Saturday, April 10, 2010

John Butt on renaming the Frontier


A lunge into obscurity?: new name for NWFP

The name ‘The Frontier’ has already put the Pakhtuns on the map. There are hundreds of ‘frontiers’ around the world. But mention ‘The Frontier’ anywhere in the world, and it is one Frontier -- the Frontier province that lies on the border of Afghanistan -- that springs to mind. What more does one want to be ‘on the map’?

Far from propelling the Pakhtuns to international renown, there is danger that the new name will consign them to the obscurity they do not deserve. The NWFP is very far from being the full extent of the land of the Pakhtuns. Pakhtuns also inhabit large swathes of Afghanistan, as well as of Balochistan. Don’t those Pakhtuns also deserve to be part of this newly recognised ‘Pakhtun nation’? Even right under the noses of the newly named province, there are a huge number of Pakhtuns living in Fata.

Khyber, which inexplicably has given its name to the new name of the province, is not actually part of the province to which it has lent its name: it is part of Fata.

Probably, Khyber has been added to the new name in order to give the name a certain degree of international resonance and recognition. The word is not easily rendered into English. Difficulties in pronouncing the letter ‘kha’ have already led to the Pakhtuns being known internationally as Pathans. The new name has two ‘khas’ in it. So be prepared, Pakhtunkhwa lovers, for people calling your province Pathankhwa, Paktunkwa or even Pathankwa.

The difficulties of spelling the new name are not confined to spelling it in English. The very people who have promoted this new name even spell it incorrectly in Pashto. The champions of Pakhtunkhwa consistently spell the word with a Arabic kha (.) instead of with a Pashto khin (š), as it should be spelt.

The self-avowed followers of Bacha Khan seem to have forgotten the words he pronounced when he gave his last speech in Peshawar in 1987: “A nation that loses its language, itself becomes lost.”

The name change is a useful distraction from the pressing problems the province is facing. These problems have been brought into stark focus over the last few days, with the bombing of a rally aimed at ‘celebrating’ the new name.

Instead of building bridges between the religious and nationalist lobbies in the province, the stewards of the province have concentrated on a change of name which only exacerbates existing tensions.

The only people who have reason to rejoice at the new name of the NWFP are the Afridis who inhabit Khyber. Their valley has been projected to become the name of an entire province. Pity that they are not part of that province.



Jalalabad, Afghanistan.

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