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Comment II
Last Updated: 03/19/2012
Is Peace through Nonviolence Possible in AfPak?
Jahan Zeb

Jahan Zeb comments on the enduring contribution of historical figure Bacha Khan to transforming conflict through nonviolence in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

It was an historical day when Bacha Khan (1890 - 1988) was born in the strategic tall mountains of Pashtun land, located on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan (AfPak). Bacha Khan is also known as Abdul Ghaffar Kha, Fakhr-e-Afghan (pride of Afghans) and non-violent Muslim soldier of Islam. When Bacha Khan died, flags were lowered in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, because the people of these countries have profound respect for his role in striving to achieve freedom peacefully. In many aspects, Khan stands tall in the line of the finest leaders of the world, such as Mahatma Gandhi, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. Bacha Khan’s exclusivity was eminent due to the fact that he was born and raised in the mountainous region of Pashtun land, which is primarily agrarian, and encountered both family and tribal feuds. Bacha Khan was saddened to see such difficulties and hardships.

Reform campaign
The 6’5”charismatic Khan stood up to overcome such hardship through community mobilization, education, and social and economic reforms. He raised an army of over 100,000 strong nonviolent men, women, and youth — the Khudai Khidmatgars, or Servants of God — drawn from the multi-ethnic traditions of the subcontinent (currently India, Pakistan) and Afghanistan. These servants of God included such diverse cultures, ethnicities, nationalities and religions as Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Parsees, Sikhs, and Buddhists. They came together for the cause of peace, social justice, religious tolerance, freedom and human dignity for all.

Bacha Khan was beaten, jailed, and exiled by the British rulers of United India because they thought that his reforms may be converted into a freedom movement if he were allowed to reform his people. When his reforms were blocked, his Khudai Khidmatgars movement joined hands with the Indian National Congress to raise a voice for their victimization. At that point, they started their struggle for the freedom of India from the British rulers of the time.

Positive mentoring
Khan mentored his nonviolent army to internalize the nonviolent struggle and prepared them to protest peacefully against the British rule to set India free. The British Army beat the Khudai Khidmatgars and dragged them into the streets, removed their clothes and humiliated them in front of their mothers and sisters. Even in the face of such humiliation, they did not respond with violence. Bacha Khan writes in his autobiography, Zama Zhwand au Jaddo Jehad (My Life and Struggle), that “violence promotes dislike and hatred. Anyone can engage in violence but only strong people can practice nonviolence because nonviolence needs courage.” [1] This was the message that Khan gave to his people and which still continues in form of the 2.3 million members of the Awami National Party of Pakistan.

Universal global context
According to Senator Afrasiab Khattak, peace envoy for the government of Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan, the nonviolence philosophy of Bacha Khan is based on the teachings of Buddhism and Islamic ‘sageness’ - the basic principles of Pashtuns and regional society that are fully aligned with universal humanism and bonding. [2]

The West resisted the philosophy of nonviolence and the struggle for freedom of Bacha Khan due to the Cold War rivalry and politics between the USSR and the West. Thankfully, this mindset is slowly changing because violence can no longer be confined to specific countries and regions. It is in this context that the current US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, quoted Bacha Khan in an Iftar dinner (Islamic month of Ramadan breaking of the fast) she hosted: ”Now, this time of self-reflection and clarity reminds us that the principles that are the hallmark of Ramadan – charity, sacrifice, and compassion – are also values we cherish as Americans. They guide us towards good stewardship of our families, our communities, our country, and our world. It is, as… summed up in the words of Abdul Ghaffar Khan, that we need to be inspired by our leaders to fight poverty, injustice and hate with ‘the weapon of the Prophet—patience and righteousness.’ Well, that, to me, sums up much of what we celebrate tonight as we break fast.” [3]

Conclusion and possible actions

Today, over two million courageous followers of Bacha Khan are fighting the worst forms of militant violence, as well as social and political instability in Pakistan with the philosophical nonviolence weapon that Bacha Khan gave to them. Pashtuns are not only fighting this fight against militancy for their own survival but also for broader regional peace and global security.

  1. Civil society, academia and the international community need to study and analyze the life and struggle of Bacha Khan and create a positive discourse through seminars and conferences to defeat extremism and bring peace to Afghanistan, Pakistan and the region.
  2. Hollywood and Bollywood need to make films on the life and struggle of Khan and his legacy to advance a greater, broader, and inspired understanding of what is currently perceived as Muslim, Pashtun, and Afghan. His heroic life offers a profound message of hope in these increasingly troubled times. [4]
  3. The people and governments of Afghanistan, Pakistan and India need to include the life of Bacha Khan in their national curricula to highlight such a positive role model to give hope for peace to children and youth.
  4. The governments of Afghanistan, Pakistan and India need to find common bonds through the services of Bacha Khan and work towards free trade and a shared market to bring economic prosperity for their respective future generations.
  5. The international community needs to move from aid to trade with the people and governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan to achieve improved agricultural productivity, greater exploitation of natural resources in a way that benefits the Pakistani and Afghan people, increasing exports, and strengthening education and financial sectors. [5]


[1] Khan, A.G., (1983). Zama Zhwand au Jaddo Jehad (My Life and Struggle). Kabul.

[2] Anpuae, 2011. Afrasiyab Khattak ! Baacha Khan and Nonviolence (Kabul Seminar). [video online] Available at: <>

[3] U.S. Department of State, 2009. Remarks at the Annual State Department Iftaar Dinner. [online] Available at: < > [

[4] McLuhan, T.C., (2008). The Frontier Gandhi: Badshah Khan, A Torch for Peace. [A Film]. Available at: <>

[5]Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, 2011. Opening Remarks Before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Available at: <> [

Jahan Zeb is co-founder of the Art, Peace and Education Exchange in Canada and Research Associate with Bacha Khan Research Centre in Pakistan. His opinion and comments on peace building in the AfPak region appear on Voice of America Radio and the Hamilton Spectator. He can be reached at