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Afghania: Renaming NWFP through Consensus – By Dr. Mohammad Taqi


“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet.”

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 rest of the Pakistan, but on its resolution apparently hinges the forward movement in repealing the 17th Amendment to the 1973 Constitution of Pakistan.  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 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, ofirredentas – 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 the 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 ofAfghanistan and a few may balk at this. However, from Allama Iqbal and Quaid e Azam Muhammad 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.

(Author teaches and practices medicine at the University of Florida and can be reached atmazdaki@me.com)

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Vision 21 is Pakistan based non-profit, non- party Socio-Political organisation. We work through research and advocacy for developing and improving Human Capital, by focusing on Poverty and Misery Alleviation, Rights Awareness, Human Dignity, Women empowerment and Justice as a right and obligation. We act to promote and actively seek Human well-being and happiness by working side by side with the deprived and have-nots.

3 Comments

  1. younas says

    for the first time a non pashtun writer has written sane article.first of all pakhtunkhwa is good name,indeed used by ahmad shah baba and various other elders.but afghania will be more suitable.not only it will appease the anger of pashtuns but also it will will be acceptable to hazara peoples.bcoz hazara peoples are also afghan,whether they speak pashto or hindku.
    nawaz sharif is giving the colour of ethniciy.we have not seen opposition from hazara and di khan as such.also there are people who claims to be pashtuns but speaks hindku.so nawaz sharif should drop typical punjabi establishment thinking

  2. sajjad haider tanoli says

    The word Pakhtoonkhwa was created and cultivated by the prejudiced intellect and false ego of awami national party.Their elders always opposed the construction of Kala Bagh dam.Wali khan(May God forgive and bless his soul ) used to say that if Kala Bagh dam is made then they will blow it away with bombs.their tone and approach always remained harsh,unhealthy and self centred for the cause of said DAM!ANP s people are madly dancing and expressing their boundless joy over the renaming of province as Pakhtoonkhwa.But be remembered in the mean time thousands of local people are immensely opposing this prejudiced and absorbed in observing their just and justified protest all over hazara reigon.This is an alarming situation which(May God not happen this!)can lead to a destructive and irrecoverable stage any time.Who had cultivated and developed this BONE OF CONTENTION,they are responsible for the immediate remedy of the said worsening condition.

  3. I learnt the glory of humanistic values from the most valuable kind spirits,thoughts and vision of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan in his life.He indeed was a great and holy man of humanistic approach.Allas his political off spring has forgotten the path of love to all and abslute brothhood!Long years before when Bacha khan was seriously ill and leading last days of his life.I went to meet and salute his noble humanistic vision by visting to his son s village Lali Khan Kilay.I can never forget his sublime humbleness.But ANP s people are rather more different than the values of their praise worthy political Ancestor!

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