Truly Head-Shaking

by Joshua Foust on 3/31/2010 · 7 comments

PESHAWAR, Pakistan – The rugged Pakistani province that was once a stomping ground for the British, and more recently gained a reputation as a Taliban and al-Qaida haven, may soon get a mouthful of a new name.

Feuding lawmakers on a committee reached a tentative deal Wednesday to rename North West Frontier Province “Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa,” three members said. The agreement would remove a key obstacle to the approval of a constitutional reform package aimed at reducing the president’s powers and easing political tensions.

Well, if we can ignore the AP keeping it classy by saying the only two things to have ever happened in the NWFP is the British “stomping” on it and some turbanned crazy people… this is kind of a big deal, and a good idea. Well, except the name. “Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa” seems custom-designed to make the U.S. really uncomfortable. Which is probably the point.

Renaming the NWFP in some way to indicate it is the “homeland” of sorts for Pashtuns has been a long-term goal for the Awami National Party, a Pashtun nationalist party that helped the Pakistan People’s Party gain a majority coalition in Parliament in 2008. In fact, we were talking about this very proposal shortly after the ANP/PPP win, when the PPP, the party of the late Benazir Bhutto and current President Asif Zardari, endorsed it to form the ruling coalition. When the ANP first won, I thought they might be able to press through some changes that would reduce the overall drivers of militancy in the NWFP and FATA. So this really isn’t news.

One thing is confusing, however, and that is the addition of Khyber to the name. Here, the AP can help establish vital context:

The name is still subject to approval by Parliament. Khyber is also the name of a semiautonomous tribal region along the Afghan border that is home to the famed Khyber Pass, a major supply route for material heading to U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

In Peshawar, the main city in the northwest, residents generally reacted positively to the news.

“Now both are accommodated, but I think that those who wanted to rename it Khyber will call it Khyber, and those who wanted to rename it Pakhtoonkhwa will call it Pakhtoonkhwa,” said Wakeel Khan, a real estate dealer.

Okay, so asking real estate agents about a complicated amendment to the constitution didn’t lend any vital context, though it did show just how casual the renaming seems to be. Then again, the AP then follows this insight by telling us that ethnic nationalism is “common in Pakistan, a country carved out of British India in 1947.” Huh. See, again, that doesn’t really tell us anything beyond the reporters’ total condescension for Pakistan.

So we can assume the addition of the word “Khyber” means that the three political parties involved in crafting the law are at least aware that maybe the residents of the FATA would like to be fully vested in the Pakistani state and enjoy the privileges of full citizenship (rather than the cheap bastardized version of citizenship they have now).

The issue of political agency in the NWFP and FATA is actually of vital strategic and national importance to both Pakistan and the United States. Once of the easiest and most positive-sum ways to reduce the militancy in this area is to grant them full political rights. Renaming NWFP to Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa is a good start. We’ll see just how much it gets us, though.


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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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{ 7 comments }

Colin Cookman March 31, 2010 at 10:25 pm

I’m not sure if this compromise — which the AP neglects to mention is actually part of the whole 18th Amendment constitutional reform package that’s also stripping presidential powers, changing the process for judges’ nominations, and probably a whole slew of other things that we don’t know about since, to my knowledge, a full copy of the amendment has yet to be publicly released anywhere — is actually about acknowledging the rights of the residents of the FATA specifically, unfortunately. The Pakistani press reporting on the whole thing has been a little opaque, but this piece at Teeth Maestro suggests that the PML-N fought for the hyphenated name mostly on the part of Hindko speakers in the Abbottobad-Mansehra areas, who have more in common culturally speaking with the Punjab and who I guess offer the PML-N a small electoral foothold in the NWFP. Unfortunately I’ve seen little indication in that the whole constitutional reform process ever attempted to seriously address the FATA’s status outside the law, so I think this may be an effort made more for show than substance.

Joshua Foust March 31, 2010 at 10:31 pm

I suspect it’s just for show as well. But I’m allowed to hope that maybe, just maybe, something real and substantive to address the systemic and institutional failures of this part of the country might happen, right?

Colin Cookman March 31, 2010 at 11:03 pm

Yeah, that’s fair enough I suppose. And maybe I shouldn’t be too hard — the National Finance Commission, for example, did make some progress in terms of revenue redistribution to the non-Punjab provinces. Zardari also tinkered with some changes to the FCR last summer, but hasn’t really gone further — I think partly because his coalition’s been on a razor thin edge and the FATA national assembly reps, like other beneficiaries of the established system, don’t seem keen on change, and I presume also due to pressure from the military / bureaucracy against it.

Jakob April 3, 2010 at 2:20 pm

I agree, it’s probably just show. Pashtoons from the area Dir down to Kohat will keep saying that they are “Peshawar-se”, those from the FATA called it Pakhtoonkhwa from the start but rather identified themselves with their tribe, Wazir, Mehsud, Afridi whatever. Few apart from the Afridis perhaps will be happy about the Khyber thing, it does indeed sound like a weird idea sprung from somewhere close to a nutty Sharif-head.

Just figuring out bureaucracy issues for construction work in the area south of Peshawar, we are in the situation to not have local government around, since after the last 5 year term that ended last year, no new elections have taken place. The legacy of the Musharraf government and the Army, to decentralize government structures and split the provinces in Districts and Tehsils is not followed up, the Islamabad government appointed an “Administrator” for the area. While giving them a name for show, they have taken their government structures – no show.

Moin Ansari April 1, 2010 at 12:38 am

The Constitutional package strips the president’s powers, and makes him a ceremonial head of state, plus the “concurrent list” powers of the provinces (provincial autonomy) have been agreed upon—and you call all this “for show”.

More than 100 articles of the constitution have been changed–some show!

Agreed that the status of FATA, the creation of new provinces, and the Election Commission independence issues will have to be addressed later–but this is a great start.

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Colin Cookman April 1, 2010 at 8:10 am

I agree that it is a good start, although I’ve yet to see the full text — I was referring specifically to the renaming, not the constitutional package as a whole.

Akbar Khan II April 1, 2010 at 2:03 am

“Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa” is not custom-designed to make the U.S/UK uncomfortable, it has been custom-designed to cause further division amongst the Pashtuns. This will create further conflict between the Pashtuns giving US/UK the chance to exploit this opportunity in order to subjugate Pashtuns as a whole while they fight each other over chicken feed.

This move stinks of American and British involvement, most probably its part of the recent US/Pakistani deal.

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