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Archive for January, 2019

As the year 2019 begins and a ‘Naya Pakistan’ strides ahead on its journey to discard the old it is hoped that it will preserve the best of its past to inspire the new. You can learn about this incredible past by reading “Moenjodaro: Metropolis of the Indus Civilization”

There is no doubt that the custodians of the Naya Pakistan have inherited a country inflicted with many ills. Corruption, crime, debt, nepotism, poverty, and illiteracy have sometimes become bywords to describe Pakistan. But beyond these ills lies another Pakistan–a Pakistan that stands upon a spectacular heritage that deserves more attention than it has received by previous governments.

With its rich history and geographical location, Pakistan already owns a grand cultural legacy. Islam arrived in this region as early as the eighth century. This is three centuries before it spread in the other parts of the Indian subcontinent. Hence, this region was rich in the early Islamic attitude of following a pragmatic policy which resulted in blending Islam well with a heterogeneous South Asian culture. For a better understanding of that Islam you can read my essay here.

It was on the banks of Pakistan’s River Indus where one of the four ancient civilizations emerged and matured to an urban phase, represented by Moen jo Daro and Harappa. These cities, unlike their contemporaneous, Mesopotamian and Egyptian cities, lasted for 700 years (2600-1900 BCE) without war or violence. The Indus Civilization’s peaceful and nonviolent traits have survived in the later indigenous religions and philosophies of Buddhism, Jainism, Bhaktism, Sufism and Gandhism. Present day Pakistan’s socio-cultural temperament is shaped by the unique Sufi culture that evolved in the Indus region.

Also, unlike its west Asian Islamic neighbors, Pakistan had the advantage of drawing the best from its British legacy in the fields of education, law, sports and irrigation. These diverse influences have given Pakistan a heterogeneous, tolerant and resilient identity. This identity cannot be ignored and must be kept alive by gaining inspiration from the past. The most accommodating cultural policy so far was authored by Faiz Ahmad Faiz in 1972. It is encouraging to note that he addressed Pakistan as a pluralist society.

Pearl Buck said: “If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday.” But where a past is wrongly reconstructed and even at times erased from the books what could be done? One of the scholars refers to it as the ‘Murder of history’  , while others have blamed the history text books of telling blatant lies, The debate continues. But while an intellectually honest team of researchers and scholars sits down around the table to correct the previous record it is the responsibility of the scholars, historians, writers, public figures and administrators to promote an awareness and a love of history.

History can come from many sources, including a country’s land. Its mountains, rivers, valleys, waterfalls, vegetation and even its deserts reveal clues about its past. It needs to be highlighted for a whole new generation of aspiring writers and historians through books, lectures, tours, television and cinema–the most powerful medium of them all.

Pakistan’s mountains are not only covered with snow but they are also draped with history. Here are a few examples:

  • The Suleman mountain range in Balochistan with its peak Takht-e-Suleman (the throne of Solomon). Legend has it that this is where King Solomon climbed to see the subcontinent
  • Kirthar range whose mountain walls are engraved with hundreds of ancient images including those of the stupas and atish kadas (fire alters), these are telling us that once here lived Buddhists and the fire worshippers
  • There are stories floating around K2, the second highest mountain peak on Earth, second only to Everest, but more punishing to climb where many have failed . One of them, Greg Mortenson, ended up at the foot of the savage mountain to discover the profound hospitality of the village folks. He tells their story in “Three Cups of Tea.”
  • Not far from K2 is the Siwalik range, a human habitat since millions of years, where the remains of the hominoids Ramapithecus and Shivapithecus were discovered to help understand the human evolution.

Even the deserts of Pakistan, scarce in water, are rich in history.

  • Gedrosia, the one in Makran had been a challenge for great warriors like Cyrus and Alexander.
  • Thar in lower Sindh, where lived Marvi, a great folk heroine who defied a King. The fringes of these arid zones touching the seacoast were dotted with legendary emporiums. One of these was Bhanbhore where Sassui and Punhoon played their fates. Bhanbhore is also labeled ‘Gateway of Islam’ as it is identified with Debal, the first city of the subcontinent that Arab Muslims conquered.
  • In between the mountains and the deserts is the fertile plain of Punjab with the 5 tributaries of Indus, on the banks of one these thrived Harappa, another larger city of the Indus Civilization.

River Indus: A Historical Lifeline

The lifeline of the ancient and present-day Pakistan, however, is River Indus which runs through the north south length of the country, and yet, it is more than a water resource. Indus is the nurturer of a great civilization; a trade route since ancient times ; a boundary line of  the easternmost satrapy of Persia’s Achaemenid empire; the retreat point of Alexander the Great.

It is also the revered river mentioned in ancient Rig Veda and Pakistan’s Sufi poetry and its land had been a stronghold of Jainism and Buddhism, the most nonviolent religions.

Decades ago, Imran Khan, the current leader of Naya Pakistan, was lured by the beauty and might of Indus. Much before I came to know Imran Khan as a politician, I had known him through this book that he wrote on Indus. It is hoped that Khan is able to inspire others to write, advocate and promote the correct history of Pakistan.

 

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