By Nabi Zeerakyar
Last month, I had the opportunity to visit Bacha Khan Markaz in Peshawar and meet a number of key Awami National Party (ANP) leaders. ANP is the political legacy of the larger-than-life Bacha Khan Baba—a Pashtun nationalist leader in British India, who rose to prominence for his nonviolence movement—Khudai Khidmatgar. I visited the markaz as a part of an 11-member media delegation exchange program. We also visited Islamabad, Lahore, besides Peshawar. During the visit, we touched upon a number of subjects including health, women empowerment, terrorism, education, bilateral trade, and how mainstream media in the two neighboring countries can address the mistrust and confusions in the region. The visit was organized by “Equal Access—an INGO, working on bridging the gaps, peace through media, and trying to improve AfPak ties through track-two diplomacy. When we reached Bacha Khan Markaz, I saw a dim sadness there. It was visible from the walls and halls of the markaz as it was speaking a hundred stories of how ANP lost its hundreds of political activists, and key leaders to terrorism. Let alone the walls and halls, even the air looked upset. I realized there was a faint sorrow in the voices of the people too, we meet there. Yet they looked confident. I saw resoluteness in their resolve. And why there must not be resoluteness in their eyes, as they stand for the rights of Pashtuns—a nation for whom Bacha Khan Baba had spent 33 years behind the bars, but no imperial power and no dictator budged him from his political resolve even an inch. The voice of ANP is being suppressed violently yet the violence has increased manifold since 9/11. What is more tragic is the Pashtun youths’ ignorance, for whose political rights and brighter future, the party is fighting. The youth is incognizant of the sacrifices being rendered by ANP because they watch such news channels which paint the nationalists either as traitors or responsible for the chaos on Pashtuns’ land. They have forgotten there is someone who has been bleeding for raising the voice for Pashtuns’ rights. The dilemma with Pashtun youth is that they are educated, but the food (text books) tended for their brains is designed in such a way that either pollute their brains with hatred—a thing, the larger-than-life Bacha Khan has always disapproved, or it just make them job-oriented, and politic-fugal. Since this hatred is politically driven by anti-Pashtun elements, which is why, it is affecting our political future collectively. Pashtuns in Khyber Pakhtunhwa and Afghans in Afghanistan are being affected alike, from this hatred—because it breeds violence. This hatred solely is responsible for violence in our region. We have the remedy to fight this mindset of hatred. But the elements of hatred and violence are out to kill those leaders who want to apply this remedy, which is nonviolence. Now one wonders why is violence and chaos so pervasive in our region? The answer to question is that billions of dollars have been spent in shaping this mindset of hatred and intolerance. Bacha Khan’s message of non-violence, love, and harmony has been gagged ruthlessly. The members of his caravan are being targeted. State and non state actors are targeting them. Resultantly, sanity is on the decline and insanity on the rise. Political awareness is being suppressed. And the children of Afghans and Pashtuns are kept away from education under a deliberate policy. Some of the members of Bacha Khan’s caravan have fallen, but in their fall they have risen and defeated the death—for instance Bashir Bilour—who used to say that “Da Gor Shpa Pa Kor Kegee Na (The night destined to be in the grave can’t be the one spent at home)”. We meet his son, Haroon Bilour in the markaz. The time we spent with him and others, I felt the faith, Bacha Khan, has infused in this party, is still alive but in different forms. I recalled how Bacha Khan Baba bore the cruelties by the then British colonial power in India, which rose Bacha Khan’s political stature to such a higher level that if he is kept alongside Gandhi, Martin Luther, and Nelson Mandela, he is nowhere behind them, but a parallel. The world knows them as iconic names when it comes to peace and service to humanity, but in Pakistan, Bacha Khan’s stature is being dwarfed under a deliberate and vile scheme. My heart aches to share here that his nation is still under a protracted war, which is showing no signs of ending, where there the political, economic, educational, and physical infrastructures have seriously been damaged. Sardar Hussain Babuk, the former provincial minister of education in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the parliamentary leader of Awami National Party spoke to the delegates. He said that they have been fighting for the political rights of Pashtuns in the region, which for they have been paying a heavy price, yet their determination is infallible. However, he gave vent to some grievances against Kabul. The government of Afghanistan should take the ANPs’ grievances into account. “Here, we are being killed and there too we are being killed. Here our economy has been undermined and there our economy too has been ruined. During the past seven years, in parts of Pakhtunkhwa and FATA, more or less some 5,500 educational institutions were damaged. Even in Sindh and Balochistan, education centers are not being targeted on such a massive scale despite the bitter fact that there is separatist movement in Balochistan. There is no denying the fact that Afghanistan is the worst ever victim of terrorism and if here is silence, the world will raise fingers at us,” he said. Bushra Gohar, an ANP leader, said that there was a widespread propaganda against the Pashtuns that they are Taliban. “I say if Pashtuns are the Taliban then why they are killing their own Pashtuns. For many this is indigestible and starkest fact that terrorists were mustered up from across the world. How this is possible that I am the victim, I am the perpetrator, and I am being blamed? Since terrorism is a common threat, it will be successfully tackled when there is stronger bond in lar-ao-bar (between the people of Pakthunkwa and Afghanistan),” she said. After an informative session of questions and answers, a savory lunch was served, nevertheless I had in mind one question that why the Awami National Party has so far failed in placing Bacha Khan Baba in the eyes of the world and getting him nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Bacha Khan deserves to be nominated for Nobel Peace Prize posthumously as he disarmed the Pashtuns with the power of his political charisma whereas the international community has failed in disarming them despite spending billions of dollars. While they were escorting us I asked hurriedly this question from Dr. Saeed-ur-Rehman, an ANP leader, and he responded me that their chapters in USA, UK and Europe are working on it. When we boarded our bus, and looked back at the people who had escorted us to the bus, I looked confident that when Bacha Khan can be jailed in Peshawar at the age of ninty-three, for his continued efforts to press for the same basic rights for his people as he used in British India, but cannot be bent, therefore, then how it is possible that his followers can be?
I am of this firmest belief that his caravan will bravely weather out season of unbearable troubles—because they are Pashtuns, with resoluteness kneaded in their genes. Our visit to the markaz was concluded with the revolutionary poem of Rahmat Shah Sayal. He recited his latest poem, which is yet to be published in his upcoming collection. He recited it in his typical style. The theme of his poem is: “Os Me Pa Stargo Pasay Garzee Da Ranra Khoboona—The Dreams of Light Are Chasing My Eyes, Now.” When we were leaving Bacha Khan Markaz the couplet of this progressive poet, Rahmat Shah Sayal flared up from nowhere in my brain: “Taar Taar Prot Dee Cha Ratol Na Kral Sayela, Da Pakhtun Watan Grewan Da Liwani De”
“They are Torn Apart, and No One Could Bind Them Together, O Sayal!
The Land of Pashtuns is But the Shirtfront of An Insane.” I left the markaz with a dim hope that someone will emerge to stitch this torn apart shirtfront of the insane. Even if it doesn’t look possible in our life, but this is destined it will happen one day.
(Nabi Zeerakyar is a nom de plume, because, the author didn’t consent the article should carry his real name.)