BACHA-KHANISM AND PAKISTANI PASHTUN NATIONALISM — A CHRONOLOGICAL OVERVIEW: 1917–2021
PRE-PAKISTAN PERIOD (1917–1947)
Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (alias Bacha Khan) was the descendant of unknown Central Asian migrants to Charsadda in the Sikh era who “became Pashtun” and joined the Khwajukhel clan of the Muhammadzais. He was a “Congressite” from the start of his career in 1917 till 1947, though he also ran his own local social welfare organisation by the name of the KKT (Khudai Khidmatgar Tehrik or Movement of God’s Servants) via which he worked for the Congress in a way that was acceptable to the devout Pashtun mentality. All of his actions and claim to fame took place during British rule and under the INC (Indian National Congress) banner and during this period, even though within the Congress he focused only on the Pashtun ethnicity and region (the same applies to his southern Pashtun rival in Balochistan, Khan Samad Khan Achakzai, called “Khan Shaheed”).
THE COLD WAR (1947–1987)
For 10 years after 1947, Ghaffar Khan lay low and lived in the wilderness — searching for a suitable political vehicle after Congress was banned in Pakistan. During this period, he toyed with four variations of “Pakhtunistan” (as an autonomous province in Pakistan; joining Afghanistan; joining India; and as an independent country. He would never clearly specify which one he desired). He was best known for his “creed of nonviolence” which he copied from his old leader M.K. Gandhi, and which was totally alien to the culture of the ethnicity he represented.
In 1957, he got the platform he wanted: a leftist front organisation called NAP (National Awami Party or National Peoples’ Party) was formed that also catered to Pakistan’s “oppressed” nationalities — along the lines of the Soviet COMINTERN’s “national bourgeoisification” Marxist modernisation path for backward, Asian-culture societies. (NAP always remained vague on the issue of Pakistan — with some of its members supporting it, others not). Owing to Ghaffar Khan’s Congressite past, and the Soviet leanings of NAP, he was favoured by India. However neither he nor his dynasty ever overtly espoused Marxism and indeed they took frequent pot shots at it. It was the Marxists who always sneered about how they provided the Bacha-Khanis with a “viable political program”, for which reason the latter secretly detested them.
Although other members of Ghaffar Khan’s family attained renown in their respective fields — such as his other two sons and his brother — they were not really associated with his career. His political and dynastic legacy were taken up by his second son Abdul Wali Khan. Ghaffar Khan was for all intents and purposes a retired figure by 1957, so Wali Khan and his powerful wife Begum Nasim became leaders in the turbulent NAP, which gradually became politically redundant over the years, till only them and their followers remained in it. The Bacha-Khani family then took it over for their own use, while retaining its original name till it was banned by Z.A. Bhutto in 1974. Wali was imprisoned by him on charges of treason. After this, Wali Khan joined another minor party, the NDP (National Democratic Party) of Punjabi Baloch Sardar Sherbaz Mazari — to evade the ban. The Bacha-Khani dynasty then also came to dominate this party, which then became known as “Pashtun Nationalist” although like NAP its scope was not formally supposed to be limited to Pashtuns alone. On the other hand the so-called Pashtun and other leftists from NAP formed the briefly lived NPP (National Progressive Party) in 1978 before it gave way to the PNP.
Here it should be noted that Ghaffar Khan’s southern Congressite rival and leader of the second main Pakistani Pashtun nationalist entity — Samad Khan Achakzai — was also active in NAP. After its banning, he reformed his faction as the PNAP (“Pashtunkhwa NAP”). Samad Khan was assassinated on 2 December 1973 and succeeded by his son Mahmud Khan who has since run the party. In 1983 its name was changed to the more correct transliteration of PkMAP or “Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party”. The milieu of northern Balochistan is also Pashtun, but is entirely different from that of Peshawar Valley. Indeed, this change to the “southern districts” becomes apparent as soon as one crosses south of the Kohat Pass…(“Pashtun” is also southern pronunciation as opposed to “Pakhtun”).
