Monday, June 11, 2007

Introducing the "Understanding Pakistan" Project

I'd like to introduce an interesting web-based project that might best be described as an exercise in "public history".

Pakistanis often complain that the history of their country--or the history of the region as it relates to them and their country--is often told from either British or Western eyes, or from a point of view that is sympathetic to India, and dwells too much on a hagiography of Gandhi, and even sometimes Nehru, to the detriment of seeing our leaders as anything more than caricatures (as Jinnah was portrayed in the movie "Gandhi") and the process, or reason of Pakistan coming into existence as being driven by one man's--Mohammad Ali Jinnah's--ambition or stubbornness.

But the flip side of that, some of us feel, is that Pakistanis themselves seldom know a lot about the history leading up to the creation of their country, or the story of what has happened since. And is part of why we often don't understand the forces at play in our politics, and get situations like the author of a New York Times bestseller saying that he was amongst those who were enthusiastically rooting for the latest military rule because he "was doing good things".

But I am beginning to ramble. What I'd like to do is introduce Dr. Athar Osama, a Pakistani policy analyst with whom I have been working on starting a project that might be of interest to you.

Dr. Osama got his Ph.D. from the Rand Institute (yes, THAT Rand Institute ;-)) in Public Policy and now works out of London for a Strategic Consulting firm. (Did I get that right Athar?) He also keeps a keen eye on events, issues, and, of course, policy in Pakistan and regularly writes on these things, both in Dawn and The News and on various blogs. (There's a list in his email signature below.)

One of Athar's current interests is to try and help start a conversation about the history of Pakistan (from about 1937 to the present day). The aim is to help us Pakistanis (and Pakistani-Americans, of course) to better understand the historical background and forces that have brought us where we are and will influence where we go from here.

I am enclosing Athar's introduction of the project below.

The project is focused on being a conversation between Pakistanis. But what is being posted on that site is material that we'd all do well to read and absorb. Agreeing with all of it is completely optional. In fact, the very idea is to put on the table different narrations, and different interpretations and up a learning process for all of us.

Do stop by:

Besides readers, we're looking both for people to engage as commentators and as contributors who can bring a specific insight into each period in history as we discuss it. So drop either Athar or me a line if you have something new to say:
From: Athar Osama []
Subject: Introducing The "Understanding Pakistan" Project

My Dear Colleagues:

We are writing to introduce to you and invite you to experience and participate in a discussion aimed at trying to collectively read and write our country's history. The Understanding Pakistan Project is a collaborative exercise in learning. A blog ( has been set up act as a central meeting point and collaborative platform. Please visit us and participate in this fascinating rollar coaster of our country's history.

As you read this email, our beloved country Pakistan stands at a very precarious point in its history. With the sixtieth year of the country's independence at its end, we find ourselves, once again, in the midst of a constitutional crisis. In many ways, this struggle between personalities and institutions has been a defining feature of the country's politics. Ironically, more often than not, and much to our collective detriment, personalities have pervailed over institutions.

On the international front as well, Pakistan is often dubbed as a failed state, at best, and a haven for international terrorism, at worst. While many passionate and patriotic Pakistanis may disagree with this harsh verdict of international public opinion, they invariably feel distressed and frustrated with the rise and fall of their country's political and economic fortune. There is certainly something amiss in our ability to steer our country to the heights that we had expected from this "land of great promise ".

Pakistanis--all of us--have repeatedly demonstrated a remarkable tendency to not learn from our own history. For many of us, our school texts of Pakistan studies was our first and last encounter with the events that have shaped our country--and ourselves--over the last 200 years (Indeed, how uneducative and uninspiring an experience that was!)

It is said that "the study of history is the best medicine for a sick mind; for in history you have a record of the infinite variety of human experience plainly set out for all to see; and in that record you can find yourself and your country both examples and warnings; fine things to take as models, base things rotten through and through, to avoid. " . That "a country losing touch with its own history is like an old man losing his glasses, a distressing sight, at once vulerable, unsure, and easily disoriented. ". Indeed "History is a vast early warning system " and it is only through a better understanding the various events--and the causes behind those events--in our past that we can develop a perspective and the ability to learn and improve upon the state of our affairs.

Understanding Pakistan Project

The "Understanding Pakistan " Project is designed to help us look behind to see ahead. It is a collaborative effort to enable us to learn from each other and discover our fascinating past. Each week, starting from Today (June 4th) until October 13th, 2007 a panel of writers will examine and critique a certain period of Pakistan's history (1940-2007). These individuals, through their varying backgrounds in policy, media, political science, and public service, bring their varying perspectives and biases to this collective reading of the country's history. It is important to appreciate that none of these viewpoints and perspectives are true or false in their entirety, but they are merely that, perspectives, and that the first step we can take towards building a more wise, just, and tolerant society is to develop the ability to listen to, and appreciate each other's viewpoints.

Understanding Pakistan website will be a central point for this collaborative thinking and collective learning. An email list will disseminate each week's discourse to the wider audience who would then be invited to present their own ideas, thoughts, and additions on the blog. Special emphasis will be paid on developing a mechanism to promote substantive and thought provoking discussion and to encourage the collection of further evidence to develop a more comprehensive and well-rounded resource on the history of the country.

This, we sincerely hope, will elevate the dialogue to a level higher than has sometimes been the case. It will also, we hope, make us better informed citizens and provide impetus for future action.

Please join us in this collaborative effort to learn about our own country. The project is hosted on a collaborative website at: and join the email list by sending a blank message to to recieve updates on the project.

Feel free to forward this email to those you know and encourage them to do the same.

Best Regards,

Dr. Athar Osama,
Sabahat Iqbal Ashraf (iFaqeer),
Hassan Bashir,
and Other Collaborators

Athar Osama, PhD (Public Policy, RAND)
London, United Kingdom
* Pakistan Software Industry Study:
* Pakistan Inc. -- IT Industry Edition:
* Pakistan Kaha'ni -- The Life and Times of a Nation:
* Pakistan Economy Blog:
* Technology & Economic Development Portal:
* Technology-based Economic Development Journal (Blog): .
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Anonymous said...

This is a fascinating project and hope that it promotes a healthy dialogue...
I would like to contribute as and when I find a niche...
cheers, RR

P.S. I have moved to

Asghar Javed said...

I agree with Raza Rumi. This is healthy sign that we are trying to explore our own history. Wish you all success. I will be there.