By Jehangir Khattak

CHAMPIONS don’t be come champions in the ring: they are merely recognized there, “goes a famous adage. Not only are champions recognized, but also their legacies live on. The story of Abdul Ghaffar Khan, alias Baacha Khan, the founder of the Khudai Khidmatgar Tehreek, is that of a true champion.

The world recognized Baacha Khan’s stature as a statesman after his heroic non-violent struggle against the British Raj. Twenty years after his death, the great non-violent pashtun statesman was remembered and eulogized at a conference in New York on April 12. Focusing on his philosophy of non-violence, the first Baacha Khan Peace Conference was attended and addressed by his admirers from the US , India, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“I came here from Washington DC to pay my respects to this great leader, “said Charles Aquiline, a one time resident of Abdul Ghaffar Khan Road in Mumbai and currently a think tank Like Aquiline, Dr. Zikriya a Persian speaking Afghan professor at Columbia University paid his tributes and fondly recalled that Baacha Khan used to visit his house in Kabul. Ravi Shanker traveled from Boston to join Khan’s admirers.

The keynote speaker was Rajmohan Gandhi, the celebrated historian and biographer grandson of Mohandas Karam chand Gandhi and author of Ghaffar Khan: Non-violent Badshah of Pukhtoons. “What a timely idea, but also an overdue event,” Rajmohan told organization to speak. He received a standing ovation from his audience who responded to his spirited, intellectually potent and thought provokingly focused address on the conference theme, ‘Philosophy of non-violence and global challenges’.

He discussed Baacha Khan as a Muslim, a leader, and a non-violent freedom fighter. “When the history of struggle for human dignity will be written, Baacha Khan’s name will be at the top,” Rajmohan told the conference.

Peering through heavy glasses, the tall, frail Indian intellectual had spoken bluntly to his American hosts in Manhattan at a function organized a day earlier in memory of Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi and other statesmen of this century.

“I told a crowed of 4000 that while I appreciate their tribute to Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, they forgot to include another great personality of the 20th century. They forgot Abdul Ghaffar Khan,” said Rajmohan who believes the world must now, more than ever before, adhere to the philosophy of non-violence.

A long line up of celebrated speakers and intellectuals included, among other, Asfandyar Wali Khan, Afrasiab Khattak, Dr.Fazle Raheem Marwat, Dr.Raf Wali Shah Khattak, Abdul Bari Jahani, Dr. Munir Khan, Dr. Saleem Afridi, Abdul Wahid Mashwani, Abdur Rab Khan, Taj Akbar Khan and Iqbal Ali Khan. They spoke at great length about non-violence and its relevance to today’s turbulent world. They had one voice peace can be achieved by wagging peace alone.

Baacha Khan struggled for peace in a region where tribal customs and traditions were at times stronger than religion. He preserved, however, and proved that change through peaceful struggle is always and everywhere possible. Mahatma Gandhi once said of Baacha Khan. “That such men, who would have killed a human being with no more thought than they would kill a sheep, should, at the bidding of one man, have laid down their arms and accepted non-violence as the superior weapon sounds almost like a fairy tale”.

The speakers noted that today’s world is confronted with wars, bloodshed and instability. Humanity is caught in the cross fire between powerful nation states and stateless and faceless terrorists. Extremism, they noted, is rearing its ugly head all around and is visible in the conduct of both warring sides.

“Is this the only course that humanity is left with to tackle one of the greatest threats man kind has ever encountered?” asked one Afghan speaker, Amir Pawinda. “No, there are better ways of dealing with it and the philosophy of non-violence offers the best hope,” he said.

John F. Kennedy once said, “Mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind.” Another great American President, Franklin D.Roosevelt, declared, “More than an end to war, we want an end to the beginning of all wars yes, an end to this brutal, in humane and thoroughly impractical method of setting differences between governments.”

Peacemakers may speak difference languages, but their message is always the same, and it reverberates with the same spirit of hope. The New York conference reflected that spirit as speaker after speaker highlighted Baacha Khan’s life as a simple man, a powerful politician, a spiritual leader, a non-violent peacemaker and a visionary. Baacha Khan would tell his followers, “There is advantage only in construction I want to tell you categorically I will not support anybody in destruction.”

Mahatma Gandhi said, “In the secret of my heart, I am in perpetual quarrel with God that He should allow such things (as the war) to go on. My non-violence seems almost important. But the answer comes at the end of the daily quarrel that neither God nor non-violence is in men. I must try on without losing faith even though I may break in the attempt.”

What would Baacha Khan and Mahatma Gandhi do if they were alive today, was the question many speakers raised. Rajmohan thought Baacha Khan and Gandhi would have felt overly challenged by today’s complicated puzzles of corruption and violence, but still their devotion to harmonious coexistence would have impressed many minds with a peace mentality, which is the first step to wards conflict resolution.

Baacha Khan once said, “There is nothing surprising in a Muslim or Pashtun like me subscribing to the creed of non-violence. It is not a new creed. It was followed 1400 years ago by the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH).

If Baacha Khan was at the helm in today’s Pakistan, what would he do? “I think he would raise a new army of Khudai Khidmatgars for a change in mindsets. This army would wage peace for peace, for development, for social justice, for political empowerment and for equality,” said Dr. Munir Khan, associated with the Baacha Khan Education Foundation.

The sentiment raised at the conference reflected the spirit of a famous saying of one of South Africa’s greatest leaders and Nobel laureate, Desmond Tutu, who said, “Stability and peace in our land will not come from the barrel of a gun, because peace without is an impossibility.”

One dynamic, global message emanated from the conference: “Let’s work for the created from the conference: “Let’s work for the creation of Khudai Khidmatgars in the 21st century. Let’s spread peace, amity and love by waging nothing but peace.”

The writer is a US-based journalist.