“I have one great dream, one great longing. Like flowers in the desert my people are born, bloom for a while with nobody to look after them, wither and return to the dust they came from. I want to see them share each other’s sorrow and happiness. I want to see them work together as equal partners. I want to see them play their national role and take their rightful place among the nations of the world, for the service of God and humanity.” The immortal words of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan :-- a love that he had for his people, the awareness that he had of their nature and the destiny that he had thought out for them. The Khan lived for this one purpose to see his people attain what others had attained.
History says that Abdul Ghaffar Khan was born to a Khan who was not a conventional Khan in the real sense. Behram Khan was a liberal in those days when mullahs and Khan ruled the people. So the basic ingredients were there in the atmosphere Abdul Ghaffar Khan was to enjoy during his childhood and earlier adulthood. Behram Khan, contrary to the general custom and the mullahs, sent both his sons to missionary schools whereupon the younger got his first taste of what social work is when he saw Englishmen, thousands of miles away from their homeland, teaching the native for no monetary gains but for their betterment. The foundations of a social uplift movement were laid there in the young Khan’s mind , which went a long way in ensuring what he did later.
The Pathan: “The history of my people is full of victories and tales of heroism, but there are drawbacks too. Internal feuds and personal jealousies have always snatched away the gains achieved through vast sacrifices. They were deposed only because of their own inherent defects, never by any outside power – for who would oppose them on the battlefield”.
How exact was the definition by Abdul Ghaffar Khan of the hot-headed but faithful, stone-hearted but lovable people who had lived in the north-west of the English Empire for centuries. How deep was his study of the fact, can be easily verified nowadays.
That the gains of the Pathans on the battlefield or economic and financial circles were lost due to the rivalry and disunity amongst their own ranks.
But history states that the Pathans were also entangled in this crisis which they find themselves now due to destiny. The British always weary of Russian expansionist tendencies, wanted a solid border with the Russian Empire and the Pathans naturally entered the picture.
Thus started the struggle, the oppression of the Pathans and their stiff opposition. The British found it very hard to subjugate them for .. “who could oppose them on the battlefield”. The British called this part simply “The Grim”. They therefore formed the NWFP on November 9, 1901. In the words of Sir Neville Chamberlain, “To have to carry destruction if not destitution, into the homes of some hundreds of families is the great drawback of border warfare, but the savage tribes to whom there is no right but might, the only course open as regards humanity as well as policy is to make all suffer.”
“If objection is taken to the nature of punishment inflicted as repugnant to civilization, the answer is that savages cannot be met and checked by civilized warfare, and that to spare their houses and crops would be to leave them unpunished”.
The insight of Ghaffar Khan can be judged b his own words, “Our fault is that our province is the gateway of India. Because we live there the government calls us the gate-keepers. If we give them anything India will get out of our hands. We were born in the Frontier Province. And this is why we were doomed. They (the British) wanted these people should go on fighting among themselves and remain in a ruined and destroyed condition so that they might rule our country without feeling any anxiety”.
Naturally Ghaffar Khan stepped in to change the course of events and who could be better equipped than he for he knew their weaknesses as well as their strong points.
When he met Sir Griffith, Chief Commissioner of India, he asked the CC to hand over the lands of the Pathans to them. “No one can dominate us as we are willing to sacrifice everything for the protection of our country.”
The other ingredients needed, after a knowledge of his people, for a great leader in the forming, was an ideology, faith, steadfastness in what he was doing was right and the only right path. Ghaffar Khan had both to the optimum. He derived the essence of his thoughts and actions from religion – the most impregnable source of them all. In his own words. “It is my innermost conviction that Islam is amal, yakeen and muhabbat (work, faith and love). And without these the name of Muslim is sounding brass and tinkling crystals”.
Ghaffar Khan saw religion as the guiding source. All his actions were guided on it, even his non-violence to be discussed later, was based on the teachings of Prophet (PBUH) namely those about love of others and sabr. Ghaffar Khan saw Islam in the light of Aamal, Yakeen and Mohabbat. He thought his aamal reflected his preaching in practical, through his yakeen of righteousness of his path, braved all hardships and through mohabbat forgave even those who had left no holds barred in making him suffer. For him, love was a sacred conviction. He once said, “the Holy Prophet (PBUH) came into this world and taught us that that man is a Muslim who never hurts anyone by word or deed, but who works for the benefit and happiness of God’s creatures. Belief in God is to love ones’ fellow-men. “
All his actions had just one basis, the pleasure of God be it through prayers to Him or the service of His creatures. He had just one standard. “I have but one standard of measure and that is the measure of one’s surrender to God’.
