Pre-Partition Pakhtun Politics & its Kashmiri Proponents || By Bhushan Parimoo || LIVE IMAGE

 Pre-Partition Pakhtun Politics & its Kashmiri  Proponents || By Bhushan Parimoo || LIVE IMAGE

Pathans or Pakhtuns, as they prefer to call themselves, are martial tribal races who inhabit the North-Western Frontier Province of Pakistan now called Pakhtunwa.  Kashmiris remember them for their brutality and cruelty as rulers during the 18th century. It is said of them that they thought no more of cutting heads than of plucking flowers. A popular Persian saying: “sir buridan pesh in sangin dilan gulchidan ast” is still extant among the Kashmiris. In more recent times, their memory among the Kashmiris survives in the horror tales of 1947 tribal raid.

Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan

However, notwithstanding these historical blots on the Pathans , two men from this race  are remembered as their best representatives ever in India. One is the well known Gandhian, Khan Abdul Ghafar Khan, popularly called as Badshah Khan famous for his role in the Freedom Movement of India and the other is the well known Indian Foreign Service officer Mohammad Yunus who later served as Chairman, Trade Fair Authority of India during the prime-minister-ship of Mrs. Indira Gandhi. But that is not enough to know Mohammad Yunus. Perhaps a more revealing introduction to him is preserved in a letter Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru wrote to his daughter Indira in May 1940,

Mohammad Yunus

“I spent two days in Peshawar. I was the guest of my young Pathan friend about whom I wrote to you once -Mohammad Yunus-  who stayed with us in Allahabad. I told you that he had forty-three brothers and sisters, many of them half-brothers etc. All these  having one father. There were eight mothers or rather eight wives successively, though sometimes overlapping. Yunus was the youngest of the family and he was born when his father was eighty nine years old. 

Mohammad Yunus and Family with Indra Gandhi

The old man was hale and hearty to the end and died partly through an accident when he was ninety nine. The family mansion was in the heart of the city of Peshawar, a big house of the old style, as solid as a fortress. The mother-tongue of the family was, in a way, Persian and conversation was carried on alternatively in Persian, Pushtu, Hindustani and sometimes in English. It is really astonishing how much a Pathan can eat, and remember that he does not waste time and energy over vegetables and rice and the like. He concentrates on solid chunks of meat, rich pulao and thick very wholesome bread. The bread is as big as a ‘thali’ and an inch thick”.

Khan Abdul Ghafar Khan 1920 Khilafat

History recalls Khan Abdul Ghafar Khan as the Founder of the Khilafat Movement that he started in 1921   It was to bring about social reform in the Pathan society. In fact, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan was inspired by the Church Missionary Fredric Edward Wigram to combat the widespread ignorance of his fellow Pathans and bring about religious and social reformation within the  tribal society. He also watched Amanullah Khan’s pioneering initiatives for modernization of Afghanistan with great admiration and even migrated to Afghanistan during the Hijarat Movement after a brief journey in the Khilafat Movement. However, it was Amanullah Khan who persuaded him to return to India following which he vowed to inspire a sense of nationalism among the Pathans in order to achieve their liberation.

Dr. Jaffar Khan Sahib

Later, he linked his movement to the Indian National Congress duly inspired by Mahatma Gandhi. In 1937 provincial elections the Congress party came into Power in NWFP and formed the government under Dr. Khan Sahib, the elder brother of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan.

The two brothers dominated the political scene to implement the programes of the Khilafat Movement and as result earned the wrath of the British government. The British government detested both the brothers while they themselves were fired by the  Pathan ideal:  “Do not sell the dust of your country for foreigner’s gold”. The fact that Khudai Khidmatgars wore shirts dyed in red Afghan dust earned them the colloquial sobriquet Surukhposh.

Khudai Khidmatgars

In order to counter Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan and his movement, the British under the  influence of Sir George Cunningham, the Governor of the frontier province propped up the Muslim league and soon the Congress government was replaced in 1939 by the  new set up formed by the Muslim League headed by the British stooge Aurangzeb Khan who did everything the Governor wanted to blunt the national movement. Cunningham’s interference provoked the Muslim League to dub the Khudai Khidmatgars ( Servants of God) as servants of Gandhi in the outfit of the  Bolsheviks whose sentiment ran contrary to the Islamic faith.

Such was the infiltration of the League elements into the rank and file of the Khudai Khidmatgars that on several occasions the League elements under the instigation of  the British crippled the Khudai  programmes when its agents mixed jamal gotta, a strong purgative with cold drinks provided at stalls which were set by the organizers for the convenience of the  Khudai Khidmatgar demonstrators. As a result  on several occasions the processions moved on  only to become thinner to melt away by the time it reached its destination.

