Teaching Pakistani History / Teaching Pakistanis History

Join The Second Floor (T2F) for a panel discussion on contested histories featuring Akbar Zaidi, Sarah Ansari, Syed Jaffer Ahmed, Nasreen Afzal, and Zahra Sabri.

Pakistani history has been a contentious topic, especially in Pakistan, where different sets of narratives give differing accounts of what Pakistani history is, and hence, how one imagines Pakistan. Given the eventual partition of British India into two states, some historians have claimed that Pakistan was ‘created’ in 712 AD when an Arab invader came to an area which is now part of Pakistan. This event is incorrectly seen as the beginning of Muslim contact with what is now called South Asia, yet it supports one of the many official narratives of when Muslim ‘consciousness’ and identity were created in this region.

Teaching Pakistani History - Teaching Pakistanis History

Other competing narratives still in the official domain, look to the Delhi Sultanate, or the Mughal Empire, or events in the nineteenth century and 1857, crystallising into a separate Muslim identity, which inevitably led to the creation of Pakistan. The question, when was Pakistan ‘created’, is one which simply works around a Muslims-are-different-from-Hindus discourse, culminating in a separate homeland. As a consequence, ‘Pakistani’ history then ignores the history of the people who live in what was Pakistan prior to 1971 and what it is today. Mohenjo-Daro, Harappa, and the history of the people of Pakistan is dominated by a north Indian (largely Hindustani) Muslim history, and that too only of kings and their courts. Once politics began to dominate undivided India in the twentieth century, the Pakistan ‘freedom movement’ of course – and not the movement for independence from British colonialism for all Indian peoples – shaped this discourse more teleologically.

The problems of teaching history to Pakistanis by trained historians in Pakistan has given rise to a different set of issues. While some academics claim that the state of social sciences in Pakistan has been dismal, the state of History in Pakistan has been particularly so. Interestingly, some decades ago, some Pakistani historians were highly respected scholars doing archival research, but today, the absence of professional historians, with little research being done, and hence few conferences or seminars or academic journals, exacerbates the problem, with non-historians now teaching History. Moreover, since the propaganda of the Pakistan ‘ideology’ and the ‘freedom movement’ constitute what pass for History in/of Pakistan, teaching history is not considered a priority.


  • S Akbar Zaidi teaches Colonial History at Columbia University and is about to teach a course on Pakistan’s History at the IBA, University of Karachi next month.
  • Zahra Sabri is a doctoral candidate in South Asian History, and has taught at the Pakistan Study Centre, University of Karachi.


  • Sarah Ansari is Professor of History at Royal Holloway, University of London. Her research focuses on the parts of South Asia that today comprise Pakistan, in particular the province of Sindh. She has written on historical topics ranging from the British annexation of Sindh in 1843, the role of local religious leaders or Pirs during the colonial period, Partition and its aftermath, women in the 1950s, and citizenship and the state.
  • Syed Jaffar Ahmed is director of the Pakistan Study Centre, University of Karachi. He teaches Government and Politics in Pakistan, and has written on constitutional and political issues, as well as history and literature. One of his latest publications is Challenges of History Writing in South Asia, an edited volume in honour of Mubarak Ali.
  • Nasreen Afzal is Assistant Professor of General History, University of Karachi. Her research focuses on Sindh’s maritime trade history, and politics in Sindh during the colonial period. She edits the Journal of History and Social Sciences started recently by her department.

Date: Monday, 30th December, 2013
Time: 7:00 pm
Suggested Donation: Anything you like. Please support our vision of intellectual poverty alleviation by donating generously.
Venue: PeaceNiche | The Second Floor (T2F), 10-C, Sunset Lane 5, Phase 2 Extension, DHA, Karachi

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