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Teaching Pakistan Studies: a relook July 28, 2015

Posted by southasiamasala in : Guest authors, Pakistan , trackback

Maqsudul Hasan Nuri

Pakistan Studies is taught as a compulsory subject in schools, colleges and universities in Pakistan. However, teaching of the subject leaves much to be desired. It needs to transcend its present narrow unimaginative and stodgy content and to go beyond the narration of mere facts and events within a repetitive ideological framework. This is especially so if the aim is to build socially conscious, progressive and robust-minded Pakistani youth who are abreast with regional/global developments and needs.

Pakistan Studies, as a subject, cannot be studied in isolation. Pakistan’s recent and past history is inextricably linked with Britain, India, West Asia and Central Asia. Every nation has its own version of history, narratives and heroes to eulogize and romanticize. Although our perspectives and heroes may not be the same as perceived by our neighbours, understanding the counter-narratives offered by others would make us more empathetic to them.

Pakistanis would like their youth to have a healthy Islamic, nationalistic – yet cosmopolitan – outlook on life and other peoples. The aim should be to avoid inculcating the youth with undue ideological fervor, narcissism, paranoia and distrust of others, but to foster the healthy and positive nationalism needed for nation building, ideally based on basic human values, progressive outlook and live-and-let-live attitudes without bigotry and chauvinism.

Pakistan’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, was a progressive, sagacious and visionary leader who had the supreme interest of Muslims in undivided Indian subcontinent at heart; he strived to carve out legally a separate homeland for the downtrodden Muslims against forbidding odds. He envisioned a progressive Islamic welfare system based on principles of justice, harmony and freedom. During the freedom struggle, he sought the help and support of all Muslims belonging to all denominational persuasions, castes, creeds or communities. Even non-Muslims supported him in his struggle for independence; many notables who supported him were Christians, Parsis, Hindus, Ahmadis and others.

Ironically, many prominent people after independence who belonged to different communities have not been duly acknowledged for their services in textbooks, e.g., eminent jurists like Justices Cornelius and Rustam Kiyani are barely mentioned, nor the famous Nobel scientist Professor Abdus Salam, and others; Malala, another Nobel laureate, one hopes, does not suffer the same fate. Likewise, many non-Muslims in the armed forces who fought gallantly for their country and were decorated deserve special mention, unfortunately they are given short shrift. Many others who achieved laurels in sports (cricket, squash), music and literature and other fields are consigned to a state of oblivion. Likewise, those whose contribution was in the fields of education, health, or social welfare.

Failure to remember the nation’s history leads to loss of identity and national pride. An overemphasis on vague mentions of ideology, without signifying what it actually means makes it obfuscating and confusing. To illustrate a point: The present writer visited Jamia Millia in New Delhi a few years ago while invited for a conference and was pleasantly surprised to see different wings of the university buildings named after Muslim men of letters; Bab-e-MirTaqi Mir, Bab-e-Dagh and Bab-e-Ghalib. Pakistanis should be equally proud of this cultural heritage as the names are icons of Urdu literature.

Repetitive accounts of perennial Hindu-Muslim enmity and tussles indoctrinate youth towards paradigms of conflict and hatred that give the impression that they are perennial and unresolvable; of mutual coexistence and co-operation that is impossible; and of regional connectivity which is well nigh impossible or at best difficult. Pakistan Studies courses, instead of being boring, stodgy and repetitive could be taught with better illustrations, well researched profiles of national heroes and visits to places of historical and cultural sites. Good documentaries and plays on different regions and cultures would inspire youth and instill national pride. Also, field trips to historical and archaeological sites would make the subject more lively and entertaining. With a rich historical heritage Pakistan is heir to Persian, Buddhist and Indus Valley civilizations. New text books need to be written by competent and well-read historians that would encompass the varied strands of our legacy.

Another sorely-missed aspect in the Pakistan Studies syllabus is civic education and civic engagement in society. Good citizens need to be educated about their rights and responsibilities. These include e.g., possessing identity card, registration, right to vote, respect for traffic rules and other laws, queuing up as a habit, protecting the environment, demonstrating corporate responsibility, displaying inter-sect and inter-faith harmony, public sanitation and hygiene, respect for ecology and public property, and not the least, community participation through welfare and voluntary services. Also, problems of governance, poor economy, abysmal education standards, corruption, poor law and order, participation and accountability, which have cumulatively led to militancy and terrorism, need special focus. Pakistan Studies, therefore, should include civic studies in its syllabus.

Lying on the tri-junction of south, west and central Asia, Pakistan is essentially a South Asian country. It is a member of SAARC and faces issues of poverty, illiteracy, energy shortage, disaster management and environmental decay. It needs regional connectivity and good neighbourliness in order to alleviate these problems. The concept of mutual harmony bequeathed by Pakistan’s founding father was meant to nurture amicable relations with neighbours and the outside world. Nations have to live and interact with their neighbours, rather than indulging in victimhood, conspiracy theories and self-flagellation with occasional outbursts of hyper-nationalism and narcissism. A mature outlook would highlight the benefits of co-operation and collaboration as a ‘win-win’ strategy in societal, national and international issues. This warrants replacing the existing narrative of belligerence and conflict with one of mutual existence and building of ‘soft power.’

Most of neighbouring South Asian countries including Nepal, Sri Lanka and India are spending more on education than Pakistan as percentage of their GNP. As an illustration, Indonesia spends almost 8 per cent while Cuba, a country of 11 million, devotes nearly 10 per cent of GNP on education. In the light of this dismal situation, it is still appropriate to ask: What should be included in the Pakistan Studies syllabus; how best to teach the subject; and how it needs to be reconfigured with imagination and innovation so that it addresses the much neglected task of nation-building.

Pakistanis have immense potential that can be suitably tapped. War against militancy and terrorism demands an early overhauling of Pakistan Studies syllabi at all levels. This has to go along with emphasis on promoting education in general, the role accorded to teachers and the importance of social sciences and humanities. Today, the youth that form 60 per cent of Pakistan’s 185 million are a valuable asset; they have to be educated properly and thus looked after for posterity.

Dr Maqsudul Hasan Nuri is Adviser, Center for Policy Studies, COMSATS Institute of Information Technology, Islamabad, Pakistan.

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