- Talibanisation of Pakistan
- Schooled in sectarianism
- The dargah of Rehman Baba
- Talked to death
- ‘Very soon you may have the Indian Taliban’
Islamisation of Pakistani Social Studies Textbooks
By Yvette Claire Rosser
Publisher: Rupa & Co
Contrary to what professional historians might claim, there is really no such thing as an objective, unbiased and completely accurate writing of history. After all, not everything, even of significance, of what happened in the past can possibly be included in a text and history book writers have to pick and choose from past events that they deem fit be recorded. The very process of picking and choosing from the past is determined, among other factors, by the subjective biases of the history writer as well as his or her own social and institutional location. Then history writing is not simply about narrating the past but also involves a certain element of evaluating it. Here again this is strongly determined by the personal biases and preference of the individual historian.
The element of bias is greatly exacerbated when history textbooks are – as they are in almost every country today – commissioned by the state. The state wishes to mould its citizens in a particular way, to make them what it considers ‘good’ and ‘law-abiding’ citizens who have completely internalised the underlying logic and ideology of the state. The state, in its capacity as representative of a country’s ruling class, seeks to impose through state-sponsored history texts the hegemonic ideas of this class upon its citizenry. It is thus not surprising that such texts generally parrot the state-centric view of history that seeks to bestow legitimacy on the state and the country’s ruling class and ‘normalise’ their logic and world view.
This incisive critique of state-sponsored social science textbooks in Pakistan highlights the convoluted politics of historiography and what this means for the production of a ‘social commonsense’ for a state’s citizenry. Although Rosser does not say it in so many words, the current turbulent political scenario in Pakistan, in particular the rise of radical Islamist forces in the country, cannot be seen as inseparable from the narrow political agenda that the Pakistani state, ever since its formation, has consistently sought to pursue as is reflected in the social science textbooks that it has commissioned and through which it has sought to impose its own ideology on its people.
Rosser’s study focuses on the textbooks used in Pakistani schools for the compulsory subject called ‘Pakistan Studies’ which was introduced in the reign of the American-backed military dictator, General Zia ul-Haq, in the mid-1970s. Pakistan Studies replaced the teaching of history and geography and was moulded in such a fashion as to instil in students an undying and unquestioning loyalty to the official ‘ideology of Pakistan’ (called the nazariya-e-Pakistan in Urdu). This ideology, questioning which is considered a punishable crime in the country, is based on the far-fetched and completely bankrupt notion of the Muslims and Hindus of the pre-partition Indian subcontinent as constituting two homogeneous and wholly irreconcilable ‘nations’. (Incidentally, this is the same perverse logic that underlies radical Hindutva in India.) It claims that Muslims and Hindus have never been able to live amicably together, that they have always been opposed to each other, that they share nothing in common and that hence it was but natural that Pakistan should come into being for the sake of the Muslims of South Asia.
There are several defining and characteristic features of the Pakistani social science textbooks that Rosser examines. Firstly, as she notes, their extreme anti-Indianism. This is a reflection of the fact that the ‘Ideology of Pakistan’, indeed the very rationale for the creation and continued existence of the state of Pakistan, is premised on the notion of undying and perpetual hatred of and opposition to India. India thus comes to be presented as viscerally opposed to Pakistan and as constituting a mortal threat to its very existence. In this way a form of Pakistani nationalism is sought to be fostered through the texts that is hyper-chauvinistic and one that is based on a constant reinforcement of an almost crippling sense of being besieged by what is projected as an ‘evil’ neighbour.
Secondly, and linked to the anti-Indianism that pervades these texts, are the repeated negative and hostile references to the Hindus and their faith. Hinduism is portrayed and projected in wholly negative terms, as if lacking any appreciable elements at all. Its followers are presented in a similarly unflattering way: as allegedly mean and cruel and constantly scheming against Muslims and their faith. Hindus, like Muslims, thus come to be presented in strikingly stereotypical terms: the former as virulently hostile enemies and the latter as brave soldiers in the path of god. They are portrayed as two solid, monolithic blocs and as being without any internal differences whatsoever, of class, caste, gender, region, language, political orientation and ethnicity. The only identity that they are projected as possessing is that of religion which is presented in starkly reified terms that often have little resonance with empirical reality. In the process the diverse, often contradictory, interpretations, expressions and the lived realities of Islam and Hinduism in South Asia are completely ignored in favour of extreme literalist, ‘orthodox’ and textual understandings. ‘Popular’ religious traditions, such as certain forms of Sufism and Bhakti, that bring people of diverse communal backgrounds together, are totally ignored because they obviously stridently contradict the claims of the ‘two-nation’ theory.
