VIEW: Arrival of the Hazarawals —Syed Talat Hussain
The ANP wants to champion the cause of the length and breadth of the NWFP, but does not want to set foot in the Hazara Division. Even after days of mayhem and police-driven murders, the party top brass has remained only remotely concerned with the developments in this part of the province
Consensus was the big camel
carrying the burden of the 18th constitutional amendment. The slender straw of reaction from the Hazara belt of the present day NWFP is now threatening to break its back. For the members of the constitutional committee, particularly the PPP and their brothers-in-arms, the ANP, there are good reasons to feel disgusted at the sight. Their political glory has been diluted and their claim to lasting political fame has been contested. And that too by a community so docile that it was presumed to be incapable of mounting any serious challenge to anything. However, getting disgusted and feeling aggrieved would not be the right response to the issues that the Hazarawals’ demand for their own province has raised. It would only lead to further violence and sharpened agitation.
The first notable point to have come out of the Hazara protest is that even a democratically arrived at consensus on contentious issues by the major political forces has its limits. It is not a recipe to solve all problems, nor the best solution to multiple grievances. In the premature celebrations of the success of the process that yielded the 18th Amendment, the political leadership forgot that they had left out of the scope of their glee the relatively weak voices of concern. Everyone assumed that collective wisdom would be the steamroller of change in the constitution, unstoppable by any force. Eight dead bodies and two weeks of civil disobedience have proved the thesis wrong. The combined strength of the communities when used intelligently and with abiding passion can move (or block) mountains. While local politics, especially desperate moves to revive its fortunes by the PML-Q, ignited the first fire, the speed with which it became an infernal blaze cannot be attributed to Q’s manipulation alone. That will be giving far too much credit to a discredited political force. If their leaders, particularly the Chaudhry brothers and Co, were so popular as to bring thousands of people on the streets for days, they would be ruling the country rather than struggling to save their political careers.
Hazara erupted because Hazarawals were given a raw deal, because they were assumed to be politically irrelevant, because the ANP drank too deep at the well of political chauvinism. One has to spend time in the area to realise how deep-rooted and across-the-board the desire is to retain a collective identity. Regrettably, this is precisely what nobody from the ruling establishment has done. The ANP wants to champion the cause of the length and breadth of the NWFP, but does not want to set foot in the Hazara Division. Even after days of mayhem and police-driven murders, the party top brass has remained only remotely concerned with the developments in this part of the province. On top of this, inflammatory rhetoric has poured scorn and fuel on a deep sense of injury the Hazarawals carry in their hearts. Now the 18th Amendment has become a term of abuse: its core insult being the change of NWFP’s name to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, which the Hazarawals believe is racially motivated and politically discriminatory. Obviously, a democratically developed consensus has failed to create a win-win situation on this issue. If the 18th Amendment is passed in the Senate, which procedurally will be a perfectly legitimate thing to happen, the Hazarawals’ battle for survival will only intensify. What is democratic for the PPP, the ANP and other political parties is draconian for the Hazarawals. This is how limited political consensus can be even when pursued through perfectly legal and constitutional ways.
The other point raised by the Hazara campaign is just as important. The dream of a true federal structure – maximum powers being given to the provinces – can go wrong if adequate guarantees are not offered to the smaller communities that their rights shall be preserved and protected in the new scheme of things. The Hazarawals feel that the change in the name of the province brings them one step closer to being put at the mercy of a Peshawar-Mardan ruling clique. Will the Hazarawals flourish under the tyranny of the majority in control of the levers of power in the NWFP? Ironically, the question is the same that the ANP has always raised with regard to the over-centralised and Punjab-based federal structure of the country. And just like the ANP’s answer to the question, the Hazarawals’ answer is a resounding no. But, unfortunately, almost mirroring the Punjabi establishment’s benighted reaction to their demand for complete provincial autonomy, the ANP has clenched its fists, vowing not to give up its stance. It may seem stocky to some, but it is actually foolish. Communities, big or small, cannot be lured away or beaten back from their collective demand by promises or threats. They need guarantees against potential exploitation, guarantees for participation in power proportionate to their numbers, and above all guarantees that a new arrangement will be fair in the distribution of the area’s wealth.
No such packaging was done for the NWFP’s proposed name-change. No one looked at the finer implications of altering the title of a province that is multi-ethnic and multilingual. As a result, the debate never took place how best to pre-empt any reaction from those communities whose grievances are longstanding. The Hazarawals thought that their representatives in the provincial and the National Assembly would present their case and perhaps win them some form of constitutionally sanctioned firewall against the ANP’s self-centred politics. And when that did not happen, they took it upon themselves to break the sound barrier without which neither Peshawar nor Islamabad seemed to pay attention to them. Now that they have shed blood on the streets of Abbottabad in the process of this agitation, they are ready to fight fire with fire. Anyone choosing to still ignore them would do so at his own peril, and at the cost of setting this whole area up for deadly violence.
The writer is a leading Pakistani journalist