Pakhtunkhwa Times

Languages of the N. W. F. P. Rahimullah Yusufzai

Posted in 1 by ppfcanada on January 21, 2009


In the ongoing debate about NWFP’s demography following the passage of a resolution in the provincial assembly for renaming the NWFP as Pakhtoonkhwa, strange and wild claims have been made to prove that the Pakhtoons and Pashto-speakers are no longer a majority in their own province. One could have ignored some of these claims if they were made by politicians and laymen only. But it would be wrong not to challenge them because those making such claims describe themselves as scholars, writers and researchers.

It would be pertinent to first examine the fantastic claims made by the Hindko Majlis-i-Amal, the NWFP, at a recent press conference in Peshawar. It refers to itself as an organisation of scholars and writers and aims at promoting the Hindko language. One of its claims is that the NWFP is a province where eight languages are spoken–Gujri, Kohistani, Chitrali, Sheena, Balti, Hindko, Seraiki and Pashto. Now one is at a loss to understand as to where in the NWFP Sheena and Balti are spoken. To the best of one’s knowledge, Sheena and Balti are spoken in Gilgit and Baltistan in the Northern Areas and not in the Frontier. The Hindko Majlis-i-Amal would not have been wide off the mark if it had mentioned Punjabi, spoken by 1.10 per cent of the households in the NWFP according to the 1981 census, and Urdu, the mother-tongue of 0.83 per cent of the households, as among the eight major languages of the province instead of the non-existent Sheena and Balti.

Even more wide off the mark is the claim of the Hindko Majlis-i-Amal that 80 per cent of NWFP’s population are Hindkowans whose mother tongue is Hindko. According to the 1981 census, 68.30 per cent of the households in the NWFP, which in this case means the settled areas and excludes the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of the province, speak Pashto. Hindko is spoken by 18.13 per cent of the households, followed by Seraiki with 3.95 per cent. Chitrali and Kohistani, spoken in Chitral and Kohistan districts, are included in the column “Others” which constitute 7.6 per cent of all languages. Punjabi is spoken by a little over one per cent of the households in NWFP, Urdu by less than one per cent, Sindhi by 0.05 per cent, Balochi by 0.04 per cent, and Brahvi by 0.01 per cent.

The 1981 census makes it absolutely clear that Pashto speakers in the NWFP outnumber all other languages put together. Perhaps the Hindko Majlis-i-Amal officials committed a slip of the tongue when they claimed that 80 instead of 18 per cent of the population in the province spoke Hindko. One could argue that these figures are 16 years old and there is a need for a new census to find out the latest with regard to the languages spoken in the NWFP. One could hope that the new census is carried out early next year as promised by the government because it has become a must not only to collect uptodate data regarding the size, growth and distribution of the population but also to put to test the claims and counter-claims of different ethnic, religious and regional groups. In fact, it is likely that the number of Pashto speakers in the settled areas of the NWFP would register an increase in the new census because a significant number of Pashtoons from FATA have been taking up residence in urban areas and in districts like Peshawar, Charsadda, Mardan, Nowshera, Kohat, Bannu, Dera Ismail Khan and Tank.

They are coming down from their mountainous tribal areas where economic opportunities are scarce and educational and health facilities are under-developed to avail the better life offered by the cities and the settled districts. It is largely due to tribal migration that Peshawar has now become a truly Pakhtoon city, that the Mohmand Pakhtoons compete with the Yousafzais for jobs, business and political influence in Mardan district, and that Dera Ismail Khan’s demography has undergone a gradual change with the arrival of Wazir, Mahsud and other tribals from South and North Waziristan.

It would also be worthwhile to look at the languages spoken in FATA because it is part of the NWFP in many respects even if it is administered by the federal government. After all, these are tribal areas of the NWFP and the people living in the settled and tribal territory are linked by religion, culture, language and centuries of common history and aspirations. Moreover, the name Pakhtoonkhwa would also apply to FATA if the NWFP is renamed as a result of a constitutional amendment by the National Assembly.

According to the 1981 census, the households which speak Pashto are 99.70 per cent of the total population of FATA. In comparison, the households which speak Punjabi are 0.10 per cent, Sindhi 0.05 per cent, Hindko and Urdu each 0.02 per cent and Balochi 0.01 per cent. Nobody speaks Seraiki or Brahvi in FATA while other languages, which probably also includes Persian, account for 0.09 per cent.

To take the argument further, let us discuss the major languages spoken in the NWFP on the basis of the 1981 census by looking at the figures of the four divisions (Dera Ismail Khan, Hazara, Malakand and Peshawar) into which the province was administratively divided at that time. In the whole of the NWFP, 1,610,022 households, as many as 1,099,620 households spoke Pashto, 291,832 spoke Hindko and 63,635 spoke Seraiki. Hazara was the only division where Hindko speakers (250,283 households) outnumbered Pashto speakers (72,777 households). In Dera Ismail Khan division, which in 1981 comprised Dera Ismail Khan, Bannu, and Kohat districts, Pashto was spoken by 122,416 households, Seraiki by 63,330, and Hindko by 3,442. In Malakand division, Pashto was spoken by 304,518 households, Hindko by 1,450, and other languages, which includes Chitrali and Gujri, by 50,078. And in Peshawar division, Pashto was spoken by 599,909, Hindko by 36,657, Punjabi by 12,115, and Urdu by 9,567. This should open the eyes of those people, especially the writers and analysts from outside the NWFP, who think Hazara and Dera Ismail Khan are non-Pakhtoon areas. This reminds one of those who still believe that all of northern Afghanistan, or areas north of the Hindu Kush, are inhabited only by non-Pakhtoon people like Uzbeks, Tajiks, Turkmens and Hazaras. Little do they realise that Pakhtoons form almost 35 per cent of the population in northern Afghanistan.

One point which is often missed while discussing the ratio of Pakhtoon and non-Pakhtoon population in NWFP is that more Pakhtoons compared to other ethnic groups tend to forget their language over a period of time. Thus Pakhtoon tribes like Jadoons, Tareens, Pannis, Swatis, Yousafzais, etc. inhabiting Hazara division have forgotten their Pashto and now speak Hindko. The Miankhels, Gandapurs, Nasirs, Kundis, etc., living in Dera Ismail Khan are Pakhtoon tribes but most are either bilingual or speak Seraiki rather than Pashto. A number of Hindko speakers in Peshawar and certain other urban centres of the NWFP are originally Pakhtoon but over a period of time due to migration and integration with other people they have forgotten their mother tongue. One can also quote the example of Pakhtoons in places like Kasur, Multan, Muzaffargarh, Shikarpur, Kalat, etc., in different parts of Pakistan who no longer speak Pashto and are now fluent in Punjabi, Seraiki, Sindhi and Brahvi. Same is the case with Pakhtoons in Afghanistan who inhabit cities like Kabul, Herat and Mazar-i-Sharif and now speak Persian. It is also true that some non-Pakhtoons have also started speaking Pashto both out of economic need and cultural assimilation but their numbers are small and many of them still list Gujri, Kohistani, Chitrali, Seraiki and Hindko as their mother tongues.

This is not meant to belittle other languages or impose Pashto or Pakhtoonkhwa on unwilling non-Pakhtoons, but simple to set the record straight so that those making unsubstantiated claims are reminded of the hard facts.

The News – November 25, 1997

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