Although Ghaffar Khan had been hobnobbing with Kabul since the creation of Pakistan — the events of 1978 in Afghanistan soon gave a new lease of life to the Bacha-Khani dynasty and its “nationalism”. All modern Afghan rulers habitually used the Pashtunistan bogey to bait Pakistan. After 1978, these rulers were Marxist. However that did not seem to alarm the Bacha-Khanis. Afghanistan pursued old irredentist claims, but there was no way in which it could militarily or even politically regain the eastern territories it had lost in the 19th Century to the Sikhs, followed by the British. This irredentism was useful to the politics of the Bacha-Khanis. Pashtun nationalism was certainly not the basis of Afghanistan’s political pretensions, it was only a part which they pursued mainly to further their policy of irredentism with regard to the British successor state called Pakistan, after 1947. Indeed it was as late as 1936 that the country had officially become bilingual, by adopting Pashto as the second state language in addition to Persian. Later, the extreme Khalqi (Peoples’) faction of the PDPA (Peoples’ Democratic Party of Afghanistan) which was composed mainly of ethnic Pashto speakers and army officers, also promoted an outlook of Pashtun ethnic nationalism. It should be pointed out here that modern European concepts of nationalism having evolved from the Westphalian nation-state concept, tend to have simplistic and reductionist approximations based on the extent of national territory and language spoken — rather than taking into account the manifold and complex ethnic nuances that go into the making of social identities. This applies even more to a country like Afghanistan made up as it is out of a tangle of ethnic and tribal ramifications. In short before attempting to know what Afghanistan represents, it is necessary to know the real ethnic relevance implied by the ethnonyms “Pashtun” and “Afghan” (vernacularly pronounced as “Awghan”) on the one hand — and what differentiates them; and then what unites them, on the other…and lastly, why this unfortunate nation-state bears the name Afghan. In fact it needs competent historians, ethnologists and anthropologists to clarify this situation rather than mere political scientists!
It must be elaborated here that Pakistani Pashtun nationalist entities only associated with governments in power in Kabul. They had nothing to do with the “radical fringe” of Pashtun nationalism in Afghanistan — represented by parties such as the Afghan Social Democratic Party or “Afghan Millat” as it was known…such parties projected a Nazi outlook which was far more comical than it was effective, or even dangerous.
In 1986, the NDP merged with three other minor groups: the Maoist MKP (Mazdoor Kissan Party or Workers’ and Peasants’ Party), leftist PNP (Pakistan National Party) and Sindhi nationalist AT (Awami Tehrik or Peoples’ Movement) — and the new party was named as the ANP (Awami National Party or Peoples’ National Party), being presented as yet another supposed leftist-nationalist coalition. However the other constituents soon broke or melted away, once more leaving only the Pashtun Bacha-Khani dynasty and its supporters to own the show. So the ANP effectively became a Pashtun political pressure group based in the Peshawar Valley, adorned suitably in the guise of a vague irredentist nationalism, with a “secular progressive” ideology — since it did not formally renounce its former broad based multinationalist and leftist pretensions. (This author attended the ANP founding event as an 18 year old Marxist student activist. It was during this period that their catchy slogan “Lar Aw Bar Yaw Afghan” became prominent. This referred to “Afghan unity” on both sides of the Durand Line border. However the ANP leaders never bothered to explain the modalities it may have involved, and neither did their followers ask them about any…).
THE “UNIPOLAR ERA” (1987–2021)
NOTE: Although the so-called Unipolar Era technically began with the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991, this author prefers to trace its actual active onset to 1987, when the influence of Gorbachev was beginning to bear fruit with the 70th CPSU Congress, and the negotiations for the so-called Geneva Accords were also about to conclude, leading to the Soviet troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. These developments in turn set in motion associated local events, which are alluded to below.
Later in the same year that the ANP was formed (1986), the Soviets replaced the DRA leader Babrak Karmal with Muhammad Najibullah (aka “Dr. Najib”). That same year the 9-year ban on Pakistani political activities was also lifted by the military regime of Gen. Zia-ul Haq. In the USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev had started vigorous pursuit of his reform policies including Soviet involvement in Afghanistan. All this led to multiple and far reaching changes on the scene, most of all as regards Pashtun nationalism.
