Pakistani textbooks controversy

Pakistani textbooks controversy relates to the reported inaccuracy of some Pakistani textbooks and the existence of historical revisionism in them. The content of Pakistan's official textbooks has often been criticized by several sources including many within Pakistan for sometimes promoting religious intolerance and Indophobia, leading to calls for curriculum reform.

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  • The message is clear and loud. The fortunes of the persons who rule the country and the contents of the textbooks run in tandem. When Ayub Khan was in power in 1969 and the Urdu book was published it was right and proper that the bulk of it should be in praise of him. When, in 1970, he was no longer on the scene and this English translation was published it was meet that the book should ignore him. All the books published during Zia's years of power followed this practice. The conclusion is inescapable: the students arc not taught contemporary history but an anthology of tributes to current rulers. The authors are not scholars or writers but courtiers.
  • “While education appears to make people less favourable toward terrorist groups, there is also a worrying increase in favourability toward these groups at the secondary school level. My analysis of Pakistan Studies textbooks helped explain why that is the case: The books set up a framework of the world in which Pakistan is viewed as the victim of conspiracies of both India and the West, and Pakistanis and Muslims are pitched in opposition to other countries and religions.”
    • Madiha Afzal in her book [ Pakistan under Siege:Extremism, Society, and the State] [1]
  • Secondly, the student is trained to accept historical mis-statements on the authority of the book. If education is a pre- paration for adult life, he learns first to accept without question, and later to make his own contribution to the creation of historical fallacies, and still later to perpetuate what he has learnt. In this way, ignorant authors are leading innocent students to hysterical conclusions. The process of the writers' mind provides excellent material for a manual on logical fallacies. Thirdly, the student is told nothing about the relationship between evidence and truth. The truth is what the book ordains and the teacher repeats. No source is cited. No proof is offered. No argument is presented. The authors play a dangerous game of winks and nods and faints and gestures with evidence. The art is taught well through precept and example. The student grows into a young man eager to deal in assumptions but inapt in handling inquiries. Those who become historians produce narratives patterned on the textbooks on which they were brought up. Fourthly, the student is compelled to face a galling situation in his later years when he comes to realize that what he had learnt at school and college was not the truth. Imagine a graduate of one of our best colleges at the start of his studies in history in a university in Europe. Every lecture he attends and every book he reads drive him mad with exasperation, anger and frustration. He makes several grim discoveries. Most of the "facts", interpretations and theories on which he had been fostered in Pakistan now turn out to have been a fata morgana, an extravaganza of fantasies and reveries, myths and visions, whims and utopias, chimeras and fantasies.
  • "...What he(Imran Khan) hinted at was that the “liberated” women who wanted more rights were “Western educated” and were responsible for the societal divide that his government would end by adopting a “uniform education system”. The obvious inference from his remark is that he would like to “merge” Urdu and English-medium education with the madrassas or the religious schools functioning in the country: He would be less able to prune the extremist religious-ideological material in the Urdu-medium-madrassa sector while expurgating the “liberal” aspect of the English-medium sector....Pakistan’s educational system has consistently opposed the “liberalism” that the growing middle class allows its children to imbibe in the English-medium sector. There was a time when Khan used to accuse his “modernised” opponents of “liberal fascism”. But no one ideologically inclined thinks of tackling the extremism nurtured by the Urdu-medium and madrassa sectors......Given Pakistan’s poor level of intellectual sophistication, the project of educational reform under Imran Khan runs the risk of becoming Boko Haram — which translates literally to “Western education is forbidden"...The uniformity of mind created in the state-sector schools is a kind of preparation for the final takeover by the pure madrassa stream — the utopia Pakistan aspires to. A majority of the suicide-bomber boys who did the dirty work of the Taliban came from the state-run schools. The madrassas, on the other hand, provided the warriors that waged cross-border jihad and at times, defied the patron-state itself. Today, Pakistan is simply not intellectually equipped to handle the problem it has posited to itself. The most locked mind in Pakistan is located inside the educational bureaucracy serving in the federal and provincial ministries....Pakistan is going through a withering process of isolationism, which is another word for turning inwards and showing hostility towards anything smelling of foreignness. Liberalism is under attack and liberal education is already not in favour even in the private sector stream where the financiers know it pays to create space for ideology and uniformity of the mind..."
    • Khaled Ahmed in [ ‘Turning inwards, Locking minds’,the print] May 9, 2020 [2]
  • The Progressive Papers had always been an anomaly in Pakistan, where the bulk of the post-Partition intelligentsia was not merely conformist, but engaged in a project to rewrite the history of the struggle for Indian independence in order to provide the new state with a raison d’être.
    • Ali, Tariq - Street fighting years, an autobiography of the sixties (2018)


