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Express Tribune Editorials – 19th March 2016

Controversy over textbook

The furore over an Intermediate-level sociology textbook, being taught in Sindh and Punjab, describing the Baloch as an “uncivilised people engaged in murder and looting” has resulted in much outrage being expressed over the matter in parliament and in civil society at large. In addition, this unfortunate controversy has highlighted the deep-seated problem of how Pakistani textbooks unabashedly preach hate and discrimination. After the matter was highlighted by Senator Mir Kabir, the Punjab government ordered an inquiry and the publishers have apologised for the offensive content. The apology and the inquiry are absolutely necessary, but these cannot erase the impact that the textbook must have already had on students who have been exposed to the highly discriminatory content. It should be noted that the book is also among the recommended sociology books for the Central Superior Services exams.

It is pertinent to ask here how such content made it to a textbook in the first place and how come the textbook was being used in not just one but two provinces. Is there no monitoring body that could oversee what millions of students are taught in our schools and colleges? If there are such bodies, do their members condone the kind of discriminatory content present in the sociology textbook? It will not come as a huge surprise if the responsible authorities had actually found the text acceptable to be taught to our students. This is why this issue is not just about one textbook, but our curriculum in general that inculcates hatred for the ‘other’. Smaller ethnic communities as well as religious minorities are often portrayed very negatively. India is always the enemy in our textbooks and more often than not, India is also synonymous with Hindus. There have been many calls over the years to revise the curriculum, but progress has been slow. The material taught to our children is among the foundational reasons why our society is so unapologetically prejudiced and has extremist tendencies. This is where the real fight against extremism should have begun. It is clear that Pakistan has been losing this fight for a long time now.

Flight of a former president

Former dictators have a tendency of posing problems for succeeding civilian governments. Crimes are inevitably committed by dictatorial regimes in order to consolidate power and quash any real or perceived threats. When removed from office, usually quite unceremoniously, the dictator leaves behind a legacy of cover-ups and rumoured misdeeds. It is then up to the new government and the people to deal with this legacy as they see fit. In the case of our own deposed dictator General (retd) Pervez Musharraf, his ill-fated return to the country in 2013 was seen by many as an opportunity to take him to court for his alleged crimes. He was charged with treason for declaring a state of emergency in 2007 and there is also a trial pending in his alleged role in the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

The proceedings have been slow, keeping in line with our country’s long-held reluctance to expedite the judicial process, especially in political cases. Meanwhile, General (retd) Musharraf has ostensibly been facing health problems and he has continually requested for his name to be removed from the Exit Control List to enable him to travel abroad for treatment. On March 18, he flew to Dubai after his request was finally granted by the government. Before leaving, he promised that he would return to the country soon. A promise that the government has touted as proof of goodwill on his part in order to defend this decision, which has left those hoping for a prosecution, severely disappointed. The government may be choosing to give weight to General (retd) Musharraf’s promise to return and face the charges that have been brought against him, but for others, the former ruler’s words ring hollow. For all intents and purposes, the efforts to bring him to justice are at an indefinite standstill. It is clear for all to see that rather than making serious attempts to uphold the law of the land and set the right precedent for the future, the Musharraf case was highly ill-planned by the authorities and has been more of an exercise of settling personal scores from the outset. One cannot help but feel that the cause of justice, in this case, has not been served.

Swaraj-Aziz meeting

The Pakistan-India relationship saga has taken a decidedly positive direction in recent months, despite the highly unfortunate attack on the airbase in Pathankot and the shenanigans of some in India over the matter of the Pakistani cricket team’s trip to that country for the World Twenty20. Following the Pathankot incident, it was feared that any progress made up to that point would be lost as has happened several times before following terror attacks. However, thanks to the restraint shown by both governments, the incident and its aftermath was handled in a largely thoughtful manner. Pakistan is attempting to proffer the Indians support in investigation of the Pathankot incident and as announced by Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj after the meeting in Nepal on March 17 with Sartaj Aziz, a Pakistani Joint Investigation Team will be visiting India on March 27 for the purpose.

The meeting between Ms Swaraj and Mr Aziz signifies the air of understanding and mutual cooperation, which now appears to be enveloping Pakistan-India relations and is a welcome change from decades of mistrust and negativity plaguing the region. A stalemate between the two countries on several key issues has prevented the development of what could have been an extremely beneficial relationship for both. Shadows of past conflicts, unresolved disputes and continual bitterness on both sides have withheld the kind of peaceful relationship, which, if allowed to exist, could save a lot of trouble and money for all involved.

However, it must be remembered that the relationship between the two neighbours has been soured by real and deep-running conflicts, centering around Kashmir, cross-border terrorism and a myriad of other issues. Furthermore, although the current peace process has so far managed to survive one terrorist incident, it is likely that more efforts will be undertaken to derail the process by those whose vested interests rely heavily on conflict between the two countries continuing. In order to avoid a repeat of previous experiences, Pakistan and India must maintain their present attitude of restraint and extend support through actions as well as words. There has to be an effort towards avoiding the spouting of negative rhetoric against the other. Only then can it be truly possible to resolve all differences in a comprehensive manner.

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