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A Conspicuous Absence: Teaching and Research on India in Pakistan

A detailed survey in Pakistan of social science research and teaching on India shows that there is a conspicuous silence on India in Pakistan's research and teaching institutions. The little research that is done is skewed in favour of strategic and defence studies. Even books and research emanating from India are not part of the curricula. Among the reasons for this dismal state are constraints of ideology, politics, state paranoia and lack of infrastructure. This absence of research and teaching on India also reflects the generally poor state of social sciences in Pakistan. The article ends by questioning the lack of social science interest in India on Pakistan.


A Conspicuous Absence: Teaching and Research on India in Pakistan

S Akbar Zaidi

A detailed survey in Pakistan of social science research and teaching on India shows that there is a conspicuous silence on India in Pakistan’s research and teaching institutions. The little research that is done is skewed in favour of strategic and defence studies. Even books and research emanating from India are not part of the curricula. Among the reasons for this dismal state are constraints of ideology, politics, state paranoia and lack of infrastructure. This absence of research and teaching on India also reflects the generally poor state of social sciences in Pakistan. The article ends by questioning the lack of social science interest in India on Pakistan.

An earlier version of this paper was presented at the Perceptions Workshop, New Delhi, 15 and 16 July 2004, held as part of the University of Pennsylvania Institute for the Advanced Study of India Project, “International Relations Theory and South Asia: Towards Long-Range Research on Conflict Resolution and Cooperation-Building”. I would like to thank Mohammad Waseem for comments and suggestions and Inayatullah of the Council of Social Sciences, Pakistan in Islamabad, who provided me full access to their database.

S Akbar Zaidi ( is a social scientist based in Karachi, Pakistan.

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1 Introduction

n many important ways, there is not much of a story to tell. An attempt to look at empirical data and evidence in order to examine the nature, extent and quality of social science teaching and research conducted, in Pakistan on India, in the disciplines of economics, history, sociology, political science and international relations draws almost a complete blank. There seems to be a conspicuous, silent, absence of India in Pakistan’s academic and research institutions where the social sciences are taught and researched. There are very few exceptions to this general observation, both in terms of individuals and institutions. Most of the exceptions that do exist, both in terms of individuals and institutions, strictly speaking, are not part of the broader category of the social sciences and are almost exclusively restricted to “experts” in security studies.

This noticeable absence of India in Pakistan’s higher institutions of learning and research ought to come as a surprise given India’s dominant presence in Pakistan’s historical, political, cultural and military existence. Pakistan was carved out of a united British India. It considers India its main political foe, largely because of the continuing Kashmir issue. India remains its primary long-term foreign policy issue, the war on terror notwithstanding. Pakistan’s military has fought two wars and has had many more skirmishes with India, having lost its more populous eastern half in 1971. But despite all of these, Pakistan’s cultural and entertainment scene remains inundated by “Bollywood”. Given all of this, it does seem strange that India is so under-studied and u nder-researched in Pakistan, almost a glaring absence.

One would have thought that like the relationship between the United States (US) and Russia during the cold war and between the US and China since, India and Pakistan too (and in this case, neighbours) would have studied, researched, taught, understood and analysed each other. Unlike other adversaries in the world, Indians and Pakistanis know little about each other. In the case of Pakistan, this situation can be based on two probable explanations. The first relates to the nature of Pakistan’s state and its intrusive security/military establishment which lays claim to being the fountain of all knowledge and wisdom in Pakistan, especially regarding anything to do with India. The second explanation is to be found in the rather dismal state of the social sciences in P akistan and in its weak institutions.

The next section of this paper gives some broad empirical data on the status of social science research on India in Pakistan. It is based on research and interviews conducted specifically for this paper to attempt to locate, understand and document the nature and extent of teaching and research taking place in higher institutions of learning in Pakistan with a focus on India. Following the presentations of interviews, Section 3 looks at the largest research area on India in Pakistan – security and strategic studies. Section 4 tries to explain the very noticeable absence of India in Pakistan’s institutions of higher learning and research by talking about the context – the state of social sciences in Pakistan in general – in which the findings from the earlier sections need to be placed. Are additional explanations to be found in Pakistan’s s ocial science structure and institutions for the fact that India r emains so under-researched and under-taught? Since India is perceived by many – and especially by Pakistan’s military and security establishment – to be its main adversary and biggest threat, I also examine some other possible explanations as to why India is not taught or researched enough in Pakistan’s academic and research institutions. This section is then followed by S ection 5, which looks at those areas where research on India does take place. Finally, I conclude by asking the question, whether P akistan is at all unique in that it does not study India as much as it ought to.

2 The Search for India

The main purpose of this study was to try to answer the question: How is India taught and researched in Pakistan’s institutes and universities in the disciplines of history, political science, economics, international relations and sociology? The methodology of this study is based on interviews with academics, researchers, columnists and commentators. The interviewees, whose names appear in Appendix 1 (p 68), are some of Pakistan’s better known s cholars and commentators. Many of them were interviewed some years ago for a study which preceded this particular one and on which it builds.1 The focus of the earlier study was somewhat similar but there the broader state of the social sciences in Pakistan was being investigated. The present study limited itself to teaching and research on India.

The second component of this study was a visit to institutions where some form of research on India was thought to be taking place. Their publications list and curricula were analysed to understand the nature of research and teaching taking place. In addition, the social sciences publications list of three of Pakistan’s main publishers were examined for evidence about publications on India and library catalogues of three different departments were quickly scanned to get an idea of the type and number of books that they hold on India. Further, some secondary published and unpublished material was also analysed – in particular, titles and lists of theses in the social sciences. Since I found little p resence of India in the social science disciplines being taught and researched in Pakistan, it is not surprising that my data is also limited.

