By Zia Ur Rehman

Feb 17-23, 2012

After the former Northwest Frontier Province was renamed Khyber Pakhtunkhwa through an amendment in the Constitution of Pakistan, the people of the Hazara region have carried out a series of protests calling for the creation of a new Hazara province.

A mock sign welcomes visitors to 'Hazara province'

“Our demand for the Hazara province is genuine and based on the aspirations of the Hazarewals (the people of Hazara), who have been facing discrimination for the last 65 years,” said Baba Haider Zaman, a veteran leader of the movement. He said many people had died for the cause, and warned his supporters would start a civil disobedience movement if their demands were not met. “If the Hazara province will not be created, no other provinces will be created.”

The Hazara Division of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa consists of six districts: Haripur, Abbotabad, Mansehra, Battagram, Kohistan and since January 2011, Torghar. The dominant language of the inhabitants of Haripur, Abbotabad and half of Mansehra is Hindko, while the people of Battagram and Torghar speak Pashto. Kohistan’s people speak their own Kohistani language.

Supporters of the cause say the division is a fertile region with forests, minerals, precious stones, and a great variety of natural resources that could support its independent existence.

Political analysts believe the movement for Hazara province is similar in many ways to the movement for a Seraiki province in Punjab.

Advocate Malik Asif, founder of Hazara Qaumi Mahaz, and Col (r) Abdul Razzaq, were among the first to demand a new Hazara province in the 1980s. But the Hazara political leadership did not take the matter seriously.

Hazara Division has traditionally been a stronghold of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), but locals see the party’s acceptance of new name of the former NWFP as a “grave betrayal”. Supporters of the call for Hazara province believe the PML-N has lost its popularity in the region, and the party that announces support for the Hazara province will win the next elections.

A PML-N leader said the movement had been “hijacked by PML-Q leaders who were comprehensively beaten by the PML-N in the previous elections”. He said Baba Haider Zaman, Goyar Ayub Khan, Sardar Muhammad Yaqoob, Sardar Yousaf and other such leaders were seeking votes on the basis of ethnicity and hatred. “They did not do anything for the development and welfare of the region when they were in power in the Pervez Musharraf regime,” he said. “The PML-N supports the Hazara province movement,” he added, “but the constitution and proper procedures must be followed.”

The recent resolution for a constitutional amendment tabled in the National Assembly by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) to facilitate the creation of new provinces received a mixed response in Hazara Division.

“Other political parties have been playing politics on the issue, but the MQM has supported the wishes and aspirations of Hazarewals by bringing that resolution in the parliament,” Zaman said.

But the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly called MQM’s support for the Hazara province “a conspiracy” and condemned the resolution, in a meeting on January 5.

“The Awami National Party (ANP) waited 63 years to change the name of province, but followed proper procedure,” said Mian Iftikhar Hussain, the provincial information minister. “The MQM has violated Article 239 Clause 4 of the Constitution by brining a resolution into the NA.”

Javed Abbasi of the PML-N, Qalandar Lodhi of PML-Q, and Mufti Kifayatullah of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), all elected members of the assembly from Hazara division, also condemned the MQM move and termed it “against the law”.

“The MQM wants to make a new province consisting of Karachi and Hyderabad in Sindh,” the PML-N lawmaker said. “It wants to divide the Sindh province but couldn’t say it openly fearing strong public resentment in Sindh. They also wanted to attract political support from the people who want new provinces in Punjab and Sindh.”

Support is also surging for activists in the Pashtun-dominated districts of Hazara who want a new division called Abaseen. MPAs from Battagaram and Kohistan have already submitted resolutions for a separate division. “Kohistan, Battagram and the newly established Torghar districts have been ignored in development, and the people of these areas find it difficult to travel to the divisional headquarters in Abbottabad to resolve their problems,” said Engineer Sajjadullah Khan, an elected parliamentarian from Kohistan. “We are not opposing the formation of Hazara province but want a separate division for these three under-privileged and backward districts.”

The provincial government has completed all spadework for the proposed new division, including arrangement of revenue and other administrative departments. Notification of the move is likely in April, according to media reports.

“The population of Hazara division has been deeply divided over the renaming of the province to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, with the Hindko-speaking population feeling that the province has been given an ethno-centric name that excludes them,” said Arshad Shah, a professor at Hazara University. He said the creation of Abaseen division may help ease that alienation. He also said that the difference of language was also a major barrier in communication between Pashtuns of Hazara’s upper districts and the Hindko-speaking Abbottabad.

Local activists complain the Pashtun areas of Hazara were ignored when Sardar Mehtab Abbassi and Pir Sabir Shah, from Abbottabad and Haripur respectively, were in power. Pashtun areas of Hazara are among the most backward districts in the country.

But some analysts believe the creation of the new division would hurt the movement for the Hazara province and also make the ANP more popular in areas traditionally seen as Muslim League strongholds. MPAs from Kohistan, Battagaram and Torghar either won on ANP tickets or joined the party after winning the elections.

The leaders of the Hazara province movement are opposing the creation of Abaseen Division. “We are strong supporters of creation of more tehsils, districts, divisions and provinces in the country to devolve powers to the people, but the creation of Abaseen Division is aimed at dividing the people of Hazara,” said Shehzada Gastasap Khan, a leader of the movement and former opposition leader in the provincial assembly. “If Hazara can be divided into two divisions, why can Khyber Pakhtunkhwa not be divided into two provinces?”

Baba Haider Zaman registered Tehrik-e-Sooba Hazara (TSH) as a political party in July last year and asked politicians affiliated with the movement to join the party. The move annoyed several key leaders of the movement who belonged to the PML-Q, an ally of the government. Subsequently, they formed a breakaway faction called Tehrik-e-Hazara Sooba (THS). The leaders of THS include Sardar Yousuf, his son State Minister Sardar Shahjehan Yousuf, Prime Minister’s Advisor Qasim Shah, and others. Hazara Qaumi Jirga is another split faction with reported patronage of the MQM, which seeks to woo Hazarewal voters in Karachi, local observers say.