In the last couple of decades, the biggest gift that the political parties of Pakistan could extend to the people of Pakistan was the 18th amendment. However, the untold tragedy which occurred because of the politics associated with one of the sections of the amendment is the murder of 7 people (some say 10) on April 12, 2010, in open daylight. Because of the general celebratory mode which ensued, the tragedy was swept under the carpet. The KP police gunned down on the roads of Abbottabad peaceful protesters who came out against a disparaging clause of this particular amendment: change of the name of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). The slaughter could not stir even a discussion in the mainstream politics of country for the reason that those slain didn’t fit in the agenda, narrative or optics of ‘democracy’ of any of the players who were setting the discourse of Pakistani politics.
It has been more than decade since the ANP changed the name of province, and I am yet to witness any good that happened to people of province except the argument that they have established their identity through this amendment. As a reaction to this renaming of the province, the alienation of the people of Hazara Division – who don’t speak Pashto, and constitute around one sixth of the province’s population – was aggravated, which was expressed as the demand to have a separate province. It was not the only time when voices came out for a separate province. However, the political pundits found this an opportunity to rally masses of Hazara. After the name change which was not acceptable for Hazarewals, it appeared to be a legitimate demand because no serious consultations were carried out between people of Hazara and the ANP – or for that matter between the Pashtuns who demanded a new name and those who don’t speak Pashto.
I once asked Afrasiab Khattak – one of the main architects of 18th amendment – about what inspires them to keep the Hazara division with KP if they are not even the part of any consultations on some of the major decisions about their province. He smartly answered: “diversity”. I was pleasantly surprised but left the conversation glad that he, at least, has a strong argument to make. Nevertheless, their move never helped ANP in winning the popular vote in the following general elections. Whether it fulfilled the psychological need of the majority of a province to realize their identity; nobody knows, as there is no certain parameter to gauge the satisfaction except the vote in general elections – & the results of following two general elections from KP suggest otherwise.
Any irresponsible move is going to further alienate Hazarewals, who have somewhat come to terms with the earlier renaming from NWFP to KP
In last few years, we have seen a wave of populist individuals making their ways to public offices around the world. Their success undermined the responsible form of government. Constituencies might be won with such rhetoric; however, it is the death of responsible politics when it runs on popular emotion.
It appears that Mohsin Dawar is revising his strategy in the same populist-leaning way. In pursuit of realizing his ambitions to gain popular Pashtun backing, Dawar, tabled a bill to rename the province once more – from Khyber-Pakhtunkhawa to just Pakhtunkhawa.
It is not easy to comprehend what pushed him to think on these lines. Does he think it will help the Pashtun people in realizing their identity more than what they did through the 18th amendment? From NWFP to KP, the name-change still could be argued for. It made some sense as ‘NWFP’ was nothing but a temporary and artificial name given by the British colonialists. Sooner or later, that had to be changed. However, changing it again will not accrue any meaningful political benefits, or even reflect anything in political optics. It will be an exercise in futility as the main argument behind renaming the province is already satisfied by the 18th amendment.
I, like many of Hazarewals, think that Mr. Dawar’s support base have been deprived of the fundamental rights in Pakistan, for which he along with his fellows from Wazirstan have done a lot in past five years. Their struggle is unmatched in the recent history of Pakistan. However, this unreasonable move from a person as prominent in a progressively radical movement, to emphasize so much on such a small objective, puts question marks on his strategy. I am sure he has no idea how the Hazarewal community would feel about this renaming. He, who has based his politics on a narrative of inclusivity, should at east take stock of the effect of this move on how included the Hazarewals in the province would feel. They already have started considering themselves a minority in KP. One worries that any continued and unreasonable proposals for once again renaming the province, coming from Pashto-speaking leaders, will only further enhance the Hazarewals’ identity crisis. Perhaps that identity crisis is more severe than what Pashtuns themselves experience in Pakistan!
More to this: PTI’s MNAs thought this bill to be of such utmost importance that Mohammad Ali Khan asked Qasim Suri to refer it to the relevant committee at the earliest. A red flag if there were ever one! If PTI is considering Mr. Dawar’s bill important, surely there is something wrong with it?
Mr. Dawar must revisit his strategy – not only this bill. Any irresponsible move is going to further alienate Hazarewals, who have somewhat come to terms with the earlier renaming – and how it had been done without consultation and with bloodshed.
There is no point in reliving a traumatic experience again and making Hazarewals – and for that matter all the non-Pashto-speaking population of the province – feel as though they were aliens in their home. Such an approach neither bodes well for democratic inclusivity nor for ‘diversity’. It is erasure of a significant population, only for the sake of insisting on the exclusive right of Pashtuns and Pashto-speaking people on the province. That insistence is not only undemocratic, but will achieve nothing more than further alienating a significant population of the province while only stoking regressive Pashtun nationalist sentiments.
The author is a Postdoctoral Researcher at McGill University, Canada