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Analysis: A tragedy again

Updated January 31, 2016


The irony of the latest atrocity at Bacha Khan University (BKU), Charsadda, is that it was enacted on the death anniversary (Jan 20) of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, popularly known as Bacha Khan. Every year, the day is commemorated to honour the undisputed apostle of peace, as well as his equally illustrious son, Wali Khan, who passed away on Jan 26, 2006.

In a peace conference, well-known scholars and experts from across Pakistan and Afghanistan were to deliver their papers on peace. A Pashto mushaira was meant to expound on Bacha Khan’s universal philosophy of love and tolerance.

Doubtless, this was the mission of the late Bacha Khan as he opened several Darul Afghania schools across Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where the British had forcefully kept the population under draconian laws like the FCR, besides regulations banning political activities. To Bacha Khan, as mentioned in his memoir My Life, My Struggle, education was a sacred tenet of Islam, which he quotes as a commandment of Allah. “Iqra” (read) was the first divine command to the unlettered Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Allah had meant to educate and thus humanise his people through the divine revelations of the Holy Quran.

The institution that bears the name of one of the preachers of non-violence is soaked in the blood of its students

His detractors wrongly paint him as a blind follower of Gandhi although he had a deep understanding of Islam being a religion of peace and forgiveness. He used Islamic and Pashto idioms to propagate the mission of non-violence. This philosophy was an article of faith for the non-violent Khudai Khitmatgar movement.

While Bacha Khan was struggling to humanise the violent tribal Pakhtuns into law-abiding citizens with his vision of peace and education, his mission was aborted by the British who considered the Pakhtuns unworthy of modern education. Historically, Pakhtuns excelled in warfare and prided themselves on being a martial race. As with their martial counterparts in the subcontinent like the Sikhs and Gurkhas, their chivalry was exploited by the British rulers, and they were used to good effect as war fodder and mercenaries for imperial exploits in the world, including the First World War and many other fronts.

During the independence movement, being a close ally of Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian Congress, Bacha Khan motivated his people to wage a non-violent struggle instead of taking up arms: a novel chapter in the blood-soaked history of Pakhtuns. His followers, the Khudai Khidmatgars (servants of God), paid a heavy price with their lives as thousands were imprisoned and killed during this period.

Bacha Khan spent more time in prison (37 years) than Nelson Mendala, both during the British rule and the latter day Pakistani governments for demanding equal rights for his people. Mahatma Gandhi held Bacha Khan in high esteem. During his visit to Sadaryaab, the headquarters of Khudai Khidmatgars in Charsadda, Gandhi is quoted as telling the audience “Bacha Khan and Khudai Khidm-atgars deserve more credit than me and Congress, as Hindus belong to a comparatively non- martial race and taming the most violent people into peace-loving and law-abiding citizens was an incomparable achievement!”

Obviously the dawn of freedom had fewer choices for the great apostle of peace, despite his efforts, along with Gandhi, for reconciliation among the sparring Muslim League and Congress. Their mutual visits after eruption of the first-ever large-scale communal violence in Calcutta in 1946 and later in Bihar extinguished the fires of communal hatred and restored peace.

Bacha Khan and Gandhi’s desire for a prosperous and peaceful subcontinent did not materialise as the region was destined for partition. History is witness that the erstwhile NWFP witnessed very few incidents of communal violence as compared to Punjab and Bengal that were soaked in blood and unspeakable horror as the two nations celebrated the dawn of freedom.

“Non-violence is a power and has an army just like violence. But its weapon is preaching while the weapon of violence is the gun.”— Bacha Khan

The Congress ministry led by Dr Khan Sahib ensured that the fleeing Hindus and Sikhs were given protection and safe passage to their new homes across the border despite provocations and the belligerent politics of the subcontinent in 1947.

India became the first victim of intolerance when a RSS ideologue Nathuram Godse killed Mahatma Gandhi at a prayer meeting at his ashram. Pakistan followed hounding and later arresting the towering leader of independence who stood for peace. This indeed was an inauspicious beginning for the two nation states, delivered in communal genocide despite the idealism of the founding fathers, Jinnah and Nehru respectively.

The subcontinent could never become peaceful as the two warring states waged three overt wars and indulged in mutual bellicosity resulting in many covert shenanigans. Their socio-economic indicators are far from enviable. The population is amongst the poorest, underfed, under clothed and suffering endemic diseases. Yet, the two states flaunt their latest weapons and gadgetry and nuclear arsenal for mutual destruction.

Bacha Khan’s prophetic words at Torkham, in 1980, at the beginning of the Afghan jihad, still ring loud and clear. He returned after three decades of self-exile from Afghanistan. The Soviets had spurned his efforts to roll back the invading Red Army, which Bacha Khan termed a recipe for disaster for the entire region during his visit to the Kremlin to meet Brezhnev.

His bewildered audience listened to his prophecy: “The blood that is now being shed in the name of religion shall soon engulf the entire subcontinent,” said the clairvoyant Pakhtun statesman, the bête noire of the Pakistani state for his secular ideals. “I can see rivers of blood flowing across Pakistan and when it reaches India it would be catastrophic for the entire region,” he added.

His perplexed audience questioned his logic. India was a world democracy with uninterrupted Congress rule which was considered secular. Why a bloodbath in India? they wondered. To this, his answer was, “I have seen the violent response of the Hindu bania in retaliation to the mullah’s provocation during the Partition riots. Violence shall not confine itself to geographical boundaries but will travel far and wide and would be impossible to extinguish.”

Bacha Khan motivated his people to wage a non-violent struggle instead of taking up arms; a novel chapter in the blood-soaked history of the Pakhtuns. His followers, the Khudai Khidmatgars (servants of God), paid a heavy price with their lives as thousands were imprisoned and killed during this period.

Bacha Khan had a valid point in his argument that has been proven right after several years. He could not have imagined that intolerance of the worst kind would unravel secular states like Iraq, Syria, Libya and even cross over into the Western nations who now do not know how to control the devil they unleashed to contain the Soviet Empire 30 years ago.

The non-state actors of the most virulent ideology is a product of a mostly Anglo-American policy having destabilised the world further through the thoughtless invasion of Iraq and the sponsoring of the subsequent violent uprising against previously secular Arab states, metamorphosing into a bigger evil, the militant Islamic State group, more lethal compared to their Taliban predecessors.

Bacha Khan’s birthplace, Charsadda, was also the fountain head of the Gandhara civilisation. It’s tainted red with blood of innocent young souls, where eager students were waiting to hear about the virtues of peace and tolerance in the BKU auditorium ... their blood-soaked bodies bemoan the tragedy played out on their lives — in the cradle of pacifism. The symbol of peace and war is now etched on the psyche of the survivors of the horrific attack. The state of Pakistan has failed the Pakhtun nation once again.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, January 31st, 2016