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Modus Operandi

En librairie

Transformation de conflit, de Karine Gatelier, Claske Dijkema et Herrick Mouafo

Aux Éditions Charles Léopold Mayer (ECLM)


Fiche d’analyse

, mars 2007

Ghaffar Khan : The Siddhartha of Hashtnagar

My visit to the Khyber Pass (1) in September 2006 was not for the first time. I had been to this place before. However, the experience this time was unique in the sense that I was overwhelmed not by the usual historical narratives of the armies marching through the Pass, but by the glimpses of another past, a past which was scattered all over the place, which was always there and which is nowhere. It was here at the Khyber Pass on that windy, chilly September afternoon where the other past came running to me and whispered : “History is not a war museum only. It is also a peace museum. You are welcome to the peace museum on the lands of the proud pathans (2). This is the museum where Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan – the Siddhartha of Hashtnagar – lives. Have you ever heard of him ?”

Born in 1890 (3) in Hashtnagar, now known as Asghatnager or “eight towns” in the village of Utmanzi , Ghaffar Khan is perhaps the greatest Pathan of all times. Undoubtedly, he is the most prominent apostle of nonviolence after Gandhi in modern India and one of the outstanding nonviolent leaders of the twentieth century. However, awareness about his life, nonviolent struggle and sufferings is still rather limited and his remarkable contribution to peace is still widely unrecognized. It is only in the recent years when the protracting war and violence in Afghanistan since the entry of the Soviet troops in Kabul in December 1979 and unending upheavals and acts of terrorism especially in the Pakhtun belt cutting across Afghan – Pakistan borders that the post 9/11 panicky world is turning to him for salvation. Being alarmed because of the upsurge of Muslim anger and militancy around the world, the concerned power centers, leading international research institutes focusing on Islam, Muslim societies, terrorism and on peace and nonviolence look at Ghaffar Khan as the saviour of the future.

They also look at him with amazement and disbelief :

  • How can a Muslim be an apostle of peace and nonviolence ?

  • How can some one from amongst the Pathans - a people widely known for centuries for valour, warriorism and savagery - be nonviolent ?

  • How could he raise the soldiers of faith and nonviolence in a region frequently trampled by the armies passing through the Khyber Pass ?

  • Isn’t it all mythology woven around the Khan ?

These queries are important and need to be attended to, because the misperceptions are widespread and there is a dearth of historical account throwing light on the other past which was always there and which is nowhere. For instance, it should be noted that the history of the events taking place at the Khyber Pass and in the adjoining areas around it is not merely a history of the Aryans descending upon the fertile northern plains in 1500 B.C. and overwhelming the native Dravidian population, the Persians under Darius crossing into the Punjab in the 6th century B.C. to annex a yet another province to the Achaemenian Empire, the armies of Alexander the Great marching through the pass in 326 B.C. to reach the plains of the Indus, the Scythians , white Huns, Seljuks, Tartars, Mongols, Sassanians, Turks, Moghuls and Durranis making successive inroads into the territory beyond Peshawar valley and Indus (4).

The history of the Khyber Pass and beyond is clearly much more than all this. The region can really boast of its grand heritage of peace and nonviolence. Banished from history for long, the narratives of this heritage need to be recalled not only to explain the disinheritance of intolerance and violence by Ghaffar Khan, a pious and practicing Muslim and a Pathan to the core, but also to strongly suggest that a peaceful Muslim society, even a peaceful Pakistani society, is possible.

History, in fact, whispers at every nook and corner of Hashtnagar, the birth place of Ghaffar Khan and a tract in Charsadda tehsil of Peshawar district comprising a strip of territory that extends ten miles eastward from the Swat river and stretches from the hills in the north to the Kabul river in the South. The archaeological site having a cluster of imposing mounds in Charsadda, 30 kilometers north east of Peshawar is identified with Pushkalavati (the Lotus city), the ancient capital of Gandhara during the days before the Kushan emperors transferred the seat of government to Peshawar. During the Ghandhara period, one may point out, Charsadda, Taxila and Swat were the main centres of culture, trade and learning and Taxila also had a grand University attracting students and scholars from near and far away places including China.

Hashtnagar and its adjoining areas stretching to Charsadda, Takhtabai, Dir, Swat , Shehhaz Garhi, Jamal Garhi, Chota Lahore, Hund, Attock and Taxila and comprising Peshawar valley were the seat of various flourishing civilizations and were comprehensively influenced by Buddhism in particular. A culture of peace was there and it flowered in these territories and beyond and flourished for centuries.

If one looks for, one may be dazzled by the images of the gentle and peaceful reign and rule of King Asoka - the peace king of India - as governor of the land, mushrooming of the monasteries teaching and preaching love, tolerance and peace in the areas where Gandhara civilization once flourished. Then there are the images of the dancing, laughing, colorfully dressed women and children and the wandering and singing Buddhist monks and their followers that blink, blight and glitter like neon signs in the darkness of historical narratives of wars and warriorism woven around the Khyber Pass and beyond. History whispers to me again : “These monasteries, stupas, trading, dancing, learning places are not mere images. These are real things. Just have a feel of these. Move around with me in the peace museum and see for yourself this world of peace which Ghaffar Khan had inherited ».

And I move around with the past which was always there and which is nowhere and with great amazement I look at a gigantic stupa emerging from behind the Khyber Pass, from just outside the Ganj Gate in the old city of Peshawar, a stupa built by the great Kushan King Kaishka I to house the relics of Buddha, a stupa which was “probably the tallest building of the world at that time ». (5) In amazement, I also see the four statues of lord Buddha at the base of an enormous peepal (banyon) tree on the bank of River Bara near the confluence where today stand Bazar-i-Bazzazan (cloth market) and Batair Bazar (bird sellers’ market) in the heart of Peshawar city (6). Moreover, I see hundreds of colourful monasteries and stupas preaching peace and nonviolence and numerous monuments and rock pillars jewelled with Buddhist teachings, principle and code of conduct. For centuries, the religion of the people of this region was Buddhism. Little wonder that Ghaffar Khan emerged out of the shadows of these monasteries, stupus and other learning places as a remarkable apostle of nonviolence.

