This year, the Awami National Party (ANP) has arranged weeklong programmes throughout Pakistan on 32nd death anniversary of Khan Abdul Ghafar Khan, popularly known as Bacha Khan Baba, to remember and pay tribute to his ‘non-violence movement’, anti-colonial struggle, and works of reformation in Pashtun dominated areas during the British Raj.

The movement actually represented a non-violent struggle of civil disobedience in the leadership of Bacha Khan against the British Empire. It was one of the most prominent anti-colonial movements by the Pashtuns of erstwhile NWFP and Balochistan of the British India. The campaigners, Khudai Khidmatgars (Servants of God) whose number rose to millions in a short span of time ultimately demanded independence of the subcontinent from the British rule and their domination and culture of violence.

The British responded to the mobilisation by putting the erstwhile NWFP under the Martial Law from August 1930 until the following January. The British countered with severe repression, which, at great sacrifice, often resulted in increased membership for the movement. However, even today, the towering personality of Bacha Khan is liked by almost all Pashtuns living in Pakistan and other parts of the world beyond their political and ideological affiliations. He is also considered as one of the favorite figures of the 20th century not only in the neighboring countries but also in the Western world due to his lifelong adherence to the philosophy of humanism, reformation, love, patience, and unarmed struggle.

It was the struggle of this simple yet elegant person whose door-to-door efforts restructured, united and prepared the fragmented Pashtun society through education and awareness by creating a force of Khudai Khidmatgars (Red-shirt revolution) to launch a non-violent movement against the mighty British Empire – “The sun never set on the British Empire”. Therefore, for most of the time, Bacha Khan remained the target of the imperial forces in the United India. As a result, he was imprisoned for about 35 years in different jails of the subcontinent – he was the only political leader who remained steadfast even in locks-up for such a long time – the time is enough for a child to grow-up, get married and having kids.

Bacha Khan has also introduced the first newspaper, ‘’Pashtoon’’ in Pashto language for creating a generation of progressive thinkers among the Khudai Khidmatgars, Pashtun intellectuals and literary figures in Pashto Literature – the mass awareness movement has proved instrumental in formation of the first leftist political party of Pakistan – the National Awami Party (NAP) – later disintegrated into ANP, PkMAP, BNP and NP.

However, the ideological orientation and political adherence of these progressive political parties which emerged after a long struggle of Khudai KhidmatgarTahreek (1929-1955) are still sharing the same ground on a number of issues. They have been fighting for civilian supremacy, people’s rule, democracy, human rights, constitutional rights, rights over their resources, and provincial autonomy while opposing dictatorships and anarchy.

Bacha Khan has also helped in introducing a new social model by creating a society where the working-class – people belonging to different professions should get equal social status and respect as in his eyes, the respectable was the one who used to contribute something worthwhile to the wellbeing of the society. Therefore, it was compulsory on each and every Khudai Khidmatgar to work daily at least for three hours.

He also built hundreds of schools and trained thousands of teachers for uplifting the literacy ratio among the people of the area – introducing new narratives of worldview based on justice, equality, tolerance, and non-violence. Today, Pakistan needs more than ever before, an evolving narrative based on the philosophy of Bacha Khan for coping with twin challenges of extremism and terrorism.

Around six Ph.D dissertations, out of which two from Oxford University, and 200 hundred books of international standards were written on life and struggle of Bacha Khan and his Khudai Khidmatgar Tahreek. Moreover, recently, an essay on his ‘non-violence movement’ has also been included in 10th class in the United States for de-radicalisation of violent tendencies of teenage students. However, he along with other true reformers and anti-colonial heroes are altogether missing in our syllabus, education and in the political history of the country.

It is said that in the entire subcontinent, the Khudai Khidmatgars suffered the most – victimised, tortured and imprisoned at the hands of the colonisers. It was actually the non-violence indigenous movement which had made it possible to liberate the subcontinent from the clutches of the mighty empire. Khudai Khidmatgars are the real heroes and true freedom fighters of independence – their struggle deserve to become part of the syllabus so that the coming generations learn about the sacrifices of their forefathers.


The Author is Journalist based in Islamabad.