2.1 Theses

Data provided by the Council of Social Sciences, Pakistan (COSS), an independent body which collects data and publishes books, reports and newsletters about the state and issues related to the social sciences in Pakistan, shows an extraordinary statistic: in the 56-year period of 1947-2003, there have only been 1,202

58 t heses submitted, both at the MPhil and PhD level, at all the universities in Pakistan2 in a very broad range of subjects which COSS categorises as “social science”.3 A keywords search based on the COSS database using the titles and subjects of the 1,202 MPhil and PhD theses showed that there were 41 theses for the word “India”, 24 for “Pakistan-India” and 14 for “Kashmir”.4

Of the 41 theses which had India in their subject or title, 30 were in the related areas of international relations, strategic and defence studies looking at nuclear issues, the relationship with Pakistan, of India and China, and the US and similar themes. Some of the illustrative titles are The Indo-Pakistan War 1965, The US Policy of Nuclear Non-Proliferation in South Asia with Special Reference to Pakistan: Evaluation and Implications (1947-90), India’s Strategic Policy in South Asia, India as a Factor in Pak-US Relations, Indo-US Relations in Post Cold War Era. Three theses have been submitted in philosophy and three in history. The titles in the latter are Trade of Moenjodaro, Muslim Politics in Indo-Pakistan Subcontinent from 1876 to 1892 and Organisation for War and Peace in Ancient India (600 BC to 700 AD). Of these 41, there are only five which look specifically at issues related internally to India; the others look at issues around, including and involving India, but perhaps not specifically at India. These five theses are as follows: Ethnicity and Communalism in India: Role of BJP, Khalistan Movement 1984-1996, The Impact of Structural Adjustment Programmes on Human Development: A Case Study of India, Origin and Impact of Khalistan Movement and, Muslims in India: A Political Study. Clearly, Pakistani research on India at the postgraduate level seems to be almost non-existent, especially if we look at the quantity of work more focused at what is happening within India, rather than research of a comparative kind in the international relations and strategic studies discipline.

All the 24 theses which showed up using the “Pakistan-India” category also showed up in the “India” category discussed above. Of the 14 in the “Kashmir” category, most theses are in the international relations discipline, where issues of the Kashmir conflict and dispute are examined.

A few look specifically at “Azad” Kashmir, where some issues of political, economic and regional development are examined. Of the 1,202 theses, the search for “Security” brought up 16 theses, and “Nuclear” 13. Of the 92 MPhil and PhD theses in political s cience from all 11 universities in 56 years, only three were on I ndia. What is perhaps most interesting regarding them was that the term used most often in the title was “Islam” (18 theses) and that there was not a single thesis which looked at “theory”. There were none on the military or armed forces, the bureaucracy, d efence, or even on elections.

Another data set, that of the university of Karachi’s Faculty of Arts’ total number of MPhil and PhD degrees awarded in the 1958-2002 period, shows an even grimmer picture about research on India. A total of 239 MPhil and PhD degrees were awarded by the faculty, including in subjects like languages, which are not part of the social sciences under COSS’ categorisation. Of the 184 PhDs awarded by the University of Karachi more than 30% are in Urdu. There are 12 each in Arabic, clinical psychology and philosophy. For the social science disciplines that we are considering, 14 are in economics/applied economics, nine were in i nter national

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relations, 25 in political science, 10 in sociology and 12 in general history. With the exception of two theses in general history – one looking at Awadh in the late 18th century, and the other at Sindh under the Mughals – not a single thesis of the 239 is on any aspect related to India. There is one recent thesis in international relations on the “national liberation struggle” of the Kashmiris, and another on “Azad” Kashmir since 1947. This is about all that India features in the research output in the social sciences from the university of Karachi over a period of 45 years.

Indeed, it seems that for the Pakistani student in the social sciences – who may know of the latest Bollywood movies and its gossip or about the last partnership between Gautham Gambhir and Virendar Sehwag – India as a researchable academic and intellectual category does not really exist, for there have been a lmost no MPhil/PhD theses on India in the last 62 years. P erhaps the students should not be held responsible for this situation and the real responsibility rests on the shoulders of those who teach them and on what in Pakistan is called “the system”.

2.2 Curricula

If one examines the curriculum at the masters level for economics at the university of Karachi,5 or the course content at the MPhil level and Masters of Applied Sciences in Economics courses at the same university, there is absolutely no mention of India or its economy. There is the standard curriculum found in all mainstream neoclassical schools worldwide – except that Pakistan’s curriculum and its readings list in Economics is at least three decades too old. Significantly, there is very little heterodox or radical economic theory. There is also not a great deal of applied economics of countries – despite the name of the degree – with the exception of some development economics. Pakistan’s economy, however, is taught at all the masters level courses all over Pakistan.6 It is quite fair to say that India and its economics/economy are non-existent in the economics teaching programmes across Pakistan’s universities. One could add that it is improbable that many economics teachers at the postgraduate level have anything more than very basic i nformation about India’s economic developments. And this is despite the fact that economics is the most prestigious and sought-after of all the disciplines in the social sciences in Pakistan.7

The masters degree in political science at the university of Karachi has a number of courses related to theory as well as courses which have an applied/case study component. Along with standard modules on Locke, Hobbes and Rousseau, there are courses on “Islamic Political Theory and Institutions”, “International Law”, “Comparative Local Government”, “Public Administration”, etc. In “Comparative Local Government” there is one module out of six which looks at comparative systems in six countries, one of which countries is India.8 The course called “Public A dministration” was taught with reference to Pakistan, the US, UK and France. A course entitled “Political System of the Deve loping Countries” looks at comparative politics of Pakistan, Iran, Turkey and India, but in its list of 38 recommended books there was no book by any Indian author. Other courses such as “Studies in Political Systems” and “Theory and Practice of Modern Government”, looked at China, Japan, Indonesia and Malaysia in the former course, and the UK, USSR (sic), USA, Switzerland, France and Pakistan in the latter.

