History lessons

By Zubeida Mustafa

“DO not follow in the footprints of your elders. Create your own footprints,” is what Dr Mubarak Ali would exhort his students when he began his academic career as a lecturer of history at the Sindh University (Hyderabad) in 1963.

Those words had a magical impact on the young men and women in his class, whose minds had been locked in the straitjacket of state-dictated historical narrative. Unlike many of his colleagues, he challenged the youth to think and explore the world of knowledge.

Unsurprisingly, Dr Mubarak Ali, basically a non-conformist, became persona non grata with those who control the academia. He had a chequered career, going from one institution to another in spite of his high qualifications, including a PhD from Ruhr University (Germany). After retirement from the Goethe Institute, Lahore, he continued to record ‘people’s history’ through his writings in the print media. Now he has launched his own YouTube channel on which his talks are uploaded periodically.

According to Dr Sahib, our history has been the history of the rulers and the ashrafia (elites) while the common man has been ignored. Students learn about the rulers and the ‘wars’ they always ‘won’. They are glorified exaggeratedly while the people’s perspective is never explained. This is why our society is so stratified and social justice noticeably missing.

Students learn about the rulers and the ‘wars’ they always ‘won’.

For Dr Mubarak Ali, it is the people who matter if a sense of ownership of their country has to be instilled in them and they are to be gelled into a nation. He describes himself as a people’s historian who writes history from below. He is spot on, for our history textbooks do not take into account the people’s point of view at all.

The fact is that much of what Dr Mubarak Ali has recorded in the last 50 years in his classroom lectures and his books as historical truths is not known to our youth. That is why history which is taught in practically every university with social sciences programmes in Pakistan has failed to make any impact on the mindset of the youth.

How have we arrived at this point? “We made a wrong start,” he observes, “Our initial policies laid a lot of stress on our faith and ideology. The Pathan tribesmen raided Kashmir when the maharaja had signed a standstill agreement with Pakistan. This raid was described as a jihad to give it a religious hue. This alienated India and the maharaja.”

He mentions how “the Basic Principles Committee in the constituent assembly adopted the Objectives Resolution making ideology a significant factor in our politics”. According to him, “at no stage in the freedom movement was Pakistan intended to be a theocratic state. This reversal of policy proved to be our undoing. India and Bangladesh have remained secular and have fared better than us. I cannot say where India will end up under the Modi government considering its pronounced tilt towards Hindutva.”

Dr Mubarak Ali also speaks of the establishment’s role in Pakistan’s politics. “Today it is the most powerful force in Pakistan’s political arena. But it rules from behind the scenes, allowing political parties to seemingly wield power. But in reality, the politicians have no power and they have not grown or learnt from their political experience. Hence their performance has been so discouraging being directed mainly at their own survival.”

Hs draws an interesting parallel between Pakistan today and the last days of the Holy Roman Empire when the military controlled politics. The figurehead emperor would be selected by the army and whoever bid the highest amount won the throne but no power. For centuries, money has been an integral part of politics.

Historians speak of four theories to explain the historical process. Dr Mubarak terms them as the ‘cycle’, ‘arrow’, ‘pendulum’ and ‘seesaw’, when events repeat themselves, follow a linear pattern, swing from one end to the other, and zigzag up and down. Pakistan’s history has followed all these patterns at different times creating uncertainty. In that case what does he think the future holds in store for Pakistan?

“I see it to be bleak. We need a new wise, dynamic and responsible leadership. From where will it come? None of the political parties have shown the acumen to produce good leaders given the reasons mentioned… . The educational institutions and the universities do not have the capability to give us national leaders. The good private universities only focus on management and business sciences. How will leaders be produced when the youth is not being taught philosophy and the social sciences? Finally, the spread of religiosity has ensured that we will continue to turn to the past and Pakistan will continue to fall. The country may continue but the nation will be splintered and may continue as islands of chaotic hopelessness.

Source: Dawn