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Pakistan: Past present: Invaders and conquerors.

Pakistan, May 16 -- Historical controversies surface again and again in different circumstances and old debates and discussions come alive with a new perspective.

Recently a politician, commenting on the question of heroes, referred to Mohammad Bin Qasim as an invader who led the Arab army for the conquest of Sindh in 711 and to Raja Dahar as the ruler and defender of Sindh who resisted the Arab invasion and died in the battlefield fighting against the invaders. He claimed that his hero is Dahar and not Mohammad Bin Qasim.

Actually this interpretation of history was presented for the first time by G. M. Syed in his booklet Sindh jo soorma or Heroes of Sindh. It was the time when One Unit was declared and Sindh, like other small provinces, merged into it. This led to the rise of Sindhi nationalism. G.M. Syed's indirect message was that Sindh was being invaded again, like it had been by the Arabs, and had lost its independence. Therefore, it should be defended on the model of Raja Dahar to retrieve its lost sovereignty.

Since then, Sindh historians are divided into two groups: nationalists and Islamists. The argument of the nationalists is that Mohammad Bin Qasim was the representative of the Umayyad Empire and invaded Sindh like other imperial powers to plunder the resources of the occupied country. The Islamists' point of view is that as a result of Arab invasion, Sindh converted to Islam. Therefore, Arab occupation was a blessing which made Sindh the Babul Islam or door of Islam to the Indian subcontinent.

As far as the definition of an invader is concerned there is no confusion: anybody who invades another country to usurp its resources and occupy its land is an invader. However, nearly all invading powers have given moral justification for their invasion, generally on the grounds that the rulers of invading countries were oppressive and the masses wanted a deliverer to rescue them from the clutches of their rulers. Therefore, their conquest and occupation fulfilled the wishes of the common people. The same argument is presented in case of the Arab invasion and Raja Dahar is painted in black and presented as an immoral despot. With this interpretation Mohammad Bin Qasim became a deliverer to Singh.

The problem is that history is mostly on the side of victors and the vanquished have no voice to present their position. Arab historians admired and glorified the Arab conquest of Sindh and neglected the point of view of the defeated Sindhis.

Sometimes defeated and forgotten individuals are resurrected from historical oblivion and their role is re-examined and an attempt is made to give them a dignified place in history. Sometimes, they remain unnoticed and wait for a time when they may be recognised as heroes. We have many examples in our history. Alexander, who defeated Porus, was eulogised as a great conqueror by Europeans, partly because he was Greek, while the gallantry of those who fought against him is largely ignored. Intellectually we are so inferior that we also call him great rather than recognising Porus as the defender. Recently, we have built a monument at the bank of Jehlum in memory of our defeat and Alexander's victory. What kind of historical sense does that speak of?

In another example, Mahmud of Ghazna is praised as the great conqueror who invaded India 17 times and defeated the rulers of different kingdoms. His first encounter was with Raja Jaipal who fought against him but did not surrender. His son Annandpal continued resistance against Mahmud but was finally defeated by him. Both Jaipal and Annandpal are waiting for some historian to bring to light their resistance and sacrifices and place them on the pedestal of heroes. Similarly, Muhammad Ghori fought against Prithviraj whose role, so far, is not recognised by us.

There are also invaders of a different colour. Nadir Shah Afshar invaded India and swept away the wealth of the Mughals. Unfortunately, as he was not owned by the Iranians he never attained the status of a hero. But his follower, Ahmad Shah Abdali, who invaded India several times, was revered by the Afghans and is their national hero.

The simple reason for this contradiction is that when we relate history with religion and nationalism, we sacrifice the rational point of view and justify all acts of 'our side.' The correct view to understand and analyse history is to study it by relating it to power. This would create real consciousness and liberate us from the communal version of history. Invaders and conquerors are a curse to those nations who were invaded It is time to condemn them and place them in the dock of history, not as heroes but plunderers and murderers. This interpretation will change our historical understanding.

Published by HT Syndication with permission from The Friday Times. For more information on news feed please contact Sarabjit Jagirdar at

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Publication:The Friday Times (Lahore, Pakistan)
Date:May 16, 2010
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