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Friday, July 2, 2010

Book Review: Critical Analysis of Aitzaz Ahsan’s ‘Indus Saga’


Review of Aitzaz Ahsan’s Indus saga I and II. In Light of our new History syllabus being taught in English medium Schools.

by Naveed Tajjamal
(This is a crosspost from Pak Historian)
In 1996, Aitzaz wrote the book “Indus Saga and the making of Pakistan”1, published by Oxford University Press. Incidentally, it is the same press which has also published a set of three books on “history” by another author named Peter Moss.

Three more books are by ‘Danesh’ company, written by Teresa Crompton and Beatrice Stimpson, can also be bundled up into a devious package that purports to teach us our Indus history with a subtle and crafty alterations.

In his acknowledgement, in the 2nd Edition, Aitzaz Ahsan mentions the efforts of M.J. Akbar and a Pramod Kapoor, both from India, who helped him draft this new edition. As one reads it, one understands why; because, though the book outwardly is on entity of Pakistan yet it portrays the theory of epic Mahabharta.

The first book has four pages as the preface and a twenty three page introduction, where Aitzaz starts with his Jail experiences in General Zia-ul-Haq’s time and writes of fragile state of Pakistan by quoting Ziring 2 ‘Pakistan could cease to exist in its sovereign nation-state form’ and then quotes Tariq Ali from his book ‘Can Pakistan Survive?’ and Shahid Burni, a director of World Bank, ‘only time will tell whether Pakistan realize its potential or be over whelmed by its problems’ He also cites a Tahir Amin of Q.A. University ‘The Bangladesh syndrome continues to haunt the Pakistani decision-makers, who fear the ethno-nationalist movement of NWFP, Sindh and Baluchistan may also follow the precedent set by Bangladesh movement’. And now he applauds the figure of Jawaharlal Nehru, who expounded the theory of Mahabharta, of one-ness of India and refers to his book3. Aitzaz, equtes his jail experiences with that of Nehru and appreciates his vision of unity of India and mentions the centripetal pull of India, a supernatural force that could again pull Indus region to itself!



1 The first, 1996, Edition had 3 parts and 399 pages and published by Oxford press.

The 2nd, 2005, Edition has again 3 parts, 451 pages and published in New Dehli by Roli Books.

2 “Pakistan: The enigma of Political Development”, Dawson West View, 1980

3 ‘The Discovery of India, Signet Press, Calcutta, 1956

In the third part of his book, he attempts to discover our original inhabitant of Indus region. Unfortunately, as he has not done his research and this portion fails miserably to portray the true history and heritage of the region.

Aitzaz stresses that the essential purpose of the book being is to discover and define the Indus person, the best he can do is to name eleven persons 4 to sum up the illustrious and enviable Indus Civilization from pre-history to 1947.

In Section-1 of the Introduction, he takes on the search of Pakistani identity but fails to locate it by giving arguments but not the answers to Pakistani identity by throwing questions like, is Pakistani an Arab, Indian, or both, or a Central Asian?

He tackles the unfolding of the global empires by portraying a grand Mahabharta as if the world lived in a culturo-civilization vacuum and denies the more powerful bordering influences like the Persian and the Turkish empires of the epoch.

His passing reference to the influence of Persians through a single citing of the Persian wheel or boka 5amplifies his lack of historic understanding because the Peshdadi, Kiani, Hakamanish and Sassani periods alone cover 5000 years of history of Iran till 653 AD. Little wonder why he neglected to acknowledge that our National Anthem is in Farsi, while the crescent and star Pakistani flag is influenced by the Turk.

In Section-2 of the Introduction, Aitzaz brings forth the theme of one-ness of Bharat or the epic Mahabharta.

He appears obsessed by the theme of Mahabharta and either by design or ignorance, this modern day champion of Indus does not enlighten us that the concept of a mahabharta is actually a concoction of the fertile Hindu Brahman mind. This fabrication of history spreads over a span of hundreds of years and the Brahmans zeal in this scheme of make-believe is also apparent from the fact that there is no record of the supposedly pre-historic, Chankiya Kutaliya’s book on statecraft named ‘Arthshashra’ until it was presented to R.D. Shasktri in 1904 by a pundit of Tanjore.

