Ajmal Khattak - Revolutionary Pashtun Poet

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Ajmal Khattak - Revolutionary Pashtun Poet, Louis Dupree
Published in Khyber.ORG on Monday, May 23 2011 (http://www.khyber.org)

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Ajmal Khattak - Revolutionary Pashtun Poet

Louis Dupree

South Asia Series Vol. XX No. 9, (Pakistan, Afghanistan)

Publishing Date: Monday, May 23 2011

Note: This article was first published in May of 1976.

In another Fieldstaff report, [1] I discuss how a gentle man, Pere Serge de Beaurecueil, found peace and helped others find peace in a violent society - humanity in an inhuman urban milieu. Likewise, Ajmal Khattak, a noted Pakistani Pushtun poet and politician, peacefully tried to help his people find their place in the sun. Now a refugee in Afghanistan, he seeks only peace but anticipates further violence. His path from the village of his birth to refuge in Kabul - a path as tortuous as Khyber Pass and the sands of Sindh - took 47 years.

As Akora Khattak Pushtun, [2] Ajmal Khattak, born in 1925, grew up in Akora Khattak. [3] He is a direct descendant of the great Pushtun warrior-poet, Khushal Khan Khattak (1613-1690 AD) [4] who epitomizes Pushtun culture and wrote immodestly but correctly:

This Afghan wears his sword upon histhigh,
Champion of the age is Khushal Khan Khattak. [5]

Ajmal Khattak and his family are guardians of the shrine of Khushal at Akora Khattak. And even those among Ajmal's kinsmen who are his political enemies [6] contribute to the upkeep. Ajmal Khattak spent his early years in learning to farm and herd, but his family encouraged him through middle school (eighth grade). Too poor to continue his education, he took a job as a local primary school teacher at age 16 and furthered his schooling independently, passing the tenth grade exams by correspondence. Despite the fact that he spent most of the years after 1953 in jai1, [7] he earned his Fine Arts (1954) and Bachelor o Arts (1960) degrees through Peshawar University, from which he ultimately obtained an MA in Persian Language and Literature in 1962.

The Moods of Ajmal Khattak

From boyhood, Ajmal Khattak was exposed to independence political movements, for the hujra (guesthouse) at Akora Khattak had been a focal point for dissidence since the days when Khushal Khan Khattak raised his banner against the Moghul Emperor, Aurangzeb, in the seventeenth century. The Pushtun have never been completely united, partly because so few live scattered over such a large area, and splits in political loyalty at the tribal level occurred among the Khattak even as Khushal fought the Moghuls.

Successive attempts to unite the Pushtun by conquest by the Afghan Durrani Empire (1747-1793), the Sikh Empire of the Punjab (1801-1849), and the gradual absorption of most of the Indian subcontinent in the nineteenth century by the British accentuated these divisions. Tribes and elements within tribes became known as either pro-British or anti-British. The khans of the pro-British units usually were awarded tracts of land in the Settled Districts of the North-West Frontier Province (N-WFP), Baluchistan, or elsewhere.

The Khattak, like most other major Pushtun tribes in the Settled Districts, had its pro and anti-British elements. The pro-groups usually associated with the Teri Khattak hujra, while the anti-British Khattak (and other Pushtuns) continued to utilize the Akora Khattak hujra. A frequent visitor in the pre-World War II period was Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, the remarkably gentle Pashtun nationalist known as the Frontier Gandhi or Bacha (or Badshah) Khan ("respected father" or "leader").[8] Many pro-British refused to receive Badshah Khan as a guest.

Young Ajmal Khattak met Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan in the Akora Khattak hujra several times before World War II, and the Frontier Gandhi became the first model for his subsequent political life and activities.

Ajmal Khattak's own political struggles began in 1943 when, as a young high school student, he participated in the "Quit India" movement of the Indian Congress Party and the Khudayi Khidmatgaran (Servants of God, more commonly called the "Red Shirts" by the British, because of the distinctive shirts its members wore at rallies). During World War II, the Muslim League and the Communist Party in India supported the Allied war efforts, but must Indian political parties combined in a "Quit India" movement, designed to force the end of British rule in India before giving assistance. Gandhi, Nehru, Sardar Patel, and others remembered the broken or half-kept promises (in their opinions) of the British after World War II.

The group with which Ajmal Khattak worked did not participate in terrorist activities, [9] but they succeeded in closing most schools in Peshawar and vicinity for long periods of time. The agitators would march into the schools shouting anti-British slogans, and, augmented by the students and teachers, march on Government House where, daily for three or four months, they confronted police and troops armed with lathis (lead or steel-tipped wooden poles). Many "mild lathi charges" (an official term used by the British and their successors to power in India and Pakistan) resulted in injuries to the demonstrators and to the police as the students and teachers threw rocks and bricks. Never arrested by the British, the budding young poet and politician had become a veteran agitator by the end of the war.

As independence approached, the intransigent atiitudes of India Congress Party and Muslim League leaders - and the unholy haste with which the Labour Party in power in Britain dumped the Empire - made partition into Hindu dominated India (the Congress claimed a secular state, however) and Muslim-dominated Pakistan inevitable.

