The Pride of Afghan (Fakhr-e-Afghan), Abdul Ghaffar Khan was born in 1890, in Utmanzai, a village in suburbs of Charsadda (the lotus city). His father was a Mohamadzai chief, Behram Khan, who was bestowed with riches by the British India government for the services he rendered during the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. Ghaffar Khan, known as Baacha Khan (Chief of Khans), received his primary education in a local madrassa (Religious schools) for six years. Unsatisfied with the merit of education, he came to Peshawar and continued his education at the Edwards Memorial Mission High School. Later, he went to Aligarh. There he studied journals, namely, Al-Hilal of Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad and the Zamindar of Zafar Ali Khan. He got married in 1912; with the death of first wife, he remarried. Four children born of him: three sons-Ghani Khan, Ali Khan and Wali Khan-and a daughter.
Born amidst the chivalrous, warlike, and turbulent pathans, Baacha Khan devoted his energies to the service of humanity and a cross-cultural change destined to bring peace to humanity and order on earth. To him this was possible, through nonviolence and tolerance. Because hatred breeds hatred and violence breed violence. Love, on the other hand, is pregnant for love, while respect leads to respect. Therefore, peace through strength is a misnomer; peace can only be achieved through nonviolence.
For him nonviolence has become a matter of faith. He once said: “My faith is clear. I will not forsake it even if I stand alone in the People.” To him only the strategic doctrine of non-violence and no-terror can save the coming generations from the horrific nuclear disaster. “For today’s children and the world, my thoughts are that only if they accept nonviolence can they escape destruction, with all this talk of the atom bomb, and live a life of peace”, he deliberated in an interview in 1985, “If this doesn’t happen, then the world will be in ruins.” D.G. Tendulkar in his book ‘Abdul Ghaffar Khan’ encapsulates the vision and approach of Baacha Khan to world peace, depicting that violence is the seedbed of all human ills that reign supreme. Accordingly:
“Bacha Khan was against violence in any form and for any case. Violence always promotes a sense of hatred. It is not good for any country or nation because it is ultimately self-destructive. The alarming growth of violence, itself a manifestation of social disruption and moral degeneration has been prohibiting progress on all fronts. Without overcoming this trend, we cannot solve the political, economic and social problems of our society. If some individual or party, state or nation supports violence and terrorism in any form and for whatever objective, that individual, party, state or nation would ultimately plunge itself in trouble and disorder.”
Two things worth mentioning that had affected his frame of mind and designed his philosophy of life: first, Mr. E.F.E. Wigram, principal of the Edwards Memorial Mission High School, who infused into him the values of human life and liberty; and the 1897 civil strife, during which the scene of North West of British India turned into a human blood-bath.
The time he entered politics, sub-continent was masked bitterly by the overwhelming clouds of imperialism and raven by the exploitation and deprivation wreaked by the British Empire in the name of ‘civilization’ and ‘modernization’. To repel the forces terror and intimidation, he waged war for freedom and emancipation from the specter of British colonialism. But his approach to freedom was in clear contrast to the one with which Pakhtoon history is littered. He stipulated peace and freedom through evolution, not the one that is radical rooted in violence and injustice. He sought to replace violence, war, racism, and economic injustice with nonviolence, peace, and justice. To this end he mobilized, through his public speeches and voracious visits into various district of the region, activists, no less devotes to non-violence, also known as Surkh Posh (the Red Shirts). These activists were welded together as ‘Khudai-e-Khidmatgar’ (the servants of God) in 1929. The national headquarter of the pacifist militia was in Sardaryab, a place at conjuncture of Peshawar, Charsadda and Shabqadar. On many occasions British government tested nerves and wills of the Khudai Khidmatgars, but they remained steadfast to their ideals of non-violence and pacific resistance. But the uniformed militia of Pathans marched toward freedom and liberty under the slogan: “laying down our own lives and never taking any life.” The 1930 massacre of 200 Khudai Khidmatgar activists testifies to this courageous restraint from violence. As Baacha Khan reiterated that, “violence requires less courage than non-violence.”
