Beggar at Ghazi Chowk


What’s in a Name?

3 Apr 2010

The North West Frontier Province (NWFP) of Pakistan is finally being renamed. The new name is quite a mouthful, as the Washington Post calls it, but a change that means much more than it sounds. It is by the way, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

The area, in the words of the post, was a ‘stomping ground for the British’. Since independence its history has been no less tumultuous, ending in it being the hub of terror organizations, and the target of drone attacks and a fight against its own military. For those interested in the history of it this article from the Dawn front page is insightful.

The hyphenated name represents the result of a compromise a long time in the making. A name that represents not just the Pashtun/Pathan majority but also minorities present in the area for which the general name Khyber is being used. Politicians, in a surprising move, have been smart enough to realise that people will wither call it Khyber, or Pakhtunkhwa and not both at the same time, but the hyphenation must be present in technicality at least.

You’d wonder why the name of a province is so sensitive. The previous name, NWFP, was something left as British legacy that never gained the right amount of traction at the right time to be changed. It represented the oppression, almost disregard for an indigenous people that have long felt disenfranchised with the various forms the state has taken in the past century. Dawn calls it a ‘historic wrong’, and in some ways that powerful term captures the depth of the issue at hand.

The area, part of which the Pakistan military is currently running an offensive in, was historically troublesome for the British as well. Its close ties with Afghanistan also apparent in the fact that one of the alternate names suggested in past times was Afghania.

Ofcourse, sceptics will say this is irrelevant. Even the Post article ends with a rather random quote from someone in NWFP, that exclaims that this is not an issue compared to the inflation, economic and power crises.

However, issues like this are not mutually exclusive. Just because there are bigger issues is not an excuse to solve smaller ones, the distinction of bigger and smaller here, is in any case a debate in itself.

Others will point to parties’ efforts to name the province in their interest, to get more voter responses. Which somehow, seems to me as if it’s suggesting that it is a big issue. Otherwise voters would not be swayed. In which case if the parties are doing something the people want, that seems to have no political ramifications other than that all, should be considered a good thing in its own right.

Pakistan’s identity, like the NWFP’s or should I say Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa’s, has always been at war itself, at a struggle to find itself. Jinnah wanted to create a secular state, but was pressured into creating an Islamic state, instead of a state for Muslims. That soon morphed into an effort to get rid of provincialist sentiments and replace them with unity under the banner of Islam. But the new proposed Bill of ‘Hope’ as it is being termed, is increasing political autonomy. Answering a call for years to finally recognize Pakistan as a federation.

This is a realization that Pakistan is not an identity, it is a name for a seemingly harmonious amalgam of unique cultures, from Punjab to Balochistan, Khyber to Sindh. It could be a sign that Pakistan is now defending against troubles like the collapse of Bangladesh as a result of an imposition of power and identity.