October Issue 2014
“Textbooks are ruined by nationalistic sentiments, because it results in the tinkering with history to make it more ‘palatable.’ … Misdemeanours of the past are erased and history is glorified. Heroes are created, while other nations are portrayed in a negative light. Such textbooks serve to promote a narrow frame of mind towards other nations.”
– Dr Mubarak Ali
Contrary to what many Pakistanis believe, or are taught to believe, history did not begin when Muhammad Bin Qasim invaded Sindh, in 712 A.D. Prior to the entry of ideology in the syllabus, students were taught about Buddhism, the Maurya dynasty and the Gandhara civilisation. Historian and professor Hamida Khuhro lamented the fact that, “No student can tell us that Pakistan was once part of the empires of Cyrus the Great, Darius of the Achaemenid dynasty and the Sasanian Empire. Hardly anyone would know that Ashoka also counted Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Punjab as part of his domain. The result of these omissions is disastrous on the minds of the youth of Pakistan. Instead of seeing themselves as heirs to many civilisations, they acquire a narrow, one-dimensional view of the world.”
Efforts to distort the history of the nation were underway even as Pakistan came into being. This is evident from an article written by Abdullah Qureshi, titled ‘Textbooks of History and the Need for Reform,’ published in the national newspapers just three days after independence. Qureshi argued that the best citizen of Pakistan would be well-versed in Islamic history. “His heart will be filled with love for Islam and Muslims, and he will not even think about treason. In my view, it is imperative that the history of Muslims be popularised as it will strengthen Pakistan,” he wrote. Qureshi further added that the history that was being taught to children in schools was based on propaganda spread by the British to appease the Hindus. In 1948, Pakistan’s first education minister, Fazlur Rehman, set up the Historical Society of Pakistan – only to rewrite the history of the new nation with a skewed nationalistic perspective.
While textbooks of science and language studies are less likely to influence a child’s worldview, those of history and social studies (a mixture of history, civics and geography) are supposed to be a child’s first step towards developing a social conscience. Professor Krishna Kumar, in his landmark book on the history of Partition, titled Prejudice and Pride: School Histories of the Freedom Struggle in India and Pakistan, noted that children are socialised into many legacies before they develop the capacity to make sense of the past. He says, “Representations of the past, dispersed by schools and the state media, ultimately serve as mental maps which guide large multitudes of people in shaping their response to present-day situations. Assimilation of this knowledge during childhood takes place through socialisation at home and formal learning at school.”
When Zulfikar Ali Bhutto came to power amidst political confusion in 1971, he promised to build a new Pakistan and to address the economic and political issues facing the country at the time. But the result was an over-emphasis on a ‘separate Pakistani identity’ and a new description of the enemy so as to unify the nation.
The ideological tilt in textbooks that we witness today, started after the war of 1965. India’s educational policy of 1968 and Pakistan’s education policy implemented in 1969 was the harbinger of things to come. Islamiat was made compulsory for all students (Muslim and non-Muslim alike) up to the 10th grade and lessons on Pakistan being an ‘ideological state’ were introduced for the first time. Following the debacle of 1971, textbooks were modified to rationalise the separation of East Pakistan as a ‘Hindu conspiracy.’ This obfuscation was intended to whitewash the atrocities perpetuated against the Bengalis by West Pakistan.
However, the rot truly set in during General Zia-ul-Haq’s regime, from 1977-1988. In the national education policy that was unveiled in February 1979, it was mentioned that, “when objectives change, the education policy has to be changed accordingly,” and that because “every Pakistani student is also a member of the Muslim Ummah, he is expected to further the cause of Islam in the world. Our foremost priority should be textbook reform. Teachers with solid ideological background and religious leanings should be recruited.” In 1981, the University Grants Commission issued a directive to prospective textbook authors “to demonstrate that the basis of Pakistan is not to be founded in racial, linguistic, or geographical factors, but, in the shared experience of a common religion. To guide students towards the ultimate goal of Pakistan – the creation of a completely ‘Islamised’ state.” As a result of this ideological onslaught, even books of science were ‘reformed.’ Specific chapters have been dedicated in physics, chemistry and biology textbooks to introducing young students to Muslim scientists. Most of these ‘Muslim scientists’ were a product of the Mu’tazila tradition in the medieval period – a fact that is not included in any of the introductions. According to Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy, “In the 1980s, the Islamabad-based Institute of Policy Studies, set up by members of the Jamaat-e-Islami, published books on how natural sciences can be taught according to ideology.”
In 1993, Pakistan’s foremost historian, Khursheed Kamal (K.K.) Aziz, published his groundbreaking work, The Murder of History. It was a surgical dissection of the lies and distortions being taught to Pakistani students in the name of history, in the textbooks written during 1960-1990. What K.K. Aziz found were factual errors in most of these books. But 21 years later, only two significant changes seem to have taken place in the realm of education. Provinces have been assigned the task of formulating their own textbooks according to the 18th Amendment and there are a growing number of private schools, particularly those following the Cambridge system, that use textbooks different from the ones used by public schools.
In 2010-2011, the Peace, Education and Development Foundation (PEAD) conducted an analysis of textbooks in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, from grades one to 10 in four subjects: English, Urdu, Deeniyat/Islamiat and Social Studies. They found that these textbooks glorified war, stereotyped non-Muslims and women (depicted as playing only supportive and subservient roles in the family) and contained one-sided narratives of historical events. A similar study published by the Punjab Textbook Board in March 2010 revealed the same worrying trends.
The ideological propaganda that plagues textbooks published in Pakistan has contributed to a confused state of mind among our youth. Thus, it is not surprising that according to a survey of educated youth by the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies, “a sizeable percentage of the surveyed population believed that religion should be the only source of law in Pakistan.” The British Council released a report in November 2009 titled, ‘Pakistan: The Next Generation,’ which also focused on issues pertinent to the youth of Pakistan. The report noted pronounced disillusionment with democracy among the youth. Only 10 per cent of the respondents had confidence in the national or local government, the courts and the police, and only 39 per cent had voted in the last election. In 2013, a similar British Council report mentioned that 38 per cent of the respondents expressed a desire for the implementation of Shariah as opposed to parliamentary democracy, with 29 per cent opting for the continuation of the democratic system.
Any effort to reform current textbooks should ideally cleanse the ideological waste material that the books have amassed over the last 67 years. This is a herculean task that will require great willpower on the part of the provincial governments. The inclusion of narrow-minded policies and petty ideological narratives in textbooks has resulted in the emergence of a confused, disillusioned and restless class of educated Pakistanis. Historians agree that the glorification of historical personalities in textbooks, without a proper context has resulted in the unyielding ‘hero-worship’ that can be seen among the supporters of various political parties. Lack of context is also one of the reasons why young people have been attracted to the concept of ‘Khilafah,’ despite the fact that the subcontinent (before the Mughal era) was never part of any global caliphate. Similarly, wars fought against India have been portrayed as victories (or a glorious defeat, in the case of 1971), which is far from the truth.
Pakistan desperately needs a new historical narrative, free of ahistoric theories. We need to look eastwards and learn about reforming textbooks from India, where the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) has published enlightening books for schoolchildren. We need to teach pluralism, women’s rights, respect for the rule of law and inculcate a democratic spirit in our future generations.
This article was originally published in Newsline’s October 2014 issue.
The writer is a freelance journalist based in Lahore. He writes on History, Political Economy and Literature. Follow him on Twitter