Thirdly, the textbooks present Pakistani history as synonymous with the history of political conquests by successive Muslim rulers, starting with the Arab commander, Muhammad bin Qasim, in the mid-seventh century. All these invaders and rulers, so the books piously claim, were goaded by a powerful sense of religious mission to establish ‘Islamic’ rule in the region. This alleged religious aspiration of theirs is presented as having finally culminated in the creation of Pakistan in 1947. Contrary to what is popularly known about him, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the ideological founder of Pakistan, is presented as an ‘orthodox’ Muslim allegedly inspired by the vision of establishing an ‘Islamic’ state run by Muslim clerics – something which was not the case at all.
The fact that most of the Muslim rulers and conquerors that these texts lionise might actually have been inspired by less noble motives – to plunder or rule – is, of course, conveniently ignored. Religion – in this case Islam – thus comes to be seen and projected as the sole motor of history with other factors, such as power and economics, having at best only a minor role to play. The history of South Asia before Muhammad bin Qasim is hardly mentioned at all although it was in what is Pakistan today that the Indus Valley civilisation flourished, that the invading Aryans composed the Vedas and that Buddhism led to a great flourishing of various arts and sciences.
In other words, every effort is made in the textbooks to present Pakistan as an extension of ‘Muslim’ West Asia instead of a part of the Indic-dominated South Asia. Not surprisingly, as Rosser observes, the texts single out particular historical figures who are known for their battles against Hindu rulers as heroes, among these the most important being Muhammad bin Qasim, Mahmud Ghaznavi and Aurangzeb. Other Muslim rulers, most notably Akbar, who sought to reconcile Hindus and Muslims and promote a generous ecumenism, are either totally ignored or else reviled as alleged ‘enemies of Islam’. Furthermore, these figures, of both ‘heroes’ and ‘villains’, are isolated from their historical contexts, leading to biography turning into hagiography or demonology, as the case might be, in order to serve the agenda of the advocates of the ‘two-nation’ theory.
The same holds true in the texts’ depictions of certain key Muslim religious figures. Thus ‘orthodox’ ulema or Islamic clerics who stressed the claim of the inferiority of the Hindus and advised Muslim rulers to take harsh measures against them are hailed as heroes of Islam while others, including many Sufis, who sought to preach love and tolerance between Muslims and others and preached an ethical monotheism transcending narrowly inscribed boundaries of community, are conveniently left out or else branded as ‘un-Islamic’.
A fourth characteristic feature of these textbooks is their distinctly anti-democratic character. They purport to tell the story of the Muslims of South Asia from the point of view of Pakistan’s ruling elites. In the process history comes to be presented as simply a long list of battles and other ‘achievements’ (whether real or imaginary) of a long chain of Muslim rulers. ‘Ordinary’ people have no voice, being completely invisiblised in these texts. It is as if history is made only by rulers and that the histories of ‘ordinary’ people are not worth recording or commemorating. It would seem as if the writers of these books are wholly ignorant of new developments in writing ‘people’s’ or ‘subaltern’ histories.
The starkly elitist bias of the texts is also reflected in the fact that they almost completely ignore perspectives of ethnic groups other than Pakistan’s dominant Punjabi and Muhajir communities. This is hardly surprising since, as Rosser notes, most of these texts have been penned by authors who belong to these two communities. She writes that the absence of the perspectives and historical experiences of the numerically smaller ethnic and regional communities of Pakistan, such as the Balochis and Sindhis, also has serious implications for policymaking, for the demand for smaller provinces for regional peace in South Asia and equitable local development is not sufficiently appreciated and incorporated in national policies. This, Rosser comments, is reflected in the great "tension between official history manufactured in Islamabad and the historical perspectives of regional ethnic groups" (p. 4).
