC, which many people watch and trust, is also slanted, but with more sophisticated assumptions of neutrality, therefore perhaps more insidious. For those without satellite dishes, the BBC is prerecorded and played each morning on a loop on the Stn network, so that the censors can pre-edit any undesirable segments of the broadcast.
On the morning of February 10, 2000, for example, I was watching the BBC broadcast on Stn at a friend’s flat in Karachi. A clip momentarily featuring the popular Indian film actor, Shah Rukh Khan, dancing and singing on top of a train, cut to a special report on A.H. Rahman and his artistic collaboration with Andrew Lloyd Webber. After about thirty seconds into the broadcast, suddenly the picture of A. H. Rahman was digitally distorted and some pop music began playing as the picture cut to landscape scenes. The second time that broadcast came around on the prerecorded loop, it was cut within seconds, digitalizing Shah Rukh Khan on the top of the train, substituted by those same scenes of Pakistani countryside and pop muzak. By the second viewing the censors were ready for the insidious reports about Indians beamed by the BBC to the general South Asian region.
I saw this type of meaningless censorship at work again in late April 2000, when the BBC ran a special report, also broadcast on the Stn loop, about Salman Rushdie’s return visit to India after a gap of twelve years. Less than a minute into the segment it was cut and once again, those scenes of Pakistani landscape accompanied by that annoying pop music replaced the programming. After about three minutes the BBC reporter suddenly reappeared, saying “and that’s the end of today’s broadcast.” Obviously the Stn and PTV censors fear the destabilization of Pakistani culture via the airwaves, especially when the program covers events in India–even when it is just a report from Bollywood. Most Pakistanis roll their eyes and shake their heads while watching BBC as a dancing Shah Rukh Khan comes into focus, and is suddenly digitalized. They were saved once again by their government’s watchful censors from India’s corrupting influence.
Writing history in the context of the fighting in Kargil, brings to mind an episode from the book by Akbar S. Ahmed, Jinnah, Pakistan and Islamic Identity: the Search for Saladin (Oxford University Press: 1997), in which he tells of a personal conversation with General Niazi, the General in charge of the Pakistani Army in Dhaka in 1971. According to Ahmed, Niazi claimed that he was planning to “cross into India and march up the Ganges and capture Delhi and thus link up with Pakistan.” Nazi added, “This will be the corridor that will link East with West Pakistan. It was a corridor that the Quaid-e-Azam demanded and I will obtain it by force of arms.” This farfetched reasoning could still be seen among those who were battling the Indian army in Kargil. In a June newspaper article published in The News, a commander of the Pakistani based muhajideen told the reporter that their plan was first to take “Kargil, then Srinagar, then march victorious into Delhi.”
My visit to Pakistan during the summer of 1999 was not only eventful, but also a living lesson in selective historical reasoning. Even as late as December 26, 2000, one of the more liberal of the Pakistani publishing houses, DAWN, wrote concerning the Indian ceasefire in Kashmir and the terrorist bombing attack on the Red Fort in Delhi, that though ”Guns have fallen silent in Siachen, the world’s highest battlefield, after 16 years of relentless firing between Indian and Pakistani troops, [. . .] Mujahideen groups, still deeply suspicious of New Delhi’s peace initiatives, have stepped up their armed campaign – stretching from the heart of the Indian capital to the heart of the matter, in Kashmir (emphasis mine).”
This article in DAWN, quotes George Fernandes as saying that “attacks by the Mujahideen on the Indian forces continue to be a major stumbling block in the thawing of relations between India and Pakistan, ‘since both the outfits, Harkat-ul-Ansar and Lashkar-i-Taiba, operate from Pakistani soil’.”
Dawn counters this Indian assertion of Pakistani complicity with a quote from Syed Ali Shah Gilani, a senior leader of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), who said in response to Fernandes’ statement concerning a foreign hand in Kashmir, “There are claims by the media and the government that people in Kashmir are tired of fighting – that they want peace. These attacks serve to remind all concerned that Kashmiris have little or no interest in the peace of the grave. There is no constituency for a cease-fire in Kashmir.
There is a struggle on for a just solution.” Gilani continued, “If there are people who have come here from elsewhere to wipe the tears of the suffering people of Kashmir, and they fight for us, we welcome them.” Dawn mentioned that six Indian soldiers, three civilians and “a freedom fighter were among those killed.”