4 Abdullah Bhatti, Rasolu, Sheikha, Jasrat Ghakkar, Sarang, Arjun, Shah Inayat, Chakar Khan, Khushal,

Ahmed Khan Kharal and Bhagat Singh

5 Page 110, The Indus Saga, 1996 edition

On page [5] of his book, 1996 edition, Aitzaz describes the entity of one India as;

“the epic mahabharta, in describing that great pre-historic civil war not only unquestionably, assumes the ‘oneness’ of the vast subcontinent, but also books upon the lands of Bactria (Balkh) and China, beyond its great mountains ranges, as outlying frontier regions, inseparable, inalienable and natural parts of the Indian subcontinent. The concept of the ‘unity and indivisability’ and of one vast and limitless subcontinent, itself the size of all of Europe, is thus ancient and rooted in historical mythology”.



Then Aitzaz gives the geographic boundaries encompassing oneness of India and a common Indian race and refers the same to Jawaharlal Nehru and also quotes other proponents of Indian oneness 6.

Building up the case of a greater India, the apt and able lawyer in Aitzaz now pauses in his graphic description of an akhund-bharat and returns to his earlier theme of the Indus Saga i.e. Pakistan’s creation.

In Section-3 of the Introduction, Aitzaz describes the river Indus, its origin and subsequent fall into the sea. His lack of study on the subject is apparent by the fact that he only mentions Sutlaj, Beas, Ravi, Chinab & Jhelum & has no inkling of the influences from the north-western rivers like, Kabul, itself fed by about a dozen rivers, Kurram, Zhob, Gomal and a host of torrential streams from the Suleman ranges.

In Section-4 of the Introduction, he again reverts to his oneness of India obsession. Though he outwardly laments that, our historian continues to style the variegated and many-faceted history of Indus as an integral part of what is called ‘Indian’ history. And further woes that our historian, though focusing on Indus history pay more attention to the rule & influence upon it of the Indian dynasties, and also bemoans – that our historians in order to give entity to Pakistan, trace our cultural foundations solely to extra-territorial linkages, meaning thereby, the Arab, the Persian & Turk. And Aitzaz claims, that in denying the Indian they deny theIndus and hence the break from the many attributes of Indus culture which are common to the Indian.



6 Shankarcharya, Vivekananda and Shankar, Page 6,The Indus Saga, 1996 Edition





In Section-5 of the Introduction, he deals with , what he calls, the battered soul of Pakistan and professes it is time to rediscover and restore the soul, the dream embodied in it, and to rediscover and restore Pakistan as a liberal progressive, modern state, and hence through this quest of Pakistan, he wants to create a secular Pakistan, and then merge it in the oneness of India as is the theme of the work disguised as a peace move.

In Section-6 of the Introduction, Aitzaz refers to a generation bridge covered by his three points – first being poetry to illustrate a point – by quoting on P-35 of his book a Rig Vedic hymn in praise of a horse.

The apparently insignificant Horse has a very important role in this subtle war of indoctrination by the Brahman designs.

As horses were the primary tool of warfare, it is important to note that the superiority of any martial race depended on who tamed, bred and used the horse first. The visual and psychological impact of an invading army, galloping and thundering down the battlefield on horseback was sufficient to unnerve any fainthearted enemy.

It is in this context that the Brahman and, subsequently, the European intellectuals invented the fable that theIndus valley did not have the horse prior to the advent of the Hindus.

Aitzaz appears to accept the same conjecture and agrees to the argument very sagiously by further quoting another anti-Indus writer, Romila Tharpar 7 that Indus was not a horse area and fails to appreciate that British horse runs & stud farms were in thickly vegetated canal colony areas of present Punjab and also the salt range breed, the Sanghar breed of Sind have always been famous for its endurance. His lack of study in this aspect reflects again on P-35, where he mentions that the central Asian steppe is the natural habitat of the horse.

He is mysteriously silent on the prime hot-blood breed called the Arabian which is the oldest and the most coveted bloodline without which any hot or warm blooded horse is not recognized as a premier breed. The Arab horse predates the central Asian ponies because the Arabian bloodline is known to date back to 2500-3000 B.C.


