Twenty eighth anniversary of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (Bacha Khan) once again reminds us the role he played in reshaping the cultural values of Pukhtoon society. Cultural values play an important role in shaping the collective behavior of a society. Some of the cultural traits provide the tools and mechanism for the intra-society and cross-culture conflicts resolution. Pukhtoonwali is a social code that regulates day-to-day affair of Pashtun society and defines rules for managing conflicts in the internal and external interactions of the society. In the last few centuries the Pashtun Belt (Afghanistan and Pashtu Areas of Pakistan) has been influenced by great powers in the region and from other parts of the world, including the Persian Empire, The Mughals, the British Empire and USSR. The code of Pakhtunwali has played a central role in shaping the interaction of Pashtuns with these powers and the external powers too have promoted diverse interpretations of Pakhtunwali to suit their interests. In the early 20th Century the Khudai Khidmatgar (Servant of God) Movement of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (Bacha Khan) emerged as a strong reformist movement that struggled to reform the Pakhtun society and formulate a peaceful response to the British imperialism. The struggle was centered on principle of non-violent resistance and played an important role in the freedom struggle against the British. In the Cold War era, the movement opposed the violence caused by the conflict between the rival powers. In the ‘War on Terror’ after the 9/11 event, once again the code of Pukhtoonwali came under the spot light and its role in the dynamics of terror and war on terror was explored. In that context, the nonviolent struggle of Khudai Khidmatgars under the leadership of Bacha Khan was assessed.
The Khudai Khitmatgar movement lead by Bacha Khan proves to be the very first effort in the Pukhtoon history to take the society out of the tribal culture and to introduce it to the norms of the modern society. The first step of Khudai Khitmatgars in redefining the code of Pukhtoonwali was to introduce the philosophy of non violence to Pukhtoon society. Bacha Khan as the leader of Khudai Khidmatgars tirelessly preached non-violence and urged his people to adopt it in liter and spirit as it provided the way for them to break away from centuries old tradition of tribal violence and vendetta. His belief in nonviolence as a force for social transformation is evident from his saying that “it isn’t enough to talk about peace. “One must believe in it” and that “it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it”. As compared to the Indians Convincing the Pukhtoon society to use non-violence, as a tool of politics and get freedom of British colonial rule was not and easy job. It was completely against the nature of the Pukhtoon society to bear any kind of atrocities with out showing any reaction against that. Revenge “ Badal” is also amongst one of the streaks of Pukhtoonwali which Bacha Khan tried to vanquish through the philosophy of non-violence.
Hospitality “Melmastia” is another peculiar aspect of Pukhtoonwali as the Pukhtoons are famous for their lavish hospitality. Bacha khan always advocated against spending too much money on serving of guests. He practically set the example by taking food with himself during the Khudai Khitmatgar campaign in various cities, towns and villages. Whenever there was a gathering of khudai khidmatgars it was always a strict instruction for the organizer’s to avoid spending lavish expenses on food for the participants attending the event. He educated his followers to always bring food with themselves while attending any kind of gathering. He considered it an extra burden on his comrades and called it a hurdle in the smooth running of a political movement. Being a man of the masses he knew about the odds of the society that’s why he decided to the culture of lavish hospitality as it sometimes put the people with limited resources in a very awkward situation.
The Pukhtoon society was lacking of education from its very start. The reason behind the confusion about the origin of Pukhtoons is also because of the fact that there had hardly any historian remained amongst the Pukhtoons. Considering it the basic tool of development education was something on which Bacha Khan focused the most. In his autobiography “Bacha Khan and Khudai Khidmatgari” Bacha Khan writes that after travelling through the Pukhtoon belt in Indo-Pak and Afghanistan I came to a conclusion that bringing change in a society is a very smooth process and “Change needs knowledge”. After visiting about five hundred villages of the Pukhtoon belt Bacha Khan realized that education is the only means and way to address all the social problems of the Pukhtoon society. He started his campaign by establishing an Azad Madrasa’s (independent schools) on 10th April 1921 in his village Utmanzai Charsada. With the passage of time he extended the chain of theses madrasa’s through out the province and he established about 134 Azad schools with 9567 students and 536 teachers teaching in it. Some of the schools were established in such a remote areas that even in the current era its very hard to access to that places.
Pukhtoonwali restricts the women to household work. They were deprived from education and were hardly getting any share in inheritance. Bacha Khan educated the people about women rights. He promoted the culture of women education and practically set the example by sending her daughter to school. He encouraged women to speak for their rights and provided them a plat-form in the shape of Pukhtoon magazine to raise their voice and bring social awareness amongst the women through their writings. Bacha Khan’s motivation in bringing Pukhtoon women to the main stream can be judged through One of his famous quote that “If you wish to know how civilized a culture is, Look at how they treats it’s Women“.
The skilled class, which was named, as Kasab-gar (skill knowing people) in Pukhtoon society has always remained as the most oppressed and demonized class in Pukhtoon society. They were not considered as proper Pukhtoons in Pukhtoonwli. In a tribal society the land owning feudal class has always opposed the rise of skilled class to keep their supremacy intact. The British colonial regime also carried on with the same formula the suppressed the large number of skilled class and awarded some land lords in order to have an easy grip over society. Bacha Khan challenged this in human attitude. He brought the to the status of a common Pukhtoon and it was during the 1st government of Khudai Khidmatgars When they were given the right to cast vote. Before that under Indian act 1935 only 11% of the total population owning a fixed quantum of land or other distinctions were allowed to vote. When an attempt was made to demonize the local textile industry in Charsada by calling its production cloth “Khamta” as a dress of lower skilled class, Bacha Khan opposed the move and started wearing clothes made of the same cloth “Khamta” to defuse the perception created.
Economy plays a basic role in defining the developmental status of a society. Except their involvement in the agricultural industry the Pukhtoons were hardly engaged in any other businesses including the local retail business, rather they called it a job of “Banya” mostly the Hindus. Bacha Khan pleaded Puktoons to get involved in businesses, as it is the backbone for the development of a society. He once again lead from the front and practically started from himself by going to the Gurr market of Charsada. He took a scale and Gurr with himself and started working as a vendor in the Gurr market. Being a Khan of the area his action highly motivated the people and they started getting involve in the businesses.
The code of Pukhtoonwali plays a central role in the social lives of Pukhtoons, their approach to governance and their worldview. As any other cultural code and associated value system, the Pukhtoonwali has also underdone through changes according to the changing socioeconomic realities and political changes. Among these changes, the most significant are the diverse interpretations of the code of Pukhhoonwali as a mean to lead armed freedom struggles and the philosophy of nonviolence. These studies find that the Pashtuns scholars often refer the various interpretations of the code of Pukhtoonwali as the stereotypes developed and propagated by the colonial masters to farther their strategic interests in the regions during the period of Forward Policy and cold War. Keeping in view the history of Pukhtoons we can easily conclude that Bacha Khan was the only person in Pukhtoon history who redefined Pukhtoonwali with a
concept to evolve towards a prosperous and developed Pukhtoon society.
Writer: Mohsin Dawar