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Humshehri: Thinking Pakistan's History

Thinking Pakistan's History

Bacha Khan

Urdu Version

Pathan political leader known for non-violent opposition to British rule, he was nicknamed Bacha Khan or the King of Khans.

Last Updated: 22 Sep.2014


Bacha Khan
Bacha Khan

Abdul Ghaffar Khan, popularly known as Bacha Khan or Badshah Khan, was a Pathan political leader known for his non-violent opposition to British rule during the final years of the British Raj in the Indian subcontinent.

Bacha Khan was born in 1890 in the village of Utmanzai in Peshawar Valley to a wealthy landowner family. He began his education at a local madrassa and later attended the Municipal Board High School in Peshawar. While completing his education, he was encouraged by the principal E.F.E. Wigram to study further. But before he could complete his matriculation (10th grade) Bacha Khan left school to join the Corps of Guides. This was the most prestigious force within the Indian army and was dominated by the Pathans who were renowned as fearsome fighters by the British. However, while visiting a friend in the Corps he saw a British officer humiliating a fellow Pathan. Realizing that they were still second-class citizens in their own land, Bacha Khan left the army and returned to his studies. Wigram encouraged him to travel to England to pursue a degree there, but his mother would not agree to his leaving. So Bacha Khan stayed, and at the age of 20 he opened a school in a local mosque.

In later life Bacha Khan became involved in the political movement of the subcontinent and is most well known for founding the Khudai Khidmatgar group that protested British authority through non-violent means. In addition, Bacha Khan not only supported the Khalifat movement, he was also part of the small group of people who traveled to Kabul as part of the Hijrat movement. He was strongly against the separation of Pakistan and India and after the creation of Pakistan he championed autonomy for the Pathans and favored the creation of Pakhtunistan.

Bacha Khan’s relationship, after independence, with successive governments in Pakistan also remained a troubled one and he spent nearly half of his life either in jails or in exile. In 1988 he passed away in Peshawar at the age of 98. A day of ceasefire was declared in war torn Afghanistan so that Bacha Khan could be laid to rest in Jalalabad, Afghanistan.

Political involvement

Bacha Khan began his political career in 1919 by protesting the Rowlatt Act, which allowed certain political cases to be tried without juries, and permitted imprisonment of suspects without trial. After meeting Gandhi in 1928 and attending a Congress Party gathering a year later he was inspired to create the Khudai Khidmatgar or Servants of God. The Khudai Khidmatgar was based on a belief in the power of complete non-violence. Its members vowed the following, “I shall never use violence. I shall not retaliate or take revenge, and shall forgive anyone who indulges in oppression and excesses against me.”

bacha and gandi
Bacha Khan with Gandhi
(Wikimedia Commons)

Known as the Red Shirts, the organization dominated the politics of NWFP for almost two decades. It recruited over 100,000 members and became legendary in opposing (and dying) at the hands of the British controlled police and army. During this time he earned himself the nickname Bacha Khan. His followers also referred to him as ‘Frontier Gandhi’ due to his strong friendship and similarity of beliefs with Gandhi. Both favored non-violence and non-cooperation as the means of throwing off the British. Although both Gandhi and Bacha Khan preached the same philosophy, Bacha Khan’s pacifism was inspired by his belief that by not resorting to violence offered one the highest form of martyrdom.

Strongly opposed to partition, Bacha Khan asked his followers to boycott the 1947 referendum that would determine NWFP’s future. The referendum was strongly in favor of Pakistan, much to Bacha Khan’s dismay. Soon afterwards NWFP became a part of Pakistan and Bacha Khan was labeled a traitor and thrown in jail. For the rest of his life he championed the idea of an autonomous Pakhtunistan.

Find out more

Books & Articles

Kumar, Vivek. “Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan: The Muslim Gandhi.” Deutsche Welle. 6 Oct. 2011.


Meyer, Karl E. “The Peacemaker of the Pashtun Past.” The New York Times. 7 Dec. 2001


Baacha Khan Trust: Articles