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The curriculum for sociology is based largely on US textbooks. These deal with problems of developed countries and are based on theory which was popular perhaps 30 years ago in the US. There are a few specialised sub-disciplines in sociology such as medical sociology, urban sociology, etc, but their reading lists are reminiscent of 1960s USA rather than with recent developments or with developing countries. There are, however, a couple of courses such as the “Sociology of Economic Development with Special Reference to Pakistan”, and “International Social Systems: Comparative Analysis” which offer some comparison of the economics of the two former blocks – the west and the east, as well as modules related to Judaism, the west and Islam, and to communism and capitalism. India does not feature anywhere in the list of countries, themes or reading lists provided. The entire orientation is largely western, but specifically of the 1960s/1970s era American sociology.9

It is not entirely surprising that India is ignored in the economics, sociology and political science curricula at the masters level, for reasons that relate to the general state of education and r esearch in Pakistan and which are discussed below. However, because of ideological reasons (and an obvious historical link), it is not possible to ignore India’s presence in the history syllabus. There are 27 papers in the two-year general history course at the Karachi university, with numerous courses on south Asian h istory, from the time of Asoka and Harsha to Pakistan’s i ndependence.

There are papers in the history curriculum which differentiate Indian/south Asian history over specific periods and begin with a course entitled: “History of South Asia from the Earliest Times to 1000 AD – Excluding the Arab Conquest of Sindh”. This is followed by separate south Asian history courses based on the following periodisation: “712 to 1526”, “1526-1761” and “1761-1947”. There are also courses on the History of Europe, of the USA, and of west Asia since 1919, as well as optional papers on the French Revolution and Ancient Greece. Other courses include the “History of the Freedom Movement 1857-1947”, and one which is entitled “Constitutional History of the Subcontinent 1773-1962” – excluding Indian Constitutional Developments since 1947. There are no courses in the syllabus on post-1947 Pakistani history, and not surprisingly, none on independent India. From the prescribed reading lists it seems, that for the most part, the history curriculum which focuses on south Asia deals almost exclusively with a “Muslim history” of India and its interaction with the British. H istory seems to be divided into eras such as a pre-Muslim period, the Arab invasion of Sindh, the Delhi Sultanate, the Mughals, and followed by the freedom struggle 1857-1947. For example, in the paper “History of South Asia 712-1526”, all the topics listed in the syllabus deal with the exploits of Muslim rulers, their administration, political system, etc. Similarly, the 31 topics for the 17611947 paper, deal with the decline of the Mughals and the rise of the British, with Haider Ali and Tipu Sultan, with 1857 and the Muslim renaissance under Syed Ahmad Khan, the Morley-Minto Reforms and the Muslim League; yet, there is no mention of the Congress, Nehru or Gandhi. Clearly, while the general history paper has a large component of “India”, it is based on a very narrow and exclusivist reading of what was India between 712 and 1947.

In the Islamic history MA syllabus, a course entitled the Evolution of the Muslim Community in the Indo-Pakistan Subcontinent 610-1947 CE is, not surprisingly, even less inclusivist than the general history paper, and here even the British do not get a mention or make a presence. However, it needs to be mentioned that in the readings provided for the general history courses, there are a number of non-Muslim Indian authors, such as Beni Prasad, R C Majumdar, Jadunath Sarkar, Tara Chand and R P Dutt. On the other hand, in the Islamic history course, all references are of either British historians or of Muslim authors, some of whom, such as Abul Kalam Azad, Aziz Ahmad and Khaliq Ahmad N izami, are Indians. There are no non-Muslim Indian historians whose books have been recommended for the course which deals with India in the period 610-1947.10

2.3 Behind the Theses and Curricula11

The picture that emerges from the discussion of the theses above, shows quite conclusively that there is very little substantive research on India at the university level in Pakistan today. In the case of Economics and Sociology, it is clear that no teaching regarding India takes place and almost no research in the former. History teaching does show a poor though perhaps not a completely dismal picture. Sadly, interviews of teachers and students shows a far worse situation than that which exists on paper.

The first problem arises in naming the subject itself: what should it be called? It cannot be called the “History of India”, or of the subcontinent, for that in many ways undermines the official justification of Partition and questions the separate identity of Muslims which, according to the official view, emerged in 712 AD. So the course or segment on Indian history, usually ends up being called the “History of Indo-Pak”. Moreover, the now accepted term “South Asia” seems to have saved the blushes of many o fficials and ideologues who were forced to call South Asia the “Indian” subcontinent, or undivided India.12 The periodisation which the British introduced, into a Hindu, Muslim and British India, and which many Indian historians have tried to replace by ancient, medieval and modern, suits P akistani historiography, for here there is a very clear, accepted, period called “Muslim I ndia”. Nevertheless, this raises questions of how to look at Moenjodaro or the Indus Valley civilisation as these are located on what is now Pakistan but pre-date the “Muslim” history in Pakistan. Some Pakistani historians call this period “Pakistan’s ancient civilisation”. This causes further problems: What is Pakistan’s history and when did it begin? From the Indus Valley civilisation; from the times of Muhammad bin Qasim in 712; or in 1947? Clearly, these are fundamental questions of historiography in Pakistan (and relate to Pakistan’s very essence and identity), yet are not discussed, and the official classification of a Muslim history takes care of many of these niggling questions.