His unshakeable adherence to nonviolence may also be understood in the light of his family background. He was the fourth child of Behram Khan, a rich landlord and a highly respected Khan of his village. Writing about his father, D.G. Tendulkar observes in his excellent biography of the Khan :

“He had neither pride nor vanity of being a Chief Khan of Hashtnagar, of Muhammadzai clan. He was humble, God – fearing and self-restrained. He was so trustworthy that the poor people would come and leave all their savings in his keeping, for his word was as good as his bond. He had many friends and no enemies. He had no feuds - a unique distinction for a Khan - because he had forgiven all his enemies. He knew no revenge. He believed that there was no dishonour in being deceived, it lay in deceiving. He was a man of his word and was so transparently truthful that none dared to disbelieve or contradict him. He never told a lie, he had not known how to. When there was any village feud he took the side of the underdog. He never believed in dancing attendance upon those in authority, but they held him in awe.” (7)

Tendulkar adds :

“Both the father and the mother were unlettered, they lived more in the world of the spirit than of the flesh. The mother would often sit down after her namaz to meditate in silence. She cooked food in a big pot and distributed it among the poor neighbours. Though there was a retinue of servants in the house, the father would insist on carrying a basketful of nan on his head and a platter of cooked vegetable to his village Hujra for travelers passing through. “The traveling visitors, unknown and uncared for, are veritable guests of God” he would say, “and that is why I like to carry the food for them.” (8)

The influence that the family exercised on the religious thinking and practice of Ghaffar Khan was doubtless crucial. Equally significant was the influence of political thinking and action of his forefathers. Nonviolent activism was an important feature of family tradition and despite belonging to the privileged and political elite of the region, the elders and leaders of the family espoused the cause of the poor and challenged the power of the powerful. Though not unfriendly with the British officials, Khan’s father, Behram Khan was critical of the Pathans’ crossing all limits to seek the favour of the British and “not without a sense of shame, he used to recall how his elder brother served the British by commanding the military guard of the Charsadda Treasury.” (9)

Ghaffar Khan learnt the early lessons of history and politics from his father and learnt more from the narratives of the heroics of his forefathers. The very fact that his grand father, Saifullah Khan, always sided with his oppressed brethren whenever the British had any clash with the tribes or tried to subjugate them had profound impact upon him. What also made him proud and prepared him to endure all kinds of sufferings and not to compromise on principles was the shining example of his father’s grand father, Obaidullah Khan, who was hanged by the Durranis, the rulers, for his enlightenment and patriotism. (10)

Later Ghaffar Khan’s involvement in Indian politics, his closeness to and emotional attachment with Gandhi, his courageous nonviolent movement against the British Raj, his fierce and relentless struggle for democracy, justice, equal rights and equitable power and resource sharing among all the provinces and peoples of Pakistan and his enormous capacity to suffer for the causes important to him steeled him into a fearless non-compromising crusader of nonviolence.

How relevant is Khan’s nonviolent struggle for the contemporary world and especially for the Muslim world where violence abound ? This question came to my mind when I was wandering in amazement in the peace museum of history. The museum was sparking with the narratives of his life and struggle and highlighting the importance he attached to education, peace potentials of religion, place of women in society, freedom and honour and peace and nonviolence in his struggle during the British Raj and after.

To begin with, by any count or criterion, Ghaffar Khan was a man of the future. He was the son of unlettered parents and he himself had rather modest formal education (11). But he strived to promote literacy in the Frontier province in extremely challenging circumstances. These were, indeed, very difficult times. Very modest educational facilities were available on the eve of the twentieth century. There was no university in the province and the only college, Edward Mission College at Peshawar, was affiliated to Punjab University at Lahore. The number of Matriculates in the whole province was only 15 in 1891 and 71 in 1903 and hardly a dozen schools were there. Worse still, the obscurantist religious forces were then deadly opposed to mission schools and teaching of English in particular. “Any parent sending his son to the Mission Schools will be excommunicated” was the fatwa of the Mullahs when such schools were opened. Later the position was somewhat modified : “Let the boys go to school but be ware lest they learn English, for English is the language of infidelity and will certainly destroy their souls”. And still latter : “Let the boys read English, so long as they do not read the Christian scriptures, for the Christians have tampered with these books and it is no longer lawful for the Muslims to read them”. (12) Fearing their loss of political clout, the Mullahs opposed the opening of modern schools, ferociously campaigned against the promotion of critical temper and creative thinking. They encouraged their Madressah pupils and others to recite the following verses loudly and ardently in open areas and market places :

  • Sabaq de madrase wai. Para de paise wai

  • Janat Ke bae zai navi. Dozakh Ke bai ghase wahi

“Those who learn at school, they do for money. They will have no place in heaven and will find themselves in hell”. (13)

In this context, critically damaging was the unholy alliance between the British colonial government and its agents in the NWFP and the Mullahs. Being apprehensive of the liberating effect of modern education upon a restive and defiant population, the British discouraged and resisted the opening of schools in the province, encouraged the Mullahs to vilify modern education on religious pretext. The government became far more ruthless with the arrival of Lord Curzon as the new Viceroy of India in 1897. In swift succession, a series of measures were taken by Delhi to spread fear and force obedience. The Frontier was put directly under Viceroy’s control so that crucial decisions could be taken swiftly ; hill tribes were compulsorily separated from those living in the settled districts to complete the vivisection of the Pathans ; a standing army of ten thousand men was kept to guard the province along a two hundred mile perimeter, from Malakand in the north to the southern tip of Waziristan on the Indian border ; more forts were built and railway lines and roads were laid down for the swift movement of the army to disturbed areas ; a six–thousand man police force was maintained to maintain peace ; a series of restrictive laws known as Frontier Crimes Regulations were enacted which could be applied to “transport” or send a man to a foreign penal colony for life without court or trial ; and justice was put in the hands of the political agent or pro – British landlords invited to hear the cases (14). On 9 November 1901, the North West Frontier Province was created and reduced into a virtual armed garrison or police state.