The anti-democratic thrust of these texts is also reflected in what Rosser describes as "a radically restrictive brand of Islamic exclusivism" that they project and propagate. The sort of Islam that these texts seek to promote is premised on the notion and dream of Muslim political hegemony and a deep-rooted sense of the innate inferiority of people of other faiths. This is – and this is important to note – just one version of Islam among many and one which Muslims who believe in an inclusive version of their faith would vehemently oppose. However, the texts present this, what Rosser calls ‘authoritarian’, ‘legalistic’ and ‘ritualistic’, brand of Islam as normative and defining, and completely reject alternate, competing, more democratic and humanistic interpretations of the faith (p. 9).
Rosser’s findings are of critical importance, particularly in the context of present developments in Pakistan which is witnessing the alarming growth of radical Islamist groups impelled by a version of Islam very similar to the one these texts uphold. Obviously, explanations of the growing threat of radical Islamism in Pakistan cannot ignore the crucial role of these texts which are compulsory reading for all Pakistani students thus playing a central role in moulding their minds and world views. The texts are also a reflection of, as well as a cause for, the pathetic state of social science research and discourse in present-day Pakistan.
Rosser’s Indian readers need not have much cause to be self-congratulatory, however. Although historiography in India is certainly more sophisticated in many senses than in Pakistan, a significant section of Indian history writers, particularly of the Hindutva brand, are no different from those Pakistani writers whose texts Rosser examines. Indeed they speak the same language of hatred and communal supremacy, propelling the same tired, debunked myth of Hindus and Muslims being perpetually at odds with each other. Likewise, they are both profoundly anti-democratic, having no space for the voices and aspirations of socially, culturally and economically oppressed groups upon whose enforced silence is premised the artifice of the ‘nation’ (‘Islamic’ or ‘Hindu’, as the case might be), whose sole representative ruling elites claim to be.
Archived from Communalism Combat, May 2009 Year 15 No.140, Taliban 1
In the name of God shall I sing
The One whose name higher than any other
He is the master of all masters
He is the king of all kings...
These lines belong to Rehman Baba. Annemarie Schimmel was a German scholar of South Asian Islam and its literatures who published (in 1996) a wonderful book, Glorious Poems from India and Pakistan: Islamic Lyrics of a Thousand Years (as translated from the original German text). The very last lyric there is a rather long poem translated by her from Pashto. What I have cited above are the opening lines of the lyric. They could well belong to Namdev or Meera but let that be. What you see above is a working translation by me just to give you a feel of Rehman Baba’s attitude. I hope some of Rehman Baba’s confidence comes across in spite of my admittedly inadequate rendering of the late Schimmel’s German rendering of the Pashto text. "If I sing in the lord’s name, my master, in fact the only master in the world, nobody can stop me for I do His wish" is what he is saying.
Rehman Baba’s full name was Abdurrahman Mohmand (sic). He was born in 1653, south of Peshawar, and died not far from his birthplace in 1711. His kabr became a pilgrimage centre in a manner of speaking. It is visited by thousands even now. Or was, shall we say? The Taliban has now destroyed the dargah on the grounds that women visit it and offer their prayers there.
Talking about the poem immediately preceding Baba’s poem, Schimmel speaks of the two-line verses employed there as a popular form not infrequently composed by women. The Taliban thinks that all this is non-Islamic. What they certify as non-Islamic is naturally also anti-Islamic. This form, called tappas, described by Schimmel as the most loved folk form in Pashto, was always musical. She has translated the tappas of Khushal Khan Khattak. Almost all folk forms of poetry are women-oriented in South Asia. So are they in the land of the Pakhtuns. Now these forms are threatened. Annemarie Schimmel is dead. Otherwise one wonders how she would have suffered the destruction of the culture and traditions of South Asian Islam. She was so fond of the area and its culture. There is a huge necropolis in a place called Thatta in Sindh. Her admirer once told me in Karachi that she had on one occasion said, perhaps semi-seriously, that she would like to be buried in that necropolis. Now, as I remember it, I feel that it is just as well that, if true, her wish was not fulfilled. For all one knows, the Taliban would have made it out of bounds for her.
