As the international community discusses its policies towards
violence-stricken Afghanistan and Pakistan, a question arises time and
again - how to pacify and win the support of the Pashtun population?
Pashtuns are commonly known for their warrior nature and martial
history. But they also produced one of the most successful non-violent
movements of the 20th Century, which resisted British colonialism in
what is now Pakistan's North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and tribal
The dramatic story of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, the founder of the
little-known pacifist movement, has been told for the first time in a
major international documentary film called The Frontier Gandhi:
Badshah Khan, a Torch for Peace.
The 90-minute film, premiered in the third edition of the Middle East
International Film Festival (MEIFF 2009) in Abu Dhabi, is produced and
directed by Teri C McLuhan who spent more than two decades planning,
researching and executing the project.
'Servants of God'
Ghaffar Khan -
also known as King Khan, Pride of the Afghans and the Frontier Gandhi -
emerged as a social reformer in the early 1920s with the aim to unite,
educate and reform his fellow Pashtuns.
“ There is a possibility to revive the peace movement through
projects like this film ”
Frontier Gandhi Director Teri C McLuhan
Pashtuns (also known as Pathans or ethnic Afghans) form the largest
ethnic group in Afghanistan and the second biggest in Pakistan.
In 1929 Ghaffar Khan founded the Khudai Khidmatgar (KK or Servants of
God) movement to free the predominantly Pashtun NWFP and the rest of
British India from colonialism through strikes, political rallies and
The KK volunteers, who also included women, were known as the Red
Shirts because of the red uniform they wore.
The movement is estimated to have had 100-300,000 members - and was
described as the first non-violent army in the world. It endured some
of the worst suffering of the Indian independence movement.
The movement later became an affiliate of the Indian National Congress
and Ghaffar Khan became a close friend of Mahatma Gandhi.
"It is true that there are attacks on a daily basis, but there is a
possibility to revive the peace movement through projects like this
film," says Teri C McLuhan, director of the film.
"I think Badshah Khan's personality can play a very important role in
bringing the region together to a peaceful co-existence, because there
is simply no other option."
Filmed across Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, Frontier Gandhi
illuminates the little-known but fascinating story of Ghaffar Khan
through interviews with several founding members of the movement (all
more than 90 years old), experts and his family members.
South Asian leaders interviewed for the film include President Hamid
Karzai of Afghanistan (who praises Mr Khan and talks of his memory of
meeting him when he was a boy), former Pakistani President Pervez
Musharraf (who does not view Mr Khan as a Pakistani patriot) and former
Indian Prime Minister IK Gujral.
"It is highly encouraging that foreigners are taking an interest in our
history and heroes," said an Afghan who watched the film.
"It is a very important film... it is about a chapter of history we
didn't know about," says Peter Scarlet, executive director of MIEFF,
who selected the film for the festival.
"The film is important to learn about this visionary, a warrior of
peace who, despite all the hardships, continued to preach the gospel of
Many people who saw the film described the timing of the release as
"At a time when the whole region is boiling, we really need what Bacha
Khan believed in. We need to spread his word and act like him," said an
Afghan, Siraj Hilal, after watching the film.
Ghaffar Khan's followers hope that his message will be revived through
many books published recently about him - and that the film will play a
big role in showing another side of Pashtun life.
"The prejudice that existed against Badshah Khan during the Cold War is
diminishing now and the world is discovering him from anew" says
Afrasiab Khattak, head of the Awami National Party in NWFP.
"This film will help a lot in introducing Badshah Khan to the rest of
Ghaffar Khan opposed the partition of India in 1947 and continued to
fight for the rights of the Pashtuns in the newly created state of
His aim was to unite the Pashtuns - who were divided during the
struggle for influence in Afghanistan - into several administrative
He paid dearly for his principles, spending around 30 years in British
and Pakistani jails.
Nominated twice for the Nobel Peace Prize, Ghaffar Khan died in the
Pakistani city of Peshawar in 1988 at the age of 98. According to his
last wish, he was buried in Jalalabad, eastern Afghanistan, hoping that
one day Pashtuns in Afghanistan and Pakistan will be united into one
Although his movement and followers were suppressed, by both the
British and Pakistani authorities, Ghaffar Khan's brand has survived.
His legacy lives on by means of the Awami National Party (ANP) a
Pashtun-centric political party heading the provincial government in