Edwardes College

During such political times in the early 40s of the last century, Peshawar had two main colleges set by the Church Missionaries. One was the  Islamia College founded by  Ross Keppel and the other was Edwardes College founded by  Herbert Edwardes. Both the colleges served as nurseries of Pathan nationalism.

 Prithvi Nath Dhar 

Among the teachers who served the Edwardes College at the time was a native Kashmiri named Prithvi Nath Dhar  who later  rose to become the Principal Secretary to Mrs Indira Gandhi during the 70s and 80s when Mrs Gandhi was at the peak of her political career..  Here, the Pathan boys proud of their history and fired by anti British sentiment were in touch with this teacher. The brightest of these Pathan students who came in contact of Prithvi Nath Dhar was one named Ayub Khan. He came from  Ghair Illaqa of Yagistan and belonged to the  Waziris tribe who were more proud of their Pathan instincts than the formidable Afridis, Mehsuds and the Yusufzais.

 Prithvi Nath Dhar 

It was at the behest of Prithvi Nath Dhar that Ayub Khan and  a number of his fellow students formed an informal study circle where economic and political issues concerning Pathans were discussed and debated. The group invited many teachers and intellectual participants to their deliberations. But they were careful to keep the toady and suspicious ones away from such close interactions. Prithvi Nath Dhar was the most regular participant in these meetings and almost became a regular member of the group. Soon his name spread into another intellectual club of Peshawar called the Khyber Athenaeum where many teachers, lawyers and other important public personalities solicited his intellectual support and views for the Pathan cause.

Khan Abdul Qayum Khan

Among the more regular guests who frequented this student group was the Congress Party leader Khan Abdul Qayum Khan, a barrister and a degree holder from the famous London School of Economics.  Given his knowledge of the British policies in India, Khan Abdul Qayum Khan at the time was also writing a book that was later published under the title ‘Gold and Guns on the Pathan Frontier’. Prithvi Nath Dhar became friendly with him and the two met regularly and frequently exchanged opinions and ideas on the developing Pathan politics.

However, it is a paradox that this great Pathan leader, the ‘double barreled Khan’  Abdul Qayum  joined the Muslim League just three years later to work for the cause of Pakistan. It was actually the outcome of the precedent set by another Punjab Muslim leader Mian Iftikha-ud-din also a prominent congress leader before he shifted his allegiance to the Muslim League. Actually the new trend was predicated on the assumption that the Muslim League had become a people’s party representing the urges of Muslim nationalism in the freedom movement.

The intellectual influence in these political strategies were provided by the Communist Party of India under its popular doctrine called  as Adhikari Thesis.

Syed Mir Qasim

However, another Kashmiri, Syed Mir Qasim, then a student at the Aligarh Muslim University, who later also became the Congress Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir state  in free India,  under the same influence of  leftist parties worked hard for the  Muslim League politics. His successful campaign for the election of Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan, the later date Prime Minster of Pakistan is no fiction. This fact Qasim himself has  also candidly admitted in his biography.

Prithvi Nath Dhar and Syed Mir Qasim

Thus two Kashmiris- Prithvi Nath Dhar and Syed Mir Qasim- greatly influenced the pre-partition Pathan politics of North Western Frontier Provinces; the former for the Congress ideology and the latter for the ideas and strategies adopted by the Muslim League that ultimately resulted in the formation of Pakistan as a separate nation.

But apart from this political grandstanding of these two Kashmiris, there was also a flip side of being a Kashmiri that almost verged comical situation in the early Pathan politics. Khan Abdul Qayum Khan was a burly big man with a heavy build and easily passed for a Pathan. In reality he was a Kashmiri whose family had migrated from Pattan, a village midway between Srinagar and Baramulla where he still had many relatives. His family name was ‘Wani’. In fact, Peshawar during the 40s had many Kashmiri Muslim Settlers and many families were listed in the 1941 census report. But unlike Qayum Khan, they carried their Kashmiri surnames and did not hide their identity.


Although Qayum Khan keenly projected himself as a Pathan, he was quick to use his Kashmiri origin to his advantage. Soon after the Congress launched Quit India movement in August 1942, it resulted in the arrest of several important and influential leaders in the NWFP. Sensing trouble, Khan Abdul Qayum Khan left for Srinagar and stated law practice there. His stay in Kashmir not only prevented his being jailed by the British but also gave him the opportunity to establish his old contacts.

Bushan Parimoo
(The writer is a Jammu based environmentalist and a regular contributor to this Website.)
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