Why Pashtun Nationalism Is Considered A Major Fault Line In Pakistan: Glimpses Of History (Part II) – OpEd


Pashtun armed resistance for their independence against the occupation of the Mughals by Khushal Khan Khatak and the British imperialist invasions and occupation of Afghan’s territory in united India by Faqeer of Aipee, Mullah Pawainda, Haji Sahib Toorangzai and so many others was continued for a long time, but the turning point in their struggle against foreign occupation occurred when a towering personality, Khan Abdul Ghafar Khan, commonly known as Bacha Khan, started his non violent struggle for independence of their homeland in 1935. He joined hands with Congress against the British occupation of the subcontinent, particularly the Afghan and Pashtun land on both sides of the Durand line. He laid the foundation of Pashtun nationalism in united India and continued his struggle till the end of colonial occupation. His struggle was against the division of the subcontinent after the British withdrawal. He won the elections of 1946 and formed government in NWFP province, but his dream of a united India went up in smoke when Congress, unilaterally and against his will, agreed to the 3rd June Partition Plan for the division of the sub-continent into two dominions, India and Pakistan.

 According to the plan and independence act of 1947, all existing provincial assemblies were empowered to join either India or Pakistan, except for the NWFP, where a referendum was to be held to decide their future. This was a second blow to Bacha Khan’s politics for the independence of their homeland. His quest for a third option of independence was rejected by both Congress and the Muslim League; consequently, a referendum was held under the supervision of eight Indian Army officers, although some civilians were also included at a lower level. He boycotted, and the results of the referendum went in favour of the inclusion of the NWFP into the dominion of Pakistan in 1947. This was the turning point in the Pashtun nationalism in newly created Pakistan and its ruling Muslim League. 

Though Bacha Khan took the oath of allegiance to the new nation of Pakistan on February 23, 1948, at the first session of Pakistan’s constituent assembly, he pledged his full support to the government and attempted to reconcile with the founder of the new state, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Initial overtures led to a successful meeting in Karachi; however, a follow-up meeting in the Khudai Khidmatgar headquarters never materialised between Bacha Khan and Quaid-e-Azam. Muslim league leaders centred around Quaid-e-Azam ruined those opportunities, particularly due to the negative role of former NWFP Chief Minister Abdul Qayum Khan Kashmiri, who warned Jinnah that Bacha Khan was plotting his assassination. Ultimately, he dismissed the elected government of Khudai khidmatgar ( servant of God), in NWFP, removing CM Khan Sahib Abdul Jabar Khan and installing a Muslim League government with Abdul Qayum Khan Kashmiri as chief minister of the province. Since then, the doomsday of Pashtun nationalist politics started when an ugly and brutal incident occurred at Babrra Ground, which in history is known as the Babrra Massacre. The Babrra Massacre was a mass shooting on August 12, 1948. According to official figures, around 15 protestors were killed and 40 were injured. However, Khudai khidmatgar sources maintained that around 400 unarmed protesters of the Khudai khidmatgar movement against the arrest of Bacha Khan were killed on the order of the chief minister of the NWFP, Abdul Qayum Khan Kashmiri.

At this critical juncture, Pashtun nationalism faced the same savagery as in British times. The miseries and sufferings of the Pashtuns couldn’t end even after the creation of Pakistan because the Pakistani establishment, from day one, followed the policies handed down by the British in letter and spirit concerning the political struggle of Bacha Khan for their rights. Bacha Khan was arrested several times from 1948 to 1956 due to his opposition to one unit scheme launched by federal government to merge the four provinces of west Pakistan as counterbalance against the numerical domination of Bengal. He spent about 37 years of his life in prison more than Nelson Mandela is South Africa, both during the British rule and later day Pakistani government, in lieu of his struggle for Pashtun’s rights and due to progressive and democratic policies, even he died during house arrest in Peshawar in 1988.

 Like his father, in 1942, Wali Khan, while still in his teens, joined the Khudai Khidmatgar movement. Soon after, he formally stepped into politics by joining the Indian National Congress, where he eventually served as a provincial joint secretary of the party. He continued his anti-colonial policies and struggled for the rights of Pashtuns. He was arrested and charged under the FCR in 1943. He too opposed the 1947 division of the subcontinent and considered it the division of the Muslims of India. Though after the creation of Pakistan, Wali Khan agitated for Pashtun autonomy within a Pakistani federal system, his anti-imperialist role and opposition to the division of the sub-continent placed him at odds with the ruling authorities in the newly created Pakistan. He, like his father, was considered an existential threat, and his politics were a major fault line for the country from day one. Thereafter, he was put in jail without charge in 1948 and freed in 1953. Wali Khan’s fight was basically for democracy, constitutionalism, and liberalism against dictatorship in the country; therefore, he supported the consensus candidate Fatima Jinnah, the sister of Pakistan’s founder, against dictator General Ayub Khan in her election campaign and served as her election agent, which further soured his relations with the Pakistani establishment. 