7 History of India, Volume I, New York 1979’ P-95,

Even the indigenous breeds of Indus were cross bred with the Arabian to give it a separate entity of endurance and stamina; though most have been renamed as Indian breeds – by British in the last 250 years i.e. 1757 onward.

In Section-8 of the Introduction, he names the main eleven Indus men 4 who are his heroes of Indus.

Among these, Arjun is a character in mahabharta, Sheikha & Jasrat are misquoted by Aitzaz to be Ghakkars while they were actually Khokhars – and Amir Timur was not a ‘scourge of Earth’, 8 rather it was Alexander of Macedonia who burnt all cities and libraries of Egypt and Iran & destroyed the palaces & shrines. Bhagat Singh was a Sikh who hardly had any contribution as an Indus person. Aitzaz should have added a Buddhist and a Christian name; hence his secular theory would have been complete.

Aitzaz gives his own concept of Pakistan’s Past, Present & Future, by stressing on P-17, “they cut us off from our heroes, but the questions and our heroes have survived, they must survive. Pity the nation that forgets its heroes. We have to rediscover our heroes. Until we do so, many cancerous myths will continue to harbour in our body- politic, and many unwanted fractious controversies and fissiparous tendencies will continue to divide us”.

Excellent and well-said. But which heroes is he talking about? Aitzaz, fully expounds, and substantiates his above statement in his second (Indian) edition of The Indus Saga (2005). P-30 where after Bhagat Singh, he states; “..nor of the deities and beliefs of their predecessor Indus Person. Indra and the Vedas, Krishna and the Mahabharata are to be shunned as if they would pollute the minds of the youth:” He goes on to conclude that “Yet these deities and beliefs, howsoever incredible, are facts forming a part of Indus history.”

Unfortunately, these sweeping and misguiding statements do not hold their grounds to either the true history of Indus region nor to the chronology of the Iranian and the Turkish empires that predate the Hindu mythology.

According to Aitzaz9, we were never fighters and he starts our past from the time when Hindus came and made us Puru’s and under their leadership, we became a fighting force!

8 Page 16, Indus Saga, 1996 Edition

9 Page 38-39, Indus Saga, 2005

But wait, first you have to decipher what Aitzaz is saying of our past.

He is professing that until the discovery of MohanjoDaro, there was no evidence that Indus had a past as they had flourished and vanished without successor or trace in chronology. He quotes lavishly from the Hindu writer named Kosambi and states there is a vacuum of 500 to 600 years till 1000 BC when new cities came. Secondly, according to Aitzaz, two cities, Harrappa and MohenjoDaro, existed in this vast endless river basin ofIndus till the sea.

So where do we fit in Taxila or similar archeological finds all over Pakistan?

Aitzaz quoted Kosambi again to argue that the absence of a large network of cities indicates that there was an almost lethargic indifference to growth.

His third argument is that Indus cities had neither fortresses nor any colossal monuments to the glory of a king in the manner in which Pyramids standout.

Aitzaz fails to understand that our past monuments, much superior to Pyramids, were razed to the ground by the Hindus under the Mughal emperor Akbar, and then during the Sikhs and the British Raj. It is recorded in history that the Hindu engineers and railway line contractors, from Karachi to Peshawar, used our entire Past monument for the ‘Ballast’ of the railway lines because it was free and was a suitable substitute to broken rock and gravel used as railway lines bed.

The monotheist Buddhist past of Indus has been substituted by the polytheist Hindu but in the absence of a personal research or study, Aitzaz relies on ‘Kosambhi’ and hence helps destroy the very past he purports to uphold.

He quotes Kosambi again to state that ‘The Indus region seems to have been called the Meluhha by the Mesopotamians. All mention of Meluhha ceases by about 1750 B.C.”

But the irony is in new books of syllabus, where we have been shown destroyed in 1900 BC. So in these books the Indus civilization is wiped out 150 years earlier than even what Kosambi claims.

A person may be given the benefit of doubt when addressing on a platform as one can get carried away by the rhetoric and say that may be incorrect. But he who writes muses and gives his inner self. Is it that Aitzaz’s projection of one-ness of India, which he calls the centripetal pull of India, is pulling him to India?

