Samad Khan Achakzai — An Unsung Pashtun Hero

Ameen Umar explores the political struggle of Pashtun leader Samad Khan Achakzai against the British and Pakistani regimes. He also discusses the evolution of politics in Balochistan under the British rule.

Harari wrote almost a century later that one must be part of the making of history. For if you were unable to be an active participant of the things going around you, history still be written in your absence; even if you are subjected to this part of the writing of history. Your ignorance and least importance and concentration of the events occurring around you would lead to the objectification of your individuality and collective good to something else that doesn’t belong to you, and that you will be unable to complain against it.

Abdul Samad Khan Achakzai, aka Khan Shaheed, is no exception in this context. Born in 1907 in the town of Gulistan to a subsection of the Achakzai tribe, the Barkhordar Kahol Hamidzai, which occupies a strategic land on both sides of Afghanistan and Pakistan border, Khan Shaheed witnessed polarity of events under British colonialism in his native British Balochistan.

The remotely governed status of Balochistan as a whole and that of British Balochistan (the northern Balochistan) in particular presented geo-strategic colonial experiences of the colonial power that saw little interest in the development of the region. Besides, until the 1930s, Balochistan had no say in an all-India political landscape.

It was in 1932, when Khan Shaheed along with other leaders of Balochistan attended the all India Baloch and Balochistan Conference in Jacobabad, an event that is believed, and the Agent to the Governor-General (AGG) at the time described as the first attempt ‘to involve Balochistan in all-India politics’.

As he started his political career, Khan Shaheed knew that a reformist agenda based on material realities of the region could only provide meaningful ends. Therefore, with an extension of the Indian Press Act in 1935, he laid the foundation of first-ever newspaper in the history of Balochistan. Besides, his close relationship with the first generation of Baloch anti-colonial leaders and his ties with the leader of the Red-Shirts Bacha Khan, Khan Shaheed inaugurated active political spheres in the imperial administrative unit.

Khan Shaheed’s political career spans the colonial and post-colonial eras. He founded first the Anjuman-e-Watan in 1939, an organisation on pro-Congress line, in the lead up to partition. His followers, and one of the heirs of his political philosophy, Abdul Raheem Mandokhail describes the Anjuman-e-Watan as a national-democratic, anti-imperial and an anti-feudal movement that urged the independence of Pashtuns both at the local and national level.

Post-partition, Wror-e-Pashtun, a political group founded in 1954, endorsed the merger or separation of Pashtun-dominated areas of Balochistan (British Balochistan) with the North-Western Frontier Province (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa). Over the years, Achakzai contacted likeminded politicians which resulted in the formation of the Pakistan National Party.

The PNP was afterward absorbed in National Awami Party (NAP) in 1957, following the creation and imposition of One Unit in 1955. Khan Shaheed remained active and one of the most prominent figures of the NAP Balochistan even at times when the party was split into pro-Soviet and pro-Chinese camps. He sided with the pro-Soviet faction of the party, headed by Abdul Wali Khan.

Being the founder of a pro-congress outfit and nationalist, Khan Shaheed had a bad start with the new state of Pakistan after partition. In February 1948, he was first briefly detained on the accusation of spreading disruptive propaganda against the Muslim League in his weekly newspaper Istiqlal. Following this, he was again charged with treason in 1958 and was imprisoned for almost ten years. He spent eighteen years in prison out of the first twenty-one years of Pakistan.

After the dissolution of One Unit, the debate concerning the future of Balochistan polarised the political players. There were three popular opinions at the time: 1) Pashtun areas needed to be merged with NWFP; 2) Pashtun-dominated areas and Baloch areas (Kalat state) should be merged into a single unit; 3) Kalat and British Balochistan should be declared separate provinces.

Achakzai, like Wror-e-Pashtun, endorsed the merger of Pashtun-dominated areas with NWFP.

The split in NAP Balochistan regarding the formation of a new province or administrative units was inevitable. Achakzai parted ways with NAP and formed his own outfit, Pashtunkhwa-NAP. Mandokhail describes the new outfit as an 'aim was only to be allies of others, not to merge with them’.

The government announced its plan of creating the boundaries of Balochistan province on 28 March 1970, the one as they exist now. Khan Shaheed was angry with the move of the government which resulted in protests.

With his pure belief upon democratic struggles and regional autonomy, he started preparation for the election of 1970. He was the only elected member of the Pashtunkhwa-NAP in the twenty-member provincial assembly. After the sweeping victory of the Awami League in East Pakistan, Yahya Khan suspended all political activities across the country. Khan Shaheed’s Pashtunkhwa-NAP was banned along with NAP Balochistan and the JUI [Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam]. The ban was lifted after Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto gained power and restored the NAP-JUI coalition government in Balochistan.

Khan Shaheed was assassinated at his home in 1973. His remains a hero of Pashtuns people who introduced them to the ideals of individualism, democracy, anti-feudalism among others. His lifelong struggles and his vision can best be grasped from one of the articles that he wrote back in District Jail, Lahore, in 1956: "I have spent the portion of my life in the jails of the British and Muslim regimes. No human being can tolerate this willingly. If my purpose is true, my endeavors shall certainly be fractured. God willing the verdict of time shall certainly be in my favour. True intentions seldom fail because of the paucity of allies. Even if I am no more in this world, others will come into existence to raise this banner high in exaltation, the caravan of life moves on forever.”