Bacha Khan’s philosophy of non-violence
Within a few days, the locals seized control of about 57 villages. They managed to reopen schools and clinics in their neighborhoods. Though the Taliban dismiss the uprising as a government-sponsored project, the residents insist it is a homegrown movement in defense of their rights.
The resistance in Ghazni was met with a harsh reaction from the insurgents, but the movement seems to have gained momentum and spread in other parts of the country, including Faryab, Kunar and Laghman provinces.
People’s participation in resistance is no new phenomenon in Afghanistan and among Pashtuns. Historically, many such revolts by Pashtuns were armed struggles. Still Pashtuns are among the first people who launched a non-violent campaign in the today’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan at the outset of the 20th century. Their nonviolent movement was led by Khan Abdul Ghafar Khan, Bacha Khan, or the Frontier Gandhi.
The area where Pashtuns live is famous for militancy and, thanks to the difficult terrain, is naturally appropriate for insurgencies and armed conflicts. Bacha Khan belonged to an ethnic group which is famous for their hard nature and who considers revenge as an important and indelible part of their culture and where dispute and taking vendetta are the most significant part of the culture. In the word of a western writer, “these people are dying of hunger but they care about their honor” Taking revenge and keeping arms to protect their honor is a part of their code of life.
Even the story of nonviolence by Pashtons was a “ fairy tale” for Gandhi But as Gandhi believed that the nonviolence is the province of daring and undaunted and surely no one on the face of the earth was more daring than Pashton he then believed that Pashtoons’ nonviolence was a true story. Gandhi thought that to make rigid Pashtoons follow nonviolence is far difficult than having the rest of Indians follow nonviolence is almost impossible.
Nehru, too, was astonished with the nonviolence movement led by Bacha Khan in the today’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. He said they are the men who loved their guns more than anything and who cared less for life and who took the slightest insult with the thrust of a dagger suddenly become the most enduring soldiers of India, was no less than a miracle. The Pashtuns nonviolent movement under the leadership of Bacha Khan also annulled the notion that nonviolence is the weapon of those who are peaceful.
Abdul Ghafar Khan, who was later given the name of Bacha Khan, King of Kings, was born in the Utmanzai village of Charsadda district in 1890. His father Bahram Khan, a landlord of his village, was a widely-respected figure in the area.
The social status of his father deeply influenced Bacha Khan’s life. It was a social stigma for parents in Utmanzai to educate their children in British schools at a time when Bacha Khan was of school-going age. However, his father sent him to study in a missionary school in Peshawar, undeterred by gossip about Bacha Khan going to a British school.
The villagers would say that since Bacha Khan and his elder brother, who later became the NWFP chief minister, had studied Quran and other religious books. “The school will not negatively influence them”, they would murmur.
Bacha Khan, due to his ability and social stature, got an opportunity to be commissioned in the Scouts, an Indian group of soldiers that included children of the elite class were commissioned and were considered equal to their British peers. But when Bacha Khan was making preparations to go to the garrison, he came across an Indian who had joined the Scouts.
What happened to him at that moment changed the course of Bacha Khan’s life. The Indian Scout was insulted by his English peer for making a hairstyle and dressing like his British counterparts. Bacha Khan chose not to join it and thus decided against supporting the Raj.
Later on, Bacha Khan had the opportunity to go to Great Britain and study engineering there. Though he wanted to avail the opportunity but his mother did not want him to go to Britain. She feared he would not be able to stay loyal to his faith and might marry an English girl, like his elder brother Dr. Khan. Bacha Khan had to succumb to the love and persistence of his mother and gave up the idea.
Abdul Ghafar Khan, after opting to stay in India, decided to change the condition of his people by fighting against centuries-old social evils. He started with organising his people as a nonviolent force.
Abdul Ghafar Khan mobilised hundreds of thousands of nonviolent soldiers; he was fighting for the freedom of India as he believed that hate begets hate. He insisted education is the only way forward for the betterment of his people. His nonviolent soldiers, known as Khudai Khidmatgar or Red-Shirts, were well-disciplined. Every soldier had to go through rigorous training and swear nonviolence before joining the movement.
Abdul Ghafar Khan was convinced that evils such as fighting against each other for years over small issues are the main factors behind the backwardness of his people. He, therefore, not only opened a new front against the British in India, but also embarked on social reforms by going from village to village and house to house in the today’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to convince his supporters to forge unity in their ranks and work collectively for their wellbeing.
Bacha Khan led a simple life and lived like a faqir, a poor person. He handed over the rights of ownership of his property and land to his sons and gave remained focused on serving the downtrodden Pashtuns.
A number of historians argue Bacha Khan was not successful in his struggle. But after studying him thoroughly and scholarly, one reaches the inescapable conclusion that his struggle was multi-faceted and his failure in one area does not mean a failure in other spheres.
Bacha Khan spent every third day of his life in prison, yet he remained determined to change the fate of his people. He advised them to get education and get rid of misleading traditions.
Writer and journalist, Asadullah Ghazanfar, believes that Bacha Khan’s opponents and proponents equally believed that he knew the fundamental problem of his people, which was communal in nature, more than anyone else. Despite all his trials and travails, Khan lived a long life and died in 1988. Ghazanfar believes that his self-control was a key to his long life.
One might disagree with the political ideology of Bacha Khan and his Khudai Khidmatgar soldiers but the reality cannot be discounted that there are very few examples of a force that had high class organisation and commitment to nonviolence.
Bacha Khan was recommended for the Nobel Peace Prize two times in the 1980s. However, very limited number of western academics knew about this nonviolent thinker. Ignorance about Bacha Khan, his philosophy and work on the part of academics will mean a disservice -- not only to this great leader but also to the philosophy itself.
History is written by those who rule, the saying goes. One of the common prejudices of the history to nonviolence is this philosophy has gotten less or no attention from historians, compared to the violent campaigns. In addition to this general negative attitude toward nonviolent campaigns, there are a number of nonviolent practitioners and torch-bearers who have intentionally been ignored.
I truly believe that nonviolence is still applicable and more effective than violence in Afghanistan, but there is a need for a leader with vision.
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