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Page last updated at 23:33 GMT, Friday, 23 April 2010 00:33 UK

Passions run high over Pakistan name change

By Riffatullah Orakzai
BBC Urdu, Abbottabad

Aftermath of a demonstration in the Hazara region
The name change has proved to be a deeply contentious issue

"I have not come here alone to protest - I have brought my children with me," says Qazi Ghulam Kabeer.

He is demonstrating against the recent change in name of Pakistan's North West Frontier Province (NWFP) to Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa.

The name change is part of constitutional amendments recently passed by the country's parliament which transfer power from the president to the popularly elected prime minister and parliament.

Among other changes is the concession of more power and rights to the provinces.

Top of the list was the long-standing demand by the NWFP's ruling Awami National Party (ANP) to change the name of NWFP.

This has now been accomplished - but not to everybody's satisfaction.

Sense of exclusion

Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa means "land of the Khyber side of the Pakhtoons", or Pashtuns.

Sardar Haider Zaman Khan
We will not rest till Hazara becomes a separate province
Sardar Haider Zaman Khan

The trouble is that this description does not encompass all the ethno-linguisitic groups in the province.

The sense of exclusion is most keenly felt by people like Qazi Kabeer, in the north-eastern Hazara region of the province.

These are the Hazarawals, a people identified as indigenous primarily because of their linguistic origins.

The Hazarawals speak the Hindko dialect, which is completely distinct from the Pashto language.

However, there is no such clear view on their ethnic origins. Some say they are part of the greater Punjabi region, while others claim they are of Kashmiri origin.

Whatever the case, the Hazarawals regard themselves as ethnically and linguistically distinct from the rest of northern Pakistan.

"We will not back down till they give us our province - even if we have to sacrifice our children," an emotional Qazi Kabeer said.

Looting

This has become a rallying cry across the Hazara region - made up of the districts of Abbottabad, Kohistan, Haripur, Batagram and Mansehra.

Protesters in the Hazara region
The Hazara region broke out into spontaneous protest

Following the initial ratification of NWFP's name change, the region burst into spontaneous protest.

On 13 April, a day after the act of parliament, incensed Hazarawal demonstrators clashed with police in the main city of Abbottabad.

At least seven people died and dozens were injured in the ensuing violence which soon engulfed the region.

The protests eventually disintegrated into a rioting and looting free-for-all that led to paramilitary troops being called in.

When I drove into the region during the protests, the discontent was still simmering.

Small groups of demonstrators could be seen on the road into Abbottabad - armed with sticks and stones.

Every passing car was a target, with vehicles being pelted and chased and sometimes emptied of occupants and set on fire.

When I was eventually able to talk to some of the demonstrators, their first words were to demand that "Hazara must become a province".

This is not the first time that Hazarawals have demanded a separate identity. In 1958, a local lawyer formed a political front to promote the rights of people of the region.

But the start of a consistent campaign for a separate province can be traced to 1992, when the Hazara National Front (HNF) was formed by another local barrister.

The HNF was at the height of its power in 1997, when the issue of Pakhtoonkhwa was first raised in the NWFP assembly.

Separate status call

Violence broke out throughout the region after the assembly passed a bill agreeing to the name change.

Demonstrators clamber onto a vehicle during Tuesday's protest
The Hazarawals are angry over their 'exclusion'

The situation was eventually brought under control as the assembly decision was not ratified by parliament.

But strong feelings have simmered since then.

The recent amendments have now brought them to the fore once again.

This time however, the main leadership comes from another organisation called the Hazara Action Committee.

This is led by senior local politician Sardar Haider Zaman Khan, known affectionately as Baba (old man) Haider Zaman.

A sprightly 75-year-old, Baba Haider Zaman has been active in politics since 1962.

He has stood in dozens of local and national parliamentary elections.

"We will not rest till Hazara becomes a separate province," he thunders.

'Can of worms'

For the moment, the dust has begun to settle in the region.

However, feelings are still strong and the issue is likely to be the main rallying point in this pivotal region in the next general elections.

That, however, is not the only fallout of the Hazara episode in Pakistan.

Analysts believe that the 18th amendments bill has opened a can of worms for the central government.

"Ethnic groups across Pakistan have been galvanised by the granting of more provincial autonomy," said a senior opposition figure who asked not to be named.

"Everybody, from southern Punjab to Karachi is now hankering for recognition. At the moment the central government is unlikely to bow down to any pressure.

"But if the movements gather steam, they could be the most significant change in Pakistan since the fall of Dhaka."



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