In conjunction with Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Maulana Abu al-Kalam Azad, and other members of the Congress, Baacha Khan has publicly criticized and scoffed at the Rowlatt Bills, an instrument of servitude, in his public speeches, and stiffed up resistance. Besides, he played a remarkable role in ‘the Khilafat Movement’ (1919-1922) and ‘the Civil Disobedience Movement’, ever since its commencement in 1930 by Mohandas Gandhi. He introduced the cult of ‘Charkha’ (a tool used for making cloth) and enjoined upon Pakhtoons to use and promote local industry. He also urged them to return the coveted British medals, withdraw from British universities, and stop practicing in British courts. That was meant to give political shock to the British administration and keep alive the flickering flame of change alive in the hearts and minds of people that would ultimately result in to the emancipation from alien, unjust regime. In retrospect, he was thrown behind bars time and again, compelling him to give up his non-violent march against the empire on which sun never falls. Unmoved by periodical confinements and incarcerations, he leaped ahead, embracing multitudes of volunteers, to conjecture with peace and freedom.
Badshah Khan actively participated in the subcontinent liberation movement on the platform of the All-India National Congress, as a proactive member of the congress. He was the protagonist of a united India, and opposed the creation of two sovereign states on the premise of ideological differences. For him religion are the codes of peaceful and harmonious human conduct in society, therefore all the religions are the same whether it is Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, or Christianity. “The fundamental principles of religions are the same”, Baacha Khan says, “though details differ because each faith takes the colour and flavour of the soil from which it springs. I cannot contemplate a time when there will be one religion for the whole of the world.” Ever since the creation of Pakistan, he was targeted and criticized as pro-Indian for his commitment to united-India and Hindu-Muslim unity, and opposition to the bisecting of India on the basis of two-nation theory by the Muslim League leaders and the aspirants of a separate homeland for Muslims of India. He thought that the rights of Pakhtoons could best be secured and respected in a decentralized India than in a centralized Pakistan. Therefore, he started a movement demanding an autonomous region for Pakhtoons, to be named as Paskhtunistan. The Government of Pakistan banned the Khidmatgar Movement and apprehended him and his camp-followers, most of them fled across into Afghanistan, while others were imprisoned. Baacha Khan, whatsoever, continued his work.
Baacha Khan was nevertheless a great Pakhtoon reformer of the 20th century. He was a great advocate of social equality and was ambivalent to discrimination that perpetrates in society either in terms of gender bias, economic status, color or race, profession or religion. Education, to him, was instrumental to overcome and eradicate social ills, irrespective of its colors and shades, and to uplift the social stature of the depressed classes and women. Therefore, he associated himself with another Pakhtoon leader, Haji Sahib Turangzai, pioneer of national education in the province. With his support a National School in Utmanzai was established, and tried to establish its branches all over the province.
However, he did not ignore the press. He started a monthly journal in Pashto, the Pakhtoon, in 1928; but it was closed down in 1930. The journal was revived the following year, but had not functioned for long. It was introduced as Das Roza in April 1938, again suspended in 1941. It made its appearance again in 1945, as a weekly, but was closed down after two years.
Bacha Khan was a close associate, intimate companion, and unswerving admirer of Mohandas Gandhi, for his ideals were starkly parallel to those of Gandhi-‘Love Your Enemy’. The only difference was that Gandhi has taken inspiration from Bhagavad-Gita, the Bible, and the writings of Thoreau and Tolstoy, while Baacha Khan jeweled his philosophy with the injunctions of Quran-faith (yakeen), action (amal) and love (mohabbat). Whereupon, he was called as ‘the Frontier Gandhi.’ But he was more than that, for he was a devoted practitioner of nonviolence and social reform. He worked voraciously to spread his ideals in the region, eluding at least two assassination attempts and surviving three decades in prison, but he remained committed to nonviolence through out his life (98 years).
Fakhr-e-Afghan, Abdul Ghaffar Khan, is a symbol of pride for Pakhtoon and those who adhere to the doctrine of non-violence and peace, died on 18th of January, 1988. He was laid to rest in Jalalabad (Afghanistan), as per his will, on 20th January. Millions of followers and admirers attend his funeral. Two remarkable and landmark events took place: one was the visit of Rajeev Gandhi, Prime Minster of India, and, second was the cease fire in Afghanistan. No doubt, he is no more with us but he will be remembered for his meritorious services and services and sacrifices.
It is no denying the fact that the life and struggle of Baacha Khan was an epoch making. For it turned the course and contents of Pakhtoon history, replete with feuds and vendettas, through his philosophy of life and politics, emphasizing universal peace and nonviolence, forbearance and patience. Peace not afar, if we vow to the philosophy of Baacha Khan that is: “I shall never use violence. I shall not retaliate or take revenge, and shall forgive anyone who indulges in oppression and excesses against me.”
Originally published at http://www.peshawar1.com/htmls/personalities.html