Aitzaz talks of Bangladesh syndrome but fails to understand and research the historic perspective. While there is no denial that many a political and administrative mistakes were made by the then West Pakistan based government, it was in 1880 that the first seed of Muslim divide was planted by the Bengal British Government by abolishing the Perso-Arabic script in the Bengal, which is the same script in which Urdu is written, and replaced by Deva Nagri script, in all matters related to printing, and Kaithi script, in all papers written by hand. All courts and Bengal Government departments followed this executive order and all old books were destroyed and the ‘Tagore’ family was invited to re-write the new literature of Bengal in the new script.

With the merger of the script into a Hindu format, within a span of 90 years came the eventual product the “Mukhit-Bhami” the new intellectual, born, breed and groomed in the Tagore literary culture written in Deva-Nagari scrip, which was later called Bengali script.

In Section-9 of his Introduction, he now tries to undo his venom by supporting the theory of two-nations, India& Pakistan, by referring to his Gurdaspur Kathiawar salient theory of divide. What one needs to understand is that Ganga and Indus have two distinct features. Our Indus from eastern Baltistan and down to salt range is supplimented by massive network of tributaries while Gangas does not have such a network. The roots ofIndus are more densely distributed, hence our heritage, and the base of the languages of our original tribes is old Scythian, Dardic. Our script is even spread to Turkistan in our North, courtesy the Buddhist who shifted our Buddhist religion to Khotan around 1st Centaury AD and then to Lhasa in 8th-9th Century AD. Again, it was Turks of present Sinkiang province, the old Turkistan, who technically are the owners of present land mass called Tibbet. It should be borne in mind that the first Buddha is a Saka and a Saka is a Turkish tribe – born inKashmir – as our old annals tell us. The theory is further collaborated by Fa-hain (400AD) & other Chinese pilgrims who have recorded their travelogues.

The title of last section of his Introduction, ‘From Pataliputra to Pakistan’, itself signifies our nations’ supposed break from, his professed, mahabharta. In this manner he has tried to firmly establish our heritage commencing from the Indian geographical region of Pataliputra instead of the Indus valley.

Hence, his argument of the Indus Saga is self defeating.

The second edition of his book is now called ‘the Indus Saga, from Pataliputra to Partition’.

In fact, it is really a Pataliputra to partition concept i.e. from oneness of British India, we entered in a break called partition of 1947. The use of the term ‘partition’ is incorrect. Partition implies an entity which is divided in parts. While we have been an independent entity from ages prior even to Pataliputra.

This book quotes Lal Krishna Advani (P-XI) on how to run our country, and Jawahar Lal Nehru preaches us the benefits of secularism and oneness of India and on P-XII. Aitzaz laments that ‘the number of Muslims in India is greater than population of Pakistan’.

The fact is, in 1947, they chose to live in British India while nine million Muslims did migrate to both our wings, East and West Pakistan. The Muslims of India, who opted to stay back are ethnically divided into four groups namely those claiming Arab ancestry, secondly Afghan-Pathan, third Turkish-Iranian, and lastly, the local ethnically indigenous converts to Islam. None of these groups claim Indus valley ancestrally or ethnically so just as the Muslims from China, Malaysia and Indonesia would not be interested to migrate into Pakistan, these ethnic groups, nevertheless Muslims, should not be expected to come into the folds of the Indus valley.

If we are to talk of the ‘Ummah’ or ‘Pan Islamism’ then the argument is sustainable that there should be unified Muslim state stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific and the Arctic to the Indian Ocean. However this is not the contention here.

If we want to look at this from the ‘secular’ aspect, the Muslims residing in present-day India have a different ethnical entities and the argument of the presence of more numeric Muslims does not hold its ground.

On (P-XIII) Aitzaz Ahsan grieves on the theme ‘six decades on, there is hardly an Indian, even the must accommodating and rational, who does not privately resent the partition of 1947. Even the most congenial Indian, Hindus and Muslims will say with love and affection,’how much before it might have been if…….” If the partition should not have taken place?, one is tempted to ask the learned writer and council.

(The writer has undertaken an investigative historical research on the Indus person. For over two decades he has conducted exhaustive studies, interviews and collection of reference material in his quest for the truth).

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