(COURTESY: KHYBER WATCH)
Wednesday, 14 March 2007
THE politics of the Pathan centre round gold and power, hunger and ambition, just like yours. As he has more blood in his veins and more bubbles in his head than you have, he is inclined to make them rather lively. Politics today do what religion did five hundred years ago. They are merely a system men have developed, whereby they pay for their stupidities by giving crafty wise men and earnest fools the power to rule them. For every man must rule or be ruled. There is no third way unless you are a poet or a lunatic.
Being direct and rather thick between the ears every Pathan imagines he is Alexander the Great and wants the world to admit it. The result is a constant struggle between cousin and cousin, brother and brother and quite often between father and son. This has proved his sole undoing through the ages. They have not succeeded in being a great nation because there is a Jinnah in every home, who would rather burn his own house than see his brother rule it.
A violent temperament, a domineering nature and abysmal ignorance are his only sources of inspiration. When he cannot be the Lord Mayor of Delhi, he develops a great contempt for Delhi and a great love for his two and a half acres,, where he can and does function as Lard Mayor as Lord Mayor, he loves his own freedom, but hates to give freedom to anyone else. A true democrat. He thinks he is as good as anyone and his father rolled into one and is stupid enough to try this sort of thing even with his wife. She pays for it in youth and he in old age.
He suffers from a pronounced lack of tact and a distinct excess of practical self-expression. He would rather shoot his way out of a problem than get a headache thinking about u. He has great ambition and no patience; that is why he usually dies rather young. He has a great heart and a thick head; that is why he makes a charming friend and a fine host. He has a proud head and an empty stomach; that is why he is a great dacoit.
When he has to choose between ransom and alms, he chooses ransom because he is a man and not a worm. He looks at the torn clothes of his beautiful young wife and the hungry eyes of his child. He picks up his rifle and grits his teeth and goes into the jaws of death to procure a yard of cloth for the one and a mouthful of food for the other. When a social system fails to provide for his dear ones, he tramples it down under his grass sandals.
When a political arrangement decides to starve him and overfeed another he shoots holes into it.That is a quality in him which I admire He would rather steal than beg. So would I. He would rather face the anger of God and man than the shame and disgrace of poverty. He would rather look into the frightened eyes of a kidnapped merchant than the sad accusing eyes of his ill fed wife and the hungry, hopeful glance of his wretched children.
I would rather see a man hang for dacoity than see him crawl along a pavement with outstretched palms, asking for alms from those who have found generous buyers for their souls. The Pathan loves to steal because he hates to beg. That is why I love him, in spite of his thick head and vain heart. He would rather break his head than sell it with that genteel submission so common in civilised man.
These hundred years the British have bribed and corrupted him. They bought up his priests and Khans and Faqirs. They purchased the tin-gods he worshipped, paid him with Indian gold in the service of English folly and asked him to put out his eyes and his spirit. It worked in bits and for a while.
Just to give you an idea of the gentle Christian mind I would like to tell you a story of Tirah. Tirah is a land of strange stories and stranger customs. It is the house of the Afridis.The tribesmen have so many living moving and colourful facts to talk about that they do not have to draw on fiction to light up their humdrum darkness with artificial light. Here is a true story.
Tirah has a large, wide-awake and virile population of Muslim Sunnis and a small, intelligent and clever minority of Muslim Shias. Both the sects are pure Afridis by stock and blood. They lie between India and Afghanistan and pay for it. When Amanullah Khan perked up a bit, and behaved like the Pathan he was, heedless, go-ahead and careless, the white Sahibs objected. And while Amanullah Khan and his Queen danced in the capitals of Europe, jealousy and ambition and hunger and ignorance were marshalled together into a battalion of destruction by Christian gold in the capital of Afghanistan.The Shias of Tirah were more intelligent than their neighbours. Amanullah was broadminded and tolerant of the various sects in Islam. The Shias of Tirah loved him and supported him. they were willing and ready to thrust from the sout-west and defend the young monarch. But lo and behold, simultaneously with the resentment of the priests in Afghanistan, there appeared eloquent priests not mong the Shias but the Sunnis of Tirah.And while in Afghanistan the learned beards and heavy turbans shook in pious rage to denounce the Christian ways and un-Pathan and un-Islamic ethics of the young king, in Tirah they shook to denounce the Shias, the murderers of Usman, the beloved son-in-law of the Prophet.