Until mid-1947, the Congress Party, led by Dr. Khan Sahib and his younger brother, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, dominated N-WFP politics. But the call of Islam over a united India had begun to echo through the Settled Districts, and the British decided to force a referendum in July 1947. The choice would be: join India or join Pakistan. The Congress Party (for which read Red Shirts) in the N-WFP wanted autonomy in a united India, however, and the idea - or even possibility - of independence had not yet emerged as a viable alternative.[10]

Therefore, the Red Shirts boycotted the 1947 referendum, during which Ajmal Khatlak and his colleagues were stationed as near to the polling stations as the law allowed. They were ordered to take the names of those who voted, but not to interfere. The boycott proved to be at least partly successful. During the 1946 provincial elections (which went in favor of Congress), 68 % of the eligibles voted; only 55.5 % voted in the 1947 referendum, of which 55 % opted for Pakistan, 0.5 % for India.

The Khan brothers tried to live with the new Islamic Republic of Pakistan, always, however, demanding some mutually acceptable form of regional autonomy. The career of Ajmal Khattak reflects the ups and downs of these various phases. The failure of the First Constituent Assembly (1947-1954) to write a meaningful constitution led to a search for scapegoats. None were so readily available as the former Red Shirts. Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, for example, although elected to the Constituent Assembly, was arrested and jailed in 1948. Each time he was released from jail, Badshah Khan would begin another of his walks over the Settled Districts of the N-WFP, preaching regional autonomy - not independence. Each time he would be rearrested, until he finally moved to Afghanistan in 1963 to find a little peace of mind. By 1963 he had spent more than 15 years in Pakistani prisons, in addition to the 20 years he spent in jails and under house arrest under British rule. As I write, Badshah Khan, almost 90 years old, has once again been incarcerated by the Pakistani government for beliefs he has held and practiced all his adult life.

In 1953, Ajmal Khattak, according to his own account, was jailed for nine months by the appointed Muslim League Provincial Government of Khan Abdul Qayyum Khan (a former Red Shirt), an implacable foe of provincial autonomy, and now a central government minister in the cabinet of Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Police guards periodically tortured Ajmal for nine months in attempts to force him to confess that he and others were plotting to overthrow the government. Mir Jafar Shah, former provincial minister, now deceased, was also implicated, as was Pir-i-Manki Sharif, Muslim Leaguer and one-time spiritual guide to former President Mohammad Ayub Khan.

Ajmal's guards often tied him upside down in his cell and released snakes to Crawl over his body. Once, they tied him up inside a burlap bag beside the river Indus and threatened to throw him into the river unless he confessed. He never confessed, and, finally brought to trial before the High Court of the N-WFP, was acquitted and set free .. temporarily. (It is interesting to note the mixture of medieval with modern systems of justice, a paradox inherited from the British Raj.)

In prison he continued to write sensitive poetry, as the example below demonstrates, but always with a political twist.

O dream! Come take me to my garden.
Take me out of this cage of thorns
To that canopy of flowers
Under which my beautiful, bouncing daughter
Plays with her companions.
One sees her father and runs to him and cries:
"O my father!"
My daughter remembers me and my cage of thorns.
She runs to her mother and cries and cries.
O dream! Come take me from here to that garden!
I demand the dream take me to sweet memories.
Because I want to open my old wounds.
To awaken my sleeping valor -
the angry wounds will not let me forget.
My valor will awaken all valor, and
I want to seep these sweet memories in Pashto, and
transform them to happiness in the gardens of all mankind,
I want the flame of my burning heart to give
light to the toiling and the lost.
I want my light to create a new dawn for
nations and peoples.
O God!
Help these flowers to grow from my words.
0 dream!
Become reality.. [11]

During his imprisonment, the poet wrote his final poem for publication (others were published later, but without his specific consent). Ajmal Khattak symbolically broke his reed pen - now, all politics and no poetry until the political battle ends. Thus, one of the most fertile and imaginative Pushtun poets of the twentieth century entered a self-imposed exile from his art with thefollowing:

O Comrades
O comrades!
You call me poet and swear
I must write of limpid eyes, red lips, long hair.
You ask I praise statures you call fair.
You want to be drunk with words to spare,
And cradle yourselves in beautiful curls.
You ask me to conjure up young girls.
These things you demand I cast as pearls.

But My peoples' miseries surround me.
Cruel men twist the hair of girls around me.
Their sorrowful lips are pale, not red.
Their eyes weep, and drown the dead.

Circled in chains, my hands and feet cannot move.
Guns point at my chest, I cannot my valor prove.
Drawn swords want to drain my Pushtun blood.
So my honor and manhood melt into mud.

O comrades!
My present state makes me accept the worst.
Be patient, a new poetic theme will burst.
I will show you such beauty as you have never seen.
Peaceful places where you have never been.
Life will be sweeter than you could ever want,
And no tyrant can then your manhood taunt.

