The politics of language and ethnicity

Published: April 12, 2010

ISLAMABAD: The decision to rename the North West Frontier Province to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa has shifted the focus of politics from the federal capital to Hazara where an ethnic community different from Pakhtuns is up in arms against the move.

Abbottabad and Haripur, two districts of NWFP where Hindko-speaking Hazarewals are in absolute majority, have seen a week of coordinated protests. Some Pakhtun tribes like the Tarins and the Jadoons are settled in these districts but Hindko is the language of a huge majority.

Despite the fact that they are small in number, Hazarewals in Abbottabad and Haripur were able to forcefully push their demands of either not changing the name or making a separate province for them.

Their protest was so intensified that mainstream political parties, which initially endorsed the renaming, are now vocal in opposing it purely for political reasons with their eyes on the next general elections.

The Pakistan Muslim League-Q, whose members opposed the renaming when the bill was passed by the National Assembly on Saturday joined protestors in Abbottabad, who said their struggle is now for a separate province.

Separately, Nawaz Sharif has also announced to hold a convention in the district to express solidarity to a local political group, Hazara Qaumi Mahaz (HQM).

Why this issue has suddenly emerged at the national political arena is a question being answered differently by different observers. One school of thought explains it in the background of sensitivities attached to Pakistan’s convoluted electoral politics saying both the PML-Q and the PML-N are fighting to retain their constituencies in the area.

PML-N and PML-Q were the main gainers in the 2008 general elections in the region for both the national and provincial assembly constituencies. They would like to retain that.

On the other hand, the area might not be of any importance for the ANP and PPP as these two have never been big election winning groups there.

For PML-Q and PML-N, the socalled Punjabis parties, the rest of the province is not lucrative as far as the electoral victories are concerned.

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