Such were the conditions of NWFP when Ghaffar Khan opened a school in his village Utmanzai. “Neither he nor Curzon could have imagined that some day the small school would help to undermine the Viceroy’s plans”. (15)

The opening of the school in Utmanzai in 1910 proved to be a turning point in Frontier’s politics. The village of the Khan soon became the centre of nonviolent action and a seat of people’s power. It grew into a sort of political academy teaching and preaching peace and nonviolence and stressing the importance of modern education. Utmanzai also emerged as a challenger challenging the British government in Frontier and the Mullahs and other collaborators in the region. Subsequent developments further alarmed the British and the collaborators. The Khan was not contended with the opening of one school only. He wanted to open more and moved around in the length and breadth of the province campaigning in favour of establishing schools and enhancing political consciousness of the downtrodden masses. His candid discussions with the powerless gave a direction to the people. Not much later, he began campaigns for the empowerment of women, for equal rights for all and for building up a nonviolent army of God and directly challenged the power of the colonial lords, the local feudal lords and the Mullahs. The British responded by unleashing a poisonous propaganda against the Khan and his mission, threatening and coercing him, putting restrictions on his movement from place to place, bribing the teachers to leave the schools or threatening them of dire consequences if they continued to serve the schools, and frequently throwing him into prison. But Ghaffar Khan, like the mountains under whose shadows he had grown up, remained undaunted and did’nt bow down. He went on with his movement for freedom, spread of literacy, enhancement of political and social awareness and for equal rights for all including the women.

Ghaffar Khan was a great champion of women’s rights. He urged upon his people to recognize the value and importance of women as human beings and as equal partners in the society and fought against the traditions, customs and laws which discriminated against women. He openly expressed his displeasure about the Pathan custom of accepting money in return for giving the hand of their girl in marriage. He often referred to his own marriage. Almost a century ago, in 1912, he got married, but his wife’s father did not demand any money. Ghaffar Khan often praised his father–in–law in public for being “the first Khan not to accept money for the hands of his daughter” and also for making a will bequeathing a full share of inheritance to his female relatives. Besides projecting the modernistic approach of the Khan towards social issues including women issues, such examples clearly impacted upon the social and political consciousness of the male–dominated Pathan society (16). The approach, moreover, had a transformative effect as he often referred to Islamic teachings in this context.

He, for instance, criticized gender discrimination and said : “Inferiority and superiority depend on deeds and not gender… God has created men and women to be partners in the development of civilization. They are the two wheels of humanity’s carriage which cannot run on one wheel alone”. (17) Again, addressing a large gathering of women at Bhaizai, he declared : “God makes no distinction between men and women. If someone can surpass another, it is only through good deeds and morals. If you study history, you will see that there were many scholars and poets amongst women. It is a grave mistake we have made in degrading women… In the Holy Koran, you have an equal share with men. You are today oppressed because we men have ignored the commands of God and the prophet. Today we are the followers of custom and we oppress you. But thank God that we have realized that our gain and loss, progress and downfall are common.” (18)

The Khan strongly advocated female education and bravely confronted the centuries old hardened male attitude towards the issue. He relentlessly fought for a change in such attitudes and often pointed out that Islam had made learning obligatory on men and women alike. He also saw to it that his daughter not only goes to the school, but also goes to Europe for higher studies. He, in fact, faced opposition within his own family when his daughter was being sent to the school. This was in spite of the fact that the school to which she was going was in the house of a local Khan and his own wife taught there.

Besides advocating female education, Ghaffar Khan openly encouraged the Pathan women to step from the medieval world behind the veil and take active interest in public life and the women actively and positively responded to the call of their liberator. They began attending his public meetings and the number grew with the passage of time. In such meetings, they could be seen seated on the roofs and around the venue and taking active interest in the proceedings. At a special meeting of women held at Lundkhawar near Mardan , the female participants presented a letter of appreciation to Ghaffar Khan, which among other things, included the following verse :

“Should young men not keep up with you, Fakhr-e-Afghana Don’t worry, we girls will see you through victory.” (19)

The women actively supported the Khudai Khidmatgars’20 struggle. “It made”, the Khan recalls, “a big impact on young and old, men, women and children alike… Girls had also made themselves red clothes (colour of the dress of Khudai Khidmatgars) and learnt poems by heart, which they recited to other women–folk. They read Pakhtun (Khan’s monthly Journal) with eagerness. When Pakhtun arrived, girls would gather around. One girl would read it aloud, while the others listened. In this way the Khudai Khidmatgars aroused interest in reading newspapers”. (21) Indeed, so profound was the impact of Khudai Khidmagars movement on women that they were no more afraid of death for their cause. Highlighting the point, Ghaffar Khan writes in his autobiography that once the colonial polic opened fire on a public meeting of the Khudai Khidmatgars held at Utmanzai. The firing was so intense that men began running in all direction for their life. At such a time, a young Pathan woman, sister of Rab Nawaz, ran towards the place where firing was incessant and intense. The men in flight from the meeting called her to stop, not to go where the firing was taking place and asked as to why was she going towards the place where firing was incessant. The young women shouted back that she was going into the jaws of death because the male Pathans were so coward that they were running away to save their life and they had no consideration for the honour of the Pathan. Tremendously moved because of the valour of the woman, the men in flight stopped running and then moved towards the meeting place. They were no more afraid of police firing and death. They encircled the British police and dictated it to accept their demands. (22)

Such was the power of the Pakhtun women, who were encouraged by Ghaffar Khan to fight for their equal rights and fight with the Pakhtun men to achieve freedom from colonial yoke. Since the rise of the Talibans (23) in Afghanistan and Pakistan in the 1990s, these very Pakhtun women faced the grim prospect of their forced return to the medieval world of degradation, disempowerment, ignorance and gross neglect. Once again, they were ambushed by the dark forces of religious extremists and they still are. Also under assault today is the nonviolence – teaching and peace – promoting religion of Islam and the fully armed Talibans and their supporters near the Khyber Pass and beyond refuse to see the giant figure of the Siddhartha of Hashtnager emerging out of the stupa built by the great Kushan King Kanishka I at Peshawar.

But standing at the Pass, I see him and hear him clearly, who tearfully says that violence and terrorism committed in the name of Islam by the Talibans and other terror–striking forces and their war lords has nothing to do with the faith of Islam and the glory of the faith cannot be achieved through human–killing and violence.

