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The Killid Group

The Power of Non-Violent Resistance

Written by Abubaker Jabarkhail and Inayaturahman Mayar
Saturday, 13 November 2010 15:04

The Power of Non-Violent Resistance

At a time when Afghanistan is in the midst of war, recalling the heroes of peace can be quite difficult. But it is also essential to remember such remarkable individuals in the midst of conflict, since they point the way to an alternative to violent means, having harnessed the power of peaceful resistance to achieve their political ends. A seminar on non-violence and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan did just that last week, bringing together participants from Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Tajikistan.

After thirty years of war, brutal violence continues to haunt Afghanistan. The response to the current insurgency has been met largely with a military approach as more and more troops pour into this country to try and contain the armed opposition. More recently there is talk of the need for reconciliation with the insurgency and for recognizing that a military approach alone will not work. The focus on Ghaffar Khan in the seminar held on November 7 in Kabul, points to a third way, the path of peaceful resistance. The seminar organised by the Ministry of Information and Culture saw participants from Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Tajikistan which included high ranking officials, academics and political analysts.

Born in 1890 in Pakistan, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan was a Pashtun political and spiritual leader known for his non-violent opposition to British rule in India. A lifelong pacifist, a devout Muslim and a close friend of Mahatma Gandhi he was also known as 'Badshah Khan', 'Bacha Khan', 'Fakhr-e-Afghan' (pride of Afghans) and 'Sarhaddi Gandhi' (Frontier Gandhi).

Having witnessed the failure of violent opposition to the British colonial rule, Khan decided social activism and reform would be more beneficial for Pashtuns. This ultimately led to the formation of the 'Khudai Khitmatgar (Servants of God) movement. In the late 1920s he formed an alliance with the leader of the Indian non-violent resistance Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian National Congress. This alliance was to last till the 1947 partition of India.  Khan was opposed to the partition of Pakistan and supported the unification of the Pashtun areas, something that was to lead him into repeated conflict with the new government of Pakistan. He died in Peshawar under house arrest in 1988 and was buried in Jalalabad according to his wishes, a symbolic statement of his political beliefs.

Speaking at the seminar, President Hamid Karzai drew attention to the legacy of Khan saying "Afghanistan and Pakistan are grappling with the same problems he has fought against and risked imprisonment for. If his views had been respected, Pakistan and Afghanistan wouldn't be faced with the problems they're faced with now".

Addressing the seminar, Indian journalist and author Anand Sahay summed up the legacy. "What is the need to recall him, especially today, and especially in Afghanistan? The answer is that, above all, he was a great fighter against domination and colonial rule, but one who fought without weapons."

"There is a further point", Sahay pointed out. "Those running armies, quite possibly in the innocent belief that this serves their faith, pay doctrinal allegiance to Deoband. So did Badshah Khan. He went to that famous Islamic seminary in North India in 1914 for his education. It is interesting that he came away with a different idea from those who justify violence in the name of freedom or religion."

A senator from Pakistan, Afrasiab Khattak, requested that the non-violent views of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan be incorporated in school curriculum. "The world needs peace now and if Bacha Khan's views are applied, the world can achieve peace."

Khair Muhammad Salarzai, a Kabul university student who participated in the seminar, stressed the violence suffered by Afghans saying "violence was born in a society where people have been fighting for non-violence."

Non-violence was used not just by religious and peace building organisations but also considered the strongest tool used against autocracy. "A violent campaign, even if it is for justice, creates fear among people who haven't decided to be part of the campaign. On the other hand, if a movement based on peaceful resistance can win sympathy if it is quelled by power", said Salarzai.

An advisor in the ministry of finance, Mr. Najibullah Manalai, agreed that Khan is the hero of non-violence saying he was an Afghan who wanted harmony for humanity in light of Islamic teachings. "He can't be confined to nation or tribe because his message is international." Stressing on the Afghan roots of the values of peace and democracy Manalai said: "We thought Islamic teaching and Pashtun values were Indian, and we linked our Afghan value of democracy to the West and worked to destroy these values. We adopted violence and extremism".

A professor of Pashto literature and linguistics at Kabul University, Yahya Hamai, said such seminars are constructive and can encourage Pashtuns on both sides of the border to work for peace and denounce the insurgents. "There are currently peace talks taking place between the government and Taliban. Even though such seminars can play no role in their unity, it can at least encourage the ordinary people in Pakistan and Afghanistan towards unity and not to be influenced by violent groups", Hamai concluded.

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