Bacha Khan: our forgotten Quaid

Published: January 30, 2012
The writer is assistant professor of history at Forman Christian College and an editor at Oxford University Press

The writer is assistant professor of history at Forman Christian College and an editor at Oxford University Press

January 20, 2012 was the 24th death anniversary of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, popularly known as ‘Bacha Khan’. Thinking of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan in 2012, it seems that his main message is now forgotten in the pages of history and his invocation is merely left to empty words echoed by his amazingly corrupt ‘heirs,’ his grandson and the cronies who inhabit the Awami National Party (ANP). Today, seldom does one hear of Bacha Khan’s name in the league of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr — the pioneers of non-violent resistance to injustice in their times. Forgotten is the great, devoutly Muslim leader, who led the fierce and warlike Pakhtun tribesmen to take an oath of non-violence.

Abdul Ghaffar Khan was born in 1890 in Uthmanzai near Charsadda in the Frontier. Having not had the chance to purse higher education like his elder brother, Dr Khan Sahib, Abdul Ghaffar Khan went along a less trodden path. Sensing that the main problem of the Pakhtuns was the lack of education and incessant feuds, Ghaffar Khan set up the Darul Ulum in 1910 in Uthmanzai and Mardan to give elementary education to the villagers. Later in 1921, he set up the Anjuman-e-Islah-e-Afghana, the ‘Society for the Reformation of the Afghans’, to again rid the Pakhtuns of illiteracy and social evils. Thereafter, a network of about  70 Azad Islamia Madarassas were established throughout the province to promote education, Pashtu language and literature, patriotism and true love for Islam. These initiatives were significant in three ways. First, most of these schools were established in the villages, rather than the cities, which were the main focus of reformers during the early part of the 20th century. Secondly, all these initiatives were deeply rooted in the Islamic tradition of seeking knowledge and the promotion of peace and good relations. Thirdly, these schools, independently conceived, were nevertheless part of a great focus on indigenous education and social improvement prevalent in British India. All these great projects, firmly embedded in resuscitating pride in India’s national and religious heritage did a lot to awaken patriotism among the people and charged the nationalist movement.

Abdul Ghaffar Khan also followed the obvious nationalist cause after his educational initiates and established the Khudai Khidmatgars, ‘Servants of God’ movement in November 1929. This movement was significant since it was also deeply rooted in the ideology of non-violence. For the warlike Pakhtuns, where revenge and conflict are almost a way of life, Ghaffar Khan preached the gospel of non-violence. His philosophy of non-violence was deeply religious and found the inspiration in the person of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) and his treatment of people, especially of those from Makkah after the city’s final conquest. This adherence to non-violent principles was absolute, so much so that when the British police fired on Kudai Khidmatgar members indulging in civil disobedience in April 1930, they did not retaliate and suffered over  200 casualties. No wonder then that Ghaffar Khan was soon called the ‘Frontier Gandhi’ for his faithfulness to the principle of non-violence. Like Gandhi, Ghaffar Khan focused not only on gaining independence from the British but also the transformation of the self. So as Gandhi advocated satyagraha, ‘experiments with the truth’, Ghaffar Khan advocated a radical transformation of the Pakhtuns, as peaceful, forward-looking people.

Despite Ghaffar Khan’s significant contribution to Islamic philosophy, social reform and political thinking, he is a lost figure in the Pakistani narrative. His revolutionary ideals were stifled in the evolution of Pakistan, simply because he did not ‘fit’ in the meta-narrative which did not allow any deviation from the line of the Muslim League. It did not matter that Ghaffar Khan’s ideology was as Islamic as anyone else’s and perhaps even more beneficial to adhere to, with its focus on non-violence, non-discrimination and social development, than the purely communal policies of the Muslim League.

Shame that today, the party which claims Bacha Khan can only think of evoking his name, but seem oblivious of his ideals while they indulge in extreme corruption. I wonder if Bacha Khan would be tempted to break his vow of non-violence if he saw today’s ANP?

Published in The Express Tribune, January 31st, 2012.