In mid-January 1988 Ghaffar Khan died. His burial in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, was a major propaganda stunt for both the ANP and PDPA regime. But even this burial of Ghaffar Khan — the symbol of Congressite political remnants — was because of the new emphasis on Pashtun nationalism by the Najibullah regime as a result of its desperate, Soviet ordered National Reconciliation programme. With the signing of the Geneva Accords in the spring of 1988, the new regime in Kabul now abandoned Marxism wholesale, and began to emphasize Pashtun nationalism wholesale as part of its reconciliation strategy, in a bid to widen the regime’s base and increase its popularity so as to try and survive the Soviet troop withdrawal. The strategy also aimed to placate Najibullah’s own internal Khalqi rivals. It resulted in bolstering the ANP and its image back on its Pakistani home turf. However with the death of Gen. Zia in August 1988, Wali Khan also re-entered the Pakistani political mainstream will full force — characterised by the shameless opportunism and political chicanery typical of his family.
Najibullah’s National Reconciliation Programme was designed to protect the “revolutionary state” which was under attack from American and Pakistani sponsored sabotage activities. However it spelled the destruction of the traditional Afghan State and highlighted the Tajik-Pashtun divide which had not existed in the times of the Durrani monarchy. After the fall of his government on 28 April 1992, the course set by Najibullah was adhered to by the main Mujahideen leader Gulbadin Hekmatyar, because of whom Pakistan also took up the idea in the new conditions. This led to his main rival, the Tajik warlord Ahmad Shah Masood, to set up his image as the main guardian of Tajik ethnic rights in response. This situation had never prevailed before: even the short deposition of the monarchy in 1928 by Tajik brigand Habibullah Kalakani (alias Bacha-e Saqqa) was never portrayed as a Tajik national revolt until Masood began to do so to promote his own political ends in the new situation. Afghanistan had always been a de facto Persianate dispensation, even though on paper the implication was that it was a “Pashtun” state. These new developments forever put paid to the idea of Afghanistan. Without acknowledging the Persian historical basis of its culture, any definition of “Afghanistan” turns out to be incomplete. Sadly this was far from what was done, and the matter was politically forced through by interests driven by greed, and the result is one of the most messy disasters and longest running crises that the modern world has ever seen.
Najibullah’s fall came close on the heels of that of the USSR which had ceased to exist 4 months earlier. Thus ended the pro-Soviet, anti-Pakistan, “secular” and “leftist” variety of Pashtun Nationalism in vogue since the 1950s. The ANP survived by retaining its old symbolism and characteristically vague sloganeering for use only in Pakistani electoral fanfare by its leaders. For the first time in its history, Pakistan had full and effective control over all Pashtun matters, on both sides of the Durand Border. Wali Khan also retired from active politics that year, and his eldest son Asfandyar Wali took over as his heir. Nothing but a token howl was let out by the ANP nationalist-leftist combine at the gruesome murder of ex-President Najibullah by the Pakistani-supported Taliban in Kabul on 27 September 1996.
