The Gandhi of Indian Muslims – Bacha Khan

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By Mohsin Jilani

On January 20, 2016, terrorist group Taliban had again executed another attack on an educational institute of Pakistan, Bacha Khan University, preceding the 2014 Peshawar Army Public School attack. The attack resulted in deaths of 21 people which were in much lesser magnitude than 2014 Peshawar Army Public School attack in which 140 schoolchildren were killed. The terrorist did not succeed in creating proportional chaos of APS attack at the Bacha Khan University, but however they indeed succeeded in insulting the image of Bacha Khan, the symbol of Pakthun nationalism who was renowned for his pacifism and non-violent movement against British Raj in India. Moreover, the media failed to highlight the death anniversary of Bacha Khan, who died on 20th January, the same day the Taliban faction attacked the namesake university on which the university students were reciting poetry to commemorate Bacha Khan’s death anniversary.

Bacha Khan means in Pakthun language “king of chiefs”. His actual name was Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan. He was born on February 6th, 1890 to a peaceful and affluent family from Utmanzai in the Peshawar Valley of British India. His father, Bahram Khan, was a land owner in the area commonly referred to as Hashtnaghar. Bacha Khan was also called the “Frontier Gandhi” but to many he was also referred to as “Gandhi of Indian Muslim” in British India as he was a close ally to Mahatma Gandhi. Bacha Khan founded the Khudai Khidmatgar (“Servants of God”) movement in 1929, following the footsteps of Gandhi who operated the same movement “Satyagraha”. The movement created a huge success for Bacha Khan because it gave rise to Pakhtun Nationalism and it almost made the dream of independent secular India a reality. British Empire fearing Gandhi’s success of Satyagraha movement in the east and heart of India and Bacha Khan’s influence in the Frontiers, the British initiated a harsh crackdown against him and his movement. The Khudai Khidmatgar suffered some of the most severe repression of the Indian independence movement most notably the massacre in Kissa Khwani Bazaar where more than 250 peace-loving Pakhtun protestors were killed by the firing squad. However, when the British Raj was dwindling in India, Bacha Khan was challenged by another problem – Partition of India.

Bacha Khan tried to make the province of NWFP be part of India during the referendum in July 1947. Bacha Khan however failed to persuade his people to align with India instead of Pakistan. Bacha Khan dissonant with the referendum result later pledged his alliance to government of Pakistan and tried to reconcile with his long-time rival, founder of Pakistan, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Bacha Khan hoped that the Pakthun people will progress in the newly-created Muslim country but later felt dissuaded because of government corruption, army takeovers and government of Pakistan favouring unitary form of government instead of federation, as a result forsaking NWFP’s autonomy.

Since the creation of Pakistan, Bacha Khan was labelled as traitor by government and its state-run media. Bacha Khan tried to fight for Pakthun nationalism and autonomy of Pakhtun especially for NWFP to called Pakhtunistan but met with opposition from the government. Bacha Khan died on 20th January and according to his will that he wished to be buried in Afghanistan. It was not until 2008 that NWFP got more autonomy that the name of the NWFP was changed to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Bacha Khan’s dream was being realized.

For many Pakthuns young and old, Bacha Khan is remembered as symbol of Pakhtun nationalism and a hero. He is still remembered in India for his support of Gandhi against British Raj and was given Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding and Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian award. He was once nominated for Nobel Peace Prize. He was symbol of Pakthun nationals not only in Pakistan but also in Afghanistan where majority are Pakhtuns. Bacha Khan’s death was a huge shock for the Pakthuns in Afghanistan and Pakistan. His death was such an impact that during Soviet Afghan War in 1988, a ceasefire was held in Afghanistan to allow the burial of Bacha Khan. It was only during this time that there was peace in Afghanistan because of the burial of pacifist Bacha Khan for a brief period of time after years of battle and carnage during the Soviet Afghan War.

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