One of the two official views of history also causes problems for its study in Pakistan. This view, popularised by Ahmad Dani, locates Pakistan as part of a central Asian historical and cultural


entity, rather than within India/south Asia. In the first decade after independence, Pakistan considered its history to be part of a larger common history, a joint history it shared with India, and in fact Indian textbooks were in use in Pakistan. However, this changed in the early 1960s when Ayub Khan’s government wanted to create a “History of Pakistan” independent and s eparate from that of India’s. The historians who were given this task attempted to “take out” Pakistan from Indian history and just look at Pakistan without India. This gave rise to the writing of a Pakistani history disassociated from an Indian past and links were established between independent Pakistan and central Asia.

It is fairly clear that in Pakistan it is Muslim history that is being taught, and not Indian history. In fact, this Muslim history, as I highlight above, is perceived to be a Pakistani history dating from 712 AD. This has major repercussions on what is taught and the way it is taught. For example, since there is a Muslim history and there are courses and subjects called “The Freedom Movement” which, looks at the struggle for an independent Pakistan – the seeds of which, according to some historians, were sown in 712 AD, but for others in 1857 – it seems to overlook the colonial period entirely and treats the freedom struggle as a struggle from Hindu domination, not colonial rule.

Some historians believe that in Pakistan, following from the tradition of Syed Ahmad Khan and the earlier Aligarh Movement, there has been a glorification of the British period and for this reason, there is no understanding of the colonial context or what colonialism was or what it did. In none of the curricula studied, did I find a single course on British India, or on colonialism; the period after 1857 is seen as the beginning of the Pakistan movement and of the freedom struggle. From the “Muslim” period, we move on to the “Struggle for Pakistan”.13 In subjects like the Freedom Movement, teachers only teach the “Ideology of Pakistan” and do not deal with India. The conspicuous absence of the Congress, Nehru and Gandhi, among others, has been a deafening silence in the classrooms of Pakistan’s universities where student’s are being taught about a Muslim India after 1857 to the exclusion of 85% of its population. The Freedom Movement is shown to be a movement for the freedom of Muslims in India, but not of India from colonialism.

What is interesting, though not at all surprising, is that postindependence modern India, is not taught as part of the History syllabus in Pakistan. For that matter, nor is there a course on the history of modern Pakistan, since both these countries in this era are treated under politics rather than history.

In the international relations, political science departments and the area study centre at Islamabad’s Quaid-e-Azam university some professors had “made a deliberate attempt to devise a number of courses on different aspects of India”. These courses were reported to be very popular with students while the nature and level of the courses depended critically on the faculty’s interest and desire to teach these courses. The courses which were offered and were popular related to the politics of south Asia and particularly of India. One consequence of this has been that there have been a few theses on Indian politics in recent years at this university. However, there is also a realisation that the old cadre

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and the older professors, who belonged to a different generation, are leaving and many have already left.14 Much of the research and teaching was initiated by these professors and there is concern, as with all teaching and research departments in Pakistan, that once this generation retires there will be very little research and teaching on not just India, but on just about everything else as well.

What emerged as one of the most interesting findings as part of this research was based on discussions held at the international relations department at Karachi university. Teachers there said that as late as 1989, the term “South Asia” was “banned” in the department as it was considered too “pro-India” and was thought to be a part of an India-centric thinking. South Asia as a subject was introduced only after the democratic government took over in 1988-89 after the death of general Zia ul Haq. This change is also thought to be a result of the end of the cold war. Despite this gradual reluctance to concede to the presence of India amidst our midst, the subject that is taught now in the international relations department is called “India-Pakistan Relations”, not India itself. In the second semester India’s political developments constitute one topic out of eight. This course covers a diverse area including historical background, political culture, election process, government formation, societal structure, etc, of all the south Asian countries. India is covered in seven lectures out of a total of 90. Those teaching these courses admit that “there is nothing specifically on India as such”, and that they really do not have enough country-specific information or training to teach a proper course on India or on any other country other than Pakistan. However, in Karachi’s international relations department, there are a number of courses which look, in considerable detail, at confidence-building measures, arms control, disarmament and at other aspects of the nuclear and security subject in theory and in the particularity of south Asia. However, the faculty teaching these courses admitted that out of 40 lectures, just three or four are India-specific, with the rest related to Europe and west Asia.

While India is studied a bit in Karachi university’s international relations department, it seems that lectures on India itself are a very small number and for the most part in relation to either c onfidence-building measures, disarmament, the nuclear issue, or with regard to Pakistan. Nowhere in Pakistan, it seems, does there exist any expertise to study (or teach) India itself.15

3 Studying Security

In terms of the five social sciences considered, there are none in which any research or teaching related to India takes place. However, there is one large and buoyant research industry in which India is central. In most security-related studies and publications, comparisons are made of/with India, and in fact, almost the entire discipline, with a few exceptions focuses squarely on some aspect of India which threatens or affects Pakistan. It is probably true to say, that most of Pakistan’s research and publications that take place in the social sciences with the exception of economics, increasingly take place in the very broad arena of security/strategic studies. Many social scientists trained in political science and international

double spread

double spread

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relations, as well as some physicists in the anti-nuclear movement, have been writing largely on India in the context of security and related issues, as do numerous journalists and columnists.16 However, despite the presence of a number of independently-minded well-known and highly prolific social scientists trained in different disciplines, perhaps the m onopoly of all wisdom relating to security and strategic studies (especially with regard to India), rests with institutes and personnel who speak for and on behalf of the government.

