Khan Abdul Samad Khan Achakzai: Reconfiguring the Streams of Gandhism

Shehar Bano Khan

Referred to as the Baloch Gandhi, the appellation occasionally affixed to the personage of Khan Abdul Samad Khan Achakzai is a laudatory acknowledgment of the political struggle of the father of Mehmood Khan Achakzai, chairman Pukhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP). The reference is laden with the long haul to freedom plied by Gandhi who translated his indigenous code of ‘lived experience’ into a political philosophy beatifying him as a ‘Mahatma’. Abdul Samad Khan need not have been anointed a mahatma, his unremitting political struggle for the sub-continent’s freedom should have extended beyond the Pukhtun and Pukhtunkhwa mandate. 

Moving farther away from the Pukhtunkhwa geography, the person of Abdul Samad Khan remains mortifyingly censored. Little is known of a man imprisoned pre-partition for 17 years by the British (1930-1947) for demanding equal constitutional rights for the people of the sub-continent and 16 years by various post independence regimes for challenging dictators and dictatorial democracy in Pakistan.

While Mohandas Gandhi’s nationalism acclaimed him a Mahatma, Abdul Samad Khan’s unremitting efforts to protect the Pukhtun identity and geography consummated him a ‘separatist’! The provincially disproportionate evolution of the federation of Pakistan provided a universal definition of ethnic and cultural diversity turning celebration of difference and right to dissent into mutinous seeds provoking secession. On December 2, 1973, assassinated at the age of 66 by a blast at his home in Quetta, Abdul Samad Khan’s politics of preserving ‘self’ and ‘sovereignty’ could not be eliminated. Neither could his contributions to human rights, education, journalism and a strict adherence to the politics of veracity. Unlike Gandhi, Samad Khan hailed from an area where presumed political activity for freedom was tried under the draconian Frontier Crimes Regulation.

Abdul Samad Khan was born in 1907 at Inayatullah Karaz, Gulistan tehsil, district Killa Abdullah, close to Quetta to Noor Mohammad Achakzai. His primary education at his local village school was short-lived when Samad Khan was expelled at the age of 15 for leading a procession of his school boys in support of the Khilafat Movement against the imperial power of the British.

On May 30, 1930 Samad Khan collated his ideals of respecting cultural diversity through political visibility by establishing Anjuman-i-Watan, Balochistan’s first political party. It instantly evoked a reaction from the British whose attention Samad Khan had already caught as a teenager resisting colonial supremacy. He was sent to jail for one year.

Perhaps the title of the Baloch Gandhi assigned to him could be rooted in his ‘alleged’ disposition towards the Indian National Congress and his adoption of Gandhi’s doctrine of ahimsa (non-violence). The disposition was a wilful creation of his detractors whose ideas of political self-determination terminated at landed aristocracy assembled to ‘speak for the subaltern’ of the subcontinent. 

His detractors used Anjuman-i-Watan’s support of the 1942 Quit India Movement and Gandhi’s Satyagraha to reduce Samad Khan’s party as a Congress proxy in Balochistan. Till 1946 the Congress did not exist in Balochistan nor did the Anjuman-i-Watan derive its political guidelines from it. 

In one of the pieces published in, ‘Baba-i-Pushtoon kay Mutafarrakaat’ (2005), Samad Khan tried to dispel the negative connotations surrounding his party. “Sadly, I am often referred to as a Hindu and an agent of Hindu. And the grounds taken for spinning negative politics around Anjuman-i-Watan and I are the party’s unambiguous position on opposing the British Raj,” stated Samad Khan.

Soon after the creation of Pakistan, Anjuman-i-Watan’s executive body passed a resolution pledging allegiance as citizens of the newly established state. The pledge was reciprocated by the arrest of Samad Khan on the orders of a district Quetta magistrate. After spending two months in prison he was later transferred to Gulistan to serve another three months of house arrest. 

Known for his politics of identity and sovereignty, Samad Khan did not bifurcate his person from his politics and set upon challenging antiquated tribal traditions, specifically regarding women. His daughter riding a bicycle to her school in Gulistan, was an unequivocal signal to the local tribal chiefs and sardars of Khan’s concept on women’s freedom as equal individuals of a society. Prior to the 1970 general elections, Samad Khan campaigned for the registration of women as voters.

The longest spell out of prison was the last four years of his life. That time was given to struggling for one-individual-one-vote in Balochistan and the tribal areas where the only people entitled to vote were the members of the official Jarga. After contesting the 1970 general elections, he was elected member of the first Provincial Assembly of Balochistan and presided the first session to take oath from elected members.

The title of the Baloch Gandhi accorded to Abdul Samad Khan is a conceptual aberration. Samad Khan was a Pukhtun (and was acutely aware of his ethnicity), not a Baloch! His long tireless struggle for accepting diversity through political identification did not mahatamise him into a deity. Instead, Samad Khan defined the politics of ‘diversity’ by resisting unity through uniformity.

Shehar Bano Khan is a journalist based in Pakistan.