Callous to tradition
It is extraordinary that South Asian Islam should have been so insensitive to its own cultural traditions. I suppose that this area has generally been so unmindful of its political and religious culture. A poet’s grave was destroyed in Gujarat. That was no Taliban’s doing. Then some Sri Rama Sena decided to announce that the Hindu culture was under threat. The how and why of it remained mysteriously under wraps. The Sena activists went berserk and Mangalore women were beaten up. All that is a familiar story. The Bamiyan Buddhas went down to the butshikans (iconoclasts) at Bamiyan in Afghanistan.
It was always a mystery when and how the South Asians lost their sense of history. There are perhaps no other people who are so callous to their own history. As if this wasn’t bad enough, they are now proclaiming a new version of history. A fellow called Mutalik is now telling me what Hindu culture is. Not just me, he is proclaiming it to all Hindus. He is an ignoramus. That would not have been a problem in itself. It is one because he has designed a pop Hinduism that seems to take Mutalik to be a modern-day Sankaracharya. He lays down what Hinduism is or, rather, should be. This Hinduism, it would seem, includes beating up women in the name of "our culture". It is perfectly in order or so the Vanar Sena has decided.
Rehman Baba, who has been lying there near Peshawar for 300 years, is now being told that he must pay the price for women praying at his dargah. The dargah must be devastated. And it was. The Taliban recorded yet another of its triumphs. Rehman Baba had almost rhetorically asked once: "Who but The God, powerful, can make the sun rise and set in the sky?" Today we can see that the sun has set. Rehman Baba’s grave is no longer there. In another few years people would not be able to show the place where the dargah existed.
Women are now out of the picture. It has been a convention of the South Asian Bhakti tradition that women were always a part of it. In one stroke the Taliban activists have destroyed a thousand-year tradition. Mutalik laid down for us what Hindu culture is. The Taliban have been doing this for a while now. They proclaim what Islam is or should be. The entire project is frightening. South Asian religious tradition was always democratic. The culture was cheerful and colourful here. A certain dry barrenness is taking over.
One is tempted to tell Mutalik and his ilk that religion and culture are surely threatened, except that it is endangered by them. In fact, we now have a double threat. One is the fundamentalists who cite the authority and texts to ban or destroy something. The other is the "pop religion" which decides the cultural mores for everyone, especially for women. In both cases it is an allegedly fundamentalist ignorance that is leading to violence. In this particular case, as I have stated, there is a systematic attack on South Asian Islamic practices. The dargahs, the music there, the multi-religious and multi-gender worshipping there were a major source of their popularity. And who would forget the music?
Bent on self-destruction
The near suicidal tendencies that obtain in fundamentalism are contributing to the destruction of this tradition. In May 2005 the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba was allegedly responsible for the destruction of the 14th century shrine of Saint Zainuddin Wali of Ashmuqam. There was an unsuccessful effort at destroying the shrine of a mystic of North Kashmir, Ahad Bab Sopore, and so on.
We seem to be on a self-destructive trip. This part of the world has had an unfortunate history of self-destruction. The greatest tragic epic of the world is the Mahabharata that is perhaps the first depiction of such self-destruction. This kind of self-ruination always brings in its wake a terrifying celebration. We are presently witness to that kind of perverse celebration. In a sense, destruction of these shrines or mosques is destruction of history. That all this should happen here and all these enthusiasts should not realise what they are doing is mind-boggling. Maybe cultures, in a suicidal mood, have no time or interest in history or religion and spirituality.
Maybe there is little use wailing over this. This destructive instinct seems to follow us everywhere. At the end of the Mahabharata, at the end of that monstrous destruction, the sage Vyasa has already voiced the futility of shouting against it. "I stand here, my hands raised, and shout. Nobody listens to me." Or that Pashto poet, Khattak, says unto god: "I call you. But you do not respond."
Are we living in the unresponsive times?
Courtesy: Economic & Political Weekly; www.epw.org.in
Archived from Communalism Combat, May 2009 Year 15 No.140, Taliban 2
Kabul: For several years President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan has been trying to negotiate and reconcile with supposedly moderate elements of the Taliban to end the insurgency. This approach has failed every time. Thus it is puzzling to many Afghans that President Obama has also been talking about negotiating with "moderates". Let’s hope that when the two men met in Washington this week (May 6), along with President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan, the idea of reaching out to the Islamic extremists was shelved once and for all.
