Pakistan: Need for a New Historiogrpahy and National Narratives

Muhammad Ali Jinnah

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This will probably be one of the many articles that I plan to write about the construction of contemporary Pakistani national identity. While I have many versions of theories of nation available to undertake this project, I have decided to focus primarily on the mainstream statist narrative that Pakistani media, the school system, and the foundational intellectuals rely on to  construct the narrative of Pakistan.

In this highly idealized and ideological narrative, Pakistan is posited as the terminal outcome of an elitist dream of separatism defined in difference and in conflict with the larger “Hindu” nationalism of India before partition. We have been telling this story to our children, showing its unfolding in well crafted historical TV shows and movies. As a result, the Pakistani national narrative has now streamlined itself as more or less a religious narrative of nationhood. In my humble opinion, unless Pakistan dismantles and restructures this psuedo-religious national narrative, it will continue to struggle as a nation perpetually in crisis.

There is a dire need for a new kind of historiography: a historiography that does not rely on usual clichés of a great leader fighting against the machinations of Hindus and the British to wrest a country for Indian Muslims. Those of us who have read the events and politics of the creation of Pakistan know, through textual analysis, that mr. Jinnah, until the very end, would have been happy if the British and Indian National Congress had agreed to a sort of federation in which the Muslims of India could have had parity at the federal level. It was the failure of this particular thrust of Jinnah’s struggle that ultimately resulted in the failure of his larger dream and creation of Pakistan as a less-than-perfect alternative. We need to seriously read and discuss this hidden aspect of the creation of Pakistan.

We also need to seriously question all those who assert that Pakistan was to be exclusively a Muslim nation: that was never what Jinnah had intended. In fact, the religious leaders–most of them–were opposed to the creation of Pakistan and did not lend their full support to Mr. Jinnah until the very end.

A critical historiography will highlight these aspects of the struggle for Pakistan and will also open space for imagining a more diverse, equal, and egalitarian Pakistan. A kind of Pakistan in which histories of minorities, women, and peasants are not whitewashed but foregrounded.

Our national narrative should also focus on the rapacious role of the zamindari system, the sardari system, and the destruction of our public sphere by the mullahs and their followers. We should have the courage to challenge all these sectors of political power that seek to present Pakistan in their own contorted and outdated vision of  national life. Unless Pakistan tells a story in which the people have the ultimate power and, Pakistan will remain the crisis state that it is so aptly dubbed by its friends and foes alike.

Most importantly our historians and writers need to stop valorizing the military and need to highlight the destructive role that the armed forces have played in keeping democracy in check and in maintaining the socio-economic status quo.

The stories that we tell our children should be about a more diverse and democratic Pakistan and not of a religiously defined nation perpetually in embrace with all the outdated and repressive forces in of our public sphere. All assertions of exclusive ideas of identity–may it be regional, political, or religious–must be challenged and questioned perpetually by the public intellectuals and the media.

A critical historiography, a democratic didactics, and a re-imagining of our past to create a vision of a better future would be a good start!

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