Bacha Khan, Faqir of Ipi and the Afghanistan angle

By Yasser Latif Hamdani

(Author’s note: This article is my personal opinion based on my own research. It does not, necessarily, reflect the point of view of PTH or its editors as a group.)

Since the cowardly attack on Bacha Khan University in Charsadda, which we all must condemn as nothing less than attack on Pakistan and its future, a number of self styled progressives have been singing paeans of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, or as he is more popularly known Bacha Khan, as a secular and non-violent activist who has been forsaken by the wretched state. That the state has downplayed Bacha Khan and his legacy is not disputed, though there is an international airport named after him and the university named after him is also a government university. Countless roads and buildings exist in his name. All this despite the fact that he was a notable opponent of the creation of the country. Being opposed to the creation of Pakistan is not a crime and should never be the criteria for judging an individual citizen and his contributions to Pakistan. Bacha Khan made remarkable contributions to the politics of Pakistan and denying them would be a pointless and petty thing to do. It must also be remembered that he stood against General Ayub Khan’s dictatorship and supported Fatima Jinnah in the 1965 elections. He was repeatedly jailed by both military and civilian leaders of Pakistan and was Amnesty International’s Prisoner of Conscience in 1964. The purpose of this article is not to denigrate Bacha Khan’s numerous contributions but to balance the picture out.

What is often forgotten is that Bacha Khan was a politician and politicians do unsavory things. Bacha Khan did quite a few himself. In his later days, his party and family supported the Nizam-e-Mustafa movement against Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. His son Wali Khan is known to have welcomed Zia’s coup against Bhutto.  Bacha Khan certainly had no objections when his eldest son Ghani Khan received the prestigious Sitara-e-Imtiaz from General Zia ul Haq on 23 March 1980.

Here however I wish to discuss Bacha Khan”s role in the first Jihadist insurgency against Pakistan. Bacha Khan sought Faqir of Ipi’s help in carving out “Pathanistan” from Pakistan. The most interesting and lesser known fact from the period immediately before the partition of India is the association of Khan brothers with the insurgency mounted by Faqir of Ipi.  The valiant Pushtuns had been fighting against the British for more than half a century and Faqir of Ipi was the latest of these great Mahdi-like figures (reference to Sudanese Mahdi 19th century) to raise the banner of Pushtun nationalism with its dangerous blend of Islamic Puritanism. The Frontier Congress had long backed Faqir of Ipi. Col. Shah Pasand Khan, former ADC to Amir Amanullah Khan of Afghanistan and a member of the Muslim League national guards, wrote to Jinnah on 8th July stating:

“firstly a few days ago I heard of Abdul Ghani, son of Abdul Ghaffar Khan, who came to see the Faqir of Ipi in connection with the resolution passed at Bannu by the Congress in support of Pathanistan. Mr. Abdul Ghani crossed the border of British territory to meet Faqir of Ipi. Government authorities supported this move… I myself investigated the matter and found out that Faqir of Ipi was given 7 lakhs of rupees by Mr. Ghani to propagate for the Pathanistan… (Document 68 Jinnah Papers Volume III Pages 164-165).

In July Faqir of Ipi made his pronouncement. This announcement was reported by S M Rashid, a young Muslim Leaguer, in his letter dated 17th July who quotes Faqir as saying:

“Nobody is to participate in either Congress or Muslim League. Nobody is to violate the peace of the Hindus because have consented to pay the poll tax to me. Muslim Leaguers in this area (according to Shariat of Waziristan) are to be devoured by ..wolves. A reward of Rs. 4000 (Kabulis) for killing Habibullah Khan (a Leaguer) and special protection for the family of his killer”. Rashid went onto talk of about the Mullahs from Deoband on a special mission : “All these Mullahs are the true disciples of Maulana Hussain Ahmed Madani… the second selves of Abul Kalam Azad and Hussain Ahmed Madani. The majority amongst them are the originators of the crusade of Waziristan… Khalifa-tul-Muslimeen Mir Hazar… Maulvi Khanmir Khan, Maulvi Qameruzzaman, Maulvi Sardar, Maulvi Mohd Zaman, Maulvi Mohd Rahim, Maulvi Mohd Din, Maulvi Abdul Razzaq Maulvi Raz Mohammad, Maulvi Mohd Din Shah, Maulvi Khawaja Mir and Maulvi Fazl Din.” (Enclosure No.1 to No. 181, Jinnah Papers Volume III, Pages 465-467).

