Abusing history for deadly revisionism
History has long been a subject in which myriad interpretations have been brought in from time to time to reflect on the events of the past, often with sensational readjustments. While historical rewritings form the basis of the continuance and sustenance of new academic scholarship, one must still be wary of sweeping generalisations and oversimplifications that tend to not only obfuscate the vested interests of those pursuing revisionism in the name of research, but also the larger geopolitical engines driving the conflicting narratives. Such is the case with William Dalrymple’s latest essay on the Afghan war. Dalrymple, noted British historian and a renowned ‘Indophile’, famous for his voluminous and often thrillingly engaging recreations of the Anglo-Indian colonial encounter, particularly those preceding the 1857 uprising (The White Mughal, The Last Mughal) has come out with a new essay titled ‘A Deadly Triangle: Afghanistan, Pakistan & India’, in which he renounces the known turfs of the bygone and archived times to embrace the volatile and ongoing histories in the making. However, there are serious faults in the long article that was commissioned by The Brookings Institute, a Washington DC think tank, known for pandering to the covert theories of American supremacy and exceptionalism. In fact, the flaws are so terribly obvious and the argument so deeply problematic that just one sentence (his own, of course) may suffice to put forward the essence of his thesis – ‘The hostility between India and Pakistan lies at the heart of the current war in Afghanistan.’
Conveniently, Dalrymple, the last of the revisionist Mohicans and peddlers of the (partially) benevolent Raj school of thought, shifts the blame of the regional instability in Afghanistan that has a long history, running into at least four decades now, on the rivalry between India and Pakistan. Now that the US is trying to wash its hands off decades of meddling into the affairs of the beleaguered country and attempting to decant its NATO base from there, a fresh narrative that transfers the responsibility of turning the Af-Pak region into a ‘graveyard of foreign policy’ onto the gentler shoulders of India looks poised to win the reluctantly guilty American hearts, of both the hardliners and the liberals. Happily, Dalrymple seeks to disregard the long arm of the CIA that fanned the seeds of Afghan Taliban to counter the Soviet influence in the region and encouraged the wildly regionalist fantasies of a greater Pashtunistan, amalgamated from the weighed down and terrorism-stricken tribal provinces that wanted to secede from Pakistan. In fact, militancy within Afghanistan is a Frankensteinish co-creation of unsound and hysterical alarmism that marked the Cold War era, with its sphere of influence ranging from the geostrategically weakened Indian subcontinent to the Balkan region comprising the still unstable Bosnia, Chechnya and surrounding areas. Sadly, this brand of historical revisionism following the grand narratives professed by the likes of Francis Fukuyama, Samuel Huntington or Niall Ferguson is really a travesty of honest and impartial scholarship.