Therefore, I cannot write as you demand.
I thrust my pen from struggling hand.
The gun and sword must now be drawn -
With Khushal, bravery, and if I can,
The thoughts and acts of Ghaffar Khan.

So comrades, deny those who say I'm cruel,
A shedder of blood and not your poet.
My nature n'er played at being dual.
I am the same man and you know it
The times have changed.
But my blood, my aims
Remain always the same.

But -
To break the sword which sheds my blood,
Rips the beauty, cuts the flame,
I needs must smash the sword with sword,
To try with words just flirts with shame.

I will return to you again,
But not until this cruel world
Finds peace, progress, happiness.
Then I'll bring back your beautiful girls.

But now the time has come to fight.
So, comrade, tell me, dare I write??

Radio Pakistan, for which Ajmal had worked as a script writer before being arrested, offered him his old job back, but:

O comrades, you demand art from me,
And that I sing poetry,
But my nation points and I cannot hide,
My honor bids me buck the tide.
So, comrades, let your honor decide.
Demand an answer from your manhood,
And from your father's sacred blood.

So Ajmal Khattak became totally politicized and slowly - and reluctantly - moved away from the concepts of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, who still thought it possible to bring political changes gradually and peacefully. (Even the redoubtable Badshah Khan had once written: Non-violence is a great human virtue, but to show it to an agressor is cowardice. However, the poet in Ajmal Khattak still wanted to end all war.

I have the power to conquer war.
And O war! I shall begin
To drive you from the face of earth.
I now declare full war on war,
A challenge I have drawn from birth.

The god of war has not withstood
The valor of my Pushtun blood.


Like spirits banded together with Ajmal Khattak to form an underground literary society dedicated to writing nationalist tracts. The society evolved into the Pushtun League, a secret organization which vowed to punish those government officials responsible for the Charsadda massacre of August 12, 1948 (appears further down). One of Ajmal's fellow conspirators was arrested and informed on the entire group. Most, including Ajmal, were later released (1955) for lack of evidence which would hold up in court.

The creation of the One Unit of West Pakistan in 1955 brought about another identification crisis. The One Unit plan - by which all four provinces of the West became a single province - was a noble attempt to foster economic and political parity between East and West Pakistan. The central government also hoped to silence those who demanded more autonomy for the three minority provinces of the West (N-WFP, Baluchistan, Sind). The Punjab. however, continued to be the seat of power.

Governor-General Iskander Mirza released all the former Red Shirt dissidents at the end of 1955, in effect, slapped their wrists gently, and said: Go home and be good boys, for the One Unit will solve all our problems. But the idea of regional autonomy and cultural identity cannot be squelched with administrative sleight of hand. Not only did the Frontier Gandhi set out on more of his famous walks through the villages, preaching autonomy through non-violent approaches, but opposition to the Muslim League dominated government led lo the creation ofthe West Pakistan National Party at a 1956 Lahore moot. Many leaders from both East and West Pakistan attended a 1957 meeting. For once the opposition showed a common front against the govemment, and the National Awami Party was born. Among those attending the 1957 rally were Khan Abdul Wali Khan (son of Badshah Khan), the elderly Maulana Bhashani of East Pakistan, and Ajmal Khattak.

After Lahore, NAP tried to gather nationwide strength to contest the 1959 elections, which were not to be. On October 27, 1958, General Mohammad Ayub Khan seized power in a bloodless coup. He replaced Major General Iskandar Mirza as president (Mirza had seized power three weeks previously and appointed Ayub Khan as Martial Law Administrator). Pakistan's decade of development - culminating in disaster - followed.[13]

Almost immediately after his accession to the presidency, Ayub Khan ordered the arrest of 1700 NAP leaders and members, primarily because they continued to demonstrate against the One Unit. Seventeen died in prison, many (including Ajmal Khattak) received jail sentences up to 25 years, some were lashed (permissible under the Martial Law Regulations).

Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, released in 1963, tired after years of imprisonment and fruitless attempts to gain provincial autonomy peacefully, moved to Kabul. The mantle of NAP leadership fell on his son, Khan Abdul Wali Khan.

Most of the rest of the jailed NAP members (including Ajmal Khattak) were released in time to take part in the 1964 general elections.[14] By this time, NAP had split into two regionally oriented groups: one in East Pakistan under Bhashani (the so-called "pro-Peking" branch); the other in West Pakistan under Wali Khan (the "pro-Moscow" branch). The communist labels were supplied by the government controlled press.

Ajmal Khattak, a member of NAP's Central Committee, moved from the provincial to the national political arena when he became the party's Joint Secretary on July 1, 1968.

In October 1968, country wide demonstrations erupted against the Ayub regime, and the government arrested 13 major political leaders in an attempt (unsuccessfully) to stem the tide.[15] Nine Pakistan People's Party leaders (including Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto) were arrested, three NAP leaders (Khan Abdul Wali Khan, Ajmal Khattak, Arbab Sikander Khan [16]), and the leader of the Sindhu-Desh movement, Sheikh Ayaz.

