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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Samar EsapZai: Badshah Khan - A Torch For Peace

Samar EsapZai: Badshah Khan - A Torch For Peace

So, this past Saturday, my sis-in-law and I went to see the Toronto premiere of the life and death of the greatest Pukhtun leader that ever lived, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan – also known as Badshah Khan.

As I went in to see this film, naturally I had high expectations; however, I realized my expectations weren’t high enough, for this film, literally, blew me away. Not only was it accurately documented and beautifully made, but it touched me very, very emotionally. Many tears were shed as I watched his difficult life unfold from his youth, up until his death at 98 years of age. Although he lived a long life, one day out of the three days of his life was spent in jail. This sweet and gentle man, this lover of peace, this saint who believed that conflicts should be resolved through peaceful methods rather through violence, never saw any of his dreams/visions come true. It just breaks my heart to know that he struggled his whole life to create unity among Pukhtuns, by preaching about peace, love, and the importance of education for both girls and boys; for he strongly believed that these were the things that would strengthen and develop Pukhtuns. And yet, these struggles fell to no avail.

However, before I go on about how wonderful this film is, I would like my reader to know that this documentary was written, directed, and produced by a very brave, courageous, and extremely passionate woman named Terri McLuhan. She took twenty-one years of her life to complete this film; a woman who is not even ethnically Pukhtun! This realization still dumbfounds me; the fact that a Caucasian American woman showed enough interest and passion to devote twenty-one years of her life to create a documentary about a man whom she had no prior knowledge of. To me, this woman is an inspiration; a hero! Fortunately, I was able to listen to her speak about how she came about doing this film afterwards, during the Q & A session. It was inspiring, and very enlightening listening to her speak about her journey while making this documentary; the people she met along the way; the challenges she faced; etc. “If I had known it would take me twenty-one years to make this film, I don’t think I would have gone forward with the project,” Terri had said, with a laugh. I know she meant no offense with that comment, because when you’re passionate about a subject matter, it really doesn’t matter how long it takes to complete it; the important thing is that you complete it with the intention that you learned something valid from the experience, and are now sharing that knowledge with the world.

Anyway, the sad thing is that almost everyone in the world knows who Mahatma Gandhi is, yet not too many people know about Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan. Both he and Gandhi were very close, and both had the exact same vision and goals. For two decades Ghaffar Khan and his army of Red Shirts, a nonviolent, democratic, and secular liberation movement called the Khudai Khidmatgars (Servants of God) fought alongside Mahatma Gandhi and the Congress Party for a united, democratic, and secular India. And if Pakistan’s founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah had not come into the picture and called for partition between the Hindus and Muslims, perhaps, just PERHAPS, Ghaffar Khan’s dream of a peaceful Pukhtunkhwa could have been possible. Neither Gandhi nor Khan wanted partition to happen, and when it did, all their visions and dreams died before them, and in its place, they had to witness the largest bloodbath in history! And if partition wasn’t bad enough, in newborn India, Ghaffar Khan was all but abandoned by his former Congress Party allies, while in newborn Pakistan he was charged with sedition and promoting separatism. It made no difference that he took an oath of allegiance to the new state, or that he repeatedly insisted he sought autonomy for Pukhtuns within Pakistan. He was repeatedly jailed or kept under house arrest until his death.

This part of the film completely shattered me. Not only did Khan feel betrayed by the partition, but I, too, felt overwhelmingly empathetic to this betrayal. This betrayal haunts our Pukhtuns till this very day. We were handed over to Pakistan – in all its hostile glory – as if Pukhtuns were nothing but a useless commodity. They had no say at all. They were simply snatched of their freedom and forced to live amongst antagonism. Part of the reason why we are the way we are today is because of this lack of freedom. Thus, we have been invaded and imposed on for far too long. First by Alexander the Great; then the Arabs; then the Moghuls; then finally the British; and now we are being imposed on in our own homes by dreaded militants.

It appears that we Pukhtuns have been struggling for freedom pretty much our whole lives! Ghaffar Khan was only a first of his kind, who believed in the alternative: achieving success through peace. Yet, I wonder whether that was the right route to take, considering our violent nature. Were Khan and Gandhi too idealistic in their approach, knowing that violence was inevitable? Perhaps they knew, and yet decided to take the risk anyway, in hopes that things might turn out differently?

Before Ghaffar Khan died in 1988, he was asked whether he felt his life was a waste. The question took him by surprise, and instead of saying the expected, for most of his life was spent behind bars, he simply replied: “No, it was not a waste at all, for I am only the first among the many who will follow in my path and struggle (peacefully), to make Pukhtunistan a reality.”

Yes, indeed, the Great Badshah Khan. These words will forever ring in the ears of nationalistic Pukhtuns, such as myself. And indeed, someday, your beautiful, powerful words will become a reality.

May our dearly beloved leader rest in peace.