According to the Pakistani interpretation, the Kashmiris do not want peace and they welcome foreign mercenaries. Naturally from this perspective, all mujahideen are freedom-fighters, not as New Delhi has labeled them, infiltrators and terrorists. Their former American benefactors have also reclassified them, changing their moniker 180 degrees, from mujahideen–freedom fighters against communist aggression–to nasty Muslim fanatics and terrorists.
When current events are subject to the vagaries of multiple interpretations, there is little wonder how their reinterpretation for use in historical narratives is also a process of modification and adaptation of events to fit the predetermined mold of Pakistani or Indian or American historiography. India and America have large minority populations whose histories and perspectives, and in the case of India’s minorities, their ‘feelings’ must be considered in the writing of the nation’s history. Although the manipulation of history is more obvious in Pakistani textbooks than is the norm in non-communist or democratic nations, it must be said that all countries color their past to suit the needs of their present.
In Islamabad and Lahore, during the summer of 1999, I interviewed several well-known scholars, representing various schools of thought. I sought them out to ask controversial questions, so that I could frame my critique of the textbooks in the context of comments made by Pakistanis themselves. A simple survey of the textbooks could tell how the government constructed Pakistani history. Comparing different editions through the decades could indicate, when the government decided to change the historical narrative to suit a particular dispensation. However, looking only at textbooks from the Textbook Boards and curriculum guides published by the Ministry of Education leaves out dissident, alternative perspectives and privileges the national paradigm, without considering how intellectuals and historians representing different orientations view the official version of history.
Hence, in my efforts to interview historians and Pakistani intellectuals from the provinces, interested in social sciences, I traveled to Sindh, Baluchistan, and NWFP for four months in 2000 and returned again in April 2001 for several months, conducting research for my PhD dissertation, “Curriculum as Destiny: Comparing Secondary Social Studies Textbooks in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh”.
The last time I was in Pakistani was in December 2004, to participate in a conference on Pakistani textbooks, sponsored by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute and organized by my colleagues and mentors, A.H. Nayyar and Ahmed Salim, authors of the groundbreaking investigation: ‘The Subtle Subversion: The State of Curricula and Textbooks in Pakistan”. I hope to go back to Pakistan one day soon to meet my friends and colleagues in Lahore and Islamabad and Sindh.
Revisions in the textbooks were “strongly encouraged” by the international community after 9/11, compelling the Pakistani government to tone down the jihadi rhetoric used in the textbooks. My dear friend Afrisiab Khattak, originally from Peshawar, but now living in Islamabad due to terrorist threats, wrote in an email in reply to my query about any post 9/11 changes in the textbooks, “as far as I know the content is pretty much the same. Our provincial government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (2008-13) made some effort for reform, but it was undone by the provincial government of Jamat-e-Islami and PTI.”
A.H. Nayyar recently informed me that the 2006 changes had been minimal, stressing there were very few beneficial results. His 2013 report Continuing Flaws in the New Curriculum and Textbooks After Reform, was a “study conducted for the Jinnah Institute, Islamabad”, but it still remains unpublished. Though, additional curriculum changes were supposedly made in 2013, the main theme or essential message of Pakistani textbooks continues to be anti-Indianness.
Nayyar wrote that one of the major problems with the textbooks is that they base Pakistan’s raison d’etre “on the religious identity, little realizing that defining a nation on the basis of one religious identity can cause alienation among Pakistanis of other faiths, thus negating the nation building process. It also entails hate-filled narration, distortion of history, lies, etc.” Nayyar cites the problem with the textbooks published under the new curriculum guides is that they still teach Islamic theology as part of the regular curriculum. Islamization is embedded in all textbooks of all subject areas. Nayyar points out that this is actually against the constitution of Pakistan, as it forces non-Muslims to learn about Islam in their social studies and language classes. He wrote, “The foremost problem with the textbooks is that they clearly violate the Constitution of the country by forcibly teaching Islamic studies to non-Muslim students.”
