It will take 109 years to correct a historical wrong. It was in 1901, when the North West Frontier Province was carved out of Punjab. The province was merged into what was called One Unit in 1955, with Lahore becoming the capital of the new administrative unit. Gen Yahya Khan dissolved the One Unit in July 1970 and restored the provinces of the NWFP, Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan. The 1973 Constitution continued with the British nomenclature.
Pakhtun nationalist and ANP President Wali Khan, who despite being the Leader of the Opposition in the lower house of the Parliament and having reservations over the nomenclature, affixed his signature to give Pakistan its first consensus Constitution in 1973. The Pakhtun nationalist parties, however, continued to press for a change of name. Alternatives included Pashtunistan, Pakhtunkhwa and Afghania.
Sensing strong opposition to Pashtunistan, the nationalist parties later changed tack and started calling the NWFP as Pakhtunkhwa, citing historical references both dating to the time of Greek historian Herodotus and later to emperor Shahabuddin Ghauri. Pakhtunkhwa, they hoped, would be less controversial and therefore find approval, particularly in Punjab, whose votes were crucial in amending the Constitution. It however, remained a distant dream. The PML, with which the ANP twice shared power, refused to support the amendment, leading to the collapse of their coalition government in the NWFP. It is said that Mian Nawaz Sharif had broached the matter with the later ANP leader Wali Khan shortly before his government was dismissed in a military coup by General Pervez Musharraf.
3.9 per cent Pakhtuns in the census mentioned Pashto as their mother tongue, though there are many others in Dera Ismail Khan, including the Jadoons, Tarins, Mashwanis and Swatis in Hazara region and Miankhels, Gandapurs and Kundis, who are Pakhtuns but have forgotten Pashto. The census figures for the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), which are geographically and politically part of NWFP, are even more revealing in terms of the Pakhtun identity of the population. In 1998 an overwhelming 99.1 per cent of the 3.176 million population of Fata, to which the change of name will also apply, declared Pashto as their mother tongue. Even though the tribal areas have a largely separate administrative setup, it is headed by the governor of NWFP. If the Fata figures are added to those of the settled areas or districts falling under NWFP, the percentage of Pakhtuns and Pashto-speakers will rise even further. In opposing the renaming of the province to Pakhtunkhwa, the two Muslim League factions led by Mian Nawaz Sharif and Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain are driven by the fear of losing votes in certain non-Pashto-speaking areas. These are the only two significant political parties represented in parliament that object to the name Pakhtunkhwa. If democratic norms are to be followed, then the wishes of the majority need to be respected in the renaming. The NWFP Assembly, reflecting the will of the people, a passed resolution in favour of Pakhtunkhwa by majority vote in November 1997, with only the Saifullah brothers, Salim and Humayun, opposing it, and lawmakers from the PML-N, which was then a coalition partner of the ANP in NWFP, abstaining from the vote.Abstention isn’t opposition and the decision not to oppose the resolution was taken to save the coalition government from collapsing. Politics rather than principles was behind this decision by the then PML-affiliated chief minister Sardar Mahtab Ahmad Khan, Pir Sabir Shah and other Hazara politicians now in the forefront of opposition to Pakhtunkhwa. It is intriguing that the PML-N, according to Pir Sabir Shah, was willing to accept Afghania as the new name for NWFP. Though the ANP leadership too appears ready to agree to Afghania, it is difficult to understand how this name would protect the identity of non-Pakhtuns in Hazara or elsewhere who believe Pakhtunkhwa would wipe out their identity. Abaseen, Khyber and other names too cannot give an identity to the non-Pakhtun populations, but they would certainly deprive the majority Pakhtuns of their identity.
Putting the Record straight
The argument against Pakhtunkhwa that it is ethnic-based is neutralised by the fact that all other provinces in Pakistan carry names that identify the majority ethnic groups living there. Even if Punjab is named after its five rivers or Sindh after the River Indus, the majority populations in the two provinces have come to be known as Punjabis and Sindhis. Balochistan is obviously named after the Baloch, the majority ethnic group in the province along with their Brahvi cousins.
The number of Saraiki-speakers in Punjab are 17.36 per cent of its population, compared to 75.23 Punjabis; in Sindh only 59.73 per cent of the population speaks Sindhi, while 21.05 per cent speaks Urdu; 6.99 per cent speak Punjabi and 4.19 per cent Pashto; in Balochistan, not more than 54.76 per cent of the population name Balochi as their mother tongue, compared to 29.64 per cent naming Pashto, 5.58 per cent Sindhi, 2.52 per cent Punjabi, and 2.42 per cent Saraiki. In fact, Pashto-speakers in NWFP and Fata form the largest group of a single ethnicity in any province in Pakistan.Ignoring the aspirations of the Pakhtun people (15.42 per cent), who form the second-largest ethnic group in Pakistan after Punjabis (44.15 per cent) and refusing to provide them an identity in the renaming of their province, would be both undemocratic and unjust.
At the end of the day, it will be the ANP and President Zardari (who firstly took the name at United Nation General Assembly in 2009) which will rightly claim the credit for undertaking what was until recently considered an impossible task of correcting a historical wrong and giving an identity to the people of “Khyber Pakhtunkhwa”.
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