Earlier, Pakistan’s Pashtun leftists also appeared to follow the same course as their patron Najibullah. In 1987 prior to the signing of the Geneva Accords, the CPP (Communist Party of Pakistan) had split into pro-“Greater Afghanistan” and pro-Pakistan factions — led respectively by Syed Mukhtar Bacha and Jamaluddin Naqvi. In December 1989 the pro-Pashtun independence faction citing the guidelines of the old “National Democratic” concept and opportunistically invoking the sweeping changes resulting from Gorbachev’s “Perestroika” policy — restyled itself as the QIP (Qaumi Inqilabi Party or National Revolutionary Party). This was also the year in which two prominent Pashtun leftist and nationalist leaders Afrasiab Khattak and Ajmal Khattak were pardoned and returned to Pakistan after a 13-year long self-exile in Afghanistan. Afrasiab promptly joined the QIP. This was to be the start of his long career in Pakistani politics, the major part of which was spent in the ANP. In the summer of 1991 the QIP became the PQP (Pakhtunkhwa Qaumi Party or Pakhtunkhwa National Party) which went a step further, renouncing communism totally in favour of “progressive nationalism” …whatever that meant… having “cancelled out” its Marxist programme, the PQP was just as vague as the ANP regarding its nationalist purpose, and why another addition in this regard was also needed. It was joined by several other independent “nationalist” figures such as veteran activist Afzal Khan. Soon however, the PQP was split into rival factions, one led by Afzal Khan and the other by Afrasiab Khattak. The Afzal Khan faction decided to rejoin the ANP for which it was suitably rewarded. And the leftist “rump-PQP” saw it fit to reunite with the ANP in 2006. Earlier in 2001 veteran ANP leaders, nationalist Ajmal Khattak and leftist Latif Afridi broke away to create the NAPP (National Awami Party Pakistan) which remerged with the ANP in 2003. Finally, the ANP expelled both the veteran Pashtun leftist stalwarts — Afrasiab Khattak on 11 November 2018 (the charge was anti-Pakistan activities!), and Latif Afridi on 3 September 2019. Although clothed ostensibly in “ideological” jargon, most of these breakaways and reunions were due to private and personal clashes.
After “9/11” in 2001 and for the next 20 years — the US removed the Taliban and restored a “secular” Afghan puppet dispensation in Kabul, which lent verbal support to the old ANP concepts because it was anti-Pakistan. The ANP paid lip service to these overtures to preserve its outward credibility — however ironically it had by now become a fully “Pakistani” organisation, albeit one which characteristically played both sides as always; it otherwise participated practically in Pakistani politics at the level of the Pashtun majority province, the NWFP. However it could never form even a provincial government on its own.
On the other hand, President Ghani’s regime in Kabul took its Pashtunism too far, and under him the Tajik-Pashtun schism reached new depths…such as never before seen.
In sum, the arrival on the scene of “social media” during this period saw the revival of the pre-1992 Pashtun nationalism as an exclusively internet phenomenon, dominated by precocious Pashtun immigrants youth and all kinds of net surfer activists in Western countries — all of whom lived in the naivete of their own surreal cyber reality.
POST TTP INSURGENCY TO US WITHDRAWAL FROM AFGHANISTAN
During the Pashtun dominated TTP insurgency of 2007–2015, the ANP (which for the first time ruled the NWFP from 2008 to 2013, and which they renamed Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province in 2010) operated as an arm of the Pakistani State it otherwise so despised “ideologically”…but this cooperation was no Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact!
As described in detail in the preceding paragraph, after 1992 the old Pashtun leftists who were associated on and off with the ANP and its politics kept leaving and returning to it innumerable times, creating “progressive” factions and then re-uniting. This became a sort of pastime. Ephemeral dissident political groupings of various nationalist and leftist hues were formed alongside the ANP by other leftists. Some of these old “progressive nationalists” later formed tiny and non-descript paragroups such as the Ulasi Tehrik (Peoples’ Movement) in 2015. This mutated into the PTM (Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement or Save the Pashtuns Movement) in January 2018. What caught the attention — and fancy — of analysts regarding the PTM was that its membership consisted overwhelmingly of Karlani hill tribals (ethnic “true Pashtuns” almost wholly inside Pakistan, as opposed to other ethnic Afghans) and that it also reflected a preponderance of western immigrant and social media “savvy” Pashtun-Afghan youth. It even seemed to alarm the Pakistani security establishment at the time. However after about a year or so of commotion, it seems to have fallen flat.
The most recent one is the NDM (National Democratic Movement) formed on 2 September 2021 after the US forces withdrawal fiasco. It was formed by PTM dissident Mohsin Daur and veteran ANP leader Basheer Ahmad Matta (the latter incidentally being this writer’s first cousin). The first and the last one has so far heard of it was its founding press conference.