Three months later, after demonstrations and riots resulted in violence and death, Ayub Khan released the 13 imprisoned leaders so they could attend Round Table Conferences on February 26 and March 10-13, 1969. These talks proved fruitful for the opposition, but failed for two reasons: Bhutto and Bhashani boycotted the sessions, and the military-industrial-bureaucratic establishment felt threatened by Ayub's concessions, and urged General Agha Mohammad Yahya Khan, Army Commander in chief to seize power. He did, on March 25, 1969, in a manner similar to Ayub's seizure on October 27, 1958.[17]

Declaring martial law, Yahya Khan banned NAP and other opposition parties, but later relented, and actually attempted to implement the more important Ayub Khan concessions: national elections based on national franchise (one man, one vote); breakup of the One Unit of West Pakistan.

Ajmal Khattak, as Joint Secretary ofthe NAP, helped his party win majorities in the 1970 elections in both the N-WFP and Baluchistan. Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party won in Punjab and Sindh, and the Awami League of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman swept through East Pakistan like the cyclones which periodically hit the area. In addition, the Awami League of East Pakistan would control the new national legislature. This (and the demands of the Awami League for massive constitutional reforms) proved unacceptable to the West Pakistani power elite.

East Pakistan rapidly metamorphosed into Bangladesh, exposing the bankrupt policies of the West Pakistanis for all the world to see. India helped deliver the coup de grace in The Bangladesh War ofDecember 1971.[18] For a month during this bloody interim period, Ajmal Khattak made a secret trip to Kabul to talk with Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, and to gauge Afghan feelings toward Pushtun autonomy in Pakistan.

Bhutto returned to Pakistan as president (Yahya had resigned) after presenting Pakistan's case on the Bangladesh crisis to the United Nations in New York. Consummate politician Bhutto began to rebuild a mutilated nation. He permitted the elections to stand, so his own PPP controlled the two most populous provinces (Punjab and Sindh), NAP dominated Baluchistan, and a coalition between NAP and the Jamiat-Ulema-Islam (JUI) formed a govemment in N-WFP.

In another conciliatory move, President Bhutto invited several members of the opposition to accompany him on his 1971 trip to China. All those invited (including Ajmal Khattak and Sardar Khair Baksh Marri - leader of NAP in Baluchistan) accepted. But as Bhutto recouped his strength and gathered the army and political elites of the Punjab and Sindh under his wing (along with certain Muslim League elements led by Khan Abdul Qayyum Khan of N-WFP), it became evident to Ajmal Khattak, who had become General Secretary of the NAP in 1972, that Bhutto was veering toward one party (PPP) rule under one man (Bhutto) control.

Even before the passing of the new constitution, events began to provide President Bhutto with the legal weapons he needed to destroy NAP - and most other opposition. After an illegal arms cache was uncovered in the Iraqi Embassy in Islamabad in February 1973, the finger of the government controlled press and propaganda media pointed at Baluch and Pushtun nationalists - a charge never legally made and definitely unproven.

On February 14, President Bhutto dismissed the Baluchistan government, along with the governor of the Arbab Sikander Khan. On February 16, the NAP-JUI coalition government of the N-WFP resigned in protest. Many Baluch tribes rose in protest over the arrest of their tribal leaders (also NAP leaders), and a major insurgency [19] developed over the next three years. Bhutto declared martial law in Balochistan, and sent a sizable portion of the Pakistan army into the area![20] Nevertheless, the National Assembly unanimously approved the new constitution in April 1973. President Bhutto became Prime Minister Bhutto, and through a series of last minute (literally) compromises, some sort of acceptable regional autonomy seemed assured.

One month before the promulgation of the constitution, Ajmal Khattak and a group of his followers (mainly Pushtun Zalmai, Pushtun Youth) took refuge in Afghanistan. Violence had led him to opt for violence. He no longer believed in the possibility of a peaceful solution.

As early as mid-1971, Ajmal began to discuss alternatives to a political solution with selected, hard-line Pushtun and Baluch leaders, mainly the youth, for the old guard still followed the peaceful precepts of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan - and his son, Khan Abdul Wali Khan.

In 1953, Ajmal broke his pen; in 1973, he picked up the gun, no longer resisting the violence he had been suppressing at least since 1952, when he had written:

Comrades, it is not enough to smoke-
We must turn ourselves into flame.
To create new flowers is not joke-
Clean up the garden to build again.

In early 1973, eight opposition parties united to form the United Democratic Front: NAP, Jamat Islami, Jamiat Ulema Islami (Mufti Mahmood branch), Jamiat Ulema Pakistan or JUP (Nurani branch), Democratic Party (Zafrullah Khan), Khaksar Tehreek, Muslim League Convention, Muslim League Council. The UDF proposed 12 non-negotiable points to be included in the constitution.[21] A committee (including Ajmal Khattak), appointed by the UDF, planned a peaceful rally for Pakistan National Day (March 23 in the giant Liaquat Bagh (garden or park) in Rawalpindi. UDF hoped the rally would demonstrate its popular strength to the government, and to do so in the Punjab, center of the strength of President Bhutto's PPP. At the insistence of his colleagues, Ajmal forbade his followers from the N-WFP to bring along weapons ... and a Pushtun without a weapon feels naked. (The usual custom in Pushtun and Baluch areas is to carry rifles and assorted weapons to open tribal meetings, or jirgah.

