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Discrimination Against Hazara?

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Violent street protests broke out in Abbotabad. (Image Credit: Reuters 2010)

This is in response to Mr. Kashif Jahangiri’s article “The real Hazara problem” that appeared in The News on the 6th of May 2010.

I must say this at the beginning that the discriminatory incidents that Mr. Jahangiri described in his article must be condemned; discrimination is wrong whether it comes in an ethnic or religious coating. But to generalize the wrong behavior of a few individuals over the entire Pukhtun community is also wrong, the same way that it is unfair to brand the whole Muslim Ummah based on the actions of a few.

Mr. Jahangiri proposes the hypothesis that the current movement for the Province of Hazara is a reaction to the “contempt” doled out to Hazarewals by Pukhtuns. I disagree with Mr. Jahangiri and my disagreement is based on two reasons; First, this ethnic labeling is not unique to Pukhtuns and Hazarewals, and also, is not one sided. Second, the intensity of this “contempt” is not as high as suggested by Mr. Jahangiri.

Linguistic differences provide the basis for ethnic identities, and the use of these differences as basis for ethnic jokes is something that is done around the world. In Pakistan, ethnic labeling exists between all linguistically different communities that are living side by side. Even in the more politically correct society of United States, jokes based on Spanish-American accent for instance, are part of the popular culture.  This also does not stop at just different ethnicites, even within each language a different dialect becomes the basis for similar pun. For instance, within the Pathans; the linguistic differences between the Pukhtuns, Pashtuns and Pashteens often becomes a source for humor and labeling, and in many individual cases the difference has boiled into discrimination as well, similar to what Mr. Jahangiri has described.

While the jokes and banter part is acceptable in most cases, and cherished as diversity, it is when this difference becomes the source of outright discrimination that it becomes a problem at a community level. Living in Dublin, Mr. Jahangiri must be aware of the history of the differences between the Irish and the English, and how much blood has been spilled because of that. The Rwandan genocide that resulted in the death of almost a million people was also a result of distrust between two communities. In our own history, the discrimination against the Bengalis became the main reason for the creation of Bangladesh. Similarly, Karachi’s Pathan-Muhajir riots of the 60s, that planted the seeds of ethnic disharmony in Karachi, is another sad example; when the Pukhtuns of Karachi were riled up in the name of the then “Pukhtun” President Ayub Khan.

So how have these two communities i.e. Pukhtun Majority and Hindkowan Minority fared in the former NWFP? If the case presented by Mr. Jahangiri is correct then, a discriminatory Pashtun majority must have been a hurdle towards the political aspirations of the Hindko speaking minority. Hazarewaal politicians must have found it really hard to argue their case in the Pushtun dominated provincial assembly. But when one looks at history, nothing of that sort has happened, in fact since independence, Hazara Division has had the honor of claiming the highest number of Chief Ministers than any other division in the former NWFP. These include Sardar Bahadur Khan (1955), Muhammad Iqbal Khan Jadoon (1977), Pir Sabir Shah (1994), and Mehtab Ahmed Khan Abbasi (1999). Incidentally all four were from the Hindko speaking minority, if as suggested by Mr. Jahangiri, the Pukhtuns had strong contempt towards Hindko speakers, then this achievement would not have been possible through democratic means.

A discriminatory Pukhtun Majority, should also have leveraged its numerical strength to hog most of the provincial resources, leaving little for the Hazarewals in terms of development spending. But the reality, when measured in terms of various indicators of economic development, is that the Hindko speaking districts of Hazara have a much higher level of development than the provincial average. The “Pakistan Social and Living Standards Measurement Survey (PSLM) for 2006-07”, conducted by the Federal Bureau of Statistics, reveals that in the former NWFP, 26% percent of the households reported having a “RBC/RCC (concrete) roof”, with Batagram (pushto speaking) at 15.9%. In contrast the Hindko speaking districts of Abbottabad and Haripur reported 45% and 51% percent respectively, i.e. twice the provincial average. These statistics are comparable to Sialkot at 47.64% and are much higher than those for districts in southern Punjab, for instance, Multan at 19.22%, Bahawalpur at 11% and Rajanpur at 2%. Similarly in “Access to tap water”, Haripur and Abbotabad both boast 67.76% and 61.44% respectively, much higher than the provincial average at 44.19%. This comparatively higher level of development, which is no doubt a reflection of a better quality of life, is confirmed through a variety of other indicators pertaining to health, literacy and sanitation. If there had been well entrenched hate and discrimination against the Hazarewals then they would not have been able to achieve this level of development as a minority.

Mr. Jahangiri also mentions the use of the word “Khariyaan” i.e. hindko speakers of Peshawar City, as a derogatory term used by the Pathans. Well if that was true then how is it possible for Khariyaan such as the Bilours, Haji Adeel and Syed Aqil Shah to become the top leaders of a Nationalist Pukhtun Party? As I understand politics, leaders are defined by their popularity and acceptance; followers would not follow someone whom they consider “inferior”. For instance; did Malcom X even stand a chance for a membership in the Ku Klux Klan (KKK)? If one is to extend this KKK analogy to this situation, then these Black Khariyaan have risen to level of Grand Dragons in this Pashtun Ku Klux Klan. Paradoxical indeed, if one is to accept Mr. Jahangiri’s assertion.

But instead of acknowledging the prominence of these Khariyaan in Pukhtun Nationalism, Mr. Jahangiri disapproves of the Bilours, by terming them as Non-Pukhtuns pretending to be Pukhtuns. I must say that, this argument uses a logic that is very antiquated and defies modern sensibilities. If a Pukhtun lineage does not stop a Tareen, Tanoli, Jadoon, or Swati to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Awans, Gujars, Jatts, and Abbasis of Hazara, in the name of the Hindko Language and Hazarewal identity, then by the very same principle, the Khariyaans of Peshawar have every right to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Pushto speaking Pukhtuns in the name of the Pukhtun identity. The notion of lineage based identity and the consequent generalization of races based on their bloodline, is an old and obsolete concept. The rejection of the name “Pukhtunkhwa”, by the descendents of Ahmad Shah Abdali’s soliders i.e; Jadoons, Tareens and Tanolis is living proof that, when it comes to ethnic loyalties, successful cultural assimilation can leave bloodlines and lineages to be pretty much meaningless.

I would conclude by saying that: the higher development levels of the Hindko Speaking districts of Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa, the frequent election of minority Hindkowaans to the Chief Minister-ship of a Pukhtun majority parliament, and the key leadership positions of Hindkowaans in the ANP, provides ample proof of the cultural harmony that exists between Hindko Speakers and Pukhtuns in Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa. This harmony is an achievement, the equivalent of which is very hard to find in Pakistan. It also is an achievement that cannot be discredited through mere anecdotal evidence.

An edited version appeared in The News on May 14th 2010

Written by Imran Khan

June 8, 2010 at 9:02 am

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