Khan Abdul Ghafar Khan

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Khan Abdul Ghafar Khan, Intikhab Amir
Published in Khyber.ORG on Friday, September 16 2005 (

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Khan Abdul Ghafar Khan

Intikhab Amir

First Family of the Province

Publishing Date: Friday, September 16 2005

No other political family of the NWFP has ever cast as much impact as did the Ghaffar Khan clan on the shaping of politics of the Frontier. Founded and nourished by Ghaffar Khan (commonly known as Bacha Khan), this family continues to enjoy a unique status because of the political philosophy introduced by the founding father and the controversy surrounding him.

From Ghaffar Khan and his brother Dr Abdul Jabbar Khan (who was more popularly known as Dr Khan Sahib, and was a Muslim Leaguer and chief minister of NWFP in the late 1940s and the administrative head of West Pakistan in the One-Unit period) to son Wali Khan and grandson Asfandyar Wali the family has been commanding a greater influence on the mainstream politics of the province than any other group.

The politics of this Pakhtoon family is today more acceptable to the establishment in Pakistan. There was a time in the pre-1947 period, when this family wielded powerful influence on the political scenario of the subcontinent. After Partition it was seen as a force to reckon with at the regional level in the Pakhtoon areas of Pakistan and even Afghanistan. After the ANP joined hands with the PML - in a major departure from its stand of being against the League in the past - it lost its image of an opposition party.

Bacha Khan's Khudai Khidmatgar Tehrik (God's servants movement), founded in 1919 to fight social evils and to uplift the Pakhtoons as a whole, set the foundation for the politics which the family pursued with full zeal.

The political heirs of Ghaffar Khan claim to be the protagonists of democracy but they have maintained their dynastic hold on the several parties they have formed from time to time. They have, however, adhered to the democratic norms introduced by Ghaffar Khan in broader politics. They were one of the few who refused to join any of the military regimes or interim governments this country has known.

Born in 1890, to Behram Khan, a leading landlord of Charsadda in Peshawar valley, Ghaffar Khan, unlike any other Khan or landlord, wanted the Pakhtoons to change their lives, take hold of their destiny, get united, fight social vices and come out of the dark ages.

His political philosophy was all about non-violence for the Pakhtoons, who are traditionally known for their aggressiveness. At that time no one ever anticipated that the struggle launched by Bacha Khan from the platform of the "Anjuman-i-Islah-i-Afghana" (Afghan Reformation Association) with the help of his colleagues to impart education to the Pakhtoons would become a force to reckon with.

The first of the "Azad Madressah" (independent school) was set up in 1929 in his native village, Utmanzai, followed by another in Mardan and other Pakhtoon-dominated areas of the NWFP. Fearing a serious challenge, the British Raj got one of his schools demolished by local Khans in Malakand which provided him the plank for a political struggle which landed him in prison and also forced him into exile.

Being closer to the political thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi he had joined the Indian National Congress, a step which had a profound impact on his political life. Living up to the true character of a principled Pakhtoon, Bacha Khan resigned from the Congress when the party supported the British-led war alliance in the Second World War. He perceived this step to militate against the party's stand on non-violence. He changed his mind only after the Congress withdrew the resolution.

The role the Khudai Khidmatgaar Tehrik played during the Pakistan movement (justified by its supporters and opposed by its critics) created for it an image of a political force opposed to Pakistan. That helped Ghaffar Khan in his political career.

In 1948 the government cancelled the declaration of his monthly magazine Pakhtoon. In 1955 he launched the Pakistan National Party in alliance with Mian Iftikharuddin's Azad Pakistan Party, G.M.Syed's Jeay Sindh and Sahibzada Abdul Karim and G.B.Bizenjo's Watan Party.

In association with some of the East Pakistani leaders including Abdul Hameed Khan Bhashani, Muzzafer Ahmed and Mohni Singh he founded the National Awami Party in 1956 - the party which was banned in 1958. Ghaffar Khan was arrested and upon his release he left for Afghanistan and returned in 1972.

Meanwhile, Wali Khan had received the mantle of leadership from his father. In 1967, he became the president of NAP - the party which was later declared anti-state by the Supreme Court of Pakistan after it was banned by prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1973.

Earlier, the party formed coalition governments in the Frontier and Balochistan only to face dismissal by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1972, after Wali Khan had supported the Awami League on the issue of its right to form a government in 1970.

Wali's years in prison along with the front-ranking leadership of his party provided an opportunity to his wife, Nasim Wali Khan, the daughter of Ghaffar Khan's close associate Amir Zada Khan, to come out in the field and take the reins of the family's politics in her hand. She was the moving spirit behind the formation of the National Democratic Party (NDP) with the help of Sherbaz Khan Mazari. The party supported Pakistan National Alliance's movement against ZAB by actively participating in the countrywide movement, which ended with the removal of ZAB and the imposition of martial law in the country. This brought freedom to Wali who had to spend over three years in prison (1973-1977), in the infamous Hyderabad Conspiracy Case instituted during the days of the government of ZAB.

Relations with Zia's military government which hanged ZAB cast a shadow on the politics of Wali Khan. But he later struggled against the military government from the platform of the Movement for Restoration of Democracy (MRD).

In 1990 when he lost the national assembly seat in his native constituency to a joint candidate of the PPP-JUI (F), Maulana Hassan Jan, Wali Khan retired from active politics. The trends and policy direction, apparently, set by Nasim Wali and her brother Azam Khan Hoti (currently in jail) has taken the family's politics further away from the guiding principles laid down by Ghaffar Khan. Given the dynastic tradition, the party presidentship has moved to the third generation. Asfandyar Wali now spearheads the political dynasty of Ghaffar Khan.


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Khan Abdul Ghafar Khan, Intikhab Amir
Published in Khyber.ORG on Friday, September 16 2005 (