Bacha Khan: Thus armed with weapons of firm conviction and sound knowledge of his people, Abdul Ghaffar Khan started his movement for the social uplift of his people. The first thing he saw was the firm control of mullahs over the education system and the uselessness of this system. To change all this he started an Azad school in Utmanzai.
Then he started touring the pathan land trying to setup schools. The British sensing this as a danger to their preset atmosphere of peace, ruthlessly opposed him. A school in Dir was burnt to the ground. Wherever he went the local nobles were warned beforehand not to offer any encouragement or help.
But Abdul Ghaffar Khan remained undaunted during 1915 to 1918. He visited some 500 villages in the so-called settled area of Pakhtoon heartland. He had an air of humbleness over him. The villagers were petrified and astonished to find a “Khan” among their ranks, sitting on the ground with them, eating what they ate and professing what they professed. The vacuum in Pathan leadership was filled. They all accepted this faqir of a Khan as their leader, for one they could lay down their lives. So one afternoon in a meeting in Charsadda, to express their gratefulness to him for arousing them, they titled him BACHA KHAN, the king of Khans. He was their “Bacha” now. The Pathans had at last found a leader, worthy of leading the Pathans. They had found one to guide them in the light of Pakhtunwali, the ethnic pathan code, as he himself said, “He (the Pathan) will go with you to hell if you can win his heart but you cannot force him even to go to heaven. Such is the power of love over the Pathan”, and he had won their hearts.
Satyagraha: “There is nothing surprising in a Muslim or a Pathan like me subscribing to the creed of non-violence. It is not a new creed, it was followed fourteen hundred years ago by the Prophet (PBUH) all the time he was in Makkah, and it has since been followed by all those who wanted to throw off an Oppressor’s Yoke. But we had so forgotten it that when Ghandiji placed it before us, we thought he was sponsoring a novel creed.” Inspired by Ghandhi’s firm conviction of non-violence and also his in-built creed to this effect, Bacha Khan startd preaching this idea to the Pathans.
His task was a daunting one for the ones for whom badal, revenge, was the sweetest music to their ears, who cared less for human life than their pukhto, their honour, were hard-pressed to forego their inbuilt instinct and adopt such a way of life in which opposing the enemy meant not to shoot at him but to stand before him with opposition in heart and action minus the violence. Gandhi named it satyagraha (Soul Power), the capacity to accept suffering and determination never to inflict suffering on opponents. History tells that the Bacha Khan, the heart-throb of millions, suffered, went to jails for no crime, where he was confined to ill-equipped quarters, was banned from his land and what could be more severe a punishment for a pathan not to be able to visit his watan, but Khan withstood all this. The Pathans were ruthlessly gunned down, fired upon in Utmanzai, in Qissa Khawani, their lands confiscated but they withstood all this for the Khan’s resolve for non-violence became stronger and stronger. “One learns a great deal in the school of suffering. I wonder what would have happened to me if I had an easy life, and had not had the privilege of tasting the joys of jails and all it means”.
“A coward dies but his shrieks live long after”, runs a pathan fable and the pathans made this their motto. So deep was the understandings of Gandhi’s satyagraha over Bacha Khan that he was affectionately named the “Frontier Gandhi”. As Nehru once accepted “I admired the other Indian leaders and most of them did not understand the spiritual basis of Gandhi’s work and honestly admitted it. Bacha Khan not only understood it, he lived it”.
Khudai Khitmatgars: “I am going to give you such a weapon that the police and the army will not be able to stand against it. It is the weapon of the Prophet but you are not aware of it.. that weapon is patience and righteousness. No power on the earth can stand against it”.
“When you go back to your villages, tell your brethren that there is an army of God and its weapon is patience. Ask your brethren to join the army of God. Endure all hardships. If you exercise patience, victory will be ours”. Thus spoke the Bacha Khan to the group of pathans to be the first non-violent army of the world, the Khudai Khitmatgars, the servants of God.”
The time was September 1929, and the place, Utmanzai. The King of the Pakhtoon nation was pouring his heart out and the nation listened in silence.
“There are two ways to national progress, one is the path of religion and the other is road of patriotism – Take a look at ourselves, we have hardly learned to stand on our own feet yet, we hardly see to understand the meaning of the word ‘nation’. A revolution is like a flood. A nation can prosper by it, and it can perish by it as well. A nation that is wide awake, that cultivates brotherhood and national spirit, is sure to benefit through revolution.”
“ O Pathans ! If you want your country and your people to prosper you must stop living for yourself alone and start living for the community. That is the only way to prosperity and progress”. The Khudai Khidmatgars were to do just that, they were an army of non-violent soldiers, drilled and disciplined, with officers and uniforms and, of course, a flag. Any pathan could join taking an oath.
