Pakistani textbooks controversy

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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 state and its ideologues have steadfastly refused to recognize the fact that these regions are not merely chunks of territory with different names but areas which were historically inhabited by peoples who had different languages and cultures, and even states of their own. This official and intellectual denial has, no doubt, contributed to the progressive deterioration of inter-group relations, weakened societies cohesiveness, and undermined the state's capacity to forge security and sustain development.
    • Ahmed, Feroz. Ethnicity and Politics in Pakistan, Oxford University Press: Karachi, 1998.
  • 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



  • "The 'recasting' of Pakistani history [has been] used to 'endow the nation with a historic destiny'."
    • Hoodbhoy, Pervez and Nayyar, A.H. “Rewriting the History of Pakistan,” in Khan, Asghar, (ed.), Islam, Politics, and the State, (Zed Press, 1985),


  • “...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


  • If it is not anti-Indianism, then in what other terms could we possibly render Pakistani-Muslim nationalism? [….] The 'ideology of Pakistan' as defined to students at every school and college in the country is nothing except anti-Indianism. In every walk of life in Pakistan--from academia to journalism, from sports to bureaucracy--a vast majority of people have been inculcated with fantastic anti-India notions. [….] Phrases like the "Hindu mentality" and "devious Indian psyche" are part of the daily military talk. [….] Anti-Indianism, in short, runs deep in Pakistani state and society. It is a state of mind that cannot be switched off […]. People have no other alternative frame of reference in which to define Pakistani nationalism.
  • Social studies textbooks in the Urdu language, printed by the government and used in government-run schools and institutions, fudge facts and indoctrinate students with a jaundiced worldview... The books … are [the] literary equivalent of hate speech. These books would not be out of place in any madrassah preparing the young for an early grave. ‘Hindu’ India and Britain are depicted as enemies while Saudi Arabia and the Muslim Ummah are extolled. The Pakistan Army and its ‘three decisive victories’ over India are mentioned liberally and are an example of how institutional attempt has been made to rewrite history. Words like ‘dark’, ‘ugly’ and ‘short’ are used to describe Hindus while Muslims are presented in glowing terms. Atrocities committed by Muslim invaders are glossed over while those by Hindu and Sikh invaders magnified. Invasions led by Muslims are justified as having been necessary for the expansion of Islam whereas Hindu- led invasions are depicted bleakly. Hindus are also reported as having colluded with the English to suppress the Muslims, according to these books. ‘Muslims have always helped the Hindus who have only returned the favour by massacring innocent Muslims,’ the textbook for Class IV makes plain on Page 85. ‘India is an enemy. Its designs are nefarious. We should receive military training so that we could fight our enemy,’ it suggests on Page 112. The propagation of the caste-system and of medieval practices such as satti (burning a widow on the husband's pyre) are used to illustrate the inferiority of Hindu culture.
    • “Murdering history amounts to state- sponsored terrorism”, that appeared on April 4, 2003 in The Friday Times, a newsweekly, in Lahore, Pakistan, Mohammad Shehzad, Shehzad, Mohammad.” Murdering history amounts to state-sponsored terrorism’, The Friday Times, Lahore, Pakistan: April 4, 2003.


  • Pakistan’s public education system has an important role in determining how successful we shall be in achieving the goal of a progressive, moderate and democratic Pakistan. A key requirement is that children must learn to understand and value this goal and cherish the values of truthfulness, honesty, responsibility, equality, justice, and peace that go with it. [….] However, a close analysis by a group of independent scholars shows that for over two decades the curricula and the officially mandated textbooks in these subjects have contained material that is directly contrary to the goals and values of a progressive, moderate and democratic Pakistan.
    • "The Subtle Subversion: The State of Curricula and Textbooks in Pakistan," compiled by A.H. Nayyar and Ahmed Salim,
  • Our analysis found that some of the most significant problems in the current curricula and textbooks are:
    • Inaccuracies of fact and omissions that serve to substantially distort the nature and significance of actual events in our history.
    • Insensitivity to the actually existing religious diversity of the nation
    • Incitement to militancy and violence, including encouragement of Jehad and Shahadat.
    • Perspectives that encourage prejudice, bigotry and discrimination towards fellow citizens, especially wo men and religious minorities, and other nations.
    • A glorification of war and the use of force
    • Omission of concepts, events and material that could encourage critical self-awareness among students.
    • Outdated and incoherent pedagogical practices that hinder the development of interest and insight among students.
    • "The Subtle Subversion: The State of Curricula and Textbooks in Pakistan," compiled by A.H. Nayyar and Ahmed Salim,
  • The books on Social Studies systematically misrepresent events that have happened over the past several decades of Pakistan’s history, including those which are within living memory of many people. This history is narrated with distortions and omissions. The causes, effects, and responsibility for key events are presented so as to leave a false understanding of our national experience. A large part of the history of this region is also simply omitted, making it difficult to properly interpret events, and narrowing the perspective that should be open to students. Worse, the material is presented in a way that encourages the student to marginalise and be hostile towards other social groups and people in the region.
    • "The Subtle Subversion: The State of Curricula and Textbooks in Pakistan," compiled by A.H. Nayyar and Ahmed Salim,
  • There is an undercurrent of exclusivist and divisive tendencies at work in the subject matter recommended for studies in the curriculum documents as well as in textbooks. Pakistani nationalism is repeatedly defined in a manner that is bound to exclude non- Muslim Pakistanis from either being Pakistani nationals or from even being good human beings. Much of this material would run counter to any efforts at national integration.
    • "The Subtle Subversion: The State of Curricula and Textbooks in Pakistan," compiled by A.H. Nayyar and Ahmed Salim,


  • 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.
  • For the past few decades in Pakistan, most educational reforms and curriculum policies have been politically and religiously driven, pedagogy being secondary. Denial and erasure are the primary tools of historiography as it is officially practiced in Pakistan. There is little room in the official historical narrative for questions or alternative points of view.
    • Y. Rosser, Islamization of Pakistani Social Studies Textbooks, 2003
  • In contrast, in Pakistan, during the years of General Zia-ul Haq's dictatorship, 1977-1988, textbooks were completely altered to promote fundamentalist Islamic perspectives glorifying worldwide jihad. There was no scope for the textbook boards in the provinces of (West) Pakistan to impact the narrative as it emanated exclusively from Islamabad. (5)
    • Y Rosser, Indoctrinating Minds: Politics of Education in Bangladesh. 2004


  • It appears that Pakistani public school textbooks were not written to serve the pedagogical imperatives of intellectual development and the inculcation of critical thinking. Rather, they were written to perpetually justify a divisive ideology of rupture which had to be continually reiterated in the construction of national memory.
  • 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)


  • The University Grants Commission (UGC) issued a directive in 1983 that textbook writers were To demonstrate that the basis of Pakistan is not to be founded in racial, linguistic, or geographical factors, but, rather, in the shared experience of a common religion. To get students to know and appreciate the Ideology of Pakistan, and to popularize it with slogans. To guide students towards the ultimate goal of Pakistan— the creation of a completely Islamized State.
    • University Grants Commission directive, Islamabad: Mutalliyah-i-Pakistan, Alama Iqbal Open University, 1983, p. xi.

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