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VIEW: Name change fiasco —Ayesha Ijaz Khan

Allowing more provinces on the basis of administrative ease is one thing, but carving out provinces on ethnic or linguistic lines is simply not on

The name change of
the NWFP province has been unfair to Hazara and amends need to be made, but not in the form of a separate province. The Hazarawals voted for Pakistan in the referendum held at partition, and kudos to them for getting it right. The Awami National Party (ANP) and its supporters, on the other hand, have had to live with the stigma of having opposed the idea of Pakistan. One cannot underestimate the importance of this factor with respect to the ensuing reluctance in accepting a name change for the NWFP, which ensures that the Pashtun identity of the province would be front and centre. This “paranoia regarding Pashtun identity”, as some have called it, stemmed historically from the separatist stance taken by the ANP’s ancestral leadership.

Today, the ground realities are entirely different. The name change having gone through suggests that Punjab and the establishment have overcome their paranoia. Assuaging their fears is the fact that Afghanistan is no longer in a position to demand a separate ‘Pashtunistan’ and India and the rest of the world are too scared of the image of the ‘Taliban Pashtun’ to support any sort of separatism either. Recognising this, the ANP has wisely chosen to work within the Pakistan framework. Recently, the ANP has played a pivotal and most supportive role for the Pakistani military in fighting the militants in their province. Without ANP’s political support, the army’s job would have been far more difficult, if not impossible. Thus, historic alliances are shifting. Whereas previously the ANP was considered undependable, today the establishment has had to find common grounds with it, as opposed to the traditional military-mullah alliance.

Notwithstanding its shoddy handling of the name change, ANP has tempered its demands to the feasible. It would also be fair to say that a significant number of Pashtuns, perhaps not the majority, were not inclined towards the name change and were content living in ‘Sarhad’. They agreed with those non-Pashtuns who claimed that ‘Pakhtunkhwa’ sounded exclusionary and relegated non-Pashtuns to a secondary status. The examples of Punjab and Sindh given by the proponents of Pakhtunkhwa may be distinguishable on the grounds that not only do Punjab and Sindh describe geographical attributes of the respective areas (much as Sarhad does) but are names historically associated with those regions, and hence, as one Hazarawal said to me, “The ethnicity of people belonging to those provinces emerged from being associated with those provincial names over a period of time.”

Changing a name, as opposed to continuing with a historic one, demands thinking through all of its potential repercussions, but this was not done. Pashtuns who supported ‘Pakhtunkhwa’ argue that if the Hazarawals are so concerned about losing their identity in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, why have they accepted alien names of their major cities, namely Abbottabad (named after James Abbott, a British army officer and colonial administrator), Haripur (named after Hari Singh, a Sikh general) and Mansehra (named after Maan Singh, another Sikh ruler)? Is it that their angst is only reserved for Pashtuns who constitute the majority of the province?

Other Pashtuns do not agree. One gentleman on a Pashtun discussion forum proposed that ‘Pakhtunkhwa’ reflects the political philosophy prevalent in the Charsadda-Mardan area. But Pashtuns residing in the southern part of the province, or Swat and Dir (historically independent principalities), or predominantly Shia areas like Kurram and Hangu, are less keen on flaunting the Pashtun identity. The Hindko- and Seraiki-speaking people and other non-Pashtuns from Hazara and the Northern Areas do not support the name change.

Granted Pashtuns are the majority in the province and democracy calls for majority rule, but safeguarding minority interests (sometimes read — sentiments) can be crucial. It can also mean having to needlessly fight over revenues that are generated from areas opposed to the name change, once comfortably considered revenues for the province at large. Nobody understood this better than the Pashtuns living in Hazara and D I Khan. Contrary to what some analysts have written, many Pashtuns of these areas have proudly held on to their language and identity, but by living alongside Hindko and Seraiki speakers, respectively, they recognised the importance of pluralism and the negative ramifications of the name change. While the Hazarawal have reacted passionately, and violently, the Seraiki speakers of D I Khan are more cautious. But what has started in Hazara will not stop there. That is for sure.

If Hazara is to become a separate province, then the day will not be far when the same Pashtuns, who are at the moment siding with the Hazarawal because they live in Hazara, will start voicing their own concerns about ethnic persecution. D I Khan will take its cue from Hazara, and because of the added sectarian dimension, the situation there could be far more incendiary. Already, the mostly Seraiki-speaking Shia population of D I Khan is disturbed by the demographic shift as a result of the Sunni-Pashtun internally displaced persons (IDPs) moving in from Waziristan.

Allowing more provinces on the basis of administrative ease is one thing, but carving out provinces on ethnic or linguistic lines is simply not on. It is a dangerous stance. As one average Pakistani said on television, “The language changes every three kilometres in our part of the world.” It was not long ago that I heard a gentleman from Bahawalpur insist that ‘Riyasti’ was distinct from ‘Seraiki’ and hence worthy of a separate province. Where will this stop?

When it comes to funds allocation and access to public services, every effort should be made to ensure fair distribution among our diverse peoples, but when it comes to matters of identity, sect, language or race, we must not forget Jinnah’s guiding principles. For he wisely said, “We are all now Pakistanis, not Baloch, not Pathans, not Sindhis, not Punjabis. Whatever we feel or do should be only as Pakistanis. Everybody should love his village, his town and his city and should work hard for its development. However, it is more important to love our country than our city or town. We should work much harder for the sake of our country.”

The writer’s website is www.ayeshaijazkhan.com

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