Scattered throughout the crowd of approximately 100,000 were groups of government forces and goondas (local thugs hired especially to break up the meeting), contends Ajmal Khattak. His Pushtun Zalmay took 17 government agitators under custody and questioned them under the podium. Most admitted the plan to disrupt, and several still carried their govemment identity cards. Ajmal infomed the massive crowd that armed goondas and police were in their midst, scattered about in three man teams: one man with an assault rifle and two with ammunition, hidden under long cloaks. He instructed the crowd to watch out for strangers, especially those with colored (black, green, red) strings tied above watch bands on left wrists.

Alerted, the police, commando, and other units fired rockets and small arms, and, to quote Ajmal Khattak, "The bullets fell like rain." Gunfire destroyed all eight microphones on the speakers' podium, 30 feet above the crowd, and two of Ajmal's body buards were killed.

According to Ajmal Khattak's estimate, 12 in the crowd were killed, but the infuriated demonstrators killed 153 goondas and government plants. Many of the goondas stood up and tried to flee, only to be caught in a crossfire. (Official Pakistani government sources state that seven or nine demonstrators were killed, and that some in the crowd were armed and fired first.)

The Rawalpindi incident convinced Ajmal Khattak of the futility of the peaceful approach, so he fled the country to direct activities against the Bhutto regime. About 200 young men, mainly teachers, students, and professionals, all with warrants issued for their arrest, fled with him.

The final blow to NAP came with the unsolved assassination in Peshawar of Hayat Mohammad Khan Sherpao, Bhutto's right hand man in the N-WFP, on February 8, 1975. On February 10, the Bhutto government outlawed NAP, seized its assets, and arrested its leadership, including Khan Abdul Wall Khan.[22]

Until July 1975, groups of terrorists inside Pakistan blew up telephone lines, rail lines, and culverts and exploded devices at or near police stations, government offices, and the homes of government officials. The raids mainly had nuisance value, but the insurgency in Baluchistan threatened to develop into a full-scale guerrilla action. The abrupt curtailment of the level of violence in July directly related to the abortive, Pakistan-inspired (according to the Afghans) Panjsher insurrection inside Afghanistan.[23] Naturally, Pakistani officialdom denies any complicity in the incidents. To avoid future embarrassment to the Afghans in their efforts to bring Bhutto Sahib to the conference table, Ajmal and his comrades discontinued their attacks.

Ajmal Khattak and his followers are again at a crucial crossroads. On the night of May 5, 1976, Radio Afghanistan broadcast the following announcement:

Recently the news media and propaganda sources of Pakistan have changed and decreased their propaganda and broadcasts against Afghanistan and have begun expressing sympathetic and brotherly sentiments with regard to losses caused by the recent floods and earthquakes in our country.[24] The govemment of Afghanistan welcomes this and considers it a positive step towards restoring friendly relations between the two brotherly and Muslim countries. Because it has been and continues to be Afghanistan's view and desire that these two Muslim countries instead of creating and maintaining a tense and undesirable atmosphere, should try to grasp the realities and endeavour realistically to eliminate what has brought about the stalemate in their mutual relationship and create an atmosphere of mutual friendship and trust. As it is well known the reason obstructing the creation of this kind of atmosphere is the political difference existing between the two countries since many long years.

The government of the Republic of Afghanistan continues to believe that peaceful and friendly means should be sought for the solution of this difference, therefore it believes that if the present form and method of Pakistani propaganda and broadcasts are genuinely based on good will and desire for solving this political difference, the government of Afghanistan welcomes it with great pleasure and hereby officially announces that Mr. Mohammad Daoud, Head of State and Prime Minister has instructed Afghan Charge d' Affaires in Islamabad to convey his official invitation to Mr. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Prime Minister of Pakistan to pay a friendly visit to Afghanistan for talks with a view to solving the political difference between the two countries. (Kabul Times, May 7,1976)

Two days later, Radio Pakistan replied affirmatively, and the following appeared in the Kabul press:

The announcement that Prime Minister Bhutto has accepted President Daoud's invitation to visit Kabul augurs well for the future of Pakistan - Afghanistan relations. Although the announcement does not state when the visit is scheduled to take place, the mere fact that Mr. Bhutto has agreed to meet President Daoud indicates that conditions are perceived to be conducive to the holding of a dialogue between the two leaders. Pakistan has always adopted a fraternal approach towards Afghanistan in view of the common historical, cultural, and religious bonds which link the two peoples together. Geo-political compulsions also dictate that Kabul and Islamabad should not only live in peace with one another but should also forge a relationship based on mutual political, cultural, and economic cooperation. Pakistan has responded to these compulsions and even at times when inter-Governmental relations were on the verge of open hostility Islamabad adopted an attitude of sympathy and understanding towards the Afghan people. Thus in February 1974, despite Sardar Daoud's policy of reactivating the "Pushtunistan" issue, Mr. Aziz Ahmad was personally sent to Kabul with an invitation to attend the Islamic Summit. Again last month, when tragedy struck the people of Afghanistan in the shape of earthquake, floods and torrential rains, the Pakistan Government acted promptly and dispatched relief goods as a token of the Pakistan people's concern.

