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Friday, January 25, 2008

Bacha Khan kaleeza

Pashtunwali and non-violence

By Adil Zareef
“When I turned back from the outer battle

I set my face towards the inner battle.

We have returned from the lesser jihad….

We are with the Prophet (PBUH) in the greater jihad.”

– Jalaluddin Rumi, Mathnavi-e-Ma’anavi (1386-7)

SIXTY years after independence, Pakistan continues to be shackled by the same oppressive, undemocratic, feudal and militarised political system. There seems to be no end to our woes and no hope for the future.

Violence and mayhem appear to be our destiny and have been linked to the Pashtuns by the Pakistani establishment and its western supporters.

Are Pashtuns really the bloodthirsty holy warriors that the world portrays them to be or another breed altogether? Is the Taliban movement a natural phenomenon of “Pashtun identity and independence”, or is there another aspect to this discourse?

Jan 20 marked the 19th death anniversary of the charismatic Pashtun social reformer Ghaffar Khan fondly remembered by Pashtuns as Bacha or Badshah Khan.

Born in 1890 into a prominent feudal Mohamadzai family in Charsadda, he would briefly turn the violent Pashtuns into law-abiding Khudai Khidmatgars (non-violent soldiers of Islam). This seems to be an oxymoron now, but it was true until 1947 when Pakistan came into being and the NWFP Congress government headed by Dr Khan Sahib was dismissed prematurely.

According to Mukulika Banerjee in The Pathan Unarmed, most historical and anthropological accounts have portrayed the Pashtuns as a wild people living by a strict code of honour in a volatile environment, and as having a penchant for violence. Therefore, the NWFP seems the most unlikely setting for a movement with an ideology of non-violence. How did Badshah Khan blend his ideas of non-violence with Islam and the traditional Pathan code of Pashtunwali?

Of all other nationalist leaders of the subcontinent, Badshah Khan was the closest to Gandhi in character and practice. Both shared the characteristics of asceticism and moral strength that gave them great spiritual authority over their respective communities. They were intensely practical men who tailored participatory social programmes. Both were also conscious that their followers would have to purge themselves of anger and conceit in order to undertake civil disobedience successfully. Demanding high standards from their followers, they did not hesitate to rebuke them for their shortcomings.

However, it would be simplistic to consider this relationship as the plank for the Khudai Khidmatgars’ non-violent ideology. Many critics and commentators have erred on this account, particularly Muslim League and Congress supporters. “Although, drawing inspiration from the Congress experience and the precise techniques of civil disobedience, the needs and shortcomings of Pashtun society inspired Badshah Khan long before he met Gandhi. Gandhi’s philosophical inspiration was Gita, the sacred text of Hinduism, while Badshah Khan was a devout Muslim and had performed Haj, besides being well-versed in the Quran and Hadith.”

Although Islam plays a very important role in Pashtun life as an important component of Pashtun identity, Pashtunwali is as influential as Islam for the Pashtuns. Had non-violence been portrayed as an authentically Islamic way, it may have been acceptable to the Pashtuns who would not have viewed it as being in contradiction to Pashtunwali. Violence was seen not as a criminal aberration but as central to the wider ethical system.

It was, therefore, important for Badshah Khan to assert that non-violence did not compromise the Pashtun code of honour by drawing rhetorically on the traditional elements and idioms of Pashtunwali. Therefore, the wider perspective of the Khudai Khidmatgar movement was essentially indigenous. In this way, the key terms of Pashtunwali such as shame, honour, refuge, and hospitality were subtly redefined. Many affirmed: “Badshah Khan raised our political consciousness so we could understand what was happening.”

In their jihad, the Khidmatgars declined to take an eye for an eye, and instead decided to turn the other cheek. “Rather than conceive a culture passively and an immutable charter, the KK ideology exemplifies the selective and innovative use of traditional cultural elements in order to form responses and solutions to particular historical challenges.”

Mohammad Badshah, an aging KK activist, recalled: “The common man could not make hujras, only the Khans could. Earlier, if they did, then the police came and demolished them. But Dr Khan Sahib changed that. Low castes were given the opportunity to buy land. They also became eligible for government jobs. Female education was started because earlier even the azad schools were only for boys. Dr Khan Sahib reduced taxes by one-third. Moneylenders were done away with… everyone was treated equally.”

Pashtun custom did not grant women the inheritance rights prescribed in the Quran. In 1937, a national Sharia conference of Muslim leaders and theologians passed a resolution by which a daughter could inherit a share equivalent to half of her brother’s, and Dr Khan Sahib’s ministry passed legislation to this effect. “Ours was the only province where this resolution was passed into law. People did not resist the change because as many people stood to gain by it as lose”. Therefore, “The Congress ministers made a big difference in the lives of the people who were happy with the reforms they introduced. In the elections we managed to defeat the big Khans and gained a lot of say for the first time in government.”At the start of the Second World War, when Congress offered to cooperate with the British war effort in return for complete Indian independence afterwards, Badshah Khan resigned from the party in protest. He argued that the principle of non-violence could not be put aside in any context, whether local or international, and neither he nor the Khudai Khidmatgar could go along with this policy.

Thus he emerged as more determinedly non-violent than the rest of Congress. It had taken much effort on his part to persuade the Pashtuns to lay aside their violence and this could not be traded for political compulsions. The Pashtuns had been “officially designated as the martial race and were natural recruits” into the Indian army. This affected the British policy and they did not take kindly to this.

Sarfaraz Nazim reminisces, “Badshah Khan wanted to humanise the Pashtuns. But later the influence of the Muslim League on the people ruined it all and destroyed the tolerant values of the region. All the Hindus were driven out. Hence Partition became a lasting problem.”

Eighty-year old Sher Khan said, “I remember sitting with Badshah Khan by the Sindh river at dusk, talking…I remember telling him that I could not accept Pakistan and that I wanted to kill off the brown sahibs.”

Later, when son Wali Khan was sent to jail by PPP, an enraged Hama Gul challenged the frail and aging Badshah Khan, “I know that it is in the Quran that if anyone wrongs you, you forgive him — but is anyone ever going to forgive us, or are we expected to do the forgiving all the time?” To this and many other questions, however, Badshah Khan’s cool response remained the same: “Violence would get us nowhere.”

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