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Reader Comments (39)

  • kamran
    Jan 30, 2012 - 11:23PM

    Bacha Khan aptly identified the Pashtun problem, lack of education bought backwardness and the system of revenge bought nothing but destruction, he tackled it my setting up schools and his theory of nonviolence. He once famously said:-
    “I am going to give you such a weapon that the police and the army will not be able to stand against it. It is the weapon of the Prophet, but you are not aware of it. That weapon is patience and righteousness. No power on earth can stand against it.”*
    we in Pakistan have forgoten Bacha Khan as we simply assocaite history with the movement of Pakistan, we forget that people like this great man went in jails and stood the test of time, how many of Muslim leaque major leaders, went to jail and faced batons. we even fail to remember the barbara masacre in which his followers were butchered by qayum. Bacha Khan name equals that of Ghandhi and Martin Luther King, junior, but unfortunately our nation has not been educated on who he was, so how will the people of the world know.
    Pakistan has other heroes too, he should be taught along Quaid e azam, Alama Iqbal and Sir Syed etc, cz hes was of equal callibre if not greater.


  • Cynical
    Jan 30, 2012 - 11:28PM


    A job well done in memory of great man.


  • dasmir
    Jan 30, 2012 - 11:31PM

    In 1969 Seemant Gandhi(Baba Bacha Khan) was invited to Gandhi birth centenary programme in Delhi and was personal guest of PM Indira Gandhi.All he had was a small bundle of cloths.He disliked the new corruption in congressmen and said so.His autobiography should be taught in every school of India,Pakistan and bangladesh.In his philosophy we have salvation.


  • Balma
    Jan 30, 2012 - 11:46PM

    Great article.
    By the way is it Uthmanzai in Pashto or Usmanzai?
    Why Arabize a desi style pronounciation?
    What would Bacha Khan do? ;-)


  • Maryam
    Jan 30, 2012 - 11:58PM

    @Author: The current ‘heirs’ of Bacha Khan are promoting education ranging from schools and colleges to specialized universities in the fields of Medical, Engineering and social sciences at almost district and divisional levels. They (the provincial government) increased annual social development spending from a meagre Rs 31.9 billion in 2007-08 to a high of Rs 85.2 billion in 2011-12 (Sourcez: This is almost a 3-fold increase. Similarly, the author will be well aware of the 700 plus martyrdom of ANP workers along with their other brothers who lost to the militants. Despite this, ANP is still open for negotiating with Taliban if they can surrender their weapons. Regarding the corruption mantra, it is similar to that of the decade of 90 when democratic governments were criticized on the behest of some well-known forces.


  • Khan
    Jan 31, 2012 - 2:13AM

    Pakhtun’s future is with PTI and Imran Khan, not these Bacha Khan ANP criminals.


  • CK
    Jan 31, 2012 - 3:01AM

    And his sons party has looted and plundered KP. This is the same Bacha Khan who didn’t want to be buried in Pakistan. Do not disgrace Jinnah by comparing him to the likes of Bacha Khan. One created Pakistan and the other wanted to break it. His party still wants to.


  • Umar
    Jan 31, 2012 - 3:53AM

    It is not Usmanzai. It is (اتمان زئی) in Pashto.


  • kaalchakra
    Jan 31, 2012 - 6:26AM

    YKB, The Bacha Khan’s name evokes as much respect as does the name of Gandhi and let no one tell you otherwise. Pakistan’s national narrative has to sort out its problems. It can do nothing to diminish Bacha Khan’s name – only fix itself through a long and painful learning process.


  • Arifq
    Jan 31, 2012 - 8:35AM

    For too long we have been conditioned to believe in lies and half truths, dear writer this was extremely helpful and much needed, thanks. When JI and JUI can be forgiven for their opposition to creation of Pakistan then why single out Badshah Khan? A true leader by any standards and a hero for millions, yes we must teach our children of his great achievements and sacrifices.


  • Rohit
    Jan 31, 2012 - 8:59AM

    dont know about pakistan but we in india havent forgotten badshah khan.what a great man he was.


  • Topak Khan
    Jan 31, 2012 - 9:00AM

    @Khan , we are doomed!


  • Cobra Commander
    Jan 31, 2012 - 9:23AM

    @CK. Bacha Khan did not wanted to be buried in Pakistan on account of what we did to him. He spent a decade of his life in jail on trumped up charges. He, and his party, would have won the elections in 1956 if Ayub khan didn’t usurp the power of the civilians. We need a bacha khan like figure in KP to tame the bloodshed and lawlessness there.


  • sk
    Jan 31, 2012 - 9:41AM

    Just finished reading the autobiography of Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, “My Life and Struggle”, A great patriot. Learnt a lot about the history of NWFP and the anti-colonial struggle there.