  • To this day, the country’s memories about its treatment of its former east wing remain, as one leading Pakistani publication put it, shrouded in “a fog of confusion” or lost in “collective amnesia.” Although upper-level textbooks can be much better, many of Pakistan’s textbooks have whitewashed out the atrocities against Bengalis and falsely claimed that the United States wanted Pakistan divided.
    • Bass, G. J. (2014). The Blood telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a forgotten genocide. Epilogue



  • “...We will, hopefully by next year, introduce a core syllabus for all schools that will be mandatory for students apart from the additional subjects each institution chooses to teach. This is how you create a nation. This is how you end rival cultures from developing. The Aurat March that just happened… a different culture was visible in it. this is a cultural issue and this comes from the schooling system...”


  • But the worst effect of partition has been that 1947 has tended to produce two historiographies based on territorial differentiation. Comparing the works of Ahmad Ali entitled Culture of Pakistan with Richard Symond's The Making of Pakistan (London, 1950) on the one hand and Humayun Kabir's Indian Heritage and Abid Hussain's National Culture of India on the other, W. Cantwell Smith says that the Pakistani historian 'flees from Indian-ness, and would extra-territorialize even Mohenjodaro (linking the Indus-valley civilisation with Sumer and Elam) as well as the Taj (yet though left in India, the monuments and buildings of Agra and Delhi are entirely outside the Indian tradition and are an essential heritage and part of Pakistani culture, - p.205), and omits from consideration altogether quite major matters less easily disposed of (such as Asoka's reign, and the whole of East Pakistan) The Indians 'on the other hand seek for the meaning of Muslim culture within the complex of Indian 'unity in diversity' as an integral component.'27 So, after 1947, besides the 'objective' and 'apologist', 'Secular' and 'Communal' versions, there are the Pakistani and Indian versions of medieval Indian history.
    • K.S. Lal, The Legacy of Muslim Rule in India, with quote from: Philips, Historians of India, Pakistan and Ceylon
  • History, in the Pakistan school books I looked at, begins with Arabia and Islam. In the simpler texts, surveys of the Prophet and the first four caliphs and perhaps the Prophet's daughter are followed, with hardly a break, by lives of the poet Iqbal, Mr Jinnah, the political founder of Pakistan, and two or three "martyrs," soldiers or airmen who died in the holy wars against India in 1965 and 1971.
    • V.S.Naipaul, quoted in Ibn Warraq, Why I am not a Muslim. 1995. p 200


  • Bangladesh is a majority Muslim country, with a significant, if shrinking Hindu minority—about 25-30% at the time of Partition in 1947, and less than 9% in 2003. The textbooks in Bangladesh are not based on an anti-Indian bias as are state sponsored textbooks in Pakistan. The social studies curriculum in Pakistan is premised on creating a national identity that is distinct from India, whereas Bangladeshi textbooks reflect a more pan-South Asian perspective, though Bengal-centric.
    • Rosser, Yvette Claire (2003). Curriculum as Destiny: Forging National Identity in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh (Dissertation). University of Texas at Austin.


  • History of Pakistan: Past and Present, a typical textbook taught in Pakistan’s schools, begins the story of Pakistan with the “Advent of Islam”, giving exactly nine pages to “Pre-Islamic Civilization”, negatively presented as Jahiliya, an important Islamic concept and a name for all pre-Islamic period.
    • Ram Swarup, quoted from the preface by Ram Swarup in Gurbachan, S. T. S., & Swarup, R. (1991). Muslim League attack on Sikhs and Hindus in the Punjab 1947.

  • (The Pakistani historian) flees from Indian-ness, and would extra-territorialize even Mohenjodaro (linking the Indus-valley civilisation with Sumer and Elam) as well as the Taj (yet though left in India, the monuments and buildings of Agra and Delhi are entirely outside the Indian tradition and are an essential heritage and part of Pakistani culture, and omits from consideration altogether quite major matters less easily disposed of such as Asoka's reign, and the whole of East Pakistan).
    • W. Cantwell Smith, Historian of India, Pakistan, quoted in Lal, K. S. (2001). Historical essays. New Delhi: Radha.(102)

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