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From NWFP to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

April 01, 2010

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People are seen in a busy market in Peshawar, March 31, 2010. — AP
PESHAWAR It took 109 years to correct a historical wrong and what a journey it has been. 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 leader, 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.

The Pakhtun nationalist parties, however, continued to press for a change of name. Alternatives included Pashtunistan, Pakhtunkhwa and Afghania. It was widely thought that Pakistan's military establishment viewed the Pashtun nationalist parties with suspicion as they had close ties to the regimes in Afghanistan, and thus opposed the alternatives as being smacking of secessionism.

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to Pashtunistan, the nationalist parties later changed tack and started calling the NWFP as Pakhtunkhwa, citing historical references both dating to the time of Greek historian Herodotus and later to emperor Shahabuddin Ghauri.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 Gen Musharraf.

ANP leaders privy to the development recall that Mian Sahib had agreed to a hyphenated name, but that while Wali Khan was not averse to the proposition, Ajmal Khattak opposed it and the party had to relent on the issue.

It was this private conversation which was re-visited after the two parties again reached a dead-end on resolving this enduring, thorny issue. Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif is believed to have approached some key figures in the ANP to cross-check the understanding before undertaking to impress upon his elder brother to soften his stand.

The soft-spoken Ishaq Dar had also conveyed it to the ANP that his party might not have any problem with a compound name for the NWFP and that the matter would be resolved once the remaining pending issues over the judicial commission were resolved.

But to the surprise of many within the PML-N some of their own colleagues from the NWFP refused to play ball and opposed any compromise. The most vociferous opposition to the renaming came from a former chief minister, Sardar Mehtab Ahmad Khan, whose refusal to back down also took his own party leadership by surprise. The party got in touch with ANP and sought time to overcome the problem.

Much to its pleasure, the ANP found broad political support over the renaming issue, from its coalition partner, the PPP. The MQM, JUI(F), the PPP (Sherpao), the PMAP, the PML(F) and Baloch nationalist parties too, went along. Even the Jamaat-i-Islami, which has been a traditional opponent of the ANP, said it would support any consensus name.

The only opposition came from the PML-N and the PML-Q, prompting some to liken it to Punjab's traditional opposition to any such endeavour. It is therefore, no small achievement and the credit goes to the collective wisdom of political parties across the aisle for showing flexibility on what arguably was the most difficult, controversial and divisive issue of all.

But it will be the ANP 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”.