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THE FRONTIER GANDHI (FAKHRE-E-AFGHAN): KHAN ABDUL GHAFFAR KHAN

H. B. Shaghasi

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“My religion is truth, love and service to God and humanity. Every religion that has come into the world has brought the message of love and brotherhood. Those who are indifferent to the welfare of their fellowmen, whose hearts are empty of love, they do not know the meaning of religion” [1]

Pashtun leader Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan was born on the 6th of February 1890 in Utmanzai village of Hashnaghar, Frontier Tribal Areas of Punjab Province, of British India. [2] Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan is also known as “Badshah, or Bacha Khan” and honorably addressed as “Fakhre-e-Afghan.” (Badshah, Bacha Khan meaning ‘King Khan, King of Chief(s)’ and Fakhre-e- Afghan meaning ‘Pride of Afghan(s)’).

Khan Ghaffar Khan attended Edward’s mission school. He was already an alumnus of Aligarh Muslim University when Reverend Wigram offered him the opportunity to follow his brother, Dr. Khan Sahib, to study in London. Although Khan eventually received the permission of his father but his mother wasn’t willing to lose another son to London. So Khan began working on his father’s lands, while attempting to discern what more he might do with his life.

Khan Ghaffar Khan was married twice, first to Mehar Qanda (1912 – 1918), and second to Nambata (1920 – 1926), both of Khan’s wives were cousins and were of the Khanankhel families of the Muhammadzai branch of the Barakzai tribe of, Kandahar, Afghanistan. Mehar Qanda, who died in the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, [3] gave birth to Khan Abdul Ghani Khan one of the greatest Pashtun philosopher, poet, artist, writer and politician, Abdul Wali Khan, and Sardaro. Nambata gave birth to Mehar Taj and Abdul Ali Khan.

Khan Ghaffar Khan’s father was Khan Abdul Bahram Khan Muhammadzai who belonged to the Barakzai tribe of Afghanistan. Khan had one elder brother, Khan Abdul Jabaar Khan, known as ‘Dr. Khan Sahib,’ and two elder sisters, Bibi Shamim and Bibi Qurisha. Khan’s grandfather was Saifullah Khan, a Chief Khan, and his great grandfather, Abdullah Khan was related to the Muhammadzai branch of the Barakzai tribe in Kandahar, Afghanistan. [4] His father was equally a landowner and a chief of his clan, and his brother was also a pioneer of Indian Independence Movement.

As Khan Ghaffar Khan was born and raised in a landowner, prosperous, patriotic, freedom loving and peaceful Pashtun family. It has served as the basic fundamentals of his personality for the later years of his entire life. Young Khan Ghaffar Khan was further inspired by his mentor Reverend Wigram at school, to see the importance of education in service to the community.

In his final year of high school, Khan Ghaffar Khan was offered a highly prestigious commission in The Guides, an elite group of Pashtun soldiers of the British Raj. He refused the commission after realizing that even The Guides officers were still second-class citizens in their own homeland. In 1910, at the age of 20, Bacha Khan opened a school in a mosque at his hometown of Utmanzai. In 1911, he joined independence movement of the Pashtun freedom fighter Haji Sahib of Turangzai. [5]

However in 1915, the British authorities banned his mosque school. Having witnessed the repeated setback of revolts against the British Raj, Bacha Khan decided that social activism and reform would be more beneficial for the Pashtuns. This led to the formation of Anjuman-e Islah-e Afaghina, (“Afghan Reform Society”) in 1921, and the youth movement Paxtun Jirga, (“Pashtun Assembly”) in 1927. [6]

In 1928, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan founded the Pashto language monthly political journal called ‘Paxtun’ (“Pashtun”). Soon after attending an Indian National Congress (Congress Party) gathering in 1929, Ghaffar Khan founded the “Red Shirt movement,” called “Khudai Khidmatgaar,” meaning (“Servants of God”) among the Pashtun people. [7]

Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan was a Pashtun independence activist, spiritual and political leader against British Colonial Raj in India, known for his nonviolent opposition and lifelong pacifism. His movement promoted nonviolent nationalist agitation in support of Indian independence and sought to awaken the political consciousness of his own people, the Pashtuns.

Khan met Gandhi, when he first entered politics in 1919 during agitation over the Rowlatt Acts, which allowed the internment of political dissidents without trial, in British India. [8] By the late 1930s Ghaffar Khan had become a member of Gandhi’s inner circle of advisers, and the ‘Khudaie Khidmatgaar’ movement actively aided the Congress Party cause up to the partition of India in 1947.