He became president of NAP in 1968, won a seat in the National Assembly in the first-ever general elections in Pakistan in 1970, and played a very positive role during the 1971 political stalemate between the Pakistani military and Sheikh Mujeeb and other politicians of Bengal. He opposed the 1971 military operation in East Pakistan. In retaliation, General Yahya Khan banned the National Awami Party. Later on, on March 23 1973, Federal security forces despite firing on NAP workers in Liaqat Bagh Rawalpindi, wali khan narrowly escaped and dozens of workers mostly Pashtun were massacred and wounded. Although he had formed coalition governments in Balochistan and the NWFP and thereafter played a key role in the formation of the 1973 constitution, but despite all these efforts, he never won the hearts of the ruling elites in the country. In 1974, following the death in a bomb blast of a close ally of Bhutto’s who was also the governor of the NWFP, the federal government banned the National Awami Party, dismissed the two provincial governments of NAP in NWFP and Balochistan, and arrested 51 senior members of NAP, including Wali Khan, Mir Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo, the governor, Sardar Attaullah Khan Mengal, the chief minister of Baluchistan, Mir Gul Khan Nasir, poet Habib Jalib and Nawab Khair Bakhsh Mari. All of them were detained in Hyderabad; the case came to be known as the “Hyderabad conspiracy case,” and they were tried in the widely discredited Hyderabad tribunal. Astonishingly,supreme court upheld the decision of federal government to ban NAP.

 Further to prove that the NAP and its student wings are anti-state, the government conducted raids; consequently, hundreds of Pashtun Students Federation members led by Bismillah Khan and Azizullah, commonly known as Aziz Mama from Balochistan and Pashtun Zalmi from the NWFP, including famous Pashto poet late Ajmal Khatak, went to Afghanistan and started their struggle against the Bhutto regime. However, soon after the imposition of martial law by General Zia-Ulhaq in July 1977, General Zia met with jailed leaders in Hyderabad Jail and they were released under a general amnesty and the students came back to their homes, but this honeymoon with the establishment was short-lived because both Bacha Khan and Wali Khan adopted an anti-government stance on the revolution in Afghanistan in 1978 and later on Soviet intervention and US involvement in the Afghan conflict.

The stances of Bacha Khan, Khudai Khidmatgari, and Wali Khan were very clear about the entrance of Soviet forces into Afghanistan and subsequent US initiatives of launching Afghan Jihad to evict the Soviet Union from Afghanistan with the collaboration of Pakistan and many Muslim countries. They stated that This was the result of the Cold War and the conflict between the two superpowers and advised the government of Pakistan not to indulge in the Afghan conflict or its internal affairs.

After Wali Khan’s retirement from politics, his son Asfandyar Wali Khan became the president of the Awami National Party. He also persuaded his father’s and his grandfather’s policies with regard to Pashtun rights with in Pakistan and the other side of the Durand line. His role throughout his political career remained pro-democracy, fighting for Pashtun rights within constitutional boundaries. He opposed anti-democratic forces and the involvement of the military in politics. He played a very significant role as a member of the parliamentary committee on constitutional reforms in 2010, which resulted in the passing of the 18th Amendment to the 1973 Constitution. Through this amendment, he succeeded in bringing about provincial autonomy, particularly changing the name of his province from NWFP to Khyber Pakhtunkhawa after about one hundred and nineteen years of struggle carried out by his father and grandfather.

His opposition to Talibanization and extremism in all shapes and forms attracted the wrath of terrorists. He lost several senior cadre members of his party in terrorist attacks, and he narrowly escaped death in a suicide attempt in his hometown because of his nationalist politics, which is in direct conflict with extremist ideology and anti-democratic forces in the country. Therefore, the politics and policies of the Awami National Party are considered major fault lines and a threat to the national integrity of the country.

( to be continued )

Sher Khan Bazai is retired from civil service as a Secretary of Education, Balochistan. The writer can be reached at [email protected].

Sher Khan Bazai

Sher Khan Bazai is a retired civil servant, and a former Secretary of Education in Balochistan, Pakistan. He can be reached at [email protected].

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