Pashtun nationalism and Pashtun leftism were hollow labels — both being engendered by external and alien causes such as the European political environment wrought by British colonial and Russian influences in the area. When those vanished, such illusions fell flat. The final collapse of the pathetic puppet Ghani regime in Kabul after the US withdrawal — and takeover by the Taliban on 15 August 2021 seem have opened the final chapter of uncertainty with regard to this subject. The ANP and other Pashtun nationalist groups have now become totally listless, Afghanistan is now a shattered cinder of a nation-state, and the Pashtuns-Afghans as an ethnicity are totally discredited in the “modern” sense.
As for the crowd of Pashtun “leftists” and “progressives” — when asked practically about current basic issues, such as women’s emancipation — they would respond with excuses. Marxism and modernism are after all European cultural outlooks. However if confronted and cornered squarely in this regard, these “leftists” would ardently oppose Islamic obscurantism — and yet simultaneously still argue from the standpoint of their traditional tribal-feudal “code of honour” called Pashtunwali….because after all they are Pashtuns, and that is where they proceed from! On the other hand, they are willfully ignorant of what actually matters in this regard: the traditional tribal genealogies — and the intricate ethnic makeup, caste categorisations and the actual histories behind these situations.
POINTS TO NOTE
Ø The ANP serves only the political interests of the Bacha-Khanite Dynasty, and their Eastern Sarabani Khans constituency of Peshawar Valley — and their allied interests. It conveniently portrays its actions as “nationalism”, and resorts to flagrant opportunism. It survived by being part of Pakistani politics. It lent an opportunistic hand to the local “left”. The same can be said of its major rival, the PkMAP based in Quetta in the south, ruled by the Western Sarabani sept (the Durrani tribes).
Ø The Eastern Sarabanis of Peshawar Valley / Gandhara are the most “advanced” of all Pashtun-Afghan social formations, and therefore the Pashtun Nationalist phenomenon centred on them. The basis of their advancement compared to their contemporary tribes rests on their takeover of the Tajik Swati Kingdom in the Gandhara area 500 years ago.
Ø The modern Durrani-remnant Afghan State, when it tried to reform itself via Marxist revolution in 1978 — ended up in shattering as a result.
TO SUM UP: Aside from the dubious toponym “Pakhtunkhwa” which this brand of politics made famous — in its century long activity, this lobby has offered nothing substantial in terms of true historical identity, nor any overall social, economic or cultural betterment to the ethnicity it claims to lead. This goes for both its “nationalist” and “leftist” variants. All resorted to devious and vague political rigmaroles to attain selfish and corrupt objectives. They claimed to be enemies of the British, but followed the British geopolitical paradigm to the hilt. If at all the Bacha-Khani dynasty has some respect among the Pashtun population, it is because it gave some influential sections of this hopelessly fractious and backward tribal population some kind of political symbol to cluster around and identify with — no matter how vague and flawed. But it seems abundantly clear, that the only valid destiny of “Pashtun nationalism” anywhere — are the Taliban.
USEFUL BACKNOTES AND REFERENCE MATERIAL
· Khan, M. Arshad (2018). Teendakuna aw Mazaluna (Knocks and Travails) [in Pashto]; Pp. 22–24
· Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (1969). My life and struggle: Autobiography of Badshah Khan (as narrated to K.B. Narang). Translated by Helen Bouman. Hind Pocket Books, New Delhi. · Bukhari, Farigh (1991). Taḥrīk-i āzādī aur Bācā K̲h̲ān. Fiction House; P. 226. · Pashtunistan: Meyer, Karl E. (5 August 2008). The Dust of Empire: The Race for Mastery in the Asian Heartland — Karl E. Meyer — Google Boeken. ISBN 9780786724819
· NAP spelt anew, by Rahimullah Yousafzai (THE NEWS INTERNATIONAL; retrieved 5–2–2006, Archived 2006–04–24 at the Wayback Machine)
· Rose, Saul (1959). Socialism in Southern Asia. London: Oxford University Press. OCLC 2862247
· “Anatomy of a political movement”. Himal Southasian. 15 June 2018. Retrieved 25 August 2018.
(NOTE: All URLs retrieved on 17/10/2021 unless otherwise noted)