The Institute of Regional Studies, supposedly an “independent, non-profit research centre devoted to the region around Pakistan”, and the more overtly partisan Institute of Strategic Studies, both in Islamabad, are at the apex of the government’s institutions where some nature of social science (but more specifically, security/strategic studies) research takes place. While there are other academic departments where such research also takes place, the importance in government circles of these two institutes is particularly relevant.

While the Institute of Regional Studies claims that it studies the region around Pakistan, south Asia, south-west Asia (Iran, Afghanistan), China, central Asia as well as the Indian Ocean region, its research output is predominantly on issues of a strategic and security nature related to India. In its numerous series of publications including books, reports and a journal, India features far more frequently than all the other areas combined. However, while there is a security/strategy focus, there are a number of publications which do deal with issues specific and internal to India, rather than in a comparative perspective or related to Pakistan. For example, apart from the standard security/strategy issues which are published in the institute’s publications, there are a large number of publications including titles such as: The Maneka Factor, Bombay Textile Workers Strike and its Impact on Trade Unioninsm, Ethnic Cleansing in Gujarat, Civil-Military Relations in India, Antarctica and India’s Interests, Politics of Dams in India: A Study of the Sardar Sarovar Project, A Decade of Indian Economic Reforms and the Inflow of Foreign Investment, Assam Assembly Polls (2001) and Preceding Developments, The Uttarakhand Movement: A Perspective, and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh – Genesis, Agenda, Apparatus. This is just an illustrative list of the over 300 papers, books and publications that the Institute has produced since its inception in 1982. It may not be wrong in suggesting, that the output from the Institute of Regional Studies in terms of quantity, far exceeds that of many organisations in the private, public or non-governmental organisation sector, accentuating the earlier claim, that security/ strategic studies are the largest component of research in Pakistan on India.

The reasons for this overabundance of output in this sector are believed to be based on the nature of Pakistan’s securitydriven state policy and its national security state apparatus. Pakistan’s state has been obsessed with security concerns and with its various Kashmir policies. Sections of, what in Pakistan is called, the “Establishment” have propagated research often with an overtly propagandist viewpoint where academic or research objectivity is not a value of much significance. Hence, it might be stretching the point to label official security/strategic studies as “research” since their emphasis is less academic and more of a policy o riented nature. Although it would be unwise to make sweeping statements about all the research that takes place in government “think tanks”, it would be no exaggeration to state that most of the output is jingoistic, pro-military, partisan and based on an insufficient and incorrect understanding and reading of India – a reading based largely on newspaper clippings and one which further substantiates official Pakistani positions. The term “scholarly research” seems to gain a dubious definition in the hands of official researchers and analysts.

While government institutes fulfil the numerous needs of government itself, there is also a vibrant, well-published and highly respected academic community working in the field of strategic and security studies in Pakistan. Many physicists and those trained in some component of the social sciences continue to publish in Pakistan and abroad, are well-cited, have received international honours and awards and are involved in doing academic and scholarly work in the true sense of the terms. These scholars have a public presence – far more than do most economists, sociologists or historians – and are frequent and important contributors to the national and international press. They are usually also members of advocacy and civil society groups and movements and are active in the public arena as well. In fact, it would be correct to say that along with a few economists who are involved in public debates, these independent academics and scholars in the security/strategy field, are the only other group mildly related to the social sciences, who are also in the public arena, debating o fficial public statements and policy. In the case of the latter, the existence of India is central to their discourse. Yet many of those who write on India-related issues candidly admit that they know very little about India, are certainly not experts, and with few having visited India, confess that the little that they know of India is limited and related only to their own interests and fields.

4 Explaining the Absence of India

There are two broad explanations which might account for the non-existent research and teaching on India in Pakistan. The first is based on an earlier “dismal state of the social sciences in pakistan” argument, and the other based on the nature of Pakistan’s militarised, national security state apparatus and institutions.

The dismal-state thesis argues that overall, the state of teaching and research in Pakistan is very poor. Both the quality and the quantity are rather limited. Most social scientists do agree that social sciences in Pakistan are in a depressingly decrepit state, while the reasons for this are many. They all agree that not much research of any quality takes place in Pakistan and the little that is undertaken is by those who live and work in the west. Moreover, a few have produced good quality research while b eing based in Pakistan, but this is largely individual endeavour and that the contribution by the institution where they are l ocated is incidental.

While there is wide agreement for the way things are, there is also considerable consensus on the reasons. Many argue that patronage at the private and state-level has distorted the

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environment under which research in the social sciences takes place, developing a conformist, if not sycophantic and toadyist, mindset. Others feel that there is a bias against a culture of dissent, debate and discovery, brought upon, perhaps, due to state authoritarianism and due to the over-developed nature of the bureaucratic arm of the state. Other, more simpler reasons, include the fact that the incentive and salary structure in public sector institutions is dwarfed by the visible freedom and economic incentives in the vibrant private, donor and NGO supported sectors, where many of the best graduates head. Clearly, all these reasons are relevant.

There are still other, more interesting, factors which are all i nterrelated and have had a bearing on the noticeable deterioration of the social sciences in Pakistan. For some of the reasons mentioned above, many of the best Pakistani social scientists have left for other countries causing a haemorrhaging braindrain. There is, hence, no community of academics or scholars left to interact with and to discuss and share ideas with; there are very few journals and almost no professional associations. Moreover, many Pakistani social scientists feel that the western social scientists who work on Pakistan “are second-rate scholars at third-rate universities”, a fact which does not help the Pakistani social science cause either.

