Peshawar: A decision by a top Pakistani
Parliamentary panel to rename North West Frontier Province as
Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa could be an important milestone in the
six decade-long struggle for the recognition of Pashtun ethnic
The 26-member parliamentary committee on
constitutional reforms yesterday achieved consensus on
renaming NWFP as Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa.
The movement for renaming the NWFP, parts of which are
now on the frontline of Pakistan’s campaign against the
Taliban-led insurgency, saw many ups and downs over the past
few decades as the country made its way though dictatorial
regimes and democratic governments.
Since 1947, Pashtun nationalists like Khan Abdul
Ghaffar Khan, Khan Abdul Wali Khan and Ajmal Khattak led the
movement for the acceptance of their people?s distinct
The Awami National Party, which emerged as the ruling
Pakistan People?s Party?s main coalition partner in the NWFP
after the 2008 general election, pushed for changing the name
of the province to Pakhtoonkhwa.
The party did not want to miss an opportunity as it
was aware that President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister
Yousuf Raza Gilani were in conformity with the demand.
Zardari and Gilani frequently referred to NWFP as
Pakhtoonkhwa in public appearances, something that was
unimaginable for Pashtuns.
Such developments rejuvenated the spirit of ANP
leaders, who cashed in on the situation despite some
opposition to the renaming of the NWFP from sections of people
in the province.
"There has been a long debate as to why the ANP could
not muster support for the name Pakhtoonkhwa despite the fact
that Pashtuns are in a majority in the province," said
legislator and dissident ANP leader Arshad Khan.
The proposal to rename the NWFP is part of a
groundbreaking constitutional reforms package finalised by a
parliamentary panel yesterday.
The package seeks to slash President?s sweeping powers
and remove changes made to the constitutional by former
military rulers Zia-ul-Haq and Pervez Musharraf to strengthen
their grip on power.
The ANP pushed for the NWFP to be renamed Pakhtoonkhwa
as Pashtuns comprise 75 per cent of the province?s population
of 20 million, but the move was opposed by the opposition
PML-N, which said the name would alienate minorities in the
The PML-N suggested non-ethnic names like Khyber and
Abaseen (the Pashto name for the Indus river) before the
parliamentary committee reached comprise by settling on Khyber
Analysts believe the compromise was influenced by
senior ANP leader and Railways Minister Ghulam Ahmed Bilour?s
veiled threat that the NWFP should get the name Pakhtoonkhwa
or else the people could opt for the "Bengali model", a
reference to breaking away of East Pakistan in 1971 due to
The ANP also showed flexibility on the issue of
renaming the province as the party faced criticism from
certain pockets, especially Dera Ismail Khan, the Hazara
division and, ironically, people in some Pashtun-dominated
The ANP also played down the demand by non-Pashto
speaking people for a referendum on the issue and opted for
its approval by parliament through a constitutional amendment.
"If the issue had gone to referendum, it would have
been catastrophic for the ANP," said a senior government
official on condition of anonymity.
The NWFP legislature had passed a unanimous resolution
suggesting Pakhtoonistan as the new name for the province but
it was modified to Pakhtoonkhwa to avoid controversies
attached to the name since Partition.
Some circles in the ANP are still opposed to adding
Khyber to Pakhtoonkhwa but the party?s senior leaders have
pacified them by saying the opportunity to rename the province
should not be missed.
"The opponents will call it Khyber and the supporters
as Pakhtoonkhwa," said school teacher Khan Faraz.
"We have scores of other bigger problems like price
hikes, shortages of flour, sugar and electricity and lack of
employment," he added.
The residents of NWFP capital Peshawar have shown
mixed reaction to the move to rename the province, with a
majority adopting silent posture as no major celebrations were
witnessed except for a gathering at Qayum sports complex that
was attended by provincial Information Minister Mian Iftikhar
About 2,500 people attended the gathering though
Peshawar has a population of over 200,000.