However, in my experience, while speaking to educationalists and those on textbook boards associated with the government of Pakistan, the psychology of the minority students is not considered. It is often said that those minorities, who only make up less than 2% of the population, could benefit from learning Islamic principles. On the other hand, Nayyar’s 2013 report writes that the textbooks still “have this problem again because the national Curriculum 2006 requires narration of history of the foundation of Pakistan in a way that forces textbook writers to end up with negative contents.” Narrating the history of Pakistan exclusively through the lens of the Two-Nation Theory inherently calls for the vilification of the Hindu-other.
Nayyar further wrote, “The problems with the curriculum and textbooks are a continuation of the past practices that were widely criticized, and were held responsible for the growth of narrow-mindedness and extremism among the youth in the society.” The social studies textbooks analyzed for my study at the turn of the millennia  have not changed substantially since the 1980’s and are still in use in most schools.
They are decidedly anti-democratic and inclined to dogmatic tirades and characterized by internal contradictions. The social studies curriculum in Pakistan, as both product and propagator of the “Ideology of Pakistan,” derives its legitimacy from a narrow set of directives. The Pakistani Studies textbooks authored during the eleven years of General Zia-ul-Haq’s military are filled with contradictions. Particularly enshrined in the narratives is a heavy dose of anti-Indianism with a guiding dictate of quasi-hysterical Hinduphobia.
In the minds of generations of Pakistanis, indoctrinated by the “Ideology of Pakistan” are lodged fragments of hatred and suspicion. The story manufactured to further Zia’s worldview is presented through a myopic lens of hyper-nationalism and the politicized use of Islam. According to Dr. Magsi, a Sindhi psychiatrist, “[When Civics classes teach negative values] the result is a xenophobic and paranoid acceptance of authoritarianism and the denial of cultural differences and regional ethnic identities.”
In the past decades, social studies textbooks in Pakistan have been used as locations to articulate the hatred that Pakistani policy makers have attempted to inculcate towards their Hindu neighbors. Vituperative animosities legitimize military and autocratic rule, nurturing a siege mentality. Pakistan Studies textbooks are an active site for negatively representing India and othering the Subcontinent’s Hindu past. Findings from my investigations into the social studies textbooks used in Pakistan show that anti-Indiaism remains at the very core of the narrative. See this quote from the Pakistani journalist, Najum Mushtaq,
“If it is not anti-Indianism, then in what other terms could we possibly render Pakistani-Muslim nationalism? [….] The ‘ideology of Pakistan’ as defined to students at every school and college in the country is nothing except anti-Indianism. In every walk of life in Pakistan–from academia to journalism, from sports to bureaucracy–a vast majority of people have been inculcated with fantastic anti-India notions. [….] Phrases like the “Hindu mentality” and “devious Indian psyche” are part of the daily military talk. [….] Anti-Indianism, in short, runs deep in Pakistani state and society. It is a state of mind that cannot be switched off […]. People have no other alternative frame of reference in which to define Pakistani nationalism.” 
When discussing General Zia’a lasting influence on the teaching of social studies in Pakistan, a principal at a woman’s college in Lahore told me a joke, which she said was well known among intellectuals in the country, “General Zia– May He Rest in Pieces.” Indeed, after his airplane exploded in the sky, the pieces of his body were never found, along with the American ambassador and several other top brass generals on board the fatal flight.
The casket in Zia’s mausoleum near the beautiful Faizl Mosque built with Saudi money in Islamabad, purportedly contains only his false teeth, jawbone, and eyeglasses. The remaining weight of his coffin is compensated with sandbags. There are, however, bits and pieces of Zia-ul Haq’s body-politic littered across the Pakistani psychological, educational, political, and military landscape. Twenty-eight years after he was blown from the sky, those standardized hate-the-Hindu textbook narratives have been weaponized, pointing in an eastwardly direction.
- Bengali for “Freedom Army”
- Note: In mid May 2016, the Bangladeshi government, under Sheik Hassina and the Awami League finally hung one of the Jamat-e-Islami razakars who worked with the Pakistani Army to kill Bengalis in 1971. He was convicted of murder and hung 45 years after the crime. The razakars were not prosecuted under Khalida Zia’s administrations, because they were often part of her coalition government.
- “Islamization of Pakistani Social Studies Textbooks” RUPA, New Delhi, 2003.
- “Ideological Crossroads”, The New International: June 10, 2001, <http://www.jang-group.com/thenews/jun2001-daily/10-06-2001/oped/o3.htm>)
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