Since July 1973, when the military coup took place in Afghanistan, relations between Kabul and Islamabad have sometimes been rather tense on account of Kabul's "Pushtunistan" policy which has involved intervention in Pakistan's internal affairs. The Afghan attitude on this issue has so far prevented the two Governments from even discussing their relations. Mr. Bhutto has repeatedly offered to hold talks with the Afghan leaders, In fact in March last year preparations were being made confidentiallyfor negotiations at the Secretary-level to pave the ground for a meeting between the two heads of Government. But owing to the obtuse preconditions advanced by Kabul which in effect challenged the basic territorial integrity of Pakistan, the negotiations could not even be initiated. Hence it can now be assumed that the Afghan President has tacitly agreed not to advance any territorial claims against Pakistan. High level talks between the two leaders will enable them to work out a modus vivendi based on the principles of peaceful coexistence. This indeed is the need of the hour. With Iran, Kabul has successfully normalized its relations and the two countries are now cooperating on an extensive scale in the economic field. Afghanistan certainly stands to gain if it seeks closer ties with its Muslim neighbours like Iran and Pakistan. Any attempt to normalize Kabul-Islamabad ties is as much in Afghanistans interest as it is in that of Pakistan. (Dawn, May 9)

It should be noted that Afghanistan was the first country President Bhutto visited after coming to power on December 20, 1971; he came to Afghanistan - still a monarchy at the time - in January 1972. Note, too, that in their statements both sides judiciously refrained from mentioning the Baluchistan and N-WFP problems; while confirming that political problems did exist between their respective countries, they vowed to meet and seek peaceful solutions.

Not surprisingly the breakthrough occurred almost immediately after Prime Minister Bhutto returned from Izmir, Turkey, where he attended the Fifth Summit Meeting of the Regional Cooperation for Development (RCD), held on April 21-23, 1976. The other two members of RCD (Turkey and Iran) obviously had a hand in the negotiations, as did the Afghan President and Prime Minister Daoud through his ambassador in Tehran, Zalmai Mahmud Ghazi.

Since the Febmary 1973 dissolution of the Balochistan government, the ball has been in Islamabad's court. Now, at last, it is being swatted back and forth. But where does the groping toward an Afghan-Pakistani rapprochement leave the Pushtun dissidents, the Baluch insurgents, and their leader, Ajmal Khattak?

Currently, much of Ajmal Khattak's time is spent in analyzing the past and contemplating the future. His past (and that of many .. who think like him) was spent in gaining independence from the British, then trying to attain meaningful provincial autonomy inside Pakistan. Ajmal considers several dates as keys to the past - which may or may not unlock the future.

  1. August 12, 1948: The Charsadda massacre, when Pakistani troops and police opened fire on a group of peaceful demonstrators, killing several hundred (unofficial estimates go as high as 700). About two months before, the government of Mohammad Ali Jinnah (founder of Pakistan) had dismissed the duly elected N-WFP government leaders, including the Khan brothers: Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and his elder brother, Dr. Khan Sahib, who later deserted the cause to join the Republican Party and become Chief Minister of the One Unit of West Pakistan. In 1956, Dr. Khan Sahib was assassinated for his efforts.
  2. December 1970: Free elections which ultimately brought NAP to power in Baluchistan, and an NAP-JUI coalition in N-WFP.
  3. December 1971: Yahya Khan's regime ultimately crushed the desire for regional autonomy in East Pakistan. Bangladesh was born with Indian assistance. Bhutto became president.
  4. February 1973: Dissolution of Baluchistan government and governor; N-WFP government resigned in protest.
  5. March 23, 1973: Liaquat Bagh incident in Rawalpindi.
  6. February 1975: Assassination of Hayat Sherpao in Peshawar, and outlawing of NAP.
  7. May 1976: The agreement of Bhutto and Daoud to meet and discuss "mutual problems."

* *

I shall pick up my broken pen,
Sharpen it with poetry again,
My gun is broken, my bullets gone
But do my people have freedom?

In prose more or less along the above lines, Ajmal Khattak recently expressed himself to me. He has ambivalent feelings about the meeting between Prime Ministers Bhutto and Daoud to discuss "the political difference between the two countries." In spite of charges from Pakistan, the Afghans have not demanded an "independent Pushtunistan" since 1963, but have contented themselves with asking for "the restoration of and respect for the inalienable rights of our Pushtun and Baluch brothers." The Afghans were quite content with the 1970 Pakistani elections and indicated they believed the people had spoken in the free election of 1970. However, a new conflict erupted when Prime Minister Bhutto dissolved the Balochistan government in February 1973 and arrested the Baluch leaders, and the problems intensified when he abolished NAP and arrested its leaders in February 1975. Only recently (April 14, 1976), the 44 political leaders under arrest were faced with official charges: "conspiracy, waging or attempting to wage War, collecting weapons, and high treason." But, as part of a political settlement with Afghanistan, the charges may have to be dropped (or reduced) in order to achieve a rapprochement.

