Past Present: History they wrote– by Mubarak Ali

The following article was written by Dr. Mubarak Ali, our guest at Thinkers’ Forum USA meeting on March 25,2012. It is about writing the history of Pakistan. It was published in Dawn. It is a worth reading.

Twenty-three years past the independence of Pakistan, history writing has been rather disappointing. Official historians and textbook writers focus exclusively on and reiterate the Pakistan movement and there is no research on ancient India, the medieval period or the colonial era.

In the absence of any alternative school of history, grandiose national narratives come across as dull and boring. According to official history, partition not only divided the subcontinent into two separate countries but it also partitioned history. Consequently, ancient India is not a part of our historiography.

History writing in Pakistan is controlled by the bureaucrats and politicians who direct historians on how to write history which suits their interests and justifies their policies. It is in the interest of the state to use it to historicise the ideology of Pakistan. This task was faithfully accomplished by I.H. Qureshi in his two books Muslim Community in the Indian subcontinent and Ulema and Politics, in which he skillfully distorts events and adjusts them within the framework of the ideology of Pakistan. The next historian to follow him was S.M. Ikram, who traced the roots of two nations in medieval India.

Hence officially, the history of Pakistan begins from the Arab conquest of Sindh. According to this point of view Sindh became Bab-ul-Islam or the gateway to Islam. It linked our history with the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphates, alienating it from ancient Indian history. This interpretation creates a Muslim consciousness that seeks its identity outside India. However, the truth of history is quite different. Sindh became separate and independent as soon as the Abbasid caliphate declined and local dynasties replaced Arab rule. Arabs who settled in Sindh assimilated in the local culture and identified themselves as Sindhis.

Pakistan has rich cultural heritage and a glorious ancient past. The discovery of the Indus valley civilisation astonished and amazed the world of its achievements. Its important towns, Harappa and Mohenjodaro, located in Pakistan, boasted of the advanced and developed culture of this area unlike the Mesopotamian and Egyptian civilisations. Although there were no palaces here, the temples and tombs indicate that the common man was not exploited like in other civilisations across the world.

When the Aryans arrived in India, they initially settled in Punjab and the first veda was composed there. When they moved to the valleys of Ganges and Yamuna, Persians had already occupied the region. Alexander’s invasion and the Greek settlement produced the Gandhara culture. Scholars like Panini, the author of first Sanskrit grammar compilation and Kautillya, the author of Arthshastra emerged from Taxila’s university.

This was a part of the Mauryan Empire and witnessed the peaceful and non-violent policy of Ashoka who had converted to Buddhism but there was tolerance for other religions. Here’s a lesson that we could perhaps learn from our past.

From time to time, a number of invaders such as Kushans, Huns, Persian and Greeks came to India. Once they settled here they became Indians. Therefore, the Arab invasion of Sindh was also like other invasions and the Arabs eventually assimilated in the local culture. Therefore, the Arab conquest should be studied as a continuous historical process and not as an isolated incident.

In northern India, Turks, Afghans and the Mughals ruled for centuries and eventually integrated into the Indian culture. In the 1920s, when communalist feelings emerged, Hindu communalists called them foreigners. But on the other hand, nationalists regarded them as Indians and were proud of their heritage. Pakistani historians seem confused on how to treat this period with Akbar being a major issue for them, as I.H. Qureshi and other historians hold him solely responsible for the fall of the Mughal Empire.

We must understand that history is a continuous process and if continuity is broken, historical consciousness is damaged.

When writing history of Pakistan, it is important to note that history should not be influenced by religious beliefs since history has no religion. It is neutral in character. Secondly, the events happening in this part of the subcontinent should neither be ignored nor neglected but be accepted for their cultural and historical significance. We must also realise that our past is related to the Indian subcontinent and to the outside world.

Pakistan came into being in 1947 but our history existed before this which cannot be deleted. A shared history and culture not only broadens our minds but eliminates a narrow outlook of history. Just like we cannot delete the rule of the Sultans of Delhi and the Mughals, we should include ancient Indian past in our heritage.