Gandhi and Khan at a public meeting of the Khudai Khidmatgar

A close friend, trusted ally and adviser of Mahatma Gandhi, Ghaffar Khan was nicknamed ‘Sarhadi Gandh’ or the “Frontier Gandhi,” “Semant Gandhi,” or “Muslim Gandhi” in British India. Many believe that Fakhre-e-Afghan Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan’s nonviolent opposition and lifelong pacifism against British Colonial Raj for the independence of his people, the Pashtuns, denotes his name’s place right next to Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King Jr. He was also accepted as the Ambassador of Unity in India. [9]

Fakhre-e-Afghan Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan was presented with the Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience of the Year, in 1962. Khan was equally awarded the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding in 1967. Fakhre-e-Afghan was also awarded the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian award, in 1987, making him the first non-Indian to receive this honor. [10]

“I am a believer in non-violence and I say that no peace or tranquility will descend upon the people of the world until non-violence is loved and it stirs courage in people” [11]

Frontier Gandhi Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan strongly opposed the Indian partition, when the Indian National Congress declared its acceptance of the partition plan without consulting the Khudaie Khidmatgaar leaders, he felt very sad and told the Congress “you have thrown us to the wolves.” [12]

Semant Gandhi Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan continued to fight for the rights of the Pashtun people and demanded an autonomous Pashtunistan. Ghaffar Khan paid dearly for his principles, spending many years in jail or in exile, and afterward residing in his father land of Afghanistan. Ghaffar Khan returned to his native Hashnaghar, in Peshawar of Pashtunkhwa (to what Ghaffar Khan had referred as “Pashtunistan”) in 1972. [13]

Fakhre-e-Afghan Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan died on the 20th January 1988 under house arrest in Peshawar, Pashtunkhwa at age 98. [14] Following his will, he was buried at his house in Jalalabad, in his father land of Afghanistan. Tens of thousands of mourners attended his funeral, marching through the Khyber Pass from Peshawar to Jalalabad, although it was marred by two bomb explosions killing 15 people. [15]

Despite the heavy fighting at the time, both sides of the Soviet war in Afghanistan, Dr. Najeebullah’s government and the Mujahedeen fighters, declared a ceasefire to allow his burial. The then President of Afghanistan, Dr. Najeebullah and the Indian Vice President Shankar Dayal Sharma had also attended Frontier/Semant Gandhi, Fakhre-e-Afghan Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan’s funeral. [16] His memoirs My Life and Struggle were made public in 1969. [17]

Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel after the Cabinet Mission

“Pathans! Your house has fallen into ruin. Arise and rebuild it and remember to what race you belong” [18]

 

REFERENCES: 

[1]: Quotes Memo. (2022, January 20). Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan Quotes. Top Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan Quotes – Quotesmemo.com

[2]: Manishika, M. (2021). Biography of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan. Prabhat Prakashan.

[3]: Khan, G. A. (1969) My life and struggle; autobiography of Badshah Khan. Translated by Narang, B. K. & Bouman, H. H. (1969). Hind Pocket Books.

[4]: Ibid.

[5]: Reuther, W. (2019, May 18). Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan. FAMpeople. Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan – Interesting stories about famous people, biographies, humorous stories, photos and videos. (fampeople.com)

[6]: Ibid.

[7] Goldberg, M. (2022, January 16). Abdul Ghaffar Khan Pashtun leader. Britannica. Abdul Ghaffar Khan | Pashtun leader | Britannica

[8]: Ibid.

[9]: Srivastava, A. (2020, July 20). Why Abdul Ghaffar Khan is special for India?. New Delhi Times. Why Abdul Ghaffar Khan is special for India? – New Delhi Times – India Only International Newspaper

[10]: The Famous People. (2022, January 20). Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan Biography. Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan Biography – Childhood, Life Achievements & Timeline (thefamouspeople.com)

[11]: Quotes Memo. (2022, January 20). Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan Quotes. Top Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan Quotes – Quotesmemo.com

[12]: The Famous People. (2022, January 20). Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan Biography. Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan Biography – Childhood, Life Achievements & Timeline (thefamouspeople.com)

[13]: Ibid.

[14]: Reuther, W. (2019, May 18). Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan. FAMpeople. Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan – Interesting stories about famous people, biographies, humorous stories, photos and videos. (fampeople.com)

[15]: The New York Times. (1988, January 21). Abdul Ghaffar Khan, 98, a Follower of Gandhi. Abdul Ghaffar Khan, 98, a Follower of Gandhi – The New York Times (nytimes.com)

[16]: Ibid.

[17]: Khan, G. A. (1969) My life and struggle; autobiography of Badshah Khan. Translated by Narang, B. K. & Bouman, H. H. (1969). Hind Pocket Books.

[18]: Zoroboro. (2021, July 19). Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan Quotes. Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (Bacha Khan). Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (Frontier/Simant Gandhi) Independence Quotes. Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan Quotes. Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (Bacha Khan). Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (Frontier/Simant Gandhi) Independence Quotes (zoroboro.com)

H. B. SHAGHASI

20 JANUARY 2023, TORONTO, CANADA

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