These Ulema were reinforcements from the Jamiat-Ulema Hind and Darul-uloom- Deoband to create insidious propaganda against Pakistan and the Muslim League. Maulvi Abu Sulaiman, an 80 year old veteran spiritual leader from Waziristan wrote to Zafar Ahmad Ansari:

“While I was in Delhi, I received a call from the Frontier that Congress agents were touring Waziristan, doing propaganda against the Muslim League, had succeeded in converting the Faqir of Ipi to their point of view … I learnt that a deputation of the Frontier Jamiyaat-e-Ulama had already met the Faqir who thereupon became a staunch enemy of Pakistan taking the Muslim League to be the agents of the British, he now considers war against Pakistan as the greatest service of Islam. The government of Afghanistan is also a party to this conspiracy. Its Minister of Interior, Sardar Muhammad Farooq, called a special meeting of tribal representatives and persuaded them to support Pathanistan in combination with Afghanistan, Khan Brothers and the Faqir of Ipi. He even directed them to kill any opponent of Pathanistan. It was after the meeting of the Jamiyyat-e-Ulama deputation with Ipi that the latter ordered his general, Abdul Latif Khan, to attack Miran Shah.” ( No. 183, Jinnah Papers, Volume III, Page 471).

Reinforcing what he had written earlier, Sulaiman wrote again a week later informing Ansari of the activities of Faqir of Ipi and the Congress Party

“On the night of 29th of Shabaan, the Faqir Sahib of Ipi without informing anyone left for Mount Shawal so as to pass the month of Ramadan in some secret place. It is his habit to remain hidden from his people for several months in a year. This creates an impression of piety… After Id, he intends to call a meeting of tribal representatives at Makin, a central town in the territory of the Mahsud tribe. His object at the meeting would be to convert Prince Fazluddin and his party to his own point of view- either by persuasion or by force… Prince Fazluddin is an old sympathizer of our party- Jamiat-e-Mujahidin Hind. He has great influence over the Mehsuds. But a large part of Mehsud tribes still belongs to Faqir of Ipi… The Agents of Afghanistan and the Congress are very busy here propagating the idea of Pathanistan… to fight Pathanistan we must take some precaution. We must not appoint to the Governorship of the Frontier any person belonging to this province. Some such person should be appointed Governor who can successfully fight the propaganda that the League is un-Islamic, agents of the English and centre of Qadianis, and that to fight it is the greatest service of Islam… to fight the propaganda of the Congress and its agents, a declaration of Islamic government is not so essential as the proclamation for the suppression of prostitution, gambling, and use of wine and other corrupt activities”. ( Note 229, Jinnah Papers Volume III Page 670-671).

Pakistan’s security establishment deserves all the brickbats for the policies it pursued especially starting in the 1970s to undermine the government in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s support of Jihadists to achieve foreign policy objectives is indefensible. It is a policy that has come to bite us with a vengeance. Yet what must be remembered is that Pakistan’s western border was destabilized from day 1 by Afghanistan. Bacha Khan, Faqir of Ipi, Maulana Azad’s emissaries, Frontier Congress all had colluded to raise the Pathanistan issue and had egged on Faqir of Ipi to declare a Jihad against the newly formed state. In the late 1960s and early 1970s Bacha Khan continued to keep the Pathanistan issue alive in Kabul and Jalalabad.  It was this Pathanistan issue that had led Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to open training camps for Gulbadin Hekmatyar and Ahmad Shah Masood who he thought he could use against Afghanistan effectively. General Zia ul Haq and the global Jihad turned that into a tsunami. Now we are living with the consequences of this disaster in which everyone is to blame or no one is.

Pakistani state, its supporters and well wishers must recognize the historic mistakes we have made by supporting Jihadists. By the same token those who wish to sanitize Bacha Khan’s legacy and present him as a great hero of non-violence and progressives ideals must also contend with Bacha Khan’s own perfidy in destabilizing Pakistan’s western frontier. His demand for Pathanistan or amalgamation with Afghanistan was morally unjustifiable. Not once did he raise this demand as a member of the Indian National Congress. When during Bacha Khan’s sojourn in Afghanistan during the Khilafat Movement and the Tehreek-e-Hijrat, the Afghan King suggested that NWFP (now KP) must be part of Afghanistan, he dismissed the suggestion arguing that it was a part of India. Suddenly in 1947 the Durand Line ceased to be relevant for him. It was a case of political opportunism and it did not work. Bacha Khan was foremost a politician and to make him into something else is a travesty of history.

  • Raj Kamal

    ‘Bacha Khan was foremost a politician and to make him into something else is a travesty of history.’
    Same should be applied to Gandhi, Jinnah and Nehru.

  • Majumdar

    The valiant Pushtuns had been fighting against the British for more than half a century

    Yasser Pai, your valiant Pushtoon friends have forever been fighting against someone or the others- Yonanis, Iranis, Mughals, Punjoos (before and after they became Pakis), Rusis, Amrikkkis. I am afraid being, you guys being their nearest neighbours, much of their valour will be directed at you……


  • BJK

    This is one of Yasser’s most incoherent pieces that I have seen in a while. That Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan did not want to be a part of Pakistan is well known. If it WAS formed over his protests, why should he change his mind and suddenly become a Pakistan-bhakt? Yasser needs to spend more time getting his thoughts organized before he lets the piece go.

  • Yasser Latif Hamdani

    So that was reason enough for him to support a jihadi insurgency?

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