Most of these lovers of Usman were from the settled districts, the area under British rule. Heaven and houris were promised to those who killed the Shias. the AFridis listened. The gold offered and the houris promised proved too much for them. they picked up their rifles and went in search of Heaven.Then followed a most frightful destruction not only of the Shias but of their cattle and trees as well. Valleys where the Shias lived were laid desolate - millions of fruit trees, hundreds of years old Chinar plantations were sawn down. the Shias were too broken and distracted to come to Amanullahs help.They paid for their wisdom with blood and tears, and Amanullah paid for his with crown and kingdom. For daring to assert his freedom, he lost his only kingdom and the Afghans their only king. And for daring to help an ideal, the Shias lost their children and orchards.
A masterpiece of cold, efficient planning and brilliant, ruthless execution. I would leave you to decide who profited by this bloodshed and horror darkness and hatred. This is only one of the thousands of such stories of the Tribal Territory. Every word of it is true. some sunnis may not know who drove them, but the Shias know who struck them. Some Pathans may not have been able to save Amanullah, but they know why they could not save him.
The sole role of the political department of the Government of India under the British was to try to teach the hawks of Khyber the wretched ways of the crow and the vulture. It seduced the lowest and the greediest of the tribe and gave them importance and bought influence for them. A tool must be important and influential. All influence in the tribes belonged to the Khan and the Priest - one is the lord of this world, the other claims the lordship of the next.
The Political Service supplied the tribes with divine-looking priests, who put on the uniform of Allah's servants to serve the devil. They perverted the tribesmen's intense devotion to God into an intense hatred of his brother, they used his childish faith and honesty in the service of deceit and corruption.
The British succeeded beautifully. The Pathans were too busy cutting one another's throat to think of anything else. There was blood and darkness everywhere. The Empire was safe and the Pathan damned.
But then something happened, to know what that something was, we must leave the tribesmen and their hills and come down into the rich valleys of the so called Settled Area, the North West Frontier Province for it was in a little village in the prosperous Peshawar valley that the first Khudai Khidmatgar was born.He was the fifth child of a tall, beautiful, blue-eyed woman and an honest and sturdy blue-blooded old Khan.His father, Behram Khan, had no feuds - a unique distinction for a Khan, because he had forgiven all his enemies. Behram Khan never told a lie, he did not know how to. He liked the British who ruled him though he could never remember their names. He loved horses but was a poor rider. He was optimistic to a fault and consequently possessed a fine sense of humour. He was painfully honest; therefore the people loved him.
Behram Khan lived and farmed and laughed and cursed merrily up to a ripe old age; his two daughters were well married. His eldest son was a Captain in the British Army. He had enrolled from his college in London and fought bravely all through the war.
His younger son had refused a First World War commission and taken to farming and religion. Behram Khan did not understand this sort of thing, but then he had given up trying to understand his younger son. Being the youngest child he was his mother's pet. The boy was kind and clean and six-foot-three. He loved his old father and always gave strange, noble reasons for doing things. The old Khan forgave him everything, even refusing a commission in the Army. Besides, his beautiful old mother supported the boy. She seemed to understand him better than he. She understood everything the child did. And if she said it was all right it must be so. So Behram Khan gave him a village to manage, married him to the girl he wanted to marry and hoped he would give up his strange notions and settle down.
