While reading the autobiography of Bacha Khan Baba, one could argue that little has changed concerning the plight of Pashtun people, particularly the people of the FATA, since the time of British Colonial rule. In fact it seems as though one set of colonisers has been merely exchanged for another.
Bacha Khan discusses that in 1901, the British introduced the Frontier Crime Regulations – a set of brutal, savage, black laws, which he states the British used in such an atrocious manner, it created enormous disharmony, suffering and mutual enmity among Pashtuns. He states the majority of government officials allocated to the region at that time were from the Punjab, furthermore, the British created their own jirgas made up of their own people, in which Pashtuns could be sentenced to twelve or fourteen years in jail without the right to appeal. We are told that in the days of British rule, people were continuously stopped by security forces and asked to ‘pay security money.’ If people refused to pay, they would be sent to jail for up to three years. Thousands of people were thrown in prison under section 40 of the FCR. The British had spies everywhere among the people. These internal spies openly intimidated and frightened the people in every possible way, furthermore, Bacha Khan states that the Mullahs and many elders were ‘puppets in the hands of the British.’ (26)
In relation to the creation of the ‘Buffer Zone,’ and further division of the FATA into separate agencies, the motivation behind this tactic was not only to divide and rule, but was seen as a safer option whereby Pashtuns remained a collection of small tribes divided into small territories rather than mobilise as a united brotherhood. Bacha Khan states the people of the FATA were kept illiterate and ignorant, oppressed and tyrannized, their lives at the mercy of one person – the Political Agent.
With regard to education, Bacha Khan tells us the British opened many schools in the Punjab, yet no steps were taken to educate Pashtun children. He furthermore states, in schools across India, children received education in their mother tongue, whereas in Pashtun regions, no such arrangements were made. In the few schools that did exist, children were taught in a language which was not their own. The British left orthodox Mullahs in the region for a particular purpose. These Mullahs, who were held in reverence by the people, made propaganda against schools, pronouncing that anyone studying in schools were ‘unbelievers.’ The purpose of this propaganda, he states, was to keep Pashtuns illiterate and uneducated. (12)
Bacha Khan raises the issue regarding the extent to which outsiders have presented a false picture of Pashtun people to the world. He argues that firstly, being cut off from the world, with no option for people to get near the FATA to ‘see what we are like’ (123), has fuelled a false propaganda machine, in which Pashtuns are represented as ‘uncivilized savages.’ Bacha Khan states this is a completely false image which offers governments an excuse to crush Pashtuns, blow them up with bombs, kill them with guns and destroy their homes. He states imperialist powers have used Pashtun territory as training ground for their armies, turning ‘a peaceful ground into a battlefield’ (124).
Bacha Khan, a man who spent over thirty years in prison, at least fifteen years during the time of British colonial rule and a further fifteen after the creation of Pakistan, tells of the unspeakable cruelty, humility and suffering he endured, yet he states that the treatment he received at the hands of the Pakistan government, was far more cruel, more injust than anything he had suffered under the British colonisers. (207)
Judging by some of the factors outlined in the autobiography of Bacha Khan, one could argue that since the creation of Pakistan, little improvement or effort has been made to alleviate the suffering and plight of Pashtun people, particularly concerning the people of the FATA, who have been forced to stagnate in the mire, under the rule of antiquated, harsh laws set up in 1901 by British colonisers. The way in which Bacha Khan describes how the people ‘live in constant danger, suffer humiliation, tyranny and oppression,’ resonates to this day, as it seems the FATA has remained confined within the framework of a ‘colonised’ state.
One cannot overestimate the importance of Bacha Khan’s legacy, his unmitigated committment and devotion to Pashtun people and nation remains unsurpassed. His vision and persistence in the field of education, for instance, despite opposition under an oppressive regime, was arguably one of his greatest achievements. In his ardent belief that education was the primary means to lift Pashtun people out of darkness and oppression he personally set about opening schools in the province, (modern day Pakhtunkhwa). This legacy, no doubt has led to a conscious awareness of the importance of education among Pashtuns. The 18th Amendment to the constitution of Pakistan has certainly altered the lives of Pashtun people living in Pakhtunkhwa for the better, not only in providing autonomy and political restructuring, but also in the area of education. However, what the future holds for the people of the FATA remains to be seen.
Reference: “My Life and Struggle: Autobiography of Badshah Khan,” Hind Pocket Books (P) Ltd., Delhi, Translated by Helen H. Bouman, Narrated to K.B. Narang, 1969.
Writer: Angelina Merisi
The writer hails from Ireland. She is part of the Pashtuns Times News Network. She is a PhD scholar at the University College Cork, Ireland. Her current research is focused on Islam and Pashtun male migrants in Ireland, masculinity and honour concepts. She can be reached at
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