Mohandas Gandhi, Abdul Ghaffar Khan, and the Middle East today.

Author:Gandhi, Rajmohan

The clouds have parted, at least for the moment, in the Arab-Israeli conflict. A newly elected Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, has reached out to a hawkish Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, now reborn as a cautious peacemaker. Jails have emptied, Israel has ceased destroying homes of alleged terrorists, and Islamic radicals have heeded calls for an armed truce. One may reasonably hope that antagonists on both sides will seize the moment to think afresh about the cycle of violence and reprisal that has deepened and prolonged their conflict. In that spirit, I have tried to answer the pertinent question: How might India's great apostles of nonviolence--Mohandas Gandhi, a Hindu, and Abdul Ghaffar Khan, a Muslim--expound the benefits of a farewell to arms to today's tired and bloodied belligerents? The provisional truce and fresh interest in passive resistance for addressing the Palestinian-Israeli question justify a reminder of the arguments advanced by two South Asian leaders who not so long ago practiced effective nonviolent strategies.

Abdul Ghaffar Khan (1890-1988), the Sunni Muslim from the subcontinent's Northwest Frontier Province who won more than one battle against British power in his region and then, after Pakistan's independence, fought against difficult odds for autonomy for the Pashtun people, is less well-known than Mohandas Gandhi (1869-1948), the Gujarati Hindu from the trader caste who led India's battle for independence. Yet his thinking is as relevant as Gandhi's.

Before we look at the arguments of the two, it is important to recall that the subcontinent's independence was won chiefly but not solely through passive resistance. Indians believing in violence also contributed to it, as did British fatigue after the Second World War. Moreover, it is also true--the efforts of Gandhi, Ghaffar Khan, and their allies notwithstanding--that bitter Hindu-Muslim violence marked the subcontinent's independence-cum-division.

The efficacy, nonetheless, of the nonviolent movement of Badshah Khan ("badshah," or "king of kings" being the honorific the Pashtuns, or Pathans, attached to his name) is captured in a recollection by a British officer called Bacon of the 1930 struggle in the Northwest Frontier Province when thousands of Pashtuns nonviolently stood up to the British. Eight years later, when Badshah Khan's followers, known as the Red Shirts, had won power in provincial elections Bacon talked about the 1930 events with Ghani Khan, Ghaffar Khan's son, who relates:

{Bacon} told me, "Ghani, I was the Assistant Commissioner in Charsadda. The Red Shirts would be brought to me. I had orders to give them each two years rigorous imprisonment. I would say, 'Are you a Red Shirt?' They would say yes. 'Do you want freedom?' 'Yes, I want freedom.' 'If I release you, will you do it again?' 'Yes.'" [Bacon] said, "I would want to get up and hug him. But instead I would write, 'Two years.'" In that same year, 1930, soldiers of the British Raj belonging to the Garhwal Regiment, famously disobeyed orders to open fire on nonviolent rebels in Peshawar's bazaar. Even more striking were the psychological victories that Ghaffar Khan and Gandhi won over the British. These were arguments that inspired nonviolent resistance:

Triumph over fear. That passive resistance could overcome fear was the first argument. Around the time that Bacon was talking with Ghani Khan, his father, Ghaffar Khan, said to Gandhi:

We used to be so timid and indolent. The sight of an Englishman would frighten us. {Our} movement has instilled fresh life into us and made us more industrious. We have shed our fear and are no longer afraid of an Englishman or for that matter of any man. Englishmen are afraid of our nonviolence. A nonviolent Pathan, they say, is more dangerous than a violent Pathan. (2) The victory over fear is what Jawaharlal Nehru, Gandhi's political heir and India's prime minister from 1947 to 1964, singled out as the chief accomplishment of Gandhi's nonviolent strategy. "Fearlessness--yes, I would say fearlessness was his greatest gift. And the fact that the weak, little bundle of bones was so fearless in every way, physically, mentally, it was a tremendous thing which went to the other people too, and made them less afraid." (3)

Beating the revenge code. If nonviolence overcame fear, it was an antidote to the revenge code, the curse of Pashtun society. As Gandhi put it in...

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