I want to rescue these gentle, brave, patriotic people from the tyranny of the foreigners who have disgraced and dishonoured them.
I want to create for them a world of freedom, where they can live in peace, where they can laugh and be happy.
On November 7th, 2009, I went to see the first ever premiere of “The Frontier Gandhi – Badshah Khan, A Torch For Peace” by writer and filmmaker Teri Mcluhan, which is primarily based on the life and death of the greatest Pukhtun leader that ever lived, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, also known as Bacha Khan.
As I went in to see this film, naturally I had high expectations; however, I realized my expectations weren’t high enough, for this film, literally, blew me away. Not only was it accurately documented and beautifully made, but it touched me very emotionally. Many tears were shed as I watched Bacha Khan’s difficult life unfold from his youth, up until his death at 98 years of age.
Throughout the film, we learn how Bacha Khan spent most of his life awakening his fellow Pukhtuns from the reprehensible depths of ignorance and obscurity; he was often concerned about their education, mannerism, self-respect, well-being, and self-reliance. And, although he lived a long life, one day out of the three days of his life was spent in jail. This was mainly because his activities towards the betterment of Pukhtuns worried the British rulers, who speculated beyond them threats to their presence in the sub-Continent prior to partition. Thus the British, who were obsessed by such fears and felt threatened by Bacha Khan, dragged him into their politics to find an excuse for his persecution and elimination. However, Bacha Khan defied all their intentions with his selfless devotion and nonviolence.
It’s heartbreaking to know that he struggled his whole life to create unity among Pukhtuns, by preaching about peace, love, and the importance of education for both girls and boys; for he strongly believed that these were the things that would strengthen and develop Pukhtuns. And yet, despite all his struggles, this kind and gentle man, this lover of peace, this saint who believed that conflicts should be resolved through peaceful methods rather through violence, never saw any of his dreams/visions come true.
However, before I continue going on about how wonderful this film is, I would like my reader to know that this documentary was written, directed, and produced by a very devoted, intelligent, and courageous woman named Teri McLuhan. She took twenty-one years of her life to complete this film; a woman who is not even ethnically Pukhtun! This realization still amazes me; the fact that a Caucasian woman showed enough interest and passion to devote twenty-one years of her life to create a documentary about a Pukhun man of whom she had no prior knowledge of. To me, this woman is an inspiration; a hero!
Fortunately, I was able to listen to her speak about how she came about doing this film after the film ended, during the question and answer session.
“The first time I learned about Ghaffar Khan was in September of 1987, when an acquaintance gave me a book by the late Eknath Easwaran, who knew Khan personally, called Nonviolent Soldier of Islam,” McLuhan recalled.
And since then began McLuhan’s long commitment to her project for she wanted to learn more about Bacha Khan’s uncommon greatness. She made numerous trips to Afghanistan and other places where Bacha Khan’s story unfolded, even as bombs fell in Taliban-held Afghanistan after 9/11 and through the dangerous times that followed. She shot the film in numerous locations in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Pukhunkhwa, giving this story of filmmaking a unique geopolitical dimension that not many can match. She recalled the trips she made over the winding Khyber Pass and digging into archives of Afghan film officials sheltered from the Taliban. She pretty much did everything in her power to attain as much information as she could possibly muster, and further managed to create a vast network of connections in order make her account of Central Asia’s least known great man.
It was very inspiring and enlightening listening to her speak about her journey whilst making this documentary; the people she met and interviewed; and the many challenges, hostilities, and hardships she faced along the way.
“If I had known it would take me twenty-one years to make this film, I don’t think I would have gone forward with the project,” McLuhan had said, with a laugh.
No doubt twenty-one years is a very long time, but it was her keen interest and passion in the project that kept her going. And when you’re passionate about a subject matter, it really doesn’t matter how long it takes to complete it; the important thing is that you complete it with the intention that you learned something valuable from the experience, and are now willing to share that knowledge with the world.
Nevertheless, the sad thing is that almost everyone in the world knows about Mahatma Gandhi, yet not too many people know about Bacha Khan. Both he and Gandhi were very close, and both shared the exact same vision and goals. Bacha Khan, who stood well over six feet tall in comparison to Gandhi’s much smaller stature, became an arm-in-arm companion to Gandhi. Notwithstanding his peaceful and liberal views on secularism and women’s rights, Bacha Khan became a Pukhtun folk hero.
For two decades Ghaffar Khan and his army of Red Shirts, a nonviolent, democratic, and secular liberation movement called the Khudai Khidmatgars (Servants of God’s Creation) fought alongside Mahatma Gandhi and the Congress Party for a united, democratic, and secular India. And if Pakistan’s founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah had not come into the picture and called for partition between the Hindus and Muslims, perhaps, just perhaps, Bacha Khan’s dream of a peaceful Pukhtunkhwa could have been possible.
However, neither Bacha Khan nor Gandhi wanted partition to happen, and when it did, all their visions and dreams died before them, and in its place, they had to witness the largest bloodbath in history! And if partition wasn’t bad enough, in newborn India, Bacha Khan was all but abandoned by his former Congress Party allies, while in newborn Pakistan he was charged with sedition and promoting separatism. It made no difference that he took an oath of allegiance to the new state, or that he repeatedly insisted he sought autonomy for Pukhtuns within Pakistan. He was repeatedly jailed or kept under house arrest until his death.
As a result, not only did Bacha Khan feel an utter sense of betrayal by this iniquitous partition, but so did every single Pukhtun. This betrayal haunts our Pukhtuns till this very day. We were handed over to Pakistan – in all its hostile glory – as if Pukhtuns were nothing but a useless commodity. They had no say at all. They were simply snatched of their freedom and forced to live amongst antagonism. Part of the reason why we are the way we are today is because of this lack of freedom. Thus, we have been invaded and imposed on for far too long. First by Alexander the Great; then the Arabs; then the Moghuls; then finally the British; and now we are being imposed on in our own homes by dreaded militants.
It appears that we Pukhtuns have been struggling for freedom pretty much our whole lives! Bacha Khan was only a first of his kind, who believed in the alternative: achieving success through peace. Yet, I wonder whether that was the right route to take, considering the amount of violence we Pukhtuns have faced throughout our history. Were Bacha Khan and Gandhi too idealistic in their approach, knowing that violence was inevitable? Perhaps they knew, and yet decided to take the risk anyway, in hopes that things might turn out differently?
Before Ghaffar Khan died in 1988, he was asked whether he felt his life was a waste, or wished he could have lived his life differently. The question took him by surprise, and instead of saying the expected, for most of his life was spent in jail, he simply smiled and replied:
“No, it was not a waste at all for I am only the first among the many who will follow in my path and struggle (peacefully) to make Pukhtunistan a reality.”
Yes, indeed, the Great Bacha Khan. These words will forever ring in the ears of our beloved Pukhtuns, both old and young. And indeed, someday, your beautiful, powerful words will become a reality.
May our dearly beloved leader rest in peace.
* Copyrighted December, 2009