“A devout Muslim” observes Easwaran in his excellent biography of the Khan, “he showed in his life a face of Islam which non–Islamic countries seldom see, proving that within the scope of Islam exists a noble alternative to violence.”} (24) The Khan was, indeed, a devout Muslim. Languishing in jails or rendered house arrest during the British Raj and in independent Pakistan for over thirty years, attending and addressing numerous political meetings, conversing with fellow Pathans, with the opponents, with Pakistani officials and others, moving for days, months and years in the villages, towns and cities, he remembered to say his prayers five times a day and performed other obligatory commandants as well. He also used to read the Quran regularly. However, he never hated other religions or the followers of other faiths. He knew Islam as a faith of love and tolerance. He said :

“One great weakness amongst us people of Hindustan is that we are unable to tolerate in others something that is forbidden according to our own creed. We hold the same expectations of others as we do of those of our own faith. We do not think - if something is forbidden in our religion, it is forbidden for our co–religionists, not for others, who share the same faith”.

He added :

“The truth is, all revealed religions have come to us from God. They have come in order to bring unity, love and amity to the world, so that people should make life easy for others and serve God’s creatures. It is incumbent upon followers of religion to rid the world of hate and intolerance. They should imbue God’s creatures with a spirit of love and mutual regard, so that they may offer one another a helping hand.” (25)

Ghaffar Khan was not only a preacher of religious harmony and co–flourishing ; he practiced what he preached during the times when communal conflict and religious hatred was already spreading in British India. Way back in 1930, when he was in Gujrat jail, he worked to promote inter–faith harmony and requested the jail authorities to arrange for the teaching of Quran for the Hindus and Gita for the Muslims. He used to give lecturers on the Quran there and a Hindu Pandit Jagat Ram Haryanni used to give the lessons of Gita (26). He himself often used to read Gita. Throughout his life, he paid respect to all the religions including Hinduism. Little wonder that when he was with Gandhi at Wardah, he used to join the latter in daily prayers and also in Tulsi Ramayan reading every morning (27).

As a matter of fact, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, a very devout Muslim, was of the view that though different religions pursue different paths, they approach the same and only God. As such, all religions are the religions of the same God, who is also Muslims’ God. He therefore belonged to all religions and had absolutely no problem in identifying himself with all of them and strived to promote religious harmony during very difficult times. His relevance to the contemporary times, when inter – faith mistrust and conflict is on the rise, is clearly very much there. Rajmohan Gandhi observes :

“We saw that Ghaffar Khan the Muslim thought that “prayer in whatever language or form was addressed to one and the same God”. His daily life demonstrated this belief in the unity of humanity. We noticed the joy with which he showed the Buddha statues of Bamiyan to Kamaluayan Bajaj and Madalasa Agarwal , statues that the Taliban would later destroy. Comfortable with his Hindu friends, comrades and colleagues, Badshah Khan we saw, also loved westerners and Christians like the Wigram brothers and was even able to forgive a white political foe who had blocked some of his plans, Olaf Caroe.” (28)

Besides his universalist approach toward religion, his application of Islamic values into the making of a nonviolent Pakhtun society and in his struggle against the ruthless oppressors in British India and later in Pakistan is highly relevant for the transformation of contemporary world, especially that of the Muslim societies. The approach is all the more relevant in the sense that it was not merely conceptualized and theorized, but also fully applied when Ghaffar Khan introduced the Khudai Khidmatgars in his nonviolent political action against the British and transformed a scattered, somewhat disoriented and rather violent people into well–disciplined, courageous, nonviolent political activists. The task was not easy. The Khan was aware of the difficulties. He, once, said :

“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 dispersed only because of their own inherent defects, never by any outside power - for who could oppose them on the battlefield” (29)

Furthermore, there were the Pathan customs and traditions glorifying warriorism, blood–letting and revenge and confusing peace-seeking with shameful acceptance of defeat, Referring to these features of Pathan society, Abdul Ghani Khan, a renowned Pakhtun poet and philosopher and the eldest son of Ghaffar Khan writes about the Pathan :

“His violent nature, strong body and tender heart make a very unstable combination for living, but an ideal one for poetry”.

{“One day he goes out and never comes back. He has laughed his way into a bullet that was fired by another of his own blood and race. His wife inherits from him a moment of joy, two sons, and a lifetime of sorrow. She hangs up his rifle and sitar for his sons. She learns to hide her tears when she hears a love song in the evening.

And when the son grows up, “He must shoot. He has no alternative. Revenge and Death. Death and Revenge - always and forever.

“The Coward dies”, the boy’s mother tells him, “but his shrieks live long after”. So the boy learns not to shriek. He is shown dozens of things dearer than life so that he will not mind either dying or killing. He is forbidden colourful clothes or exotic music, for they weaken the arm and soften the eye. He is taught to look at the hawk and forget the nightingale. It is a perpetual surrender - an eternal giving up of man to man and to their wise follies.”} (30)

A Pathan himself, Ghaffar Khan knew that such customs and traditions were promoting a culture of violence. He was also aware of the fact that deep down, every Pathan was very religious and could be very easily provoked into any sort of violent act in the name of Islam. He therefore worked for the spread of literacy and promotion of enlightened thinking and told his people about nonviolent Islam, which Islam really is. Frequently referring to the Quranic verses and Hadith and Islamic traditions, he pointed out that “the Quran teaches Jihad, which in its real sense means to struggle for the welfare and advancement of its follower.” (31) “The Holy prophet Muhammad (PBUH)”, he told his people, “came into the world and taught us that that man is a Muslim who never hurts any one by word or deed, but who works for the benefit and happiness of God’s creatures. Belief in God is to love one’s fellow men.” (32)

Again, he made it abundantly clear that his concept of nonviolence was directly derived from Islam and observed: “There is nothing surprising in a Muslim or a Pashtun like me subscribing to the creed of nonviolence. It is not a new creed. It was followed 1400 years ago by the Holy Prophet (PBUH) all the time he was in Mecca, but we had so forgotten it that when Gandhi placed it before us, we though he was spousing a novel creed." (33)

Standing at the Khyber Pass and listening to the voice of the unheard past, a past which was always there and which is nowhere, I wondered as to why only the armies of violence led by the Aryans, Greeks, Persians, Seljuks, Mongols and others have a prominent space in our history and in our memory and why were the torch bearers of nonviolence banished. After all, many of these invading armies which rattled around, conquered territories, murdered innocent human beings, enslaved people and trampled and destroyed the colourful sites of peace once blooming in the Lotus City - Pushkalavati (ancient capital of Gandhara before the capital was transferred to Peshawar). The heritage of peace is housed in the peace museum of history, which also proudly displays the colourful images of the army of nonviolence singing love songs, reciting verses from religious books, chanting freedom slogans and marching around like clusters of red roses on the move.

