The deaths of at least five people in Abbottabad on Monday after protests against the NWFP’s name-change turned violent are most tragic and serve to remind us just how emotional this whole issue is. The lives were lost after police tried to break up protests which had been continuing in the city since the passage of the 18th amendment in the National Assembly late last week.
The protesters are part of a movement that seeks to create a new province from NWFP’s Hazara district on linguistic grounds and bases its argument along the same lines as the one that enabled the province to get the new name Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. That said, it is worth pointing out that living in a democracy often means having to accept the views of the majority and this is precisely what has happened in the case of the people of Hazara vis-a-vis the ANP’s successful challenge to the province’s existing – colonial – name.
It also means that one can express divergent views, but within the boundaries of the constitution and preferably through one’s elected representatives. In that context, one may ask: why wasn’t this disagreement or dissension channelled through the Hazara’s MNAs and MPAs when discussions were going on to draw up the draft of the 18th amendment?
We would like to counsel caution and restraint on all sides for now, given that the political and administrative centre of the province happens to be in a Pashto-speaking area. The police action – which the ANP will inevitably say was unavoidable – is only going to inflame passions further and for that very reason the onus lies on the provincial government to direct the law-enforcement agencies and the local administration in Abbottabad to proactively take steps to defuse the tension. As for the protesters, they need to understand that it would be best if they were to make their point through parliament and not in the street.