Already, several Baluch insurgency leaders and Pushtun dissidents have held long, soul-searching talks with Ajmal Khattak, but his dilemma is the most soul-searching (and searing) of all. On the one hand, he tries to convince the leaders of the logic (if not the correctness) of the Afghan and Pakistani positions; on the other hand, neither he nor the leaders feel they can trust Prime Minister Bhutto, who, consummate politician that he is, promises one thing and delivers another, but is so clever that he usually convinces people that he has delivered what he promised in the place. Prime Minister Bhutto also capably has others say things he cannot say politically, and thus they "force" him to do the almost unthinkable, which was what he wanted to do all along. His performance at the Lahore Islamic Summit (February 22-24, 1974) illustrates this technique. Previously, he had asked for and received the approval of the National Assembly to recognize Bangladesh "at the proper moment". At the Lahore Conference, Bhutto's Islamic brother (primarily Anwar Sadat of Egypt, Hafez al-Assad of Syria, and Muammer Qaddafi of Libya) "prevailed" on him to recognize Bangladesh and invite Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to Lahore. Now, just as Prime Minister Bhutto returned from his visit to Turkey, Radio Pakistan dropped its propaganda against the Daoud regime. Radio Afghanistan reciprocated, followed by the publicly announced Afghan invitation and Pakistani acceptance. Everyone assumes the Shahinshah of Iran and Prime Minister of Turkey put some pressure on Prime Minister Bhutto, and Bhutto is apparently not unwilling to let people think so.

And, as usual, Prime Minister Bhutto has timed the events to his maximum benefit. The Baluch insurgency is faltering for lack of outside support. The Afghans have definitely controlled the level of violence in both Baluchistan and the North West Frontier Province for some time. In addition, the growing opposition to Bhutto in Punjab and Sindh will quiet down as Afghan - Pakistani negotiations get under way. Madame Gandhi (contrary to recent predictions) has just opened the door for full resumption of relations with Pakistan. All this when Bhutto will be off shortly for an important trip to China. Once again, circumstances seem to favor Bhutto.

Ajmal Khattak is not bitter at Prime Minister Daoud, nor does he rail against Afghanistan's policy. Rather, he defends Afghanistan before the Baluch and Pushtun leaders, some of whom vow never to accept Bhutto's rule. Most insist they are not anti-Pakistan, but not pro-independence, but pro-provincial autonomy. In his reasoning with the leaders, says they must look at the "big picture," which is at times difficult for regionally oriented, ethnic leaders. As he put it in late May 1976:

Our problems not only involve the Baluch and Pushtun peoples of Pakistan and Bhutto Sahib, but directly involve Iran, Afghanistan, the USSR, the Arabian Sea, and the Indian Ocean. But, if Pakistan is to exist, it must exist as a voluntary federation of all four provinces, each with guarantees of equal cultural, economic and political rights. What we must settle for is a healthy, federal, democratic, strong Pakistan, which can contribute to regional peace and stability. We must have a regional autonomy which will permit us to be ourselves, to have our own proud culture and language. We shall not settle for less.

With all the blood spilled on both sides during the Baluchistan insurgency [25] and with the violent explosions in the N-WFP, will the Bhutto govemment give full amnesty? Will autonomy become a reality, or be crushed once again, as it was in February 1973? These are the questions which plague all those involved in the insurgency and the violence.

As for Ajmal Khattak, he has decided not to return to Pakistan unless ordered to by his leaders and peers. His Pashtun honor is at stake, and he had vowed not to return until "our goal is achieved." The senseless killings in the Liaquat Bagh in Rawalpindi still haunt him. His own choice if Afghanistan and Pakistan settle their differences would be honorable exile - and a return to poetry, to lift his pen and find beauty in the rhythm, the words, the form, the message; to return to the concepts preached in The Call to Valor, his poetic philosophy published in 1958.

Today, however, Ajmal Khattak muses: "If the dagger is drawn from the back of my people, the wound would heal quickly. But what of dagger? What of the hand which holds the dagger? Will they disappear - or remain poised in mid-air? If they remain, it is my duty to strike the dagger and stab the hand."

These questions may be answered in the next few months. As for Ajmal Khattak, will his pen once again release such power as:

Comrades, leave me alone if you will,
For my red blood boils with rage.
The modern Aurang [26] haunts me still.
I am the Pushtun of my age.


