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Discovering history

Nobel Laureate Henry Kissinger made a humble start as a sergeant in the 84th American Infantry Division’s counter-intelligence set up during World War II. He participated in the famous Battle of the Bulge and he has made notable contributions to both American statecraft and international geopolitics.

In the recent past, Henry Kissinger wrote a book – titled ‘World Order’ – in which he identifies four ‘world orders’. First, he refers to the ‘European World Order’, which after the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 believed in ‘balance of power’ or equilibrium in the prevailing international affairs covering both Europe and the globe.

Second is the ‘Islamic World Order’ which as per the author mainly focussed on expansion of Islamic philosophy to areas populated by non-believers. Third, the ‘Chinese World Order’, which for 2000 years tried to bring everything under the Chinese emperor’s control. The Fourth World Order pertained to Americans who as per Henry Kissinger think that their values have universal validity, although one would take that with a pinch of salt.

Henry Kissinger, however, draws a very valid conclusion when he says that no world order has actually been truly global and that history cannot be just declared, it has to be discovered. The author feels that mere narration of events which took place in any so-called world order is not enough unless historians involve themselves in in-depth study and analyses of the most consequential issues of the human conditions which prevailed then and whether the right decisions to face these challenges were taken in time by the statesmen of that era. For example in the Subcontinent, Persians ruled from sixth century BC; Alexander from fourth century BC; Arabs from the eighth century; Turks and Afghans from the eleventh century; Mongols from the thirteenth century; and Mughals from the sixteenth century – and it culminated in the British Raj till 1947.

These are all mere declarations and narrations of events and not historical discoveries which should be based not only on historic facts but also on honest inferences and candid opinions reflecting the prevalent social culture, political milieu and strategic constraints, if any. One fact about the Subcontinent which historians cannot miss is that India was never a unified sovereign state; this was stated even as late as 1888 by a leading British administrator who declared: There is not, and never was an India, or even any country of India possessing any sort of unity, physical, political, social or religious”.

This was the reason that even at the time of Partition, the Subcontinent was an amalgamation of 565 independent or semi autonomous princely states. Kissinger also does not talk about India as a unified country and observes in his book that, “India has been defined less by its political borders than by a shared spectrum of cultural traditions”. He further observes that, “History has traced the evolution of Hindu traditions and majority faith dimly and incompletely through a synthesis of traditional hymns, legends and rituals”.

Similarly, when we turn to Pakistan and view it’s very brief 73-year history, we see clear compartments of intermittent civil military rules. These are just descriptions of how we haphazardly negotiated these over seven decades of our existence as a state with a streak of alternating civilian and military rules. However, when some intellectually honest and unbiased historians try to objectively discover Pakistan’s real history, they will have to look for solid and well-researched authentic answers to some probing questions.

First, what were the intrinsic reasons for the delay in framing the first state constitution, despite the tenures of two constituent assemblies, three governor-generals and four prime ministers? Second, what were the net gains and losses of the first Ayub-Yahya military rule (1958-1971) that saw a sad end of the first democratic spell and unfortunately culminated in the dismemberment of Pakistan?

Third, what were the politico-military, economic and strategic implications for Pakistan after the dismissal of the second democratically elected government of Z A Bhutto who ruled from 1972 till 1977 and eventually was sent to the gallows? Fourth, what were the gains and losses of the second military rule (1977-1988) of Gen Ziaul Haq who witnessed the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, it’s impact on Pakistan’s domestic culture, and Indian intrusion into the Siachen Glacier through the Nubra River Valley in the early eighties?

Fifth, how did the second democratically elected governments of Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto perform from 1988 to1999? What were their Achilles’ heels which precipitated their premature exits from the corridors of power? Sixth, what scars did the third military rule (1999-2008) – of Gen Pervez Musharraf – leave on Pakistani statecraft? Lastly, are we satisfied with the third and current democratic rule from 2008 to date, specifically when we observe that even after 73 years we are still economically in shambles, politically polarised and diplomatically isolated?

Senator Lt-Gen Abdul Qayyum, "Discovering history," The News. 2020-12-09.
Keywords: History , Economic implications , Strategic implications , Islamic philosophy , International affairs , Historical discoveries , Social culture , International geopolitics