A Distortion of History?

By Umair Tariq

Recently I came across an essay written by renowned historian William Dalrymple – best known in Pakistan for his famous work ‘The Last Mughal’ – examining the current Afghanistan situation within a historical context. Reading the essay pained me greatly for it was like looking at a burlesque fantasy where the author conveniently distorted facts and mingled them with his love for the Indian establishment and Hamid Karzai. The essay – if not completely then partially—is murder of historical accounts and acute distortion of facts that quite unworthy of a reputable international historian like Dalrymple.

Dalrymple grossly misinterpreted history and twisted it in favor of Hamid Karzai, all the while overlooking the drastic mismanagement, corruption and acute embezzlement in Karzai’s government. It starts with Dalrymple pointing the barrels of his guns towards Pakistan Army and premier intelligence agency ISI. Dalrymple’s mala fide intensions completely go against the established norms of impartial assessment of conflicts. I was astonished to discover Dalrymple’s (intentional or unintentional) acceptance of the Afghan government’s position over the Durand Line. While asserting his point of view, he totally ignores the international norms in which the colonial neighbors are bound to accept the borders of newly carved out states as per colonial settlement. It was not only heartbreaking but also surprising as it came from the pen of a reputed and internationally accredited author such as Dalrymple himself.

The nature and tilt of his essay towards India is obvious when a photograph in which Muslim refugees are waiting to be transported to Pakistan from the Purana Qila of Delhi was captioned “Partition in India. September 1947. Moslems waiting to leave for Pakistan as they seek protected transport to Dot Purana Qila, an ancient fort in Pakistan, where many refugees have gathered.” I would like to ask Dalrymple where the Purana Qila is? Isn’t it in Delhi? With even a zoological garden operational there these days? And what kind of protected transport was he talking about? Being descendent of a family that actually migrated from India to Pakistan, I reserve the right to question his dubious intentions by challenging the established fact of mass Muslim refugees and immigrant genocide committed in Delhi and East Punjab.

Dalrymple cunningly overlooks the mass murder of Muslim migrants by fanatical Sikh and Hindus of India. The tale starts with the mention of an Indian Army officer who escaped the deadly bombing in Kabul. I accept that the loss of human life – Indian or Pakistani – is deplorable but it fully endorsed my point of view that Dalrymple had a vested interest to please his Indian friends. Mr. Dalrymple has blamed ISI and Pakistan army for breeding Taliban, while glossing over the fact that it was the CIA that actually facilitated the birth of Taliban and plunged Pakistan into this deep pit of radicalization. Dalrymple, while pronouncing his verdict, has blamed the Haqqani Network for the deadly Kabul bombings and blamed ISI for this atrocious act in line with the Indian habit of blaming Pakistan for all security lapses. While reading his judgment about this bombing, I was surprised about why Dalrymple did not bring any tangible evidence  of the involvement of the ISI or better yet, why didn’t he challenge the failure of Hamid Karzai to stop the terrorists from infiltrating the most secure neighborhood of Kabul even when all American resources were at his disposal?

Dalrymple observes that “The hostility between India and Pakistan lies at heart of the current war in Afghanistan.” And then he gives his opinion about the conflict, making India look like a Mother Teresa figure looking to help the unfortunate Afghan population. He asserts that during Kargil War, Pakistan intended to go nuclear on India. I am ashamed for once being a die-hard fan of Dalrymple. Is Dalrymple aware that it was not Pakistan but the Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpai who asked the Indian Air Force to remain ready for nuking Pakistan? If he claims that Nawaz Sharif was in a strong enough position to consider nuking India, forcing the Indians to beg the Clinton administration to intervene, then I must say Dalrymple needs to verify his facts and stop relying solely on his conversations with Indian security establishment and RAW Officers.

Dalrymple opines about why Pakistanis are insecure about India:

“In the eyes of the world, never has contrast between two countries appeared so stark as no: one is widely perceived as next great superpower, famous for its software geniuses, its Bollywood Babes, its fast growing economy and super rich magnates; the other written off as a failed state, a world center of Islamic radicalism, the hiding place of Osama bin Laden, and the only ally of US whose airspace Washington has been ready to violate and whose villages it regularly bomb.”