  • Yuri Kondratyuk
    Jan 31, 2012 - 10:37AM

    There is no way a non-violent person would be respected in Pakistan. It takes a refined culture to know the difference between inaction due to cowardice and the courage to love someone who persecutes.


  • Anoop M
    Jan 31, 2012 - 10:50AM

    I don’t know about pakistan but in India , he is part of our freedom struggle as much as Sardar Patel ,Nehru etc ..I vividly remember my school text books where the personality and philisophy of “Sarhad Gandhi ” were taught to us . How is Mahatma Gandhi referred to in Pakistani schools ?


  • Abhi
    Jan 31, 2012 - 12:36PM

    Nice blog! He was a great leader. His vision is very much required to bring peace in the region.


  • Bipul Rajput
    Jan 31, 2012 - 1:14PM

    @CK: ” … And his sons party has looted and plundered KP. … “

    The children of great leaders usually turn out bad.


  • Homa
    Jan 31, 2012 - 1:52PM

    Nice, but i wish pakistanis would improve their sanskrit/hindi skills. Satyagraha means Steadfast adherence to the truth not experiment with the truth.


  • Homa
    Jan 31, 2012 - 3:12PM

    @Anoop M: Yes, we were also shown a documentary about him during his birth centenary celebrations in india.


  • Homa
    Jan 31, 2012 - 3:16PM

    My experiments with the truth was the tilte of Mahatma gandhi’s book, while satyagraha was the name of his method.


  • Ali Tanoli
    Jan 31, 2012 - 6:50PM

    @Anoop & Yuri sahab
    Peoples in pakistan knows these peoples Gandhi ji, Bacha Khan sahab, G.M Syed sahab but
    since Gen Zia islamiazation of country they being called Ghadars even though they have fought for independence of united india and this is unfurtunate too that our area in frontier KP
    no one try to established any educational institutes not English nor Govt of pakistan if some go to FATA Area they are living like fifth century world sad shame shame and my father tells
    us in our area Terbella there was a school on fifteen milles away tell me how can some one get it and this was Ayub khan who bring it islamabad the capital closer to us and we are now
    going to schools. we are now much better then 1950 specially Hazara.


  • Ali Tanoli
    Jan 31, 2012 - 6:53PM

    Its a uthman with Urdu alphabet TAY with ALAF in the font not SAi, like some body written in Urdu and we have uthman chowk in khalabat town ship hari pur.


  • Balma
    Jan 31, 2012 - 7:22PM

    Thanks for the clarification on spelling of his village.
    there is so much allah-hafiz, thuma, jannah type stuff going on in Pakistan that one does not trust any thing.


  • Dr A K Khan
    Jan 31, 2012 - 7:46PM

    One man whom if we had listened to, our history would have been so different. We came to fork in the road and we took the wrong path. Each and every one should be ashamed what we did to this great man.


  • let there be peace
    Jan 31, 2012 - 9:54PM

    As far as India is concerned I remember reading name of Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan and Khudai Khidmatgar in history textbook in school. My school had Maharashtra state board syllabus. Don’t know about Central Board School syllabus.


  • let there be peace
    Jan 31, 2012 - 10:12PM

    @Anoop M:
    which board syllabus did you study in school? just curious.


  • Mir Agha
    Jan 31, 2012 - 10:18PM

    Pacha Khan’s pet project of being for Congress for eternity was defeated by the Pashtuns in a democratic fashion. Kudos for them for accepting that the ML is closer to the Pashtuns in matter of state, politics, and religion. He was also disliked because of his constant campaigning in the tribal territories for Congress. Nehru was stoned when campaigning alongside Pacha Khan. Facts the ANPites would like to forget. The next election cycle will produce a new government, just like the last election cycle produced a completely new government (MMA). To peg the ANP as the sole representative of the Pashtuns is intellectually dishonest (just as the ML for Muslims or Congress for the erstwhile British colony). As for Pacha Khan, he is a failed politician, the self-serving notion that he, and he alone, was the sole rep and leader for the Pashtuns was destroyed in ’47. His legacy is just as corrupt and responsible for the state of affairs in “their” homeland as any other entity. Family and feudal politics dominate the landscape. He is a “leader” to be praised for his social outlook, but which leader isn’t? He came up with nothing new, if anything, a hodgepodge of Sir Syed Ahmed, Iqbal, and Gandhi…Recommend

  • Bala
    Jan 31, 2012 - 10:39PM

    HI Pakistanis,

    I am Indian from Tamil Nadu and we have read about Bacha Khan in our history books ( I am 28 yr old). I remember feeling proud that our people stood and faced bullets with grace and courage. He inspired me, Gandhi made bacha khan face bullets but today’s pakistani leaders have made pushtuns as cowards (sucide bombers)

    Please learn from history. Pushtuns are brave and couragous ppl, do not make them cowards.