Some intellectuals argue that Pakistan should link with Central Asia and break its historical affinity with India. These intellectuals fail to understand that sharing the same religious belief is not enough to be accepted by other cultures. There are tremendous differences between Pakistanis and Central Asians. We have to trace our roots in our own land and not outside of it. To rewrite the history of Pakistan, we must begin our history from the ancient period and link it to the present. This continuity would create a mature historical consciousness.

European countries are independent and sovereign but culturally they are unified. A contribution by a German philosopher, a British economist or a Dutch painter is regarded as European. South Asians can follow this model and culturally own one another. This would lead us to peace and prosperity.

5 thoughts on “Past Present: History they wrote– by Mubarak Ali

  1. The Myth of Golden Sparrow:
    (A Prologue to Shantay Khan: A biography of Air Marshal Abdul Rahim Khan, narrated by his brother Abdul Jabbar Khan and written by Mirza Iqbal Ashraf)

    The rose was destroyed and the thorn remained.
    The treasure was taken and the serpent left.
    It is better that one’s eye be fixed on spear-head
    Than that it should behold the face of an enemy.

    A Dream Land of the Europeans
    The subcontinent of India, the land of Indus civilization, and the fertile valleys of the two great rivers and their tributaries the mighty Indus and the legendary Ganges, has remained a region of attraction for many civilizations. Because of its geography there is hardly a region on this planet that has been attracted by the magnanimity of swarming influxes of innumerable groups, tribes, nations, and societies. Every new comer brought its own tradition and culture that, today, what we see as an Indo-Pak culture, is an amalgamation of religions and traditions of various societies, that have pounded this region during the past many millenniums. For the Aryans, who were the first to enter this subcontinent, it was a perfect land to establish a new civilization, which was so multivalent that whoever came into this region got adjusted into the land of mythical charm. The geography of the region, stretched from Kabul to Rangoon, has always been so hospitable and sophisticated, that societies of different religions, cultures, traditions and rules, have loved to live forever. Whoever came into India never went back except the British. In the beginning the British came to India as business entrepreneurs, but beguiled by the riches of India, gradually conquered and annexed it as a part of their empire. After a couple of centuries they left, sowing the seeds of differences and discords, impregnating factionalism and hate, not only between different beliefs, but also within the body of every single sect.
    For the Europeans, India was a land of dream, a “Golden Sparrow,” which was a difficult adventure to reach by crossing through the lands of civilized Babylonians and the Persians. However, Alexander the Great was the first European to break through the impasse of the Persian Empire. He reached the shores of the river Indus, but as his soldiers became home sick, his dream of entering into the land of Legendry Ganges remained unfulfilled. However, the great warrior played an invaluable role of transmitting knowledge of Greek science, medicine and philosophy into the Middle East and Indian subcontinent. The Greeks carried back to Europe knowledge of mathematics, astronomy, mysticism and the romance of Indian civilization, its magic of dance and music of the ripples of its streams and the roar of the flowing rivers.
    India has been invaded by many nations, most of them coming from the central Asia. The invaders were savages as well as civilized. Our ancestors came to the subcontinent with the most savage invaders known as the White Huns. The land and atmosphere of India impregnated a civilized way of life to these savage people who later on scattered all over the Indian mainland. But our ancestors remained settled in the north eastern part of India. With the advent of Islam they converted to Islam and lived peacefully under the Muslim rulers of Turkic origin and later on the Mughals of India. The Turkish rulers followed by the Mughals gave a new shape to Indian art and culture. It became the golden era of Indian history and was known to the Europeans, in wealth and art, as the richest place in the world. They would dream of it as the “Golden Sparrow” on the planet earth. The English poet John Milton of the Elizabethan era mentions the beauty and charm of “Shalimar Gardens of Lahore,” and the grandeur of the Indus and Ganges valleys.
    If the British like other many nations had settled and merged into the great civilization of India, there would never have been a partition. Since they intended to leave, it was a big problem for them as to whom they should hand over the country. They had conquerred from the Muslims and if they leave it belonged to the Muslims. They feared that the warrior Muslims settled in the valley of Indus and beyond could over run the whol region and a Muslim India was out of question for the British. Thus the partition was a must. The subcontinent of India, where love prevailed and every new coming group or nation would settle for ever, became a region of hate and enmity. The final blow came when in 1947, the British, while leaving India divided it unjustly by drawing unfair borderlines that, for the last six decades India and Pakistan are at war with each other. The division saw the worst nightmare of mass migration of people from one side to another, and millions being killed. People who lived together as neighbors, close members of same society and loved each other in spite of different faiths, customs and traditions, became deadly enemy of each other overnight. Muslim teachers, who were loved and respected by their non-Muslim students were killed by the same students and Hindu doctors who treated the people of their localities, irrespective of faith, color or cast, were butchered by those who were their patients. . . .