The uniform at first was a white over-shirt but as it got dirty quickly, it was changed to red, which also was a way of gaining attention. The flag was a tricolor and jirgas were established in villages to see to the implementation of Pakhtoonwali. Their motto was freedom and their aim service. Since God Himself was in no need of service, they served His people instead. The Khudai Khidmatgars started social work in the villages, school dispensaries, and libraries were set up but eventually, Bacha Khan could not remain aloof of the political happenings and turmoil of the sub-continent and on April 23, 1930 the Khudai Khidmatgars joined the civil resistance movement. Then started the ruthless suppression of the movement at the hands of the British, for a non-violent Pathan was unthinkable – a fraud that masked something sinister and darkly treacherous.
This only helped the movement as where Khan had been able to recruit only a thousand or so Khudai Khidmatgars, British repression and effrontery converted 80,000 men and women to the movement.
As M. Younas writes, “The two years that followed formed an astounding period of darkness for the province. Shootings, beating and other acts of provocation were perpetuated against these people who had never suffered before without avenging themselves. Gunning the Red Shirts was a popular sport and pastime of the British force in the province”.
“But the Pathans, notwithstanding the fact that they had been brought up in an atmosphere of violence and bloodshed, stood unmoved by such provocations and died peacefully in large numbers for the attainment of their goal”.
“To gain independence”, Khan once explained, “two types of movements were launched in our province – the Violent Movement (the uprising before 1919) created hatred in the hearts of the people against violence. But the non-violent movement won love, not only won love but also affection and sympathy of the people … If a British was killed not only the culprit was punished but the whole village and entire region suffered from it”.
Bacha Khan bore all this with his people, sometimes in lockups and sometimes in banishment living near Gandhji and taking spiritual guidance from him.
Independence: At last 1947, Pakistan came into being. Although opposing in principle its creation, the Khudai Khidmatgars pledged allegiance to it.
Only a week after independence, Dr Khan Saheb’s government in the Frontier was disbanded and replaced by a Muslim League ministry. Shortly thereafter, a large gathering of Khudai Khidmatgars met at Sardaryab and resolved that the Khudai Khidmatgars regard Pakistan as their own country pledging to do their utmost to strengthen and safeguard its interest and make every sacrifice for the cause.
At the same time Bacha Khan asked for a united Pathan province within Pakistan in which all pathans would be reunited under “Rule of the Pathans, by the Pathans, and for the Pathans”. In this scheme, all five major peoples of Pakistan would have their own semi autonomous provinces like Bengalis in East Bengal, Sindhis in Sindh, Punjabis in the Punjab and Baloch in Balochistan, Khan argued. Pathans deserved ‘Pakhtunistan’: the land of the Pukhtoons.
Bacha Khan toured the Frontier and spoke out boldly for his plan and the democratic rights of his people. The government, at war with India over Kashmir, claimed he was disloyal and in league with India. On June 15, 1948 Bacha Khan was arrested for “fomenting open sedition” and sentenced to three years rigorous imprisonment. The Khudai Khidmatgars were banned and their headquarters razed. More than a thousand of them went to hail. The Pukhtoon Khan’s journal was silenced forever. Thus, with less than a year of the night that Mountbatten handed over the reins of power to India and Pakistan, Mahatma Gandhi had been assassinated by a Hindu who feared he was pro-Muslim and Bacha Khan had been jailed by an Islamic government who claimed he was pro-Hindu.
So begins Bacha Khan’s second long ordeal in the cause of freedom. His sentence was extended twice, so that he actually served seven years before being released only to be imprisoned again the following year. During first three decades of Pakistan’s existence he would spend fifteen years in prison and seven years in exile.
Whenever he was out of prison, Bacha Khan continued to plead for a united Pathan province and the rudiments of democracy for his people. In 1956 he and three other leaders founded the National Awami Party. He was jailed several more times for ‘anti-state activities’. Since he refused to be silenced, his life since partition was a history of prison terms broken occasionally by interludes of freedom.
Thus Bacha Khan’s extraordinary saga continued and uptil his death in 1987 the non-violent soldier of Islam continued his struggle.
Immortality: Perhaps, no better way will be to end this humble tribute to Bacha Khan, than by quoting his desire of humbleness when Congress offered its Presidentship to him, the Bacha Khan refused saying “ … Let me declare that I am only a humble soldier and it is my ambition to end my days not as a general but as a soldier”.
Note: Published in the Frontier Post, January 20, 1991, primarily depending on, and copying from, “A Man to Match His Mountains: Badshah Khan, Nonviolent Soldier of Islam” by Eknath Easwaran