Rethinking Khyber- Pakhtunkhwa-Hazara

Syed Ali Ehsan April 15, 2010

ABOTTABAD: It’s a fragile peace that has descended on Abbottabad. After the replacement of the DIG and the promised release of the protesters arrested by the police, the leader of the Hazara Qaumi Tehrik (HQT) Sardar Haider Zaman has called off the general strike.

Meanwhile, the NWFP government has ordered a judicial inquiry, spearheaded by Justice Abdul Aziz of the Peshawar High Court, into the violence. But analysts say this calm will be short lived. The issue erupted over the proposed renaming of the NWFP. The all-party Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Reforms agreed to change the name of the province to Khyber- Pakhtunkhwa and that is how it was passed by the 292-members- present-and-voting in the National Assembly.

While the PML-N did get cold feet shortly before the National Assembly session, it came around eventually. And that is when the PML-Q began vociferously protesting against the proposed name, slinging mud alternately at the ANP and the PML-N. The protests started in many major cities besides Abbottabad.

And the PML-Q supporters were soon joined by people who claimed to be the original Hazarewal and demanded their own province. Matters came to a head on Monday with violent clashes between the police and protesters in Abbottabad, which left eight dead and scores injured.

The city erupted in wave after wave of protest, with people insisting that the police had fired on peaceful demonstrators. HQT called for a general strike, blocked all major arteries into the city, including the Karakoram Highway, and many more clashes followed. Eventually, in a bid to appease the protesters, the district administration sacked the DIG and called off section 144 on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the parties continue to bicker. At an address in Haripur, PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif said his party had no objections to the creation of Hazara province and blamed the PML-Q for violence in the area. He pointed out that PML-Q had been humbled in elections in the area and were now trying for cheap popularity by playing on emotions.

Addressing the media, he reiterated that the issue of the 18th amendment should not have been clubbed with the issue of renaming NWFP. He said PML-N’s MPs from Hazara had serious reservations over the renaming of NWFP. Meanwhile, the PML-Q leadership on Wednesday also supported the demand of the Hazara people to form a separate unit in the region.

Speaking to journalists after chairing a meeting of his party’s central executive committee in Islamabad, PML-Q chief Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain said his party would also support people from the Seraiki belt if they wanted a province of their own. He also blamed the PML-N for complicating the renaming issue by supporting it at the ‘cost of national unity’.

Abbottabad saw peaceful protests at Fawara Chowk and Missile Chowk. The day saw Zaman appealing to traders to resume commercial activity and call off the strike, political analysts say the worst isn’t over yet. The issue, they say, has turned into one of ethnicity.

While the protesters were less violent, argue these observers, they also distributed copies of the map of the new Hazara province, a sign that they’re not going to give in that easy.The reason for the scaling down is the PMA passing out parade on April 17, conjecture the analysts who think uniformed friends may have convinced the protesters to back down, for now. While Zaman admits to this in passing, he says the effects on the economy are the main reason he has called off the strike.