May 13, 2010

Discrimination against Hazara?

Imran Khan

This is in response to Mr Kashif Jahangiri's article 'The real Hazara problem' which appeared in The News on May 6, 2010.

The incidents of discrimination that Mr Jahangiri has mentioned in his article must be condemned; discrimination – be it ethnic or religious - is wrong. But to generalise the entire Pukhtun community on the basis of wrong behaviour shown by a few individuals is also wrong, just like it is unfair to brand all the Muslims as terrorists based on the actions of a few.

According to the hypothesis proposed by Mr Jahangiri, 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 labelling is not unique to Pukhtuns and Hazarewals, and also, it 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 using these differences to make ethnic jokes is a common practice around the world. In Pakistan, ethnic labelling exists between all linguistically different communities that are living side by side. Even in the more politically correct society of the United States, jokes based on Spanish-American accent, for instance, are part of the popular culture. This does not stop at different ethnicities; in many cases different dialects of a language become the basis for similar pun. For instance, within the Pathans, the linguistic differences between the Pukhtuns, Pashtuns and Pashteens often become a source of humour and labelling, 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, problems arise when this difference becomes the source of outright discrimination 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 had 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, are a sad example.

So, how have these two communities - the Pukhtun majority and the Hindkowan minority - fared in the former NWFP? If the case presented by Mr Jahangiri is correct, then a discriminatory Pakhtun majority must have been a hurdle towards the political aspirations of the Hindko-speaking minority. The Hazarewal politicians must have found it really hard to argue their case in the Pukhtun-dominated provincial assembly. But when one looks at history, nothing of that sort has happened. In fact, since independence, the Hazara division has had the honour 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 of them belonged to 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 per cent of the households reported to have 'RBC/RCC (concrete) roof', with the Pushto-speaking area of Battagram at 15.9 per cent. In contrast, the Hindko-speaking districts of Abbottabad and Haripur reported 45 per cent and 51 per cent concrete roofs respectively, i.e. twice the provincial average. These statistics are comparable to Sialkot at 47.64 per cent and are much higher than those for districts in southern Punjab, for instance, Multan at 19.22 per cent, Bahawalpur at 11 per cent and Rajanpur at 2 per cent.

Similarly, Haripur and Abbotabad boast 67.76 per cent and 61.44 per cent access to tap water respectively, which is much higher than the provincial average at 44.19 per cent. This comparatively higher level of development, which, no doubt, reflects a better quality of life, is confirmed through a variety of other indicators pertaining to health, literacy and sanitation. Had there been well-entrenched hatred and discrimination against the Hazarewals, 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 Malcolm X even stand a chance for 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, terming them 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 Pukhtun identity. The notion of lineage-based identity and the consequent generalisation 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 soldiers that is the 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 Hindkowans to the chief ministership of a Pukhtun-majority parliament, and the key leadership positions of Hindkowans in the ANP, provide 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.

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