This was the unarmed and unharming army of nonviolence, popularly known as Khudai Khidmatgars or servants of God raised in 1930 by Ghaffar Khan. It was not a kind of godless, Bolshevik army. Neither was it a prisoner of rituals, even when it was firmly rooted in religion and derived strength from Islamic teachings and tradition. It was a unique movement against slavery and colonialism and was a living embodiment of Islam as a powerful but peaceful mass movement for political and social change. It called upon its adherents to take an oath which is unique in the context of Pathan history and tradition. Any Pathan aspiring to become a Khudai Khidmatgar had to declare on solemn oath :

  • I am a Khudai Khidmatgar; and as God needs no service, I shall serve Him by serving His creatures selflessly.

  • I shall never use violence, I shall not retaliate or take revenge, and I shall forgive anyone who indulges in oppression and excesses against me.

  • I shall not be a party to any intrigue, family feuds and enmity and I shall treat every Pakhtun as my brother and comrade.

  • I shall give up evil customs and practices.

  • I shall live a simple life, do good and refrain from wrong doing.

  • I shall develop good character and cultivate good habits.

  • I shall not lead an idle life.

  • I shall expect no rewards for my services.

  • I shall be fearless and prepared for any sacrifice.

It was not an ordinary oath to be broken when so wished. It was an extraordinary oath as it was meant for the feuding Pathans. “For a Pathan” Easwaren points out, “an oath is not a small matter. He does not enter into a vow easily because once given, a Pathan’s word cannot be broken. Even his enemy can count on him to keep his word at the risk of his own life. Non–violence was the heart of the oath and of the organization. It was directed not only against the violence of the British rule but against the pervasive violence of Pathan life.” (34)

Furthermore, while the oath clearly suggested that the Khudai Khidmatgars was more concerned in transforming the Pakhtun members into good Muslims, good Pakhtuns and good human beings, the organization was meant to be much more than a mere social advocacy agency. It could’nt have been. For its founding father, nonviolence was far more than a mere passive creed. He made it clear when he said :

“People have an extraordinary idea about what is meant by nonviolence. A lot of propaganda is made about this principle and there is a great deal of misunderstanding amongst people regarding what is meant by it. Some said that it involves turning the other check when you have already been slapped on one check. Some said that it means one must lie down and let others walk over you, or remain lying down and let others beat you up, without moving your hands or feel in the process. Some remarked that the Pakhtuns are a brave and powerful people, but Ghaffar Khan wants to turn them cowards. They used to say all sorts of things. The fact of the matter is that nonviolence is a great force in itself, just as violence is a force. Non–violence has its own army, in the same way as there are armies of violence. The difference is that the weapon of nonviolence is preaching (tabligh) while the weapon of violence is the gun. Nonviolence breeds love, endeavour and valour in people whereas violence engenders hate, fear and cowardice… There is no defeat in nonviolence but there is in violence… Violence is an easy path to follow, but it is extremely difficult to tread the path of nonviolence. It is easy enough to return a slap with a slap but it is very difficult to control oneself when one has been slapped.” (35)

With firm belief in the power of nonviolence, Ghaffar Khan launched the Khudai Khidmatgars organization as a powerful movement of the powerless against the ruthless oppressors to achieve freedom, equality and dignity. His was a nonviolent political action projecting itself as Islam in action. Led by a fearless political leader who was a pious and practicing Muslim, who was not at all interested in small political or material gains and who was always prepared to suffer imprisonment, banishment and hardships for the sake of the causes he espoused, the movement rapidly grew in strength. The Pakhtuns joined this movement in thousands and following their leader, exhibited tremendous courage, spirit of sacrifice and willingness to suffer. Indeed, they suffered the terrorism of the powerful with great dignity. Their dwellings were frequently burnt down, the members of the movement were often beaten, tortured and sent to jails ; their properties were seized ; and many were shot in cold blood. They, however, remained true to their vow of nonviolence and never resorted to violence, which the British often desperately desired.

The history of the Khudai Khidmatgars movement is full of events and situations where the powerless triumphed over the powerful, but the limited space of this paper does not permit an enumeration of all of them. Here, however, the encounter between the violent and nonviolent forces at Qissa Khawani Bazaar in Peshawar in 1930 may be discussed in some detail. This was the time when India was in a ferment. The All India Congress Party, dominant political party led by Gandhi, had launched the civil disobedience movement against the British. By Picking up a pinch of salt from the Dandi beach and breaking the law restricting the making and selling of salt to the government monopoly, Gandhi had inaugurated on April 1930 the great salt stayagraha in the presence of thousands of cheering Indians surrounding him. Soon after entire India including NWFP was convulsed in a revolutionary situation.

The Frontier, under the leadership of Ghaffar Khan, rose in revolt against the British who ruthlessly used power to break the resistance, arrested a number of Khudai Khidmatgars. The Khan was arrested on 23 April and when news of his arrest and others reached the already agitated public of Peshawar, the city exploded – nonviolently. A procession was spontaneously formed. The police responded by arresting some of the leaders and carried them towards the police station in a jeep. The vehicle, however, broke down and then the arrested leaders offered to go themselves on foot to the police station. Their peaceful walk to the police station was followed by the agitated but disciplined procession of people.

When the Procession reached Kabuli Gate police station, three armoured cars carrying government troops appeared and drove into the crowd. The motorcycle of an English man who was following the cars collided with one of the armored cars and he was crushed to death. Soon after and rather suddenly began machine-gun firing on the crowd at the Qissa Khawani Bazaar. The firing continued for three hours. The crowd set one armour car into fire. The Bazaar was literally littered with the dead and the wounded. At this time, the commander of a Gadwali regiment of Hindu Rajput, Chandar Singh, refused to step into the military van taking the sepoys from cantonment to Qissa Khawani Bazaar. When the sepoys, without their commander, reached the scene, they were ordered to open fire. But soon after some one shouted : “Don’t open fire, the unarmed people are your brothers” and all the soldiers of the regimens put down their arms. Some of them joined the crowd. A British battalion then rushed in, the Gadwali were taken to the police stations. They were finally awarded different prison terms (36).

