Could Pakistan’s NorthWest Frontier Province Become Afghania?

January 21, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

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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What Now, Pakistan?

August 21, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

Courtesy Peter Symonds

2008-08-18T142847Z_01_ISL38_RTRMDNP_3_PAKISTAN-POLITICS-RESIGNATION

Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf salutes as he leaves the presidential house after his resignation in Islamabad August 18, 2008. Musharraf announced his resignation on Monday in the face of an impending impeachment motion by the ruling coalition government. 

REUTERS/Mian Khursheed

Effectively abandoned by his domestic allies and international backers, Pakistan’s military strongman Pervez Musharraf formally resigned yesterday as the country’s president rather than face impeachment proceedings that were due to commence this week.

Musharraf’s resignation followed more than a week of behind-the-scenes manoeuvres involving US, British and Saudi officials as well as the Pakistani army to pressure the government to grant the former dictator immunity from prosecution. While Musharraf denied that he had been given any favours in return for his resignation, there is little doubt that a deal has been reached to allow him a “dignified exit."

The writing has been on the wall since Musharraf’s Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) suffered a humiliating defeat in national elections in February at the hands of opposition parties—the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). Musharraf is widely hated for his nine years of dictatorial rule and support for Washington’s “bogus war on terrorism” that has triggered what amounts to a civil war in Pakistan’s tribal border areas with Afghanistan.

For months, the Bush administration and its allies pressed the PPP-led coalition government to collaborate with Musharraf, which the PPP endeavoured to do. The PML-N and its leader Nawaz Sharif, who was ousted as prime minister by Musharraf in a military coup in 1999, sought to exploit popular opposition by demanding impeachment and the reinstatement of 57 supreme court judges sacked by Musharraf last year. Sharif pulled the PML-N ministers out of the cabinet in May and threatened to leave the coalition completely if agreement could not be reached on these issues.

Confronting a steady loss in support for the government, PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari finally announced plans on August 7 to impeach Musharraf. Opinion polls showed overwhelming popular support—some 75 percent of respondents—for ousting the president, which was reflected yesterday in spontaneous celebrations in the streets of Pakistani cities. While Zardari declared impeachment would commence, no formal charge sheet was presented to parliament, however, allowing time for a deal to be worked out behind the scenes.

Considerable international pressure was bought to bear to end the impasse without initiating impeachment proceedings. While reluctantly recognising that the president had to go, the last thing that Washington wanted was any public airing of Musharraf’s crimes and anti-democratic methods. Any such probe threatened to expose the extent of US involvement with the Pakistani security forces in the suppression of Islamist groups inside Pakistan and war being waged against armed militia in the Afghan-Pakistani border areas supportive of anti-occupation insurgents inside Afghanistan. The CIA and FBI may well be implicated in the hundreds of “disappearances” for which Musharraf and the army are allegedly responsible.

Having relied on Musharraf since the US occupation of Afghanistan in 2001, the Bush administration was also concerned that the fragile Pakistani government would fail to continue to back military operations against Islamist militias in the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA). After winning the February election in part by branding Musharraf as a US stooge, the coalition government initially proposed to end the fighting by reaching peace deals with the various armed groups—a move that was sharply opposed in Washington.

Senior Bush administration and Pentagon officials have mounted an intense campaign to pressure the Pakistani government into taking military action in the border areas. There is every sign that Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani was issued with an ultimatum during his trip to Washington in July—either take action against anti-US guerrillas, or the US military would. In response, Gilani declared that the US “war on terrorism” was “our war”.
Just one day before impeachment proceedings were announced, the Pakistani military launched a major offensive into Bajaur agency. Intense fighting is now taking place in areas from the Swat district, through the Peshawar districts, to the Bajaur and Kyber agencies. After 12 straight days of air and ground bombardment, it is estimated that up to 300,000 people have fled the border areas. The timing points to a tacit understanding with Washington to initiate extensive military action in return for US backing to remove Musharraf.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was fulsome in her praise of the former Pakistani dictator yesterday. Musharraf, she declared, had been “a friend of the United States and one of the world’s most committed partners in the war against terrorism and extremism”. It was precisely Musharraf’s decision to withdraw Pakistani support from the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and his backing for the ongoing US occupation that was one of the major factors in the collapse of his initial post-coup support.
British and Saudi officials have also been engaged in closed-door talks to secure a deal that would allow Musharraf to resign in return for immunity from prosecution and other assurances. Saudi Arabia’s powerful intelligence chief Prince Muqrin bin Abdul Aziz arrived in Islamabad over the weekend and was reported to have threatened to withdraw oil subsidies worth $5 billion a year unless Musharraf was allowed to leave gracefully.
Likewise the Pakistani military, while publicly insisting that it would stay above politics, nevertheless quietly made clear its opposition to impeachment proceedings—a point underscored yesterday by the decision to give Musharraf a final guard of honour.

