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How NWFP got its new name

world Updated: Apr 03, 2010 00:19 IST
Imtiaz Ahmad
Imtiaz Ahmad
Hindustan Times
Asfandyar Wali Khan

In a lighter moment, when the media chided Asfandyar Wali Khan, the grandson of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (Frontier Gandhi) over accepting the name of Khyber-Pakhtoonkwa instead of the earlier mooted name of Pakhtoonkhwa, which means the homeland of the Pakhtoons, Wali simply laughed.

“You know who opposed it and you know why. Why do you want me to say what is obvious,” he joked with the journalists.

The reference here was to the stiff opposition from the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) (PML-N) party of Nawaz Sharif.

The Pakistan Muslim League, Quaid-e-Azam (PML-Q) party, headed by former prime minister Chaudhry Shujaat, also opposed the Pakhtoonkhwa name, but for reasons of its own.

The main obstacle was Sharif, however.

There are reasons for this, say observers. The most obvious is the stiff opposition to the name from the Haripur-Hazara belt of the province. The people of these areas, which border Punjab, do not speak Pushto — the language most Pakhtoons converse in. Instead, they speak a dialect called Hindko.

Pakistan’s first dictator, General Ayub Khan, was a Hindko-speaker and since his time in office, members of his community have played important roles in both politics and in government.

Even the son-in-law of Nawaz Sharif, Captain Safdar, is Hindko speaking. As is Gauhar Ayub, the son of Ayub Khan, and a prominent member of the PML-N leadership. The PML could not allow the Pakhtoonkhwa name to be passed without a fight because most people from the Hindko areas vote for this party.

While seen as a compromise, Asfandyar Wali argues that something is better than nothing. “Khyber is as indigenous a name as Pakhtoonkhwa,” he told his supporters who started celebrating the name change earlier this week.

Men and women waving red flags and wearing red hats — the colour of choice of the Awami National Party, took to the streets to celebrate the name change. Men danced, women sang. “This is the best thing to have happened to our province in a long time,” said Zarmeena Gul, a local politician.

Others say “whats in a name?” One said — “we have got Pakhtoonkhwa. Tomorrow we will drop Khyber. This is a time to rejoice.”