  1. Louis Dupree, Serge de Beaurecueil Fieldstaff Reports, South Asia Series, Vol. XX, No. 8, 1976.
  2. Akora Khattak Pushtun: Pushtun. an ethnolinguistic group in Afghanistan and Pakistan; Khattak, a major Pushtun tribe; Akora, a subtribe of the Khattak.
  3. Peshawar District, North-West Frontier Province British India.
  4. D.N. Mackenzie, Poems from the Divan of Khushal Khan Khattak, London, 1965.
  5. I am responsible for the final translation of this line from Khushal.
  6. These include Yusuf Khattak (a Karak Khattak, now a central government minister, and member of the Muslim League - Qayyum Group) and Aslam Khattak (also a Karak Khattak, former Governor of North West Frontier Province, and a member of Prime Minister Z.A. Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples Party.
  7. An interesting sidelight to Ajmal Khattak's educational odyssey occurred during his last imprisonment (1968) as he studied for an MA in psychology. In an inspired moment he wondered what prompted men in prison to inscribe graffiti or write statements (poetry, sayings, etc.) on walls, floors, and bathrooms. He copied the graffiti and sought out the various artists and authors. He probed their pre-prison backgrounds and the crimes for which they had been commited, in order to seek out motivations and identify personality types with crimes. During this study of men under stress, isolated from their families, Ajmal Khattak covered prisons (he was transferred quite often). Unfortunately, his research remains unpublished.
  8. D. Tendulkar, Abdul Ghaffar Khan: Faith is the Battle, Bombay, 1967.
  9. H.T. Lambrick, The Terrorist, Oxford University Press (Karachi), 1974.
  10. L. Dupree, India's Stake in Afghan-Pakistan Relations, Fieldstaff Reports, South Asia Series, Vol. VI, N0. 1. 1962.
  11. All poems in this Report translated with the assistance and final approval of Ajmal Khattak.
  12. Whenever anyone mentions Pushtun nationalism, the name of Ajmal Khattak immediately comes to mind as the chief poet, just as the poems of Sheikh Gul Khan Nasir represent Baluch feeling, and Sheikh Ayaz sings for Sindh. An appraisal of Ajmal Khattak's poetry is in press: A.H. Habibi, The position of Pashto language and literature in Central Asian civilization, Papers Read at the International Pashto Seminar (UNESCO) Kabul, April 1976.
  13. L. Dupree, A Note on Pakistan Fieldstaff Reports, South Asia Series, Vol 12, No. 1, 1968.
  14. L. Dupree, Pakistan. 1964-1966. Part I: The Government and the Opposition, Fieldstaff Reports, South Asia Series, Vo1.10, No 5, 1966.
  15. L. Dupree, Bangladesh, Part I. East Pakistan Asks for Autonomy and Gets its independence, Fieldstaff Reports, South Asia Series, Vol. 16, No. 5, 1972.
  16. Wali Khan and Arbab Sikander jailed again February 1975.
  17. L. Dupree, The Military is Dead! Long Live the Military, Fieldstaff Reports, South Asia Series, Vol. XIII, No. 3, 1969.
  18. L. Dupree, Bangladesh. Part II: Indian Intervention Wins Bangladesh its Independence, Fieldstaff Reports, South Asia Series, Vol. 16, No. 6, 1972.
  19. I currently use the following definitions: insurgency, underground and guerrilla armed uprising; locally-oriented (regiona11y), not necessarily aimed at overthrowing existing regime, mainly defensive; insurrection (develops out of continuing insurgency), general rising against central authority in attempt to redress grievances, regular military units develop out of guerrilla bands and go on the offensive against regular troops; revolution (develops out of insurrection), open warfare to overthrow existing regime and (theoretically) change socio-political order if internal (France, Russia, China, Cuba), or War of Independence, or if external, and involves colony fighting against colonial power (US pre-independence Angola, Vietnam).
  20. I plan a separate AUFS Report on the Baluch insurgency.
  21. The 12 Points of the United Democratic Front included: creation of an effective democracy, a federal republic; regional autonomy for the four provinces of Punjab, Sindh, North-West Frontier Province, and Baluchistan; adherence to islamic principles; rule of law; a freely elected parliament under a multi-party system; a constitution based on the above, etc.
  22. A full discussion ofthe NAP versus Bhutto confrontation will be included in a subsequent AUFS Report.
  23. See note 20.
  24. In late April, Pakistan sent 60 lorry-loads of rice for Flood and earthquake relief. Earlier, an entire plane load had been flown to Kabul. In all, the Pakistan Red Crescent Society (local name for Red Cross, reasons obvious) sent 2,000 tons of rice to Afghanistan.
  25. According to Baluchistan front commanders: 3,500 Pakistani soldiers and 1,200 Baluch insurgents have been killed to date.
  26. Aurang: the reference is to the seventeenth century Moghul emperor, Aurangzeb, enemy of the great Pushtun poet, Khushal Khan Khattak. The "modern Aurang" is Prime Minister Z.A. Bhutto.


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Ajmal Khattak - Revolutionary Pashtun Poet, Louis Dupree
Published in Khyber.ORG on Monday, May 23 2011 (http://www.khyber.org)