How "The Murder of History" is Relevant Today - Eisha Shafqat

By and large, Pakistanis don’t understand why we are always villainized by the rest of the world. Each time an international media outlet presents us in a negative light we argue that we are simply “misunderstood.” And why wouldn’t we when all our history books paint us as heroes at our best and victims of colonial oppression and western strong-arming at our worst?

Even when we do recognize our failures - the Motorway incident got Pakistanis from the very tip of our nation down to our coast riled up and demanding governmental response - we fail to recognize the appropriate way to tackle them. Populistic propaganda and punitive action are our go-to, and unfortunately, this often comes at the cost of societal betterment. Because at the end of the day, if our behaviour is motivated by a desire to accumulate political privilege or to satiate hunger, we’re unlikely to achieve any real change.

Years ago, a writer by the name of Khursheed Kamal Aziz attempted to help bridge this gap of perception. In his book, “The Murder of History” he sought to separate fact from fiction, and reality from rose-tinted textbook propaganda. So troubling was this concept to the then ruling Zia regime that they raided his home, destroyed his research, and forced him to flee the country.

Exiled and disgraced, he pushed forward, eventually publishing a book that gained great acclaim among foreign historians and little to no recognition among his own countrymen. In his preface he writes:

“When the future historian sets out to contemplate the Pakistan of an age gone and look for the causes that brought it low, he might find in this book of mine one small candle whose quivering flame will light his path.”

Almost 4 decades later and with the current government’s Education Policy Framework determined to revolutionize the Pakistani education system, it is time to pull back the curtain.

When history is romanticized to the point of fiction it ceases to serve any purpose. If we cannot learn from the past then we are bound to repeat it.

Take, for example, the events of 1857 which our government-appointed textbooks refer to as “an attempt for the restoration of Muslims’ political power,” ignoring that this was in fact, a small scale mutiny that later turned into an insurrection as a handful of Muslim soldiers stood in opposition of a much larger, well-oiled, better-armed machine.

In another instance, they credit the 1971 separation of east and west Pakistan to “Hindus dominating trade and government positions” and “Hindu teachers poisoning the Bengalis against Pakistan.” The desire to ascribe blame to outside influences is an understandable one.

Yet, in a world where our country struggles to resolve internal conflicts with both the people of Kashmir and Balochistan perhaps it may serve us better to broaden our collective lens and admit the active role we played in the building unrest.

If the Bengalis were susceptible to separatist ideas, why was it so? If India militarily intervened in the war, why were they able to do so?

Consider perhaps the roles played by the misallocation of funds from east Pakistani jute sales, the west Pakistani monopoly on political power, and the imposition of a foreign language with the goal of cultural erasure for those on the other side of the fence as reasons that lead to a festering hostility.

Now apply this same metric to the political grandstanding today and the marginalization of both the Northern and Western parts of what remains of our country. If separatist ideologies grow out of continual political apathy and policies of otherization who is to blame?

Our social studies books don’t talk about the local culture of these areas, the roles their people have played in our nationalist struggle, the support they provided when we were all at war, or the accomplishments of their leaders. If the history books won’t provide this information, who will? The internet?

Just some of the top searches for ‘Balochistan leaders’ in Google at the time of writing this article include “Balochistan leaders burn Pakistan flag in Canada,” “Baloch Leaders Thanks Modi for Backing Their ‘Freedom’ Struggle,” and “Baloch Leader Bugti lauds India’s stand on Balochistan.”

The sheer volume of content linking their movement with India is enough to belittle the cause in the eyes of civilians across the country.

Across the world, international outlets and organizations speak on the mass graves the Hazara dig every year and the thousands of annual disappearances in Balochistan while our mainstream media remains silent on every front.

This stark contrast makes it easy to dismiss foreign sources as ‘enemies of the state.’ Meaning, until we can pull back the curtain locally, our people won’t listen. The Murder of History is unique because unlike equally impressive books such as Nationbuilding, Gender and War Crimes in South Asia, it’s authored by a Pakistani historian.

So, we’re left with two options. Either we change what is and push for a better future. Or we continue with the systems of propaganda, censorship, and erasure that have been passed down from one government to the next.

The latter is certainly easier. After all, you don’t really need to alleviate your people’s suffering; you just need to say you tried and blame them for being unreceptive. The politicians write the stories, the publishing houses mass produce it, government teachers who have no say in the curriculum teach it and the masses are left wondering why the rest of the world is so set on hating them.

When the only narrative you hear is the one that puts you on a pedestal and absolves you of all sin, why question it?


Author's Profile

Eisha Shafqat is an A2 student from BDC and currently on the national reserve parliamentary debating team. Also, she is the founder and editor-in-chief of her school’s first international relations magazine. In her free time, she enjoys reading up on local history and playing Scrabble.

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