The fact that there is so little scholarly and academic research on India in Pakistan, is a consequence of overall poor research and teaching in Pakistan. The academic environment in Pakistan is insufficiently vibrant to even allow for research on less controversial and problematic areas than India to take place. Moreover, there is also no tradition of doing comparative research on countries, societies, economies and institutions, in Pakistani academia. This is a consequence of the way the overall research and academic environment has developed in Pakistan, and is not specific to India.

Moreover, there are other, academic, reasons why it is not worthwhile to do research on India. Some academics feel that it is “not rewarding enough in scholarly terms” to do research on India; that there is a dearth of scholarly literature available in Pakistan on India; and the question of doing interviews, leave alone serious fieldwork, does not even arise. However, add to this the context of a national security paranoia, and it becomes s urprising that there is even this (little) amount of research on India.

The military, which forms the most formidable component of the Pakistani state, continues to see itself as “against all things Indian”. With its hold over government and other economic and educational actors and institutions, it restricts the possibility of doing research on India, except through its own institutions and for its own purposes.

Scholars who work on strategic issues and also on India feel that there is a very “assertive” attitude of Pakistan’s security agencies and its foreign office, who wish to monopolise all ideas, views and impressions on India. The “Establishment” wants to project its own notion of what India is, according to its political and militaristic designs, and hence non-official research on India, is thwarted and discouraged. In the Pakistani tradition of r esearch and academics, scholarly output is expected to be policy

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oriented, purposeful, relevant, with lots of recommendations. “Irrelevant”, theoretical, academic work is not appreciated much. The entire purpose of producing academics and teaching s tudents, in the Pakistani tradition of research and scholarship, is to “solve Pakistan’s problems”.

In the case of doing research on India, this becomes problematic. The military and its establishment does not welcome the advice of citizens in what it considers to be its domain, in this case foreign policy and that too particularly on India. How could academics possibly be involved in the giving of advice on issues related to policymaking with regard to India? Other than the group of policy analysts who are considered hawkish towards India, and are usually quite bellicose and belligerent about their largely anti-India views, many independent academics are considered “soft on India”, which delegitimises their work and the individual in the eyes of Pakistan’s security state apparatus. To be even suspected of being “pro-India” can leave the scholar vulnerable to charges of sedition and be accused of taking part in anti-state a ctivities, resulting in dire consequences.

In this context, it is worth our while to reproduce in full, a secret University Grants Commission Circular, No D 1783/2001-IC.V, Government of Pakistan, Ministry of Education, Islamabad, dated 12 October 2001. The subject of this circular is “Pakistani Students in Correspondence with Indians for Academic Assistance”:

(1) I am directed to say that one of the security agencies has observed a growing tendency among the staff members/students of various professional institutions of India and Pakistan to communicate in different fields of mutual interest; (2) For instance, Mr Imtiaz Ahmed Pannu, a student of Department of Crop Physiology, University of Agriculture, Faisalabad has established illegal links with Indian experts/organisations; (3) It is requested that all the Public/Private sector Universities/Educational Institutions affiliated, registered or recognised by the University Grants Commission/Government may kindly be advised to instruct their staff members/students to follow the Government directions and immediately dispense with all illegal links with foreign experts/educational institutions; (4) It may also be ensured that material to be exchanged be first got cleared from the Ministry and no links with any foreign experts/educational institutions should be established without prior approval of UGC/ Government of Pakistan.17

Such cases would be particularly troublesome if the academic or scholar is perceived to be a “liberal” and is pro-democratic. These credentials only add to the state’s suspicions. If a scholar looks at India seriously, with the intention of studying Pakistan’s neighbour seriously, s/he is asking for trouble by coming to the notice of the “Establishment”. Some scholars believe that Pakistan’s “Establishment” is against the development of a certain kind of attitude of scholarship – liberal, secular, democratic

– t owards India. Interestingly, this also has a reverse angle to the issue as well. While liberal and secular scholars, the few that they are, tend to be pro-India, their scholarship is not backed up by thorough research or by facts, and is largely rhetoric based on an “imagined India”, an image which avoids looking at weaknesses in Indian society. Worse still, is the i nability of left-leaning Pakistani writers to actually criticise I ndia. Just as the right in Pakistan has created its Indian images and straw men, so have left-leaning academics and liberals.

These images exist in the minds, based on wishful thinking, not on fact or scholarship.

5 Some Traces of the Presence of India

Despite these restrictions and limitations – both institutional and ideological – there are some areas where there is a growing exchange of ideas about each other’s societies and countries, where social scientists, along with activists, have been playing a role. Many actors in the large NGO sector in Pakistan have made extensive inroads and connections with their Indian counterparts. This has led to mutual exchanges of activists and researchers from one country going to the other and interacting with local communities. This has given rise to independent, as well as to collaborative, research in subjects related to oral histories about Partition, women, nuclear/security issues, on the curriculum at schools in both countries, on issues related to labour, etc.18 While the quality and standard of this research varies and may not necessarily be “academic” or “scholarly” it is at least useful and much of it is available in the wider public domain. In addition to the presence of NGOs in Pakistan’s public life, there is a large presence of the media. Due to the dismal state of the social sciences in Pakistan, the media has filled the gaps which ought to have been done by social scientists, and like most other issues and topics there is a lively debate taking place in the media on different a spects of India as well.

