I am going to give you such a weapon that the police and the army will not be able to stand against it. It is the weapon of the Prophet (PBUH), but you are not aware of it. That weapon is patience and righteousness. No power on earth can stand against it.
– Khan Abdul Ghaffar “Badshah” Khan, the “Frontier Gandhi”
On the 23rd of April, 1930, a crowd of Badshah Khan’s follower’s gathered in Peshawar’s famed Qissa Khwani Bazaar (Storyteller’s Market). They were known as the Khudai Khidmatgar, or Servants of God. Khan himself, a contemporary and friend of Mahatma Gandhi, had been arrested following protests around the Salt March.
The British ordered troops to fire on the Khudai Khidmatgar. The machine guns opened fire but the protesters remained true to the non-violent principles of their leader. Somewhere between 200 and 250 of them died.
Badshah Khan was an ethnic Pashtun. Today the Pashtun form a large ethnic minority in Pakistan and a majority in neighboring Afghanistan. History and the media have often portrayed Pashtuns as a violent people. Most recently, the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban’s footholds in ethnic Pashtun areas has strengthened that stereotype.
Yet the peaceful example of Badshah Khan points to a different type of story.
In the last few weeks I have been intrigued by the protests of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (Pashtun Protection Movement), called the Pashtun Long March. This movement is led by a human rights activist named Manzoor Pashteen. The son of a schoolteacher, and himself displaced by war, Pashteen is only 26 years old.
Pashteen is from South Waziristan in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan. Since colonial times this area has been viewed as a violent and turbulent area. More recently, the Pakistani government has carried out a number of military operations in the area to flush out militants, at great cost to the military.
Pashteen and the PTM movement are protesting the disappearances of many young men from the area, military harassment and landmines. They have so far chosen to protest in a peaceful, nonviolent manner.
It is certainly not my intention to take sides or get involved in the politics of a country not my own. But I will continue to watch Pashteen and his movement with interest. And hope. Hope that he will remain committed to non-violence. Hope that his followers will find the justice and peace they are looking for. And hope that others will be inspired by a movement that uses peace, rather than violence, as a means of creating change.