Describing the firing at Qissa Khawani Bazaar, Gene Sharp in his study on nonviolent movements says :

“When those in front fell down wounded by the shots, those behind came forward with their breasts bared and exposed themselves to the fire, so much so that some people got as many as 21 bullets wounds in their bodies, and all the people stood their ground without getting into a panic. A young Sikh boy came and stood in front of a soldier and asked him to fire at him, which the soldier unhesitatingly did, killing him. The crowd kept standing at the spot facing the soldiers and were fired at from time to time, until there were heaps of wounded and dying lying about."

The Anglo–Indian paper of Lahore, which represents the official view, itself wrote to the effect that the people came forward one after another to face the firing and when they fell wounded they were dragged back and others came forward to be shot at. This state of things continued from 11 till 5 o’ clock in the evening. When the number of corpses became too many the ambulance cars of the government took them away and burned them (37).

However, the mass resistance in Peshawar and elsewhere in the Frontier continued despite British atrocities. A couple of days later, both the police and the military left the city, leaving it in the hands of the Khudai Khidmatgars. But they returned after a few days, took control of the city, declared the Khudai Khidmatgars illegal and closed down their offices. Repression was also let lose in the village of the Khan, Utmanzai, but the spirit of the people remained unbroken. The movement had a liberating effect upon rest of India and the British were stunned. They provoked the Pathans and very much wanted them to retaliate violently so that their ruthless military and police action could be undertaken and justified on moral and other grounds and the movement be crushed for all times to come. But the Pathans remained nonviolent and this unnerved the British. Commenting on their despair, Ghaffar Khan Said : “The British feared a nonviolent Pathan more than a violent one. All the horrors the British perpetrated on the Pathans had only one purpose : to provoke them to violence.” (38)

The British feared the two Gandhis most – Mahatama Gandhi and Frontier Gandhi (Ghaffar Khan). Both almost completely dominated the nonviolent struggle for freedom for a united India and played crucial role during the last phase of British Raj : 1930–1947. However, freedom at midnight in August 1947 brought no reprieve for the two Gandhis. India was then seized by the worst kind of communal violence and divided Bengal and dived Pubjab were affected most. Both the Gandhis directed all their energies towards the protection and rescue of the victims of violence. But then Mahatama Gandhi was assassinated in 1948, and Ghaffar Khan found himself hounded by the newly created state of Pakistan.

The going was, indeed, very tough for the Khan and the Khudai Khidmatgars in the new state. His preference for a united India in the post–British scenario was well known. His vehement opposition to partition of India on communal lines and his close association with the All India Congress Party was neither forgotten nor forgiven. The party against whom he had campaigned in Frontier and elsewhere, the Muslim League, had successfully led the movement for the creation of Pakistan and it came to power in Pakistan in 1947. Worse still, his closeness and fondness for Gandhi was also well–known and Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founding father of Pakistan, had devoted his life, especially since early 1930s, in fighting political battles against Gandhi and against the Congress and did not allow their political agenda for post–British India to succeed.

Again, the Khan and his Khudai Khidmatgars had all along campaigned against the retrogressive Muslim forces and feudal lords who had collaborated with the British during the colonial days. Many of the Mullahs and feudal lords had jumped into the bandwagon of the Muslim League and they were now running amock in the corridors of power in Pakistan. Finally Jinnah, who was the father of the nation and who was a constitutionalist and a secularist, did’nt live long enough to put the country on constitutional, democratic tracks. He died in 1948 and the state was hijacked away by the retrogressive religious forces, self-seeking bureaucrats, feudal and tribal lords, unscrupulous politicians and powerful military.

In fact, the going got tougher soon after the new state of Pakistan was created and even when Jinnah was alive and very much in power. The Congress government then in power in the Frontier was summarily dissolved soon after Pakistan’s independence by the order of the central government. It was done without referring the matter to the Provincial Assembly where the Congress enjoyed majority support. In addition, the Khudai Khidmatgars organization was banned and not a single issue of the Pashtun, a Journal which Ghaffar Khan had launched during colonial times and which was very popular among the Pakhtuns every where, was allowed to be published in Pakistan. The Khan was sent behind the bars for three years in 1948. The court proceedings against him was indicative of the way the Pakistani state was going to treat him.

Ghaffar Khan was arrested on 25 June 1948 on charge of anti -state activity and the very next day, he was awarded three years rigorous imprisonment – the maximum punishment under section 40 of the Frontier Crimes Regulation. The Deputy Commissioner of Kohat tried him and awarded the sentience-all in one go and in one day. However, Ghaffar Khan was kept in jail even after the expiry of the term and was released after about 5 years on 5 January 1954 as a measure of amnesty to all political prisoners. Even afterwards, the Khan was frequently arrested, put under house arrest or imprisoned. As a matter of fact, he spent more years of his life in Pakistani jails than during the British period. Being totally disenchanted with politics in Pakistan, he also opted for self-exile and stayed in Afghanistan and India during part of 1970s and 1980s.

While the going was tough for him in Pakistan, he also gave tough time to the power elites of Pakistan. Repeatedly and fearlessly he demanded equal rights for the citizens living in the four provinces of Pakistan, called for equitable power - and resource - sharing among the provinces, condemned state terrorism and military rule, criticized the retrogressive religious forces for their collaboration with the repressive forces in the country and for justifying violence in the name of Islam. He championed the cause of democracy, rule of law for all and human rights for all. The state retaliated by projecting him as a separatist and his love for the Pakhtuns, his demand to name the Frontier as Pakhtunistan and his numerous statements advocating the redrawing of the boundaries in the territories where the Pakhtuns were living were projected as steps toward the creation of an independent Pakhtun state out of Pakistan. The government was also facilitated in its propaganda against the Khan as much of his struggle for political and social change through nonviolent action was focused on the region and on the future of the Pakhtuns. Furthermore, it was only the Pakhtuns who could join his Khudai Khitmatgars organization. Again, his longing for the freedom of the Pakhtuns and Pakhtun lands , his love for Pakhtun language ,heritage , culture and past and future and his advocacy in favour of peaceful and harmonious ties between and among Afghanistan ,Pakistan and India earned him many enemies in the corridors of power in Pakistan. Worse still, while successive Pakistani governments had all the power and resources to vilify, villainize and malign him and project him as an enemy of Pakistan, Ghaffar Khan had very little opportunity to present his view point on different issues. He was often immobilized due to imprisonment, banishment from one province to another and house arrest and both the print and electronic media were reluctant to present his case before the masses as the media was under firm government control. Such a state of affairs saddened him a lot as his universalist and humanist ideas were not allowed to reach the people and he was presented as a local leader, as a leader of the Pakhtuns only.

