Badshah Khan, leader of a nonviolent army in Afghanistan

This is a little bit different from most of my blog posts, but I found this tale compelling and want to share. This little bit of history is new to me, and perhaps to you as well.

My friend Peggy Kelsey, who has a special place in her heart and photography for the women of Iraq and Afghanistan, posted this story on Facebook.

Who would have thought that a master of nonviolence would have come out of modern Afghanistan?

Badshah (a title meaning king) Khan lived to be nearly 100 years old, and he died in 1988.

One of his remarkable achievements is that he raised, uniformed, and disciplined an army of 100,000 Pashtun men, and it was a nonviolent army. That’s right, a  nonviolent army. An oxymoron? Let’s find out.

They faced down the British army, and the British came to fear them more than they feared armed Pashtuns. The Pashtuns had simply found the strongest weapon available: nonviolence.

Khan was a devout Muslim who would always remain a devout Muslim, one who thought his religion required nonviolence.

Did you even know there were devout Muslims who practice in nonviolence? I didn’t. Or maybe I did, but thought of them as Sufis.

Beginning in 1910, Khan opened schools in the mountainous region he grew up in. He opened schools for boys and for girls. He taught agriculture, sanitation, self-sufficiency, and nonviolent resistance to empire. Khan learned of Gandhi in 1915 and joined him in calling for nonviolent opposition to the British in 1919, for which Khan was locked up for 6 months.

Here’s a description of their nonviolent technique.

The British ordered troops to open fire with machine guns on the unarmed crowd, killing an estimated 200-250. The Khudai Khidmatgar [servants of God] members acted in accord with their training in non-violence under Ghaffar Khan, facing bullets as the troops fired on them.

“When those in front fell down wounded by the shots, those behind came forward with their breasts bared and exposed themselves to the fire, so much so that some people got as many as 21 bullet wounds in their bodies, and all the people stood their ground without getting into a panic.”

This continued for six hours. When an elite military unit called the Garhwal Rifles was ordered to fire on an unarmed crowd, its members refused and were themselves court-martialed and sent to prison.

When Badshah Khan died, the Soviets were fighting in Afghanistan. A ceasefire was declared and honored by both sides so he could be buried.

You can read more about Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan here on Wikipedia.


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