After all, President Karzai’s efforts have simply revealed the weakness of the Afghan government and its international allies. Taliban spokesmen have repeatedly demanded unacceptable conditions for talks, including the departure of all foreign forces from Afghanistan and the establishment of Shariah law.
Indeed, shortly after Mr Obama raised the subject of reconciliation, the Taliban rejected his proposal, stating that there were no extremists or moderate groups within their ranks. On this point at least, the Taliban are right. Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, put it very clearly: "The Taliban were united under the leadership of Mullah Mohammad Omar. All the fighters follow and obey orders of one central command. The existence of moderates and extremist elements within the rank and file of Taliban is wishful thinking of the West and the Afghan government."
What can be the purpose of talks with the Taliban? These men deprive women of their rights, throw acid in the faces of schoolgirls, reject religious freedom and oppose constitutional democracy. They also threaten to kill any Afghans who have worked with western militaries and non-governmental groups or had other contact with foreigners.
Is it possible, as some have said, that the Taliban have mellowed since being toppled in 2001? Mohammed Ibrahim Hanafi, a top Taliban commander, answered that question in an interview in March with CNN: "Our law is still the same old law which was in place during our rule in Afghanistan."
The more President Karzai and his western allies talk about reconciliation, the further their public support will plummet. I returned to Afghanistan in 2001 after more than two decades in America and founded a manufacturing company with the intention of using part of its profits to help young women get an education. In the early days the discussions at our organisation’s meetings were dominated by talk of building schools and other big plans. Lately however the main topic has been the future of us women in Afghanistan under another Taliban regime. We know that there is not, and will never be, any "moderate Taliban". Extremists and ideologues do not compromise.
The atmosphere has been made worse by the president’s signing of a family law affecting Shiite Muslims that places restrictions on when a woman can leave her house and states the circumstances in which she is obliged to have sex with her husband. I was part of a group of civil society representatives who recently met with President Karzai to express our concerns about the law; he replied that he hadn’t known the full details when he signed it and promised to "fight for us" to have it amended. We’ll see. But his later statement that "there are no reconciliation processes" going on with the Taliban, which seems at odds with the facts, did not inspire much hope.
The family law and other governmental efforts to appease religious extremists are having one effect that reminds me of the aftermath of the Soviet invasion of 1979: Afghanistan is being drained of the people who would be most effective at putting it back together. It seems as if every group of Afghans that attends training programmes in the West now returns just a bit smaller. Last year the accountant and the top administrator of my factory left for the Netherlands with their families. My new accountant recently went to Islamabad, Pakistan, to meet with German embassy officials about a possible visa.
This is a far cry from the 1960s and ’70s when many Afghans, including my father and five of my uncles, studied abroad on scholarships but returned to work in the government or to start businesses and create jobs. That sense of nationalism has disappeared; unless we rediscover it, Afghanistan will become a failed state.
The only "reconciliation" strategy that is going to work is one between the Kabul government and the Afghan people. The key is making changes at the community level. Many local mullahs and citizens who have tolerated the Taliban in the past are open to working with a government that can protect them and help them find livelihoods. The government and its allies can best weaken the insurgency by better protecting the population, organising local citizens’ groups to cooperate on economic development and hiring more people from every part of the country into the growing Afghan army and police force.
This is the only way that the reconcilables will be separated from the irreconcilables. We need to understand where Afghanistan’s true moderates are to be found and not look for them in leadership positions of one of the most repressive organisations on earth.
Courtesy: The New York Times; www.nytimes.com
Archived from Communalism Combat, May 2009 Year 15 No.140, Taliban 3
Ahmed Rashid, one of the world’s foremost experts on the Taliban, has predicted that with the resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan there could very well be an Indian Taliban in the near future. Rashid exhorted India and Pakistan to resurrect their dialogue and cooperate in fighting terrorism and extremism together because if Pakistan fails to counter the sustained onslaught of the Taliban, New Delhi could be faced with a Taliban government as its neighbour.
"If you think infiltration into Kashmir is bad now, wait until the Taliban become your neighbour. Then you will see real infiltration not only into Kashmir but into India proper."