However, it was the Afghan tragedy which saddened him most and the last decade of his life was a decade which broke his heart. This was the period when his dream land - the Pakhtun belt comprising Afghan and Pakistani areas - was trampled under military boots and it was converted into a battlefield for the Soviet troops and Soviet – backed Afghan troops and the American, Pakistani and Saudi Arbian backed troops euphemistically called Mujahideen and holy warriors. The Afghan crisis caused colossal destruction, war and war–related deaths and whole scale displacements and the major victims were the Pakhtuns living on both sides of Pak-Afghan borders. A major portion of the last ten years of his life were spent in Afghanistan and during the period, he worked for peace in Afghanistan, but he was forced to witness the Pakhtuns taking up arms against one another and against the Soviets and the occupation of the Pakhtun lands by military forces and intelligence agencies and by the mercenaries coming from different countries. Before his eyes, his castle of nonviolence was being blown into pieces and his people whom he loved most, the Pakhtuns, were being sucked into war, conflict and violence.

For more than sixty years of his life, Ghaffar Khan had worked relentlessly for the liberation, progress and unity of these very Pakhtuns. For them he had bravely challenged the might of the British and successive Pakistani governments since 1947, suffered imprisonment and banishment and confronted the religious extremists and ruthless rulers. These were the Pakhtuns whom he had taught lessons of nonviolence, whom he had succeeded in disarming and unarming and whom he wished to unite in the bonds of love, sharing and caring. It was for them that he had envisioned the eventual emergence of a just, progressive, modern, democratic, peaceful and nonviolent Pakhtun society, a society where the faith of Islam would not be used to fan and fuel violence and justify violence. All his dreams were shattered when he was nearing the last days and months of his life .

Standing at the Khyber Pass and listening to the whisperings of unheard past, a past which was always there and which is nowhere, I think about the Siddhartha of Kapilvastu and the Siddhartha of Hashtnagar. Both were born with golden spoon in their mouth. Both belonged to the privileged and powerful families and both felt the seeds of discontent within themselves. Both were restless because of restless thoughts flooding in from all direction. Both were able to convince their reluctant fathers to let them wander in the wilderness and search for truth, harmony and peace. Both had wandered around near and far and preached peace and nonviolence. Both endured sufferings of all kinds at the hands of the powerful and faced ruthless Brahmins of their times with dignity and fearlessness. Both struggled for the common good and remained undaunted and unwavering in their resolve to serve the common people. Both fought heroically and nonviolently for the powerless and both were adorned by the suffering, disempowered multitude. And both are needed by the past, the present and the future today.

Listening to the unheard past and unheard future, I see a gigantic stupa emerging from behind the Khyber Pass and see the two Siddharthas together at its colourful balcony. I also hear them addressing the peoples of the world and saying : {“A day will come when the voice of the unheard past and unheard future will be listened to and when the banished gods of nonviolence will return to confirm that the forces of nonviolence can never be defeated. On that very day, the powerful and the ruthless would realize that the Siddharthas never die. They live for ever. »

Footnotes :

  • (1) The Khyber Pass, in Western Asia, is one of the most famous mountain passes in the world. The 53 kilometre (33 mile) long passage through the Hindukush mountains connects Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is, in fact, one of the most important passes between the two countries. Winding northwest through the Sefid Koh Range near Peshawar in Pakistan to Kabul in Afghanistan, the Pass is an important strategic gateway. For centuries, numerous invading armies have used the Khyber as their entry point for their invasion of Ind-o-Pakistan subcontinent. While the military importance of the Pass is widely known, little known is the fact that was a major trade route for centuries. In addition, it has also served as a cultural route connecting the people living beyond the Pass on both sides (, accessed on 22 March 2007).

  • (2)The Pathans or Paktuns or Pashtuns(also known as ethnic Afghans) are an ethno-linguistic group with population primarily concentrated in eastern and southern Afghanistan and in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), Federally Adminstered Tribal Areas and Baluchistan province of Pakistan. Additional Pakhtun communities live in the Northern Areas, Kashmir and Karachi in Pakistan. There are smaller Pakhtun communities in Iran and India, and a large Pathan migrant worker community in the Gulf and Middle Eastern countries. They constitute 15.42 percent of Pakistan’s population and 42 percent of Afghan population. The Pakhtuns are typically characterized by their Pashtu language, adherence to Pakhtunwali (an indigenous code of honour and culture) and Islamic faith. They have survived a turbulent history over several centuries and their martial prowess has been renowned since Alexander the Great’s invasion in the third century B.C. They belong to one of the few groups that fought very bravely against the British and managed to impede British imperialism during the 19th century. Again, the Pakhtuns played a pivotal role in the Soviet war in Afghanistan during 1979-89, as many joined the resistance forces. They gained world-wide attention with the rise and fall of the Talibans, since they were the main ethnic contingent in the movement( , accessed on 22 March 2007).

  • (3) The exact date of birth is not recorded. Ghaffar Khan guesses that the year was 1890 and says that he guesses so because his mother used to tell him that he was eleven years old when his elder brother Dr. Khan Saheb got married in 1901.

  • (4) (accessed on 19 November 2006).

  • (5) (accessed on 19 November 2006).

  • (6) Muhammad Ishaq, “Peshawar’s Illustrious Past”, Daily Dawn (Karachi), 5 November 2006.

  • (7) D.G. Tendulkar, Abdul Ghaffar Khan : Faith is a Battle, New Delhi : Gandhi Peace Foundation, 1967,P.13.

  • (8) Ibid, P.14.

  • (9) ibid.

  • (10) Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Aapbiti (autobiography in Urdu), Lahore : Fiction House, 2004, P.8.

