Fahd Husain April 16, 2010

The mean streets of Hazara have simmered down but the politicking has not.

With 7 dead, hundreds injured, shops gutted, vehicles charred and egos bruised. And still, the Hazarawals are being asked: what’s in a name? Well, it seems, quite a bit actually. The proposed name is Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa. And we like our politics shaken, not stirred. That’s what the ANP appears to be saying.

But the initiative is no longer with the ANP or for that matter, with the PML-N or the PML-Q. It’s the streets that have driven the events with unrelenting pressure, forcing the politicians to shift positions. The tail has wagged the dog. As for now, the ANP is on the defensive, the PML-N is scrambling to save its Hazara vote-bank and the PML-Q is desperately trying to extract the last drop of political juice it can.

Meanwhile, the Hazarawals have found a new rallying cry: their own province. There’s plenty of blame to go around. Let’s start with the ANP. They pulled the classic macho act – ‘we’ve got our name, other’s can go fishing for all we care’. The obsession with their own name blinded them to the genuine concerns of the Hazarawals who have always felt like stepchildren in their own province.

Understandably, it may not be feasible, practical or even desirable at this stage to give in to the demands of a group of people but there’s something called sensitivity. Clearly, the ANP hasn’t heard of it. Case in point: even after all the mayhem of the last few days, no ANP leader, let alone the youthful chief minister, has bothered to visit Abbottabad.

The ANP has a bloody mess on its hands and it better face it — instead of trying to roll over and play dead. The Q-league has fared no better. They thought they were playing smart politics. Turns out, they weren’t that smart after all. They opposed the Pukhtunkhwa name but only 20 among their 53 members voted against it. Then they saw the brewing resentment in Hazara and realised the situation’s milking potential. Their candidates in Hazara had received a sound electoral thrashing at the hands of the N-league and had since then been licking their wounds.

Now, they figured it was time for payback. The Q leaders egged the protesters on, defied Section 144 and probably invited state retaliation. With the PML-N as their target they tried to use the Hazara ‘fist’ to punch out their bitter opponents. The PML-Q may have succeeded slightly in leveraging the Hazara discontent for its own narrow political gains but it is also now seen as a party which played politics while Hazara burnt. This will return to haunt it. The PML-N had the most to lose, this was its territory.

Sharif's party men from the area had warned him of the consequences of compromising on the name and when Abbottabad erupted many in his party said ‘I told you so’. However, it was too late for his party. The Hazarawals accused his party of ditching them at the last moment. If the ANP was the villain for the Hazarawals, the ‘beloved’ PML-N was the traitor.

It was because of this pressure that Nawaz Sharif was forced to say that he didn’t have any problem with the Hazara demand for a separate province. He doesn’t really mean it, and neither does the Q-league. But that’s what street pressure does to you. The PML-N is now bracing for the worse — to find out how much political capital has been looted from its Hazara vote-bank.

If the mean streets remain quiet, the politicians may ultimately follow suit. But if the Hazarawals return to the pavements with sticks, stones and hardened demands, the tail will again start to wag the dog – in parliament and outside. So what’s in a name? Plenty.