Tension and Clashes over renaming the NWFP

12 May 2010: It was a long standing wish and a demand from the majority of Pashtuns in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) to rename the province to better represent their identity. The British regime had named the province as NWFP in 1901 but it remained the same from 1947 to 2010 even under the government of Pakistan. Therefore, the Awami National Party (ANP) decided to take up this mission in their election mandate in the post-2008 elections era.

It was a long standing wish and a demand from the majority of Pashtuns in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) to rename the province to better represent their identity. The British regime had named the province as NWFP in 1901 but it remained the same from 1947 to 2010 even under the government of Pakistan. Therefore, the Awami National Party (ANP) decided to take up this mission in their election mandate in the post-2008 elections era. After the elections, the ANP formed a coalition provincial government with the Pakistan People's Party. The strongholds of the party are in the Pashtun areas of Pakistan, in particular in Peshawar. The ANP also won two seats in Sindh assembly because there are roughly seven million Pashtuns in and around Karachi.

The ANP sought to rename the province "Pakhtunkhwa" which means "Land of Pakhtuns" in the local language. This proposed name has been opposed by some non-Pashtuns in the province and also by some leading political actors, namely Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N); and Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA). The PML-N has a stronghold in non-Pashtun Hazara region of the province and MMA was the ruling party in the province until 2008.

In early 2010, it was decided by the then provincial government of NWFP, under the leadership of ANP, to finally have a new name for the province. This triggered a wave of anger and protests in the Hazara region. The protestors in Hazara demanded a separate province for their people. However, out of respect for the democratic principles, on 15 April 2010, the province was official named as "Khyber Pakhtunkhawa" through the 18th amendment in the constitution of Pakistan.

The discussions to rename the province were not free from criticism, concerns and demands from various political factions. Therefore, to accommodate the view of the majority, it was finally decided to call the province "Khyber Pakhtunkhwa". Geographically the province remains the same - bordering Afghanistan to the north-west, Gilgit-Baltistan to the north-east, Azad Jammu & Kashmir to the east, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas to the west and south, Baluchistan to the south and Punjab and the Islamabad Capital Territory to the southeast. The majority ethnic group in the province is the Pashtuns (Pakhtuns). Kyber Pakhtunkhwa is comprised of 24 districts and Peshawar is the provincial capital.

Renaming a city or a province costs a lot of money and according to estimate it is likely to cost the government more than Rs. 5 billion (approximately £40 million sterling) to change the name of the province on official documents, stationary and websites. Also the name "Khyber Pakhtunkhwa" surprised many around the country, in particular in the province. Even the Pakhtunkhwa Jamhoori Tarun party rejected the name and also said that they had never heard of this name before due to an addition of "Khyber". Once the new name was approved, violent protests broke out in Hazara. According to a report seven people lost their lives and over 100 were injured on 12 April 2010 when police used force to break up a protest against the renaming of NWFP as Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. The protestors were politically motivated and guided by leaders of the PML-N and Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q). Although the anti-Khyber Pakhtunkhwa protests are now over, there still remain questions on the sustainability of peace over the situation in the province over this controversial issue.

It seems that the majority Pashtuns in the province are contended with the new name but the minority in Hazara Division are feeling as if their rights and concerns are being denied. As it has become a political issue and not a social conflict, concerned political parties need to show some maturity to resolve the issue once and for all by respecting the decision by the majority in the provincial and national assemblies, the senate and the president.

Click to review a video of the protests in Hazara.

Zahid Ahmed Shahab, Pakistan Local Correspondent. 12 May 2010


Péter on May 12, 2010, 12:48 p.m.

Dear Zahid, What is the reason for adding the name "Khyber" to Pakhtunkhwa in your view? Could you elaborate on this? I heard all sorts of explanations. One was that Khyber might be fore-casting a future addition to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa of FATA areas, including the Khyber there. Does this have any basis? As an outsider I find it tough to grasp the meaning of these developments, so if my question is naive somehow, forgive me for that. Many thanks for your answer in advance. Regards, Péter

Zahid Shahab Ahmed on May 13, 2010, 12:47 a.m.

Dear Peter, Thanks a lot for a very interesting question! Actually, alternatives of the name initially included Pashtunistan, Pakhtunkhwa and Afghania but there was a huge criticism on “Afghania” considering that this might lead to secessionism considering ANP has been having close ties with regimes in Afghanistan. There were a few other options too to resolve the dispute over renaming, such as Neelab, Nuristan, Darul Islam (the land of Islam) and Abaseen (the local name of the Indus River). Ultimately, once “Khyber” added to “Pakhtunkhwa” then PML-N agreed to compromise but PML-Q continued to have reservations over “Khyber Pakhtunkhwa”. It is important to mention that PML-N won 66 seats in the national assembly in the 2008 general elections therefore it was important to make sure that this particular party agrees to the new name. On the other, PML-Q won 38 seats in the national assembly. Anyways, “Khyber” refers to Khyber Pass, which is a mountain pass linking Pakistan and Afghanistan. Khyber Pass is actually in the Khyber Agency of Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan. Therefore, “Khyber” if refers to Khyber Pass is not part of the province renamed and this very fact continues to make the new name still controversial. However, according to my understanding Khyber’s addition is not to merge FATA into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the near on distant though that could be one of the intentions at the central government level but at the provincial level this wasn’t the aim of this endeavour. As you might have observed that many alternatives were discussed just to reach a consensus at the provincial and central government levels to get an approval on giving identity to the local people, and for me it was indeed a political movie to reach an agreement by adding “Khyber” to an initially proposed name (Pakhtunkhwa). Nevertheless, “Khyber Pakhtunkhwa” is considered as an important achievement giving an identity to the majority living in the province. With best wishes, Zahid

Rauf on May 17, 2010, 11:46 a.m.

Good work Zahid sahib, Agree with your analysis that situation demands maturity from all political parties as we cannot afford yet another conflict amongst the many. Rauf

Zahid Shahab Ahmed on May 17, 2010, 1:18 p.m.

I interviewed, Ms. Mossarat Qadeem of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the executive director of PAIMAN Alumni Trust to explore more about the issue of renaming the NWFP, and the following is what she shared: “I personally feel that the word ‘Khyber’ should not have been added to it as FATA is not a part of the province. Besides, like other provinces the existence of a particular ethnic majority the Pukhtuns should have been acceptable to the establishment after 62 years. Instead of Khyber they should have added Hazara to it to the satisfaction of another ethnic group living in the province avoiding inter-ethnic conflict and hatred”.

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