The young man adored his wife a whimsical, lovable, generous creature, well bred and from a fine old family. But still he wandered. He worshipped his children, two sons, but very often when he sat by the fire he would stop cuddling them and a far-away look would come into his eyes. His lovely wife knew these moods and hated them. For every woman likes to possess all of a man. She realised that there was something in this strong, handsome husband of hers that made him forget her beautiful eyes and the twitters of her children by the fireside.She did not live long to see those long silences and dark moods turn into strength and action. She died before she was twenty-five. They covered her with flowers and took her to the burial ground in her wedding robe. She left behind two baby boys with a bewildered, terrified look in their eyes. They sensed the horror of death though they did not understand or know what it meant.
Abdul Ghaffar Khan's restlessness increased. The European war had brought to India a hypocritical promise of advance at its beginning and an influenza epidemic in the end. He left his children in the tender care of his old mother and drowned his sorrow in work and service.He had found his profession in life. He had found a new love - his people. Pathans must be united, educated, reformed and organised. He started to talk to them, to draw their attention to the misery and darkness of their lives. He tried to make the Pathans think. He succeeded rather too well for his own neck.
In the beginning, the simple Khans of Hashtnagar collected in a big mosque and said he was their king - "Badshah." The local representative of his Britannic Majesty lost their sense of humour (that wonderful English sense of humour that you always see in Punch but seldom in an Englishman's eyes). The Assistant Commissioner arrived with soldiers and artillery, surrounded the village, disarmed the inhabitants and fined them sixty five thousand rupees. He gave them a lecture in broken and ridiculous Pushto on the British might and carried away sixty respectable old Khans as hostages until the fine was paid.
This crowd included Behram Khan who was then about seventy-five years old and had been a confirmed and loyal friend of the British. The others too were as innocent of any serious rebellion as he was. But they all hated the insult. They resented their helplessness. They felt the bonds of slavery for the first time.
Being Pathans they did not try to clear the misunderstanding; anyway they were too angry to do anything except curse. They just grit their teeth, and told the Englishman. "All right, if you think we are rebels, well then we are. You can do your worst and to hell with you".
Abdul Ghaffar Khan narrowly escaped the gallows. This incident gave him his pet name "Badshah Khan" which means the "King Khan" - the name by which the Pathans have since known him. Far from frightening him it made him braver. It gave him a sympathetic following and a greatEven old Behram Khan began to curse the English and liked his son for getting on their nerves.
The Badshah Khan opened a school. He made an association called "Pathan Reformer." Its aims and objects were purely social. It was non-political and purely missionary. And yet he was arrested and sentenced to three years hard labour. When he pleaded with the rulers that education was no crime, that he was merely helping the Government, the reply given was, "Yes. But if you are allowed to organise the Pathans for social reform, what is the guarantee that this organisation will not be used against the Government and its interest?" "You must trust me," said Badshah Khan. "No," said the high and mighty. "You must apologise and give a security that you won't do it again and you will be set free." "Give a security that I will cease to love and serve my people?" asked Badshah Khan aghast, for he had read in a mission school and had many illusions about Christian justice and charity."This is not service. It is rebellion, " said the high and mighty, more to ease his conscience than to instruct Badshah Khan.
This magic sentence condemned Badshah Khan to three years of torture and entitled the high and mighty to a higher grade of pay and a title next year. In the meanwhile the school flourished and the society remained organised and active, the three long years finished, Badshah Khan came out of jail, frail and worn out. But his spirit was like steel. His Blue eyes were proud of their suffering and determined and cold. He put his arms around his motherless sons and caressed with trembling fingers, their warm, excited cheeks.
Behram Khan was in great good humour. He poured out tea for thousands of visitors and said little complimentary things about Englishmen and their grandmothers. Pathans by the thousand rushed to Badshah Khan to welcome him home. Boys looked at him with admiration, girls sang songs about him.
The Pathans had found their greatest outlaw. The nation of fighters had discovered their leader, thanks to the British. The British master was furious. How dare these damned Pathans worship that rebel! They must be taught a lesson soon, but before that this stupid big man must be removed at once.
