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


Since the early 19th century, the South Asian Subcontinent was under the yoke of British imperialism. There were prominent yet unsung figures who spoke truth to power and waged an undeterred battle against the British empire. Prominent among them were Ghazi Abdullah Khan who fought the first Anglo-Afghan war in 1838, Paley Khan Mandokhel commonly known as Paley Shah, commander of the group who fought against British Raj in 1930, and many others. But the most prominent among them was political leader Abdul Samad Khan Achakzai, commonly known as Khan Shaheed and Balochistan’s Gandhi, a Pashtun nationalist and political leader from the then British Indian province of Baluchistan. He was the pioneer of Pashtun nationalism in southern Pashtun population of this side of the Durand line.

Abdul Samad Khan showed his leadership quality even in his teenage. He was just 11 years old when he led the group of the students at Gulistan in conformation with the Khilafat Movement demonstrating against the British. So, for the first time in his life, he was caught by the British and remained 28 days in jail. In 1930, he decided to establish a democratic political party but he was again arrested for six months. When he was released, he at once went to Bombay and met Gandhi who was on the way to England to attend the Round Table Conference. He also met there with great leaders who were working for the oppressed people i.e. Bacha Khan and Ghous Bakhsh Bezinjo. When he came back to Quetta, he was arrested by the British with the help of pro-British Jirga. After spending two years in jail when he was released, he increased his struggle for the oppressed people of Baluchistan along with Bloch leaders. In 1938 he issued a newspaper “Istiqlal”. It was his very great achievement and it was the first newspaper issued in British Baluchistan. This newspaper helped the local people to get political awareness.

Abdul Samad Khan and his courageous Baloch leaders Ghaus Bakhsh Bezenjo and Moulana Obedullah of Bostan, launched a political party “Anjuman-i-Watan” in 1939. Abdul Samad Khan was made president of the party. It was the first organized political party in Baluchistan. In 1939, Abdul Samad Khan and Bacha Khan toured Baluchistan to tell the upcoming challenges from the 2nd world war.

The nature of his struggle from the first day had remained National Democratic, anti-feudal and anti-imperialist. This can easily be comprehended from demands of Anjuman-i-Watan, which were presented in their first annual congress of 1939.
Anjuman-i-Watan demanded the following:

1. The abolition of the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR).

2. Provincial autonomy. 

3. Abolition of the unnecessary Shahi jirga.

4. Establishment of a municipal corporation in every city.

5. The right to vote (one man, one vote)

6. National freedom. 

7. An end to the exploitation of labor. 

Achakzai struggled for the above-mentioned goals under the banner of Anjuman-i-Watan until 1948, when it got banned by the Muslim League authorities.
In 1954, he founded another political party, “Wror Pashtun”. The core objective of Wror Pashtun was the establishment of Pashtunistan province comprised of the then NWFP and former Chief Commissioner province excluding Baloch areas of Balochistan. Wror Pashtun was later on merged into National Awami Party (NAP). NAP in its Manifesto had clearly mentioned that it would work for abolishment of one unit and restoration of old provinces. In 1970, NAP agreed to merge British Baluchistan (Pashtun Areas of Current Baluchistan) into Kalat states Union and formation of Balochistan. It was clear violation of Party Manifesto. Khan Shaheed Left the Party and Formed his own “Pashtunkhwa National Awami Party”.

When Pakistan was created in 1947, so, according to the 3rd June plan, referendum was held in NWFP and Baluchistan to decide whether they wanted to join India or Pakistan. In Baluchistan, “Shahi Jirga” decided the fate of the people after a long debate between congress led by Abdul Samad Khan, Ghous Bakhsh Bizenjo and the Muslim league camp led by Qazi Muhammad Essa, Nawab Muhammad khan Jogezai and Mir Jaffer Khan Jamali. They all joined Pakistan.

