History textbooks in Pakistan are notorious for distorting facts and perpetuating jingoism. In 2004, a report titled “The Subtle Subversion: The State of Curricula and Textbooks in Pakistan” compiled by prominent educationists A.H Nayyar and Ahmad Salim, shed some light on this aspect. The report pointed out that “The curriculum directives ask for, and textbooks include: material creating hate and making enemy images, a glorification of war and the use of force, incitement to militancy and violence, including encouragement of Jihad and Shahadat, insensitivity to religious diversity of the nation, and reinforcing perspectives that encourage prejudice and discrimination towards religious minorities.” Historian Khursheed Kamal Aziz had highlighted similar issues in his seminal study on state of textbooks in Pakistan , The Murder of History in Pakistan, first published in 1993. The trend has remained unchecked despite change of governing regimes and apparent modernization in the education system.

In 2010-2011 the Peace Education and Development Foundation (PEAD) analyzed textbooks for the province of Khyber Pakthunkwa, from grade 1 to 10 of four subjects, i.e. English, Urdu, Deeniyat/Islamiat and Social Studies. They found out that textbooks of the following subjects glorified war, stereotyped non-Muslims, contain one-sided narratives on historical events. They also stereotyped women as playing supportive and subservient roles in family. In a similar study conducted on textbooks published by Punjab Textbook Board, the organization Action Aid corroborated these findings.

One of the notes in ‘The Subtle Subversion’ emphasized the need of including ‘Peace Studies’ in the national curriculum. It was recommended that ‘Peace Studies’ should be made a part of curriculum for students of Grades 1-8 with a focus on sectarian differences and inclusion of works by pacifist writers such as Intezar Hussain and Sahir Ludhyanvi.

Till date, the recommendations have not been acted upon and levels of violence in our society coupled with latent radicalisation tend to be on the rise. Among the sketches of historical personalities found in our books, Mahatma Gandhi, Abdul Gaffar “Bacha” Khan and Martin Luther King Jr. are nowhere to be seen. Mahatma Gandhi has been portrayed as a conniving Hindu Nationalist leader while Bacha Khan and his non-violent resistance has been overlooked entirely because it contrasted with the ‘Muslim League’ narrative. It is rather unfortunate that the terrible massacre at Qissa Khawani Bazaar in which hundreds of unarmed protestors gave their lives, is not a part of our national conscience. Gandhi had his faults (Sawaraj, mixing religion and politics) but his ideas about nonviolent resistance were unique and changed the narrative of India’s independence movement. Martin Luther King Jr. famously followed in the footsteps of Gandhi and was able to play a prominent role in the emancipation of African-Americans in the United States.

Nelson Mandela is another historical personality that merits mention in this regard. He adopted violence early on in his struggle but after serving more than 40 years in prison, he forgave his captors. Formation of ‘Truth and Reconciliation Commission’ and message of restraint despite historical grievances faced by the black community are achievements that need to be highlighted by our textbooks.

In Pakistan’s macho culture, peace and peace-building are misconstrued as signs of weakness (yet to the contrary, TTP and their types always target the peaceniks first). Thousands of years of history shows us that violence doesn’t solve many problems. After suffering from millions of deaths in the world wars, countries in Europe learnt the importance of dialogue and diplomacy. The Indian subcontinent has a rich history of diversity and inter-faith harmony, and classical poetry in local languages is replete with messages of harmony and peaceful coexistence. Works by Sufi poets such as Bulleh Shah can be utilised to promote the message of peace among students.

Despite the widespread culture of violence, very few political leaders or parties endorse the message of peace. In the non-governmental sector, peace has become one of the catch-phrases used to lure foreign investors. Malala Yousafzai, a possible icon for peace in our country, was hounded away by bullets from Taliban coupled with a conspiracy-laden public discourse. In such bleak circumstances, two young people from different parts of the globe (Australia and Pakistan) decided to establish a “peace school” as a pilot project in the terror-stricken city of Peshawar. The inauguration of this school, funded internationally but managed locally, took place a day before the International Peace Day (which is celebrated on 21st September) and was attended by diplomats, educationists, policy-makers and members of the civil society of Peshawar. The school will start functioning from next year and its curriculum will include Peace Studies along with the established textbooks. The school aims at encouraging harmony and diversity by employing specifically designed extracurricular activities.

It is unfortunate that such an initiative was not taken by government of the day. Similar projects, whether from the public sector or public-private joint ventures, need to be initiated in different parts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and other provinces. Our country requires more people like Malala and less like the ones pulling triggers on school-going children.

    The writer is a freelance columnist.