Badshah Khan was always an easy person to arrest and sentence because he was too big and too brave to use subterfuge and camouflage. He did everything in the open and dared the British and the devil to do what they could about it. They shut him up in a prison again and hoped he would know which side this bread was buttered. He suffered the tortures of damned-solitary confinement, heavy chains on his hands and feet, dirt and filth and lice and hunger, and most of all insults and kicks, jeers and sneers from the lowest and the most loathsome of British lackeys.
He ground his forty pounds of corn daily with the handmill and never complained. He was a model prisoner always. He never complained of the worms in his vegetables. He treated his captors with an aloof contempt that almost resembled respect. He was kind in spite of his strength and gentle even with his enemies. He forgave everything to everyone, and possessed unlimited patience. He always covered his sorrow with a smile and his pain with a joke.
When he came out this time he started his first political agitation, a demand for full reforms for the Frontier. Ninety-eight per cent of the Pathans are illiterate, a written piece of paper says nothing to him. So Badshah Khan went from village to village talking to them. His companions found that their white clothes got easily dirty. So they decided to colour them. One of them took his to the local tannery and dipped them in the solution of pine bark prepared for the skins. The result was a dark browny red. The rest did the same.
When next the group went out, the unusual colour attracted the eye at once. People left their ploughs in the fields and came to have a look at the red-clad men. They came, saw and were conquered. Badshah Khan adopted the colour for his new workers, whom he called Khudai Khidmatgars. Their aim was freedom: their motto service.
I have given you a rather long sketch of Badshah Khan because he really is the politics of the Pathan. He understands the Pathan and the Pathan understand him. And you cannot understand either unless you are a Pathan. Badshah Khan is an old man now. He has a silvery white beard and long beautiful hands. When you see him next look into his kind blue eyes and you will know more about Pathan politics then I could tell you in a thousand chapters. For the holiest and the finest in a man is as inexpressible as stardust and moonlight. Love and kindness cannot be imprisoned in letters any more than in an English prison.
Badshah Khan has discovered by practical experience that love can create more in a second than the atom bombs can destroy in a century, that the kindest strength is the greatest strength, that the only way to be brave is to be right that a clean dream is dearer than life and the soft eyes of your children. These are the things he has taught the Pathan.
I HAVE come to the end of my story. I hope you enjoyed hearing it as much as I enjoyed telling it. Reading is the civilised form of listening, and writing a complicated way of talking.I have tried to tell you of my people. Not from a cold, unbiased, unprejudiced point of view, because I am not a stone, which is the only thing that may be described truthfully as unbiased.Thought is an expression of prejudice. Inspiration is above prejudice and therefore above thought. Prejudice and bias is mother's milk to man. The sooner you admit it the better.
When I see a judge of the High Court, with his serious face and his noble wig, dispensing "unbiased justice," I always want to laugh. No. I won't do that. I am a Pathan and must be honest, so I will frankly admit that I am prejudiced in favour of my people. Indeed I would hate myself if I were not.I have given you my picture of them. How could I give any other ' I love them in spite of their murders and cruelty, ignorance and hunger. Because he kills for a principle and cares not who calls it murder. He is a great democrat. "The Pathan." he says, "are rain-sown wheat - they all came up on the same day - they are all the same".
In our Red Shirt movement when we put the pips of a general on the shoulder of a Pathan butcher or weaver he grins, he does not blush. However dirty and coarse his hand he will stretch it to a king for a hand-shake. However meagre his meal he will invite an emperor to share it. "Look at the warmth in my eyes," he tells his guest, "and not the hardness of the corn bread before you.But the chief reason why I love him is because he will wash his face and oil his beard and perfume his locks and nut on his best pair of clothes when he goes out to fight and die. The dear child wants the houris to like him. He thinks God will dislike a dirty face as much as he does himself; so he washes it. He says AllahIs good and sweet To him who laughs And sings and dies. He says the cowards Weep and work, But fighters go To Paradise.I am definitely prejudiced in his favour. I hope by now you too are prejudiced.