Could Pakistan’s NorthWest Frontier Province Become Afghania?

January 21, 2010 by  


By Dr. Mohammad Taqi, Pakistan Link

At this time in the constitutional history of Pakistan, there apparently is a lot in a name; a name for the NWFP, that is.

Two major political parties of Pakistan, viz. Awami National Party (ANP) and Pakistan Muslim League- Nawaz (PML-N), have nominated a five-member committee each, to meet, and hopefully agree, upon rechristening the NWFP.

In and of itself this may not be a major development for the rest of Pakistan, but on its resolution apparently hinges the forward movement in repealing the 17th Amendment to the 1973 Constitution. The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) is likely to bless the consensus developed by the ANP and PML-N.

The North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) was so named, when in November 1901 the Viceroy of British India, Lord George Nathaniel Curzon, the First Marquess of Kedleston, carved out the Peshawar, Dera Ismail Khan, Bannu, Kohat and Hazara districts from the Punjab province and consolidated them into one administrative entity and appointed Sir Harold Deane as its first Chief Commissioner.

The chief commissionerate was abolished in 1932 and the NWFP became a Governor’s Province with the then Chief Commissioner Sir Ralph Griffith continuing as the first Governor. Sir Sahibzada Abdul Qayyum became the province’s first minister. The first general elections under the Government of Indian Act 1935 were held in 1937 and Sahibzada Abdul Qayyum was elected the first chief minister of the province.

Four of the districts originally incorporated into the NWFP had sizable non-Pashtun and/or non-Pashto speaking populations, Hazara being the most important such district. However, large proportions of the Hindko speakers of Hazara and Peshawar City trace their lineage to Pashto or Persian-speaking Afghans.

While the demographic makeup of the Peshawar city, Kohat and Dera Ismail Khan has changed favorably towards the Pashtun ethnicity and language over the last thirty years, the Hazara – now a division – remains very much a Hindko-speaking region.

Hazara has also been the bastion of various incarnations of the Pakistan Muslim League and remained so in the 2008 elections, returning six Muslim Leaguers to the National Assembly of Pakistan from its seven allocated seats; hence the PML-N’s intense focus on Hazara in the renaming process.

The ANP, on the other hand, has been consistently demanding a change in the province’s name since the party’s inception in 1986. The term Pukhtunkhwa was introduced in its current political context right around that time.

Pukhtunkhwa certainly is a term that has not only been used politically to describe the land of the Pashtuns but was also deployed frequently by the twentieth century Sufi poet Amir Hamza Shinwari and later by the more politically attuned poets like Ajmal Khattak, Qalandar Momand and Rehmat Shah Sael who gave it currency. It thus has significant cultural and popular history in contrast with the exonym NWFP.

The ANP had proposed this name as an alternative to the more political – and to some a secessionist – term Pashtunistan. Pashtunistan had its origin in the duel between the All-India Muslim League and the Khudai Khidmatgar Movement, where the latter proposed that the NWFP and FATA remain independent – under the Pashtunistan banner – than join Pakistan or India.

The Pashtun nationalist movement and its leaders remained ‘outsiders’, from 1947 through the mid-1980s, as far as the power politics of Pakistan go. The call for renaming the NWFP had then remained one of the rallying points for the ANP’s “National Democratic Revolution”, a neo-irredentist modification of the Leninist theory of the same name. Irredentism by definition being “a policy directed towards the incorporation, of irredentas – territories historically or ethnically related to one political unit but under the political control of another-back into their historically or ethnically related political unit”.

In due course the Pashtun nationalist movement, which in the NWFP essentially meant the ANP, was absorbed into the mainstream Pakistani politics, after forming a coalition with the PML of Nawaz Sharif in 1990, the party was formally initiated into the Islamabadian realpolitik and its leaders rehabilitated as “patriotic” Pakistanis from a hithertofore “traitor” status.

The issue of renaming the NWFP has, however, continued to be a point of contention between the ANP and the PML-N not least because of the different ethno-linguistic demographic that each draws its support from. Each side had its reservations entrenched in the irredentism – real or perceived – of the other.

Over the last several years, efforts have been made by many to arrive at a consensus name for the province. The proposed alternatives have ranged from Gandhara – the ancient name of the region, Khyber, Abaseen, Neelab, Peshawar and Afghania. Each of these names has had its supporters and critics.

Going back to Gandhara is considered by some to ignore centuries of sociological evolution that the people of this region have gone through. Khyber, Abaseen, Neelab and Peshawar represent a geographical nomenclature that is devoid of the ethnic, linguistic, religious and cultural connotations.

While geographical renaming has been a common practice in the post-colonial nation-states, it is rather a reverse sociological evolution to use geographic landmarks to name regions where a peoples’ identity is also an issue. The Pakistani provinces like Punjab or Sindh did not gain their names in this fashion. The geographical landmarks developed their significance over the ages and people inhabiting those regions subsequently drew their name and identity from these landmarks and regions.

Within the last two weeks, the PML-N has proposed a slate of three names, i.e., Abaseen, Neelab and Pukhtunkhwa-Hazara whereas t he Chief of the ANP, Asfandyar Wali Khan has given a mandate to his committee to agree upon Pukhtunkhwa, Pashtunistan or Afghania.

Among all the names proposed by the two parties Afghania is one entity that has no political baggage attached to it. Indeed Afghania is the word represented by the letter ‘A’ in the acronym PAKISTAN as originally coined by Chaudhry Rehmat Ali in his 1933 pamphlet “Now or Never”.

In his later book “ Pakistan : the fatherland of the Pak nation”, Chaudhry Rehmat Ali calls the word NWFP an “official but nondescript” term used for the province of Afghania.

In addition to the ANP President’s standing offer to accept Afghania as the province’s new name, its central leader and key ideologue Senator Afrasiab Khattak had also written a well-argued article supporting this name.

There could potentially be a question about having a province named Afghania right at the border of Afghanistan and a few may balk at this. However, from Allama Iqbal and Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah to the religious parties of Pakistan, everyone has acknowledged the strong ties of languages, culture, religion and trade between the two adjoining regions. If anything, Afghania would only strengthen and bolster these relations.

Afghania as the new name for the NWFP will not only be acceptable to all people of this region but will also bring to close a chapter of imperial history. It is in sync with the wishes of the founding fathers and the will of the people today. ANP and PML-N have the initiative in their hands; now or never, as Chaudhry Rehmat Ali would have said.

The author teaches and practices medicine at the University of Florida and can be reached at mazdaki@me.com.

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