A second opening up of the possibility of research on India in Pakistan has been as a consequence of the notion of south Asia and of the setting up of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). SAARC has been the umbrella which has allowed all countries to research the others and to know them in some detail. Since SAARC is a regional entity ostensibly supported by all seven governments, it does allow for an increasing role for comparative research and growing understanding. Institutes based in Pakistan, such as the Mahbubul Haq Human Development Centre, with their annual publications on issues related to south Asia, also allow for that greater understanding. Many i nternational NGOs, donors and research organisations have also used this idea of south Asia as a means to conduct comparative studies of India and Pakistan. This has allowed greater information and facts about India to filter into one (albeit small) section of Pakistani society. It must be remembered that a broader “South Asia” is being studied under the SAARC umbrella, rather than s pecifically India itself. Nevertheless, one must acknowledge that this is an important beginning.

This SAARC opportunity, and the somewhat easier mood between India and Pakistan in the past few years, has allowed an increase in exchanges between citizens of both countries, which may have softened some of the harsher images formed during the south Asian cold war of the 1990s. Pakistan’s main English l anguage newspaper, Dawn, in its weekly book review section, for example, carries more reviews of books published in India – on various topics, of varying quality – than books published in Pakistan. While this reflects rather poorly on the Pakistani publication and writing/academic scene, it also shows that the détente


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at the end of south Asia’s cold war has allowed ideas to cross the border more easily.

A third avenue which allows for the greater learning and understanding of India, is Pakistan’s growing intellectual/academic and student diaspora. Although numbers are difficult to come by, there is growing anecdotal evidence which shows that many P akistani students going abroad are moving away from the more traditional field of economics and are moving into disciplines such as cultural anthropology and other non-traditional subjects. In addition, some of these scholars, not hampered or hassled by Pakistan’s intelligence agencies, are able to look at Partition, n ationalism, ethnic identity across the divide, and other issues pertaining to India. As a second generation of migrant Pakistanis grows up in the west and constraints such as passports and visas are removed by acquiring other nationalities, access to India has become less difficult. For those interested in research and a cademic careers, particularly with regard to and with interest specifically in India, this offers unique o pportunities.

6 Is Pakistan Any Different?

A number of counter-questions were asked by many of the Pakistani scholars interviewed during the course of this study. Many asked: Does India study Pakistan at all? Are there any research centres where appropriate work on Pakistan takes place? Most of them felt that while Pakistanis have not been able to study India, the latter too has not studied Pakistan. Some felt that India has not produced any quality research on any country except India itself. Indian scholarship was thought to be preoccupied with I ndian d omestic politics, not comparative country studies. There was consensus amongst all the scholars interviewed, that Pakistan was ill-equipped to undertake research on most issues – the dismal state thesis. In fact, one can turnaround the question with which this investigation started out and ask: How is Pakistan taught and researched in Pakistan? Is this any different from the way India is taught and researched in Pakistan? Many social scientists think, given all the additional constraints mentioned in an earlier section, it was beyond the scope and even capabilities of Pakistani scholars to study India, and perhaps the question does not itself arise.

With Pakistan itself poorly researched and badly taught, perhaps there needs to be a level of “research affluence” to allow scholars to look at other countries. While there is no doubt that India is still central to Pakistan’s existence, perhaps there is a greater need for Pakistanis to first increase the quality and quantity of research on Pakistan itself.

There is no denying the fact that there is very little research on India in Pakistan. Many of the reasons for this have been d iscussed in this paper, but perhaps what also seems interesting is why other countries are also not doing enough research on south Asia. Christian Wagner examining the status of south Asian research in Germany, finds that a majority of German r esearch on south Asia is done on classical Indology and more than 50% of all German south Asia specialists belong to p hilological disciplines, with the remainder belonging to nine other disciplines. He shows that there is a “growing interest in modern topics like nationalism and foreign policy, but the academic infrastructure of German universities shows considerable gaps in the field of social sciences and contemporary South Asian Studies”.19

Not many Pakistani scholars have the skills and training to do research on their own society, leave alone on other societies, and that too on a diverse and complex society as India, specially given the numerous non-academic constraints. Moreover, there are just a very small handful of Pakistani scholars who do good research on Pakistan itself, in the first place. Perhaps the more interesting question, given India’s huge pool of social scientists and researchers and its abundant “research affluence” is: Why is there no quality research in India on Pakistan?


1 See Social Science Research Council (SSRC) (2002), Social Science Capacity in South Asia: A Report, SSRC Working Paper, Vol 6, New York and S Akbar Zaidi (2002), “The Dismal State of the S ocial Sciences in Pakistan”, Economic & Political Weekly, Vol 37, No 35.

2 The number of universities where social sciences were taught in Pakistan were 11, but may have increased since 2003.

3 The subjects that COSS includes in their list for social sciences are as follows: mass communications/journalism, sociology, philosophy, history, political science, economics, area studies, social work, education, library sciences, geography, P akistan studies, international relations, psychology, law, public administration, archaeology, administrative sciences, defence and strategic studies and Islamic culture. The largest number of MPhil and PhD theses are in economics (246 out of 1,202), followed by psychology (159), the numerous area studies (152), history (143), Pakistan studies (99), political science (92), education (81), and international relations (74). Almost 50% of the theses (597) have been completed at the Quaid-e-Azam university, Islamabad, followed by Karachi university (171) and the University of the Punjab (139).

4 COSS has gone to a great deal of trouble and has made a huge amount of effort to build this database, and while it is probably the only such source available, it needs to be stated that it is very likely that the COSS database under-reports the number of theses. Nevertheless, what is interesting for us is not the exact number of theses in any particular discipline with their specific titles, but some indication of the larger picture. Hence, even if the figure of 41 of the 1202 theses with “India” in their title is off the true figure, it is improbable that with additional data, the less than 4% proportion would change very considerably.