His struggle was for democracy and provincial autonomy. When one unit was established in the country in 1955, he opposed it because he was in the favor of Provincial autonomy. Therefore, he and Bacha khan joined together and made the foundation of the National Awami Party (NAP). This party was made against one unit. In 1958, first Martial law was imposed and he was the first victim of Ayub Khan. Abdul Samad was arrested on the 2nd day of martial law and was put in jail for 14 years. He was in prison when he was told that NAP is divided into two groups.

After that Ayub Khan called a conference and freed all political prisoners. When he was released from jail, he quit from NAP and founded the Pakhtoonkhwa Mili Awami party. He became the chairman of the party. In the 1970’s general election, he won the Provincial seat form the platform of PMAP. He was the first opposition leader of the Baluchistan assembly. Later on, He appreciated the 1973 constitution and called Pakistan a sovereign state.

Khan Abdul Samad Khan Achakzai Shaheed was a freedom fighter. He was not only anti-British but also an enemy of all sorts of colonizers. Political Philosophy of Khan Abdul Samad Khan Achakzai Shaheed firmly believed in the freedom of nations from the yoke of British imperialism. He hated the slavery of his people. He remained in prison for about 32 years but continued his fight for freedom of Sub-continent’s soil. After the independence, Khan Shaheed carried on his struggle for a democratic Pakistan in which all the oppressed nations living in Pakistan should have equal opportunities for progress and prosperity. His visits to Afghanistan and participation in Academic and other meetings showed his interest for Afghanistan and stressed Pakistan not to interfere in the internal affairs of Afghanistan.

The NAP in Balochistan received a severe blow when an old friend of Abdul Wali Khan, Abdul Samad Khan Achakzai, withdrew from the party and formed Pashtoonkhwa Milli Awami Party (PKMAP). The main point of difference between him and Wali Khan was that Achakzai wanted a re-demarcation of the province in the west on a cultural and linguistic basis. He wanted a Pashto-speaking province from Chaman to Quetta to Chitral in the North, leaving the Baloch of Balochistan, and of the adjacent areas to find themselves a new province.

He spent the last four years of his life (1969–1973), the longest spell in his political life out of prison, struggling for universal franchise, one-man one-vote in Balochistan and the tribal areas where only members of official Jirga were entitled to vote.

Abdul Samad Khan Achakzai was eliminated by the anti-democratic forces only because he believed in democracy and constitutional supremacy. He conceptualized politics among Pashtuns and placed the foundation of modern Pashtun nationalism in the Pashtoon areas of present day Balochistan, in 20th century. He struggled for equity, was staunch advocate of women rights, and challenged taboos for women voter registration for the general election in 1970.He was member of the Balochistan Provincial Assembly at the time of his assassination in December 1973.

After assassination, his son Mehmood Khan Achakzai, a 25-year-old young man became chairman of Pashtunkhwa National Awami Party. He raised the flag drenched in the blood of Khan Shaheed when nobody was willing to lead the party. He knew that it would cost him a lot, as he had already seen his father being held captive for dozens of years, and he had seen his father’s assassination after that.
But clouds of fear and cowardice could never gather over his head. Mehmood khan and his party PKMAP, followed the footsteps of Khan Shaheed and remained a frontline resistance against each martial law in the country. PKMAP is the only political party of Pakistan which has not supported any martial law and always opposed interference of military in politics. It has remained part of MRD, APDM and most recently, PDM and other movements for the establishment of rule of law and democracy, upper hand of parliament, constitutional supremacy, federalism in true spirit, autonomy of the federating units, and equal rights for each nationality. To meet these ends, he has formed different political alliances with nationalist parties such as PONM, Pashtun Rahber committee, PNDA and the recent one PDM.

PKMAP’s role in various constitutional developments cannot be ignored, especially the role of its late senior deputy chairman Abdur Rahim Mandokhail in achieving the 18th constitutional amendment and 7th NFC award in 2010. Former chairman of the Senate Raza Rabbani once said, “The 18th amendment would not have been possible without Abdur Rahim Mandokhail”.

