Renaming NWFP-Correcting a historical distortion

Correcting the distortions created by a long colonial rule is not easy. In most cases such corrections were not without blood. And that’s what happened in NWFP when the name labeled on it by the British was changed to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.  Given the history of the province, it was not unexpected that there would be a reaction from the Hindko speaking people. The latent adversarial conflict between the Pushto speaking ANP leadership and the Hindko speaking Hazara’s blew up. Like always politically expedient vultures were not far behind.  Ruthless firing on the protestors by the ANP government’s police further aggravated the situation. Giving a movement a few martyrs is a sure way to give it blood to swear upon. One would have expected far sightedness from ANP which has a political history of engaging its adversaries and finding a working ground.

The objection to the name Pakhtunkhwa has come from two lobbies: one the Hindko-speaking Hazara people who feel that their identity has been compromised; and two the lobbies who think that given the history of ANP, renaming is just a move to ultimately create Pakhtunistan, comprising all Pushto speaking people of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Nobody who has objection to the renaming has an answer to the counter question why the 74% of Pushto speaking people have to live with a colonial label which just describes the  geographical location of the province instead of its people? Then if the logic of this argument is that Pakhtuns live on both sides of the border, the same is true with the Punjabis. The only difference is that they have a different religion, the logic used to divide Punjab. This brings us to the major ideological debate in Pakistan between the humanists and the traditional establishment’s narrow nationalists. The humanists think that an area or region should be recognised through its people who have an identity, history, cultural affinity, common economic interests and sociology.  The latter lobbies are concerned more about the geographical boundaries of the state and represent the interests of the power at the center with little importance to the living souls on this land.

If anything, NWFP’s name change is going to strengthen Pakistan, as it meets the aspiration of the majority of Pakhtunkhwa. It was labeled as NWFP by the British in 1932 when it was given the status of a province, although they took over the control of the area from Ranjit Singh in 1849. But preferred to rule it from Lahore. It was used by Sher Shah Suri, who ruled India from 1540 to 1545, to describe his love for the mountains of ‘Pakhtunkhwa.’ It was Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan who raised the consciousness about the use of the Pushto language and convinced King Amanullah of Afghanistan to promote the language of the Pakhtuns. The critics of Ghaffar Khan never forgave him for not joining the Muslim League for demanding that the referendum in the province should also include the third question that whether the people of Pakhtunistan want a free state. But Muslim League and Congress agreed to give only two options to the NWFP people, asking them whether they want to join the Indian or Pakistani constituent assembly. Now this demand for the right of self-determination for Pakhtuns is considered as treason by the Khakis and their co-evolutionists, although they are not tired of demanding the same right from the top of the roofs for Kashmiris. But once Pakistan was made it was accepted by Ghaffar Khan and his elder brother Dr. Khan Sahib who after partition was the first Chief Minister of NWFP.  His government was illegally ousted by the center.

Nevertheless those who are blind-folded by their aversion of Ghaffar Khan have been undermining the interest of the Pakhtuns and other smaller nationalities of the country in favour of a strong center. They tend to overlook the fact that in the last 63 years, economic interests of Pakhtunkhwa people have changed and are now attached to other provinces of Pakistan. Just consider this: After the Punjabis the Pakhtuns have the second largest presence in the Army of Pakistan; they share the power with the Punjabi establishment when there is military rule in Pakistan; their business class has more investment in Karachi and Punjab than in Pakhtunkhwa itself; their labour class is more at home and earns its living in Karachi and Punjab; their middle class has more jobs in other provinces’ public and private sector; they cannot look up to Afghanistan for integration because that country is much under-developed than Pakistan and is war ravaged. No people have ever joined or migrated to less-developed societies.  As a matter of fact when the Afghan refugees started pouring into NWFP in the eighties, as a result of the war unleashed by General Zia and CIA on that country, I found most Pakhtuns of NWFP criticising the immigrants for taking away their resources. They also felt that the Afghan immigrants are not going to go back as no migrant who has moved to a developed area has ever looked back in history. And they were right. Today you see even in Karachi many markets monopolised by the Afghan traders.

Sociologically, the Pakhtuns have also changed in this period. They teach their children English if they can afford it or Urdu because these languages get them jobs and keep them in the orbit of power. When NAP came to power it declared Urdu as the official language in the province, realising the inadequacy of Pushto. So our ultra-nationalist Pakistanis should not fear that renaming the province is a precursor to the succession of the Pakhtunkhwa.

The issues related to Hazara people’s apprehensions and the discussion it has started on redemarcation of provinces would be dealt with in the second part of this article. Stay tuned. (

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