The triumph of peace in Pakistan's NWFP

When Amir Haider Khan Hoti became Chief Minister of Pakistan's North West Frontier Province (NWFP) this month, he proved the point which Khan Abul Ghaffar Khan made before partition that a Muslim could be secular, without violating the tenets of Islam.

Hoti is the fourth generation scion of the Indian National Congress. He pledged 'peace', a message in line with Abdul Ghaffar Khan's faith in non-violence. It was a tribute to the relentless efforts by Asfandyar Wali Khan. He heads the ANP which has formed the state government.

Despite America's pressure, Hoti has brokered peace with the Taliban, clerics and terrorists, operating on the northern border of the state. He has released maulana Sufe Mohammad, Supreme leader of the banned Tehreek Nifaz Shariat-e-Muhammad (TNSM), after six years in prison. In return, the maulana has signed a peace agreement with the government. The agreement says that attacks on brother "Muslims are anti Islamic". The Maulana has also given an undertaking that his people would not indulge in violence against the army, the police and all other security forces. This agreement has begun to work and it is a great victory for a conciliatory approach which Khan Abdul Ghaffar had preached and practised.

At the oath-taking ceremony Hoti recalled a colonial demarcation, the arbitrary Durand Line drawn by the British in 1893. This line has kept the Pushtu-speaking population divided. It is living in two countries, Afghanistan and Pakistan. In fact, Ghaffar's followers, the Khudai Khidmatgars-they were also called Red Shirts-said soon after independence that Pakhtoonistan could be amalgamated into a confederation with Afghanistan. Referendum was held and the NWFP joined Pakistan. However, a British historian, Rittenburg, collected the eye-witnesses accounts which proved that almost every single person cast at least 50 votes each.

I recall the scene at the Congress Working Committee when the party accepted a formula for partition. Ghaffar Khan said with tears in his eyes: "Ham to tabhaa ho gaye (we are ruined). Before long we shall become aliens in Hindustan. The end of our long fight will be to pass under the domination of Pakistan."

Ghaffar Khan at this stage sought a third option-an independent State of Pakhtoonistan-in the plebiscite which, under the Mountbatten scheme, gave only two choices: whether to remain in India or join Pakistan. Gandhi did try to intervene on behalf of Ghaffar Khan but nothing came out of it.

Ghaffar Khan took the oath of allegiance to Pakistan. But its government's repression of the Khudai Khidmatgars did not change. Many years later, in the name of Islam, General Ayub, then Pakistan's martial Law Administrator, tried to make up with Afghanistan, which sympathised with the Pathans who wanted a unit within Pakistan to be called "Pakhtoonistan."

Ghaffar Khan and his son, Wali Khan, who inspired the movement, told me that what they wanted was autonomy, not independence. Pakistan had found in Ghaffar Khan's past connections with the Indian National Congress a ready-made brush to tarnish the movement and alleged that New Delhi was at the back of it. It is true that India sympathised with the movement more articulately whenever its relations with Pakistan would worsen. But the help was minimal. Had New Delhi really helped the Pathans, Abdul Ghaffar Khan would not have repeatedly said in public: "You (Indians) left us to the jackals; you promised to help us but you have betrayed us."

In New Delhi in 1969 he said that "India was never serious about Pakhtoonistan (an autonomous State for the Pakhtoons in Pakistan) but used the slogan only as a stick to beat Pakistan with." Afghanistan, while expressing sympathy, did not do much to help Pakhtoonistan's cause. Kabul ran the risk of losing its own Pakhtoon areas if the movement succeeded in Pakistan. Still Pakistan's overtures were bound to fail because Afghanistan would do nothing to embarrass its neighbour in the north-besides giving economic aid Russia gave all the arms and provided training to Afghan armed forces.

Ayub's efforts to win friends to influence India also had the effect of raising doubts about his reliability in the US, Pakistan's closest ally. Nothing came out of that exercise. My thoughts often go back to the time when I visited Charsada, Abdul Ghaffar Khan's village, at the invitation of his son, Wali Khan. It was a modest sitting room, with austere furnishing to which Wali Khan led me. I also met begum sahiba.I recall Wali Khan telling me that the manner in which Pakistan was interfering in the affairs of Afghanistan would one day boomerang and bring the fight right within Pakistan. What he said some 35 years ago has come true.

A historian, Mukulika Banerjee, recalls how on August 21, 1947, a week after gaining independence, "Governor Ambrose Dundas dismissed Dr. Khan Sahib's ministry, on orders from Governor General Mohammad Ali Jinnah. Ghaffar (Bacha) Khan took the formal oath of allegiance to Pakistan and vowed he would not seek to hurt the new state. He sought to lobby Jinnah to grant a significant level of autonomy to the Pastoons, but was persistently rebuffed."

Bannerjee also says that on June 1948, the Khudai Khidmatgar movement was banned by the Muslim League provincial government and its leaders imprisoned, branded as "friends of Gandhi and Nehru and traitors to Pakistan."

The Khudai Khidmatgars watched the development with disbelief when the Muslim League, regarded by most of them as the tools of the British, thrived. Thanks to the independence movement in which the Khudai Khidmatgars had given their blood and undergone repressions, but when the time of reward came they were pushed back to the prison. Their cryptic remark was "the stick that used to beat us now has a flag on it."

Hoti knows that the opponents of his policy of peace and pluralism will paint his ancestor as traitors. But he should remember that Dr Khan Sahib, despite a campaign of vilification against him, became Pakistan's Communications Minister in 1954 and the Chief Minister of West Pakistan, then a single unit, in 1955. Peace, conciliation and non-violence were the message of Khan Abdul Ghaffar. Hoti has followed the same policy because the NWFP made all the sacrifices for independence.

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