  • (11) When Ghaffar Khan was five or six year old, he was admitted to a mosque to take lessons from a Mullah, who was hardly literate and who could read the Quran but could’nt understand its meaning. He was also cruel and harsh. When the young Khan finished reading the Holy Quran, his father organized a celebration. At the age of 8, Ghaffar Khan was admitted to the Municipal Board High School, Peshawar (1898). He got admission in the Edward Mission School, Peshawar in 1901. While studying there, he applied for Commission in the British army and when he was appearing at the Matriculation examination, he was informed that the Commission was granted to him. He was also asked to present himself the following day at 10 a.m. before the Recruiting Office. He then left his exam unfinished and went to the Recruiting Office. He was examined there and enrolled for direct Commission. However, he could’nt stay in the army for long and left it when he realized that the British officers’ attitude toward the Indian army men was discriminatory and degrading .He then went to Aligarh in the year 1908 to study there. Later, arrangements were made for his study in England where his elder brother was studying medicine. While he was willing to proceed abroad for studies, he decided against it in 1909 as his mother opposed his going abroad. The year 2009 marks the end of his quest for formal education, but it also marks the beginning of his deeper interest and involvement in the spread of literacy in his village and elsewhere in NWFP in particular. He opened a school in his village Utmanzai in 1910 and subsequently a number of schools were opened in other areas of the province. Later, these schools became the launching pad for his movement for political and social change in the Pakhtun belt in the present day Pakistan.

  • (12) D.G. Tandukar, op.cit, P.18.

  • (13) Ibid, P.17. See also Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, op.cit , p. 9.

  • (14) Eknath Easwaran, Badshah Khan : A Man to Match His Mountains, New Delhi: Penguin Books India Ltd, 2001 (first published as Nonviolent Soldier of Islam, New Delhi : Penguin Book India Ltd, 1999), P.65.

  • (15) ibid, P.66.

  • (16) Jan Muhammad, “Bacha Khan’s Struggle on behalf of Women”, Daily Frontier Post (Peshawar), 26 January 1989.

  • (17) ibid.

  • (18) Eknath Easwaran, op.cit, P.133.

  • (19) Jan Muhammad, op.cit.

  • (20) Khudai Khidmatgars or Servants of God represents a nonviolent freedom struggle of the Pakhtuns of NWFP against the British in undivided India. In November 1929, almost on the eve of the Qissa Khawani Bazaar massacre, it was founded by Ghaffar Khan. Initially intended to be a movement for self-reform and introspection, it soon blossomed into a gigantic grassroots movement for social and political change in NWFP and for challenging the British colonial power in India. It was an extremely popular movement in the Pakhtun belt in the province and at its peak, it consisted of almost 100,000 members. The membership of the organization, one may point out here, was voluntary. In order to crush the movement, the British resorted to all sorts of violent means including torturing the members, throwing them into ponds in winter time, shaving their beard, charging the protest marchers with cars and horses, arresting the leaders, members and sympathizers, looting and destroying the houses of Khudai Khidmatgars and bombing the troubled areas. Though very popular and very powerful in the 1930s, the decline of the movement began by mid-1940s for a variety of reasons. It suffered critically after the creation of Pakistan in August 1947. In September 1948, only a year after independence, the organization was declared unlawful and banned, a large number of its members were arrested, the Center of the organization at Sardaryab - built in 1942 - was destroyed and the Babra Sharif massacre inflicted. Though the ban was formally and officially lifted in 1972, the movement could never take off again (, accessed on 23 March 2007).

  • (21) Jan Muhammad, op.cit.

  • (22) Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, op.cit, pp.113 – 114.

  • (23) The Taliban came to prominence in the year 1994 when a group of Talibs(students) from Darul Uloom Haqqania Madrassah in Akora Khattak in NWFP, led by their teacher Mullah Mohammad Omar, successfully battled an Afghan Mujahideen Commander who had reportedly assaulted three women in Kandahar in Afghanistan. During the same year, they were reportedly appointed by Pakistan to protect a convoy attempting to open up a trade route between Pakistan and Central Asia. Comprising Pakhtun tribesmen and trained in various Madrassahs (religious seminaries) of Pakistan, the Taliban soon metamorphosed into a powerful military force and went on to capture the larger part of Afghanistan including Kabul in 1996. Caliming to be a reformist force from the Deobandi tradition of Islam, the Taliban government soon degenerated into a fascist regime and let loose an era of ethnic and sectarian violence, political persecution and cultural suffocation. It was exceptionally harsh to the Afghan female population. The Taliban fell from power after 9/11, when US military action began in Afghanistan (, accessed on 23 March 2007).

  • (24) Eknath Easwaran, op.cit, p.12.

  • (25) J.M. Bult, “Soldier of Peace”, Daily Frontier Post (Peshawar), 13 January 1989.

  • (26) Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, op.cit, PP..100 – 101.

  • (27) M.S. Korejo, The Frontier Gandhi: His Place in History, Karachi : Oxford University Press, 1994, P.77.

  • (28) Rajmohan Gandhi, Ghaffar Khan : Nonviolent Badshah of the Pakhtuns, New Delhi : Penguin Books India Ltd, 2004, PP.275-76 .

  • (29) Eknath Easwaran, op.cit, P.35.

  • (30) Quoted in Tarique Banuri, “Bacha Khan: Book Review”, Daily Frontier Post (Peshawar), 20 January 1990.

  • (31) Mukulika Banerjee, The Pathan Unarmed : Opposition & Memory in the North West Frontier, New Delhi : Oxford University Press, 2001, P.148 , quoted in Damon Lynch, “Prism and Prisons: Religion, Abdul Ghaffar Khan, and the Khuddai Khidmatgars”,(, accessed on

  • (32) M. Abid Majeed, “A man to Match his Mountains”, Daily Frontier Post (Peshawar), 20 January 1991.

  • (33) ibid.

  • (34) Eknath Easwaran, op.cit, P.112.

  • (35) J.M. Butt, op.cit.

  • (36) Abdullah Malik, “Kissa Khawani Incident”, Daily Frontier Post (Peshawar) , 20 January 1990.

  • (37) Quoted in Eknath Easwaren, , op.cit , P.123.

  • (38) Quoted in ibid, P.125.


Paper accepted for publication in a book being edited by Dr. Wolfgang Dietrich, Director, MA Program for Peace, Security, Development and International Conflict Transformation, University of Innsbruck, Austria