Rashid, who was speaking at the Woman’s National Democratic Club in Washington, DC, in a discussion and book signing of his most recent book, Descent into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia, under the aegis of the Asia Society, said, "In 2001 we expected after the US attack [in the aftermath of 9/11] that the Taliban, al-Qaeda, would be on the ropes, if not wiped out."
"Today we have the Taliban as a role model for an entire region. We have not only the Afghan Taliban, today we have the Pakistani Taliban, Central Asian and very soon you may have the Indian Taliban. You may have the Taliban stretching into the Caucasus and even into the Middle East," he told the gathering.
Rashid, who first wrote the seminal book on the Taliban, reiterated that "it has become a role model for extremism, it is backed financially by al-Qaeda and it is extremely dangerous. It is now controlling something like a quarter of Afghanistan and large tracts of northern Pakistan and they are now coming down into Punjab, and Pakistan is faced with a very, very serious threat."
The Pakistani military, he added, "unfortunately, even today, remains in a state of denial about the threat that it faces in the country. It remains in a state of denial over the Taliban who are encroaching in Pakistan with even more power and tactics. It remains in denial about the other extremist groups who’ve been active in other parts of Pakistan – in the south and the centre of the country. It also remains in denial of the desperate means that the military needs to be realigning itself on a much more modern counter-insurgency strategy than it has so far applied in its action with the Taliban."
Rashid said the situation in Pakistan "is very dire" and that currently "there is a fragmentation in the leadership. There is no demonstrated leadership, either being shown by the politicians or being shown by the army right now."
With regard to the Obama administration’s new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, particularly its regional approach, the Pakistani author and journalist argued, "The problem is all of the six neighbours have bilateral problems with each other and you cannot get them to agree on stabilising Afghanistan unless you initiate a diplomatic process to get them to talk to each other about their bilateral issues."
Rashid said it was a no-brainer that "the biggest problem here is India and Pakistan", both of whom "are unfortunately now involved in a deep rivalry in Afghanistan."
"I call Kabul the new Kashmir in a way," he said and noted that "Pakistan believes that the Indian presence in Afghanistan is undermining the western border of Pakistan and that the Afghan government is too close to India. There is a litany of complaints here. And, this is all being effected by the Americans, by the US military, and the Indian-Afghan alliance is part of a US plan to help destabilise Pakistan."
Rashid said, "This is the kind of conspiracy theory which is very prevalent in the military, the bureaucracy, in government circles, within the elite in Pakistan."
"I certainly don’t agree with that and Afghanistan is today a sovereign state and it has a right to have relations with every country in the world and no other country can dictate that you can’t have relations with so and so and so and so."
But, Rashid asserted that "at the same time, the Indians need to be much more flexible than they have been."
He acknowledged that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh "has been very patient so far with the kind of strings of bomb blasts that had happened in India even before Mumbai. Mumbai was perhaps the icing on the cake and perhaps with elections looming, the Congress government couldn’t really take it any more."
"Anyway, the net result has been a total breakdown in relations but I really think a start should be made in trying to get India and Pakistan to discuss Afghanistan and to put an end to this covert war that both sides are mounting from Afghanistan, or in Afghanistan, and the bad blood that exists between both countries that are threatened by the Taliban."
Rashid warned that if India doesn’t let Pakistan "off the hook here", and doesn’t help Pakistan out in this regard, India would be faced with two threats in the near future. India would be "faced with an Indian Taliban. We already have Indian Islamic extremist groups working in India and secondly, if Pakistan slides even further, India will be sharing a border with the Taliban. You will not be sharing a border with the Pakistan state. You will be sharing a border with a Pakistan North-West Frontier Province that has fallen to the Taliban and even parts of Punjab fallen to the Taliban and then what are you going to do?"
"There is a real need for India to assess its national security needs and to understand that it is threatened by this," Rashid said. "It may be, for someone living in Kolkata or someone living in Madras, it may be an existential threat. But it is very real and the kind of mayhem that was wreaked in Mumbai recently is an example of what some of these groups are capable of doing."
Archived from Communalism Combat, May 2009 Year 15 No.140, Taliban 4