  • kaalchakra
    Jan 31, 2012 - 10:51PM

    On a Pakistani site, I am not going to get into a debate over Pakistani history, but at least Pushtoons, I think, should read some real history. So they know how Nehru was stoned. Who was behind those kinds of things

    Don’t keep demonizing two of the greatest Muslim leaders of India – Maulana Azad and Bacha Khan because neither thought Pakistan’s was a great vision. These were truly great figures, giants of the last hundred years. As a nation, as a people, you would be better off deeply respecting such leaders, not dismissing them, despite any disagreements. This is a sincere, genuine advice and wish I would have for my friends whose welfare I would care for. But you are an independent nation, and keep going down whatever road attracts you better.Recommend

  • kaalchakra
    Jan 31, 2012 - 11:10PM


    Greetings from a UPite :)

    It’s probably better to say that Bacha Khan shared/was inspired by/was attracted to Gandhi’s ideas and methods, and the two worked together. My feeling is that our Pakistani friends have no idea how deeply Bacha Khan is respected throughout India. He is not introduced to us as some anti-Pakistan figure, but as a very great leader in his own right.


  • Hafeez
    Jan 31, 2012 - 11:21PM

    @Author. I have no words to thank you for bring out a great man who we lost in our history books.


  • Zillur Rahman
    Feb 1, 2012 - 7:41AM

    It is supreme irony that this man of peace spent more time in Pakistan’s jails than he had in British jails.

    In his biography of Badshah Khan, “Non-violent Soldier of Islam” (Nilgiri Press, 1995, Penguin India, 2002), Eknath Easwaran writes:

    “Badshah Khan based his life and work on the profound principle of non-violence, raising an army of courageous men and women who translated it into action. Were his example better known, the world might come to recognize that the highest religious values of Islam are deeply compatible with a non-violence that has the power to resolve conflicts even against heavy odds.”


  • amlendu
    Feb 1, 2012 - 1:05PM

    @let there be peace:
    I think all boards teach about Badshah Khan in India. I have seen Bihar board, West Bengal board, UP board, CBSE and ICSE history books having at least a chapter on him.


  • Hameed
    Feb 1, 2012 - 2:56PM

    It is very interesting that Indian knows about Bacha Khan and they (Indian) are teaching thier children in school about great freedom fighter. But here in Pakistan he was shown as ghadar so and so. it is time for us to go with his non-violence movement. Especially for pukhtoon who are suffering from extremist.Recommend

  • ahmed
    Feb 1, 2012 - 5:58PM

    Yeah.. “Frontier Gandhi” is very respected figure in Indian history books (govt). In fact as a child while reading those books i never got an impression that he was Pakistani .He was as Indian as Gandhi and Nehru.He fought for the independence of India by using non-violent method. He would always be remembered for his sacrifices for the liberation of his motherland.


  • Prabhjyot Singh Madan
    Feb 1, 2012 - 7:19PM

    I was happy to find the article on “frontier Gandhi”. Bacha khan is a hero of our subcontinent. I hahave read about his commitment to Indian independence movement and proud of it. He was awarded a “Bharat ratna” award in the 1980’s, ony one of the two foreign nationals to get it from India from the inception of the awards. Waheguru bless his soul as he stood for peace and nonviolence and his struggle continued even after independence. Bless him . Sat Sri akal. Salam , peace


  • rasheed zaheer nasar
    Feb 1, 2012 - 9:32PM

    every one knows about bacha khan.i read alot about this great pashtoon in london.god bless u


  • kaalchakra
    Feb 2, 2012 - 8:44AM


    You took words from my mouth. As a matter of fact, I was quite shocked to learn, pretty late in life, that Faiz, Josh Malihabadi, and Bacha Khan were, supposedly, “Pakistanis”. Everything about them bespoke “Indian legends.” Nobody in India thinks of them as outsiders.


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