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Khan Shaheed’s Struggle For Women Empowerment

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Sanna Ejaz remembers Pashtun nationalist leader Khan Shaheed and discusses his progressive legacy of women empowerment and gender equality which needs to be carried forward by his followers. 

Khan Shaheed Abdul Samad Khan Achakzai had a broad political and philosophical vision and remained active as a political leader for the Pakhtun Afghan nationalism till his last breath. Since his childhood, Khan Shaheed had deep affection for his motherland. He would call Afghanistan his motherland even though the Southern Pakhtunkhwa, Central Pakhtunkhwa (the then FATA/Tribal Agencies and FRs), Khyber Pakhtunkhwa the then (NWFP) were invaded from Afghanistan through the use of force after three Afghan-Anglo wars under the invading treaties of Gandamak and Durand.
As per Khan Shaheed’s auto-biography “Zama Zhwand aw Zhwandoon”—my life and the way I lived it, he was influenced by the political thoughts of King Amanullah Khan—Ghazi Amanullah Khan—the victor King of the third Anglo-Afghan war. Amanullah was influenced by modern thoughts, human rights, trade, foreign relations and the unity of Afghans towards a modern state respecting and following modern thoughts. The king’s wife Suraya was the first lady who went to public gatherings and called for empowerment of women and equity in all walks of life.

So the king sent his first batch of girls to Turkey for nursing. The conservative forces could not accept it. Khan Shaheed was inspired by the king’s progressive values political thoughts and it later changed him to political leader for the oppressed nations in the sub-continent.
Though he opened eyes in the then British Balochistan that was invaded and ruled by the British colonials, he became a progressive, nationalist political figure in the very beginning. This is because of his lineage links to Barkhurdar Khan Achakzai, his paternal fore father, the chief commander of Ahmed Shah Abdali, the Afghan King who gave structure to modern Afghanistan from Oxus to Indus.

Moreover, his maternal forefather Abdullah Khan Achakzai was a star of the first Anglo-Afghan war that ended with a conflict with the British in Kabul and Abdullah Khan and his two sons and one nephew were the first who attacked the Indian sub-continent viceroy’s deputy Alexander in Kabul. Khan’s family members were martyred but the war ended when a lone Dr Briden, the British military doctor was rescued and given a safe passage to spread the message of anti-colonial mindset of the Afghans in his homeland, Britain.

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Khan Shaheed loved his motherland, culture, history and politics. The colonial era pushed Khan Shaheed Abdul Samad Khan to become a political leader, literary figure and journalist.
Khan Shaheed was the flag-bearer of women’s rights in the conservative Pashtun society which was influenced by British-backed religious scholars, tribal chiefs and political agents.

Khan Shaheed dearly loved and cared for his only daughter “Waliehad”—aka Khor Bibi, and never differentiated among his five children, unlike the conservative societies that discriminate on the basis of gender. In those days, there were no girls schools in Gulistan, so Khan Shaheed enrolled his daughter in a boys schools. She completed her matriculation from there. Due to the long distance, she would use a bicycle to get to her school everyday in a society where even boys were not given modern education.

In the beginning of his autobiography, Khan mentions “Dilbara”—the name of his mother before mentioning his father. This was an open message to his followers to take women and other genders along in all walks of life, whether politics, literature, science, history and civilization because without having half of the population on board, none of the political struggle is possible.

Khan Shaheed in his auto-biography, explains the social taboos, evils and highly conservative mindset that existed in the Pashtun society at the time. He negated all the wrong, the society do to the widows, not giving them the right to remarry or have their choice but remain at home considered lesser than other females, is strongly criticized in his words.


Khan Shaheed was always appreciative of the support by his mother and wives. When his first wife died, he married for the second time. He explains that though they were not literate but they had clear vision of his political activism and they were convinced that he was on the right side of history working for the oppression and exploitation-less society, an end to the British colonialism and independence of the masses.

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Khan Shaheed had given all charge of the home to his daughter to take care of her younger brothers, because he would go for lengthy judicial trials and confinements by the British colonial rule. She would teach the children all subjects for school and the holy book Quran as well as Pakhto language. She also controlled the finances, which was something unusual in a region influenced by the colonial culture and charged religious extremists.

Khan Shaheed’s political legacy shows that he was a firm believer of “feminism” and “gender equity” because he would negate those who would not accept their children of transgender. And would educate his followers through his political legacy to consider every individual as “human” and never degrade on the basis of their gender. Even-though he could not break the conservative frames, he surely made a way to convince his people to come forward and live with an open mind of “gender equity”.

This made the then Southern Pakhtunkhwa’s tribal, religious and colonialism influenced masses to send their daughters to schools, let them join different professions and work equally with male fellows of the society in all walks of life from culture to education, politics, religion, health, development and activism.

We can again say that though the legacy, political wisdom and philosophy is living among us and we would always respect it the way he thought, but we need enough work to follow him for the gender equity and women empowerment, on the 2nd December.

Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PKMAP) Chairman and the torchbearer of Khan Shaheed’s legacy Mehmood Khan Achakzai shared Khan Shaheed’s pro-women ideals with the participants of JUI-F Azadi March held recently. The PKMAP has a feminist manifesto, but it should be implemented in letter and spirit. The party need to have a women wing so their issues can also be addressed.

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