By Imran Khan
In his article of May 18, Mr Kashif Jahangiri repeats his claim that the current movement for Hazara province is a reaction to the "contempt" shown by Pakhtuns to Hazarewals. As I mentioned in my earlier article, this labelling is not unique to Pakhtuns and Hazarewals, and it's also not one-sided.
While Mr Jahangiri bemoans the label of "Punjabi" and the contempt contained in it, I would remind him of labels like "Khocha," "Akhrot" and "Phairay Pathan" that are tagged on Pakhtuns by Hindko speakers. Of course, I speak of my own experience, and I certainly have not met every Hindkowan in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa to ascertain whether they think of Pakhtuns as mentally deficient lower-life forms. I also cannot conclude on the basis of my personal experience whether these comments end at banter or are signs of deep-seated hate in the hearts of Hindkowans. Any conclusion that I draw based on my own experience and anecdotes from my friends and family would be marred by subjectivity. Although the conclusion and evidence would make sense to me, it would definitely not be good enough to be used in a debate such as this.
It is for this reason that I consider a democratically elected provincial assembly as the ideal barometer to judge whether this ethnic labelling is merely jest or entrenched ethnic hostility. And whether the supposed "contempt" and "hatred" of the Pashto-speaking electoral base is confirmed by the attitude of their elected leaders. But, as mentioned in my last article, Pakhtun-majority assemblies in the province have had no qualms about electing Hindko-speaking chief ministers. Not only that, the former NWFP has had more chief ministers from Hindko-speaking Hazara Division than from any other division of the province. Even Pakhtun nationalists have accepted Hindko speakers as their leaders.
The champions of the Pakhtunkhwa cause on televised debates, ANP stalwarts Haji Adeel and Bashir Bilour, are both Hindko speakers from Peshawar. This evidence only highlights the harmony and bonding between these two communities. The sour experiences of a few individuals cannot be used as proof of the case being otherwise, especially when the evidence in support of the harmony is undeniable and massive.
Ethnic discrimination and contempt that is of any consequence is more than just verbal. Reaction to labelling and name-calling subsides as one ages, and is an essential part of one's growing up. Only when this labelling is accompanied by a history of bloodshed and economic exploitation does it have the potential to mobilise whole communities, ethnic groups or races into action. For instance, the term "Nigger" does not just refer to the skin colour of a race, but has a history of bondage, slavery and exploitation that makes it a slur for those against whom it is used. Its counterpart "Red Neck," also a racist slur, does not carry the same venom as the "N-Word" because of the different experience of those it is applied to.
The Bengalis, despite being an outright majority in united Pakistan, were treated in a despicable manner in Pakistan. President Ayub Khan's reference to them as "rats" (for which he later apologissed) was based on the "martial race" concept. Our Bengali brothers were denied of many of their constitutional and economic rights. For instance, their representation in the army was negligible, a mere five per cent of all the commissioned officers in the Pakistani army in 1965, according to the Library of Congress Country Study.
The majority in East Pakistan received a much smaller share even in development spending. If one is to divide the development expenditure of East Pakistan over that of West Pakistan, then, from 1950 to 1970, the Eastern Wing received just 40 per cent of the amount that was spent on West Pakistan. In other words, for every Rs100 spent in the minority West Pakistan, Rs40 were spent in the majority East Pakistan (source: the Planning Commission of Pakistan).
I completely agree with Mr Jahangiri when he says that the treatment of Bengalis by West Pakistanis was too distasteful to be compared with the communities featuring in our discussion. It is also for this lack of bloodshed and a lack of economic exploitation between Hindkowans and Pakhtuns that the case presented by Mr Jahangiri does not hold against rational scrutiny.
I also agree with Mr Jahangiri when he says that the dismissive approach adopted by West Pakistan in dealing with the genuine demands regarding the Bengali language was one of the key reasons for the creation of Bangladesh. Sadly, this dismissive approach was not limited to Bengali and was adopted in the renaming of NWFP as well.
The officialdom of East Pakistan was also resisted by the Bihari minority at that time. But, as Mr Jahangiri would agree, the dismissal of that legitimate demand was a wrong incurred by the Bengalis, a wrong that cannot be justified by the citing of the Biharis' opposition. Similarly, the minority opposition to the name Pakhtunkhwa should not have been used to incur a similar wrong on the Pakhtuns.
One has to acknowledge the fact that the name Pakhtunkhwa has been approved by the assemblies of the province in question, both with and without ANP majority, and thus is much more than a mere "unreasonable" demand by Pakhtun nationalists. Furthermore, the name Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa is a result of a series of compromises on the part of those who had been demanding "Pakhtunkhwa."
One of the earliest criticisms of the abbreviation "NWFP" was done by the founding fathers of Pakistan. The historic 1933 pamphlet Now or Never, which called for the creation of Pakistan, refers to "Afghania Province." Chaudhry Rehmat Ali decried the name NWFP by saying "It is wrongful, because it suppresses the social entity of these people."
The rejection of "Afghania" (the first "a" in "Pakistan") was followed by the rejection of "Pakhtunistan," and then "Pakhtunkhwa," both names acceptable to and demanded by a majority of the province, but denied due to minority opposition. Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa was actually a suggestion from those who opposed the hyphenated name and its acceptance and showed magnanimity on the part of the Pakhtuns. But their criticism, rather than appreciation for their agreeing to it, is mind-boggling, to say the least.
The demand for smaller provinces is a justified demand, for which our Constitution does have provisions. These four provinces were created to administer the population back in 1947. Given the massive rise in our numbers since then, the creation of smaller provinces makes sense even on an administrative level.
But, unlike Mr Jahangiri, I would not dub the Sooba Hazara movement as a reaction to the label "Punjabiyaan." I would not define this outpouring on the streets and calls for complete shutter-downs as a reaction to mere name-calling. Furthermore, there are Awans, Gujjars, Abbasis and Jatts in Hazara who do not have a Pakhtun lineage and for whom the "denial of true identity" argument used by Mr Jahangiri, does not hold. Given that, I am confused as to what Mr Jahangiri means when he says "...it is the rejection of the identity of Hazarewals that is being exploited to flare up emotions." How is the slur "Punjabiyaan" a rejection of the identity of Awans, Gujars, Jatts, and other non-Pakhtun Hazarewals?
There is a fair chance that for the campaigners of the Sooba Hazara movement, getting a province means a true realisation of their identity, which is neither Pakhtun nor Punjabi, but Hazaraewal. Maybe they feel that with their own separate province they would be able to get a higher level of development and prosperity. More power to them if that is the case.
A non-violent and peaceful democratic struggle is the only way for the achievement of their goals. Their efforts would be a fine addition to the history of democratic struggles in Pakistan, and would make this country a stronger federation, as well as a more mature democracy.
The writer is an economist working in Islamabad. Email: imran.khan.hks @gmail.com
Source: The news, Pakistan