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Pakistan: Renaming NWFP Opens Pandora’s Box

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Pakistan: Renaming NWFP Opens Pandora’s Box

By Samuel Baid
Pakistan National Assembly (Lower House) on April 9 has passed the 18th Constitutional amendment almost unanimously. At the time of writing, the 100-Member Senate (Upper House) is discussing the same. The current meeting seeks to undo the damage Gen Ziaul Haq’s Eighth amendment (1985) and Gen Parvez Musharraf’s 17th amendment (2003) did to the 1973 Constitution. Gen Zia had altered 90 and Gen Musharraf 26 Articles of the Constitution.

It was an agreement between their self-exiled and exiled former Prime Ministers, Ms Benazir Bhutto and Mr Nawaz Sharief respectively in 2006 in London to restore the original shape of the 1973 Constitution when their parties came to power in Pakistan.

In all 70 Articles were amended. Afticle 1 of the Constitution was the first Article to be amended. It said the territories of Pakistan shall comprise:

“(a) the Provinces of Baluchistan, the North-West Frontier Province, the Punjab and Sind….”

The amendment changes the spelling of Baluchistan to “Balochistan” and Sind to “Sindh”. In fact for years these two provinces had been adhering to spellings which have been corrected in the Constitution. But what is the most controversial or onerous part of the amendment to Article 1 relates to the name of North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), a name given to it by the British Government.

The 18th amendment has renamed it as Khyber-Pakhtoonkhawa”. This was a long-standing demand of the Awami National Party (ANP) which represents the Pakhtoons of NWFP. The ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) had committed itself to changing the name of the Province. Pakhtoon leader Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and his son Khan Wali Khan, who was the supremo of the National Awami Party (NAP) which in the late 1970s was renamed as ANP had argued that all provinces were named after the ethnicity of their people except NWFP. Punjab was named after Punjabis and Baluchistan after Baluch. But the Pakhtoon identity did not reflect in the name of the province, NWFP, they had argued.

The word Pakhtoonkhawa alarms many in Pakistan, especially in Punjab. The Establishment in Pakistan had maligned Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and Wali Khan as separatists who wanted to establish “Pakhtoonistan” with the support of Afghanistan. The “Pakhtoonistan” campaign was dropped for ever when the political power was handed over to civilians by the Army in December 1971. But the Establishment and the then civilian ruler Zulfikar Ali Bhutto continued to malign them. As a result, the common man in Pakistan is suspicious of the word “Pakhtoonkhawa”.

The Nawaz Muslim League was sadly divided on this question of changing the name of NWFP. There was a state of mutiny in the party. The Nawaz League’s Members from the Hazara Division were in a revolting mood.
The change of name of NWFP can create more problems for the present and future Governments than it supposes to solve. The first of them has already started in the Hazara Division of NWFP. Here ethnic and sectarian conflicts are coming into the open after the change of the name. The People of Hazara are non-Pakhtoon and many of them are Shias. They complain of discrimination from the ANP Government in Peshawar. There is acute poverty and joblessness in the Division.

The change of the name of NWFP has come as a spark to the dry straw in Hazara. One Haidar Zaman has organized agitations under the aegis of Hazara Action Committee. On April 12 they burnt tyres on roads. At least five people died in police firing. The ANP has charged Muslim League (Q) leader Shujjat Hussain of igniting the trouble. Hazara people do not like Pakhtoons and now they demand a separate Hazara Province. Nawaz League leader Nawaz Sharief visited the Division and supported the demand for a separate Province.

Mr Shujjat Hussain went a step further and demanded that not only Hazara but wherever there is a demand for a separate Province it should be conceded. In this connection, he referred to the demand of a separate province in South Punjab.
In South Punjab there is a Seraiki movement, which for years has been demanding a separate Seraiki Province. In the 1990s its leaders had even given a call for an independent Seraikistan. It should be noted that whenever the PPP rules Islamabad, the Seraikis keep quiet. Now they are quiet, first, because the PPP is in power, and second, because a Seraiki (Mr Yousaf Raza Gilani) is the Prime Minister. But if Hazara is made a separate province, it will become difficult for the Seraiki leaders to resist the party workers’ demand for reviving the Seraiki movement.

A more difficult problem will arise in Baluchistan where the Pakhtoonkhawa National Awami Party has been demanding for many years that all Pakhtoon areas be joined together and named Pakhtoonkhawa.

It may be recalled that when the NAP became ANP, Mohammad Khan Achakzai retain the original name and later prefixed it with “Pakhtoonkhawa”. His demand for joining all Pakhtoon areas implied division of Baluchistan. Achakzai is Baluchistan based. He heads the Pakhtoon segment in the province. The number of Pakhtoons multiplied here due to the influx of Afghan refugees during the 1970s and 1980s. Lakhs of Afghan have chosen Baluchistan as their home.
Baluchistan has mostly remained in the grip of insurgency in different degrees in the past 63 years. If Achakzai is inspired by what Muslim League (both N and Q) leaders are encouraging in Hazara and gives a call for joining Khyber-Pakhtoonkhawa, Baluchistan will be plunged into a bloody crisis as never before.