If Musharraf were to be tried for breaches of the constitution and other crimes, then the army top brass on which he rested during his nine years in power also risked being implicated. As Najam Sethi, editor of Pakistan’s Daily Times, commented to the Guardian: “Nobody wants the Pandora’s box opened up. The issue of impeachment is really a non-starter.”

An unstable government

While Musharraf has now stepped down, the political crisis in Islamabad is certain to intensify. The two major coalition parties—the PPP and PML-N—are longstanding and bitter rivals. As a number of commentators have noted, opposition to Musharraf was the main glue holding their alliance together. Even on the immediate issue of Musharraf’s future, there is no agreement.

PPP officials have hinted that a deal was reached to give legal immunity to the former president as long as he agreed to go into exile. At this stage, spokesmen for Musharraf have indicated that he wants to remain in Pakistan and has plans to take up residence in a villa being constructed outside Islamabad. In his hour-long televised speech yesterday, Musharraf delivered a strident defence of his period in office, insisting that he had done nothing wrong and blaming the government for the deterioration of the country’s economy. The PPP certainly does not want Musharraf within striking distance as opposition grows to its rule.
The PML-N continues to insist, publicly at least, that Musharraf should be charged and prosecuted for his crimes. Last week Sharif told a meeting in Lahore: “How can safe passage be given to someone who has done this to Pakistan?” There are also differences between the two parties over the reinstatement of supreme court judges, in part because PPP leader Zardari fears that the judges may allow the revival of corruption convictions against him.

Another immediate bone of contention will be Musharraf’s replacement as president. He has been formally succeeded by the chairman of the Senate, Mohammed Mian Soomro, a close ally who was prime minister until the election in February. A new president will be elected via country’s electoral college—the national assembly and four provincial assemblies meeting together. Zardari is known to have ambitions to fill the post, but such a move will be forcefully opposed by Sharif. The constitution drawn up by Musharraf gives the president considerable power, such as to sack the government and to make key appointments, including the army commander.

More fundamentally, the government now faces the same dilemmas that confronted Musharraf. It is under intense pressure from Washington to intensify military operations in the border areas with Afghanistan where the army has largely lost control. Gilani faces the prospect of being branded a US puppet and rapidly losing support. Any retreat risks the prospect of unilateral US military action, which would also trigger a popular backlash against the government.

At the same time, the Pakistani economy is being hit by rising oil and food prices as well as weakening demand in the US and Europe for its exports. The annual inflation rate is running at a 30-year high of nearly 25 percent; the Pakistani rupee has fallen 22 percent against the declining US dollar this year; and in the past five weeks, the country’s foreign exchange reserves have dwindled by nearly $US1.1 billion to $10.15 billion, mainly as a result of the cost of imported oil. The trade deficit has ballooned by 53 percent to $20.7 billion for the 2007-08 fiscal year that ended in June. The share market has slumped by 30 percent since April.
Share values and the rupee rose yesterday on news of Musharraf’s resignation, but further political turmoil will rapidly reverse those gains. Rising prices will only fuel social unrest and opposition to the government. While Musharraf’s resignation is being presented in the Pakistani and international media as a step toward democracy in Pakistan, both the PPP and PML-N have a record of autocratic rule. Whatever its final makeup, the regime holding the reins of power in Islamabad will not hesitate to use anti-democratic methods to suppress any political opposition to its policies.

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