I want to ask him if he has forgotten the hospitality and warm welcome he received during the Lahore Literary Festival. Does he not know that Pakistan is the home of Arfa Kareem – the world’s youngest certified Microsoft Software professional? Pakistan is the place where great Sufi poets and preachers of inter-faith harmony such as Bulleh Shah and Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai rest! Mr. Dalrymple you are wrong! We Pakistanis have so many good things to talk about such as Malala Yusufzai, who is a light in the darkness and a luminaire for the world.

I am saddened by this gross misinterpretation of Pakistani identity by Dalrymple. When talking about the drone attacks, Dalrymple completely dismisses the idea of an understanding on the matter existing between the Pakistani establishment and the United States government. Dalrymple also gives his totally misleading opinion about the conflict of East Pakistan. Well, Mr. Dalrymple have you forgotten that Mukti Bahni was trained in Indian Bengal and then transported to East Pakistan in Indian Army trucks? I understand and deeply regret the inhuman acts of torture attributed to Pakistan. I accept that the establishment and West Pakistani politicians exercised some terrible judgment by depriving 60% of the population of Pakistan from their rights, but if India was  really a bringer of peace then why didn’t Indians intervene through mediators such as the U.S. to stop the conflict and instead pushed for the partition of Pakistan?

I am sorry to say Dalrymple appears to still be living in the colonial era, and is treating Pakistan with the eyes of the officers of the Bombay Government that was very skeptical about Major Sandman’s and Lord Lawrence forward policy and peace negotiations between Baloch and Pathan tribesmen.

Dalrymple gives a brief account of Hamid Karzai’s educational stint in Simla. While I respect Karzai’s opinion about his university life, I want to bring into notice the serious issue of Afghan refugees in Pakistan. It is these refugees who brought narcotics into Pakistan and turned our Pakistani youth drug addicts. If India is such a close ally of Afghanistan and has no vested interests such as the dismemberment of Pakistan, then why didn’t Dalrymple propose to his Indian friends in New Delhi and Kabul to take all Afghan refugees from Pakistan and make refugee camps in Amritsar or Bangalore? Instead of acknowledging Pakistan’s efforts to provide a better life for these refugees, Dalrymple skips over this part and instead continues to praise India.  

Now is the time to assess our Afghan policy. Pakistan has always been a vocal supporter of peace in Afghanistan as it directly affects the security situation inside our country. Whereas India has always seen Afghanistan as its potential outpost – the evidence of which is given by Dalrymple himself that there is a bleak presence of Indian intelligence officials in four Indian consulates. Dalrymple also admits that Afghanistan was the only country to oppose the inclusion of Pakistan in the UN after independence. Further, Dalrymple also informs his readers that in 1961, Afghanistan gave shelters to ultra-nationalist fugitives from Balochistan and elsewhere on its soil. It perturbs me greatly that Dalrymple has totally ignored the established fact of the presence of Baloch militants and their ring leaders on Afghan soil.

Dalrymple writes about the Indian help in construction of a road link between Afghanistan and the Iranian port of Chahbander and totally ignores the huge financial setback to Pakistan’s ailing economy and the potential failure of the Gawadar Port. Elsewhere in the essay, while assessing the Kashmir dispute, the writer reveals his ignorance about the whims and wishes of Kashmiri people. It is not important what Maharaja of Kashmir wanted or Nehru wanted. The only thing that should matter is what the people of Kashmir want.  

I am greatly grieved by Dalrymple’s biased assessment of the creation of Pakistan. Dalrymple has ignored historical facts that Jinnah and the all Indian Muslim League – in contrast to what is taught in Zia’s version of history – were not demanding partition of Indian subcontinent initially. It was after the Indian National Congress rule of 1937 that the leadership realized that there was a bleak chance of the betterment of Muslims which was a minority community in British Indian Empire and whose rights were about to be trampled by vast Hindu majority.

In my view, the essay has been written only to appease Karzai and the Indian friends of Dalrymple. I was expecting that author would take a more balanced stance, but the whole article is nothing but an ugly exercise of mud-slinging against Pakistan. I am sorry to say but William Dalrymple has sullied his reputation as unbiased historian.

Pakistanis also need to reassess and change their attitude towards Taliban and terrorists. It is because of Taliban apologists that people like Dalrymple get their fodder of tarnishing Pakistani identity. Pakistan’s biggest problem is extremism and we need to cull it as soon as possible before this cancer devours our whole national fabric. It is now the responsibility of Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif combined to steer Pakistan out of these troubled waters. I wish them Godspeed!

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