  2. I keep myself close to the sentiments of both countries, this is a valued article thanks

  3. Great Article. It raises some questions in my mind.
    Following paragraph:
    “Whoever came into India never went back except the British. In the beginning the British came to India as business entrepreneurs, but beguiled by the riches of India, gradually conquered and annexed it as a part of their empire. After a couple of centuries they left, sowing the seeds of differences and discords, impregnating factionalism and hate, not only between different beliefs, but also within the body of every single sect.”
    1- Were not these discords, fights, factionalism prevalent even before the British came? After all invader after invader came to this region and thus creating many races and sectors.
    2- Do you think British would have divided India even if Muslims did not wanted a separate Homeland ?

    3- It is not clear to me in the sentence below, who were our ancestors?
    ” Our ancestors came to the subcontinent with the most savage invaders known as the White Huns.”


    • (i) Differences are natural and intrinsically programed in human nature. Whereas bibically, the first two sons of Adam reflect the differences in human heart and mind, the historical man’s evolution is based on the survival of the fittest. In the subcontinent all the invaders conquering India within a short period were able to create a harmony amongst the masses, because they were to stay there for generations. Most importantly the Muslim entery followed by hosts and hosts of saints preaching a message of love and affinity played an important role. The overall impact of every new invaders after consolidating their postion, was to create a harmony of love and peace. But the British consolidated their rule through divide and rule, because they were not going to stay there for ever. When they left the venom of hate they had nurtured raised its head which is still present.
      (ii) British historians have now clearly accepted that initially the British had decided to leave India as a Confederation of 565 small and large states. Each state had its levies and United Congress strictly opposed it. If they had left India in this position there would have been greater chaos. I full believe that the British not only were supportive of Gandhi’s ideology of non-violence but propagated it fully, because they were afraid if a violent movement of freedom starts, just like that of 1857, they being weak after the world wars, would not have been able to control it. Imagine how much loss of life of the British civil and military staff could happen if a mutiny had arisen. They at the same time encouraged a Sarhadi Ghandi in the frontier so that the most dangerous warrior force from west and north may not interfere. Mahatma Gandhi’s movement helped them to withraw the British safely and step by step. History proves that both Muslim and Hindu leaders were being encouraged and supported for their demands of separate homeland. These points may or may not appear as historical facts, but this is the concept of the philosophy of history of the subcontinent.

      (iii) ”Our ancestors” i.e., Air Marshal Rahim Khan’s ancestors the Gurjars, who are now known as Gujars, came to the subcontinent with the most savage invaders known as the White Huns.

  4. Thanks.
    My understanding is that our ancestors were the local inhabitants, mostly Hindus, and they converted to Islam.

    I found following intersting information about” White Huns” in Columbia University website.

    “White Huns or Hephthalites (hĕf`thəlīts’), people of obscure origins, possibly of Tibetan or Turkish stock. They were called Ephthalites by the Greeks, and Hunas by the Indians. There is no definite evidence that they are related to the Huns. The White Huns were an agricultural people with a developed set of laws. They were first mentioned by the Chinese, who described them (A.D. 125) as living in Dzungaria. They displaced the Scythians and conquered Sogdiana and Khorasan before 425. They crossed (425) the Syr Darya (Jaxartes) River and invaded Persia. Held off at first by Bahram Gur, they later (483–85) succeeded in making Persia tributary. After a series of wars (503–13) they were driven out of Persia, permanently lost the offensive, and were finally (557) defeated by Khosru I. The White Huns also invaded India and succeeded in extending their domain to include the Ganges valley. They temporarily overthrew the Gupta empire but were eventually driven out of India in 528 by a Hindu coalition. Although in Persia they had little effect, in India the White Huns influenced society by altering the caste system and disrupting the hierarchy of the ruling families. Some of the White Huns remained in India as a distinct group.

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