5 It is important to underline that these published curricula are often outdated. Often some recent issues and topics do creep in, specially if teachers are creative and enterprising. However, the system to bring about changes in the curricula is highly antiquated and bureaucratic.

6 Interestingly, at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, a private university and the one with the best teaching and academic programme, by far, in economics in Pakistan, unlike state u niversities there is no course which specifically examines Pakistan’s economy.

7 See S Akbar Zaidi, op cit, 2001, and S Akbar Z aidi ed. (2003), Social Science in Pakistan in the 1990s, Council of Social Sciences, Pakistan, I slamabad.

8 These observations are being made on the basis of official university of Karachi publications; who teaches what and how they are taught is a different matter altogether. Interviews with students at the political science department at the Karachi university revealed that they had not been taught “anything” on India and none of their teachers was interested in or adequately trained to give even a single general lecture on India’s political institutions or on more recent developments. The students did say that their teachers did, derogatively, cite the example of the rise of the Hindu right when it suited them and gave examples of the violation of human rights in Kashmir and did frequently mention the Gujarat pogrom of 2002.

9 See Hassan Gardezi (2003), “Contemporary Sociology in Pakistan” in S Akbar Zaidi, op cit. As this and the rest of the articles in this collection show, much, if not all, of the teaching has a western orientation and India seldom finds a mention in any subject, in the curriculum or in reading lists. In fact, as I argue in the Introduction to the collection: “while many of the papers compare developments in the west regarding their own discipline, they fail to take cognisance

Economic & Political Weekly

september 19, 2009 vol xliv no 38

of developments in south Asia, particularly in India”, p 5.

10 A quick library search showed that very few of these books actually existed and most had been lost. Moreover, in all libraries visited, there were few new books being added and even fewer ones on India, past or present. One explanation for this is the rise in book prices and lower budgets at the universities, as well as a shift in academic and ideological influence and bias.

11 This Section is based on interviews and discussions with those mentioned in Appendix 1.

12 However, the nomenclature “South Asia” has had a very uneven history and acceptance as is discussed later in this article.

13 Also see S Akbar Zaidi (2001) op cit for the sort of research and writing taking place in history. Also see Ian Talbot (1998), “Pakistan’s Emergence”, Historiography, Vol IV, Oxford History of the British Empire, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

14 It is worth mentioning, that the two professors I spoke to as part of this study, soon left the public sector Quaid-e-Azam university, and joined the private Lahore university of management sciences, LUMS, at Lahore. While they may have retired and found employment elsewhere, the point is that the individuals who were taking an interest in teaching India at one of Pakistan’s best public sector universities, were no longer there to do so.

15 In the course of this study, I asked all the scholars and researchers interviewed if they could think of even one single Pakistani academician who they would call an expert on India. Each and everyone of the respondents said that there was no such scholar in Pakistan. Some mentioned a couple of journalists, but then quickly withdrew these names saying that they were “just journalists” and not academics or researchers.

16 Clearly, in the last few years, there has been a shift following the “war on terror”, with numerous books and articles being written on Pakistan’s security in this new era. It is difficult to assess the impact of this shift on research at this stage.

17 There is story recounted to me by S Jaffer Ahmad, Director of the Pakistan Study Centre, university of Karachi. In the late 1980s, a PhD student from Amritsar University had written a letter to the Pakistan embassy in Delhi asking for the names of books on constitutional issues related to Pakistan. The letter was sent from the embassy to the foreign ministry, then to the home department, followed by the ministry of education and then to the university grants commission, who then forwarded it to the Pakistan study centre. All this took eight months; six months later, a letter of thanks was received. While all this was in the age prior to email, it is still indicative of the mindset of bureaucrats and of a particular way of thinking.

18 One non-governmental teaching institute also has well-known Indian social scientists on its faculty who come and teach frequently.

19 Wagner, Christian (2001), “Sudaasienforschung in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland. Bericht uber eine Besandsaufnahme” (South Asia Research in Germany: A Survey), Internationales Asienforum, Vol 32, No 3-4.

Appendix 1

Scholars and Commentators Interviewed

  • Mohammad Waseem, Lahore University of Management Sciences.
  • Shaeen Akhtar, research scholar, Institute of Regional Studies, Islamabad.
  • Parvez Hoodhboy, physics department, Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad.
  • Sadiq Ali Gill, director, Centre for South Asian Studies, University of the Punjab, L ahore.
  • Abdul Majid, senior research officer, Centre for South Asian Studies, University of the P unjab, Lahore.
  • Mubarak Ali, former professor, History D epartment, Jamshoro University, Hyderabad.
  • Rubina Saigol, independent researcher in Sociology/Education/Women’s Studies.
  • Imtiaz Alam, editor, The South Asian J ournal, Lahore and Columnist for The News.
  • Rasul Baksh Rais, Lahore University of M anagement Sciences.
  • Ali Cheema, assistant professor, Lahore U niversity of Management Sciences.
  • Nighat Saeed Khan, director, Institute of Women’s Studies, Lahore.
  • Nuzhat Ahmad, director, Applied Economics Research Centre, University of Karachi.
  • Naeem Ahmad, lecturer, International R elations Department, University of Karachi.
  • Muttahir Ahmad, associate professor, International Relations Department, University of Karachi.
  • Sikander Mehdi, International Relations D epartment, University of Karachi.
  • S Jaffar Ahmed, director, Pakistan Study Centre, University of Karachi.

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