Tuesday April 23, 2024

History matters

By Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani
February 16, 2018

History helps us understand our past and ultimately enables us to understand where we currently stand. It is true that being stuck in the past can be very painful and can prevent us from moving on in life, but there is too much to learn from the past as well.

I believe that knowledge of history plays a pivotal role in the betterment of individuals, societies and nations. Let’s have a look at February 15 that passed yesterday. According to my knowledge, at least three important historical events have taken place on this date. On this day 29 years ago (in 1989), the Soviet forces completed their withdrawal from Afghanistan. The superpower, once considered unconquerable, faced historical defeat in Afghanistan. The collapse of the Soviet Union resulted in the independence of various countries, including the Central Asian states and unification of both parts of Germany. The Geneva Accord, which provided the framework for the Soviet withdrawal, was signed by Afghanistan, Pakistan, Soviet Union and the US.

Historically, the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan share close cultural, religious and social ties. However, Afghanistan’s opposition to Pakistan since day one has been quite unfortunate. Afghanistan was the only country that opposed Pakistan’s entry to the United Nations. But at a critical time of the Soviet invasion, Pakistan decided to support its neighbouring country on the basis of principles, and opened its borders for Afghan refugees on humanitarian grounds. Pakistan is also honoured for hosting the world’s largest number of refugees.

The Soviet Union learned from its defeat and normalised diplomatic relations with the US and the rest of the West. In the current international scenario, it seems that Russia is once again vying to achieve the status of a superpower. On the other hand, despite 29 years having passed, Pakistan and Afghanistan still don’t trust each other. The internationally recognised Durand Line remains largely unrecognised by Afghanistan. Ideally, both the countries should consider celebrating February 15 jointly as the day of departure of the Soviet forces.

On February 15, 2003, the world witnessed the largest protest in human history. Thousands of people from more than 600 cities belonging to 60 countries came onto the streets to oppose the possibility of the Iraq War. The well-coordinated protests had proved that peace-loving people are united to safeguard the world from the miseries of war.

According to media reports, the largest protest series were held in Europe. The number of participants in the protest in Rome was around three million, while in Madrid, 1.5 million people attended the protest rally. Overall, up to 30 million people from across the globe recorded their protest. A renowned American journalist was of the view that February 15 reflected that there were, “Two superpowers on the planet – the United States, and worldwide public opinion.” Unfortunately, the US failed to respect the public opinion and invaded Iraq. The war became a turning point in the US downfall. Today, instead of behaving like a responsible superpower that should promote democracy, human rights and freedom, the US has itself become a symbol of imperialism in the 21st century. The lesson that history teaches us from this is that anyone who does not respect public opinion, eventually heads towards its own destruction and distortion.

On the other hand, Canada celebrates the National Flag Day on February 15 annually, to commemorate the inauguration of the Canadian flag. The national flag was raised for the first time on Parliament Hill on February 15 in 1965. On this historic occasion, Honourable Maurice Bourget, Speaker of the Canadian Senate, had expressed that: “The [Canadian] flag is the symbol of the nation’s unity, for it, beyond any doubt, represents all the citizens of Canada without distinction of race, language, belief or opinion.” Today, Canada is truly acknowledged as the global human rights champion, promoting freedom, democracy and positive values.

Unfortunately, there is a common misconception that the colour green in the Pakistani flag represents Muslims and the white stands for minorities. In my view, dividing a national flag in such a way is equal to creating divisions among the Pakistani nation. I believe that the green colour is for the entire Pakistani nation regardless of whether they belong to the majority or minority, while the white in the flag reflects peace. We must not forget that studying history gives us insight into our culture of origin and also increases our cross-cultural awareness. Therefore, we must learn from history to maintain unity in our ranks.

The writer is a member of the National Assembly and patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council.

Twitter: @RVankwani