The path of struggle towards Pashtun rights has always remained full of obstacles in the country. Chairman PKMAP, Mahmood Khan Achakzai has faced three assassination attempts. On the 7th of October 1983, bullets were fired on the party’s protest against Zia’s martial law, in which four workers got killed and dozens were wounded. FIR of the incident was registered against Mahmood Khan Achakzai and dozens of party workers were arrested. Thereafter he left the country and went to Afghanistan.

On the 11th of October 1991, a party office was attacked, in which five workers, including central secretary Rahim Kaliwal, got martyred. According to Mahmood Khan Achakzai, in 1992 a tribal feud was used as a means to punish PKMAP for their stance on Afghanistan. In that feud, more than a hundred close relatives, friends and tribesmen of Mahmood Khan Achakzai were killed. In April 2000, an operation against party workers was conducted in Pashtun Abad. PKMAP chairperson, Achakzai has repeatedly spoken about the country’s intelligence agencies’ interference, and his stance is very much clear that they have no right to interfere in the political affairs of the government. He is opposed to the political role of armed forces and considers such a role an effort to undermine the fragile democratic system in the country.

His party suffered a great loss when Usman Khan Kakar, a former senator and a staunch critic of powerful military establishment, also known for outspoken remarks in support of freedom of expression, human rights and democratic values, a strong voice for Pashtun rights, was killed in a well planned attack by unknown persons last year. Thereafter, Mehmood Khan Achakzai held a grand Pashtun Jirga at Bannu, where they renewed their commitment to fight against the challenges faced by Pashtuns on both sides of the Durand line.

PKMAP consistently demands Baloch-Pashtun parity in terms of distribution of resources, services and official slots in Balochistan till the establishment of a separate Pashtun province consisting of Pushto speaking areas of Balochistan. It also professes just representation of different nationalities in the political system and has proposed a number of constitutional amendments to that end. PKMAP advocates greater provincial autonomy and enhanced powers for the Senate.

Protection of rights of Pashtuns, Provincial Autonomy and creation of Southern Pashtun Province are the three main pillars of PKMAP political struggle. However, his demand for creating new province out of present day Balochistan has invited strong criticism from some Baloch quarters but speaking at a public meeting on the eve of 48th death anniversary of Khan Abdul Samad Khan Achakzai at the Railway Hockey ground on 2nd Dec 2022, he rejected a perception that by using the word Pashtunkhwa they want bifurcation of Baloch land. He further clarified in his address to the national congress of his party held on 20th Dec 2022 at science college Quetta that his party has never claimed a single inch of Baloch territory to be included in the proposed southern Pashtun province. He said that Abdul Samad Khan Shaheed had added the word Pashtunkhwa to the name of his party after developing differences with the National Awami Party before the 1970 elections.

Mr Achakzai said, Abdul Samad Khan’s entire struggle was for upholding human and Islamic values, respect for all nationalities and a society where the rights of everyone are protected on the basis of equality. He said that Pakistan cannot move forward and achieve progress unless it attains supremacy of the constitution, and a parliament elected by people and its affairs being run without any interference from undemocratic forces.

He further adds that “my party does not want to get dismembered off the country, but at the same time we are not ready to become second or third class citizens in the country”. He also said that his party was not against any institution, particularly Army and its premier agency ISI, rather his party wishes that these institutions work for making the country strong, provided they work within constitutional boundaries and jurisdictions and that the efforts by any institution to trample and belittle other institutions should be stopped. Mr Achakzai urged Pakistan, Iran, China and region’s other countries to play their role in promoting rehabilitation and development in war-torn Afghanistan. He added that “Afghanistan is among the few countries that have never compromised on their independence and freedom,” said the PKMAP chief. Despite his struggle for the rights of Pashtun with in the constitutional boundaries, the Pakistani establishment has never trusted and considered his or his late father’s political struggle based on Pashtun nationalism in favor of national integrity of the country.

(To be continued)

Sher Khan Bazai, The writer is retired from civil services as Secretary 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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