Pakistan’s Mullah-Military Nexus: Was Bacha Khan Right Afterall?

This year, the Awami National Party (ANP) had organized week-long programmes throughout Pakistan on the 32nd death anniversary of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, popularly known as Bacha Khan, to remember and pay tribute to his ‘non-violence movement’, anti-colonial struggle, and works of reformation in Pashtun dominated areas during the British Raj. And yet one wonders why a great leader like Bacha Khan is conspicuously absent from most Pakistani history books or, worse, is referred to in passing. And why is it that he is rarely mentioned in Pakistan’s media. And though he established Azad Schools in all of what is today known as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, yet it is taken for granted that Bacha Khan was a traitor and he was against the creation of Pakistan.

There are some reasons why Bacha Khan and his philosophy do not fit the narrative of modern-day chaotic Pakistani state. Were his revolutionary ideals too stifled in the evolution of Pakistan simply because his ideas did not ‘fit’ in the meta-narrative that did not allow any deviation from the line of the Muslim League? Or was it because he was pro-Congress and was against the Pakistan movement and rejected Muslim League’s struggle for creation of a separate state of Pakistan?

Bacha Khan’s opposition to the Pakistan movement was based on his political principles. He wanted to make a separate state for his own people-Pakhtunistan. Perhaps the great proponent of non-violence such as himself is needed today by the Pakhtuns, who have been victims of extreme violence for the last 37 years. He started a secular non-violent movement in 1929 by establishing a movement called ‘Khudai Khidmatgaar’ (Servants of God) that earned him the title of the ‘Frontier Gandhi’. This was a progressive and non-violent movement in a very conservative Islamic and violent Pakhtun society.

The persecuted Pashtuns

For a number of years Pakistan has been facing the evil of terrorism and extremism, but the teachings of Bacha Khan remain a bulwark against extremist tendencies in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and other parts of the country. Pashtuns have suffered the most at the hands of terrorism and extremism in Pakistan. Pashtuns have been oppressed at large extent by Pakistan’s most powerful institution – The Pakistan Army.  There have been rampant collective punishment to all villagers for the crime of one person and that was the most frequent tactic of forces in Pashtunistan. Pak Army, which was meant to protect them from extremism and terrorism in the Taliban’s hotbed area, has turned out to be worse than the Taliban.

In suspicion of any Taliban links in the village, the Pakistan Army completely decimates the entire village. Bulldozing the homes of family members of suspected militants and inflicting collective punishments to entire community/village. Landmines were installed in village and community areas of Pashtuns in villages in Waziristan of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Instead of Taliban militants, these landmines used to affect average civilians, children and women.

Pakistan Army’s stranglehold

Pak forces practice a well-used tactics of abduction, arrest, kidnapping and extra-judicial killings of people who raise voice against them. Pakistan has a history of using these tactics and inflicting severe punishments on Pashtuns. The Pakistan Army is a hegemonic undemocratic establishment which has become a state within a state. Its problem is it sees its role as being much wider, greater, ideological, moral and even holier than that of any other professional military. That is where problems arise, for their country. Pakistan is going through a phase unprecedented in its politico-military history — when the General Headquarters has not seized power openly, but controls it fully.

No institution dominates Pakistan like its army. The armed forces account for 20% of Pakistan’s national budget, totaling $5bn last year according to official statistics. But the actual figure, already staggering for a country with high levels of illiteracy and malnutrition, is likely to be much higher. The army has been practically unaccountable since the very foundation of the country.

Every one of Pakistan’s democratically-elected civilian leaders has been forced to abdicate by the army. A Generals have directly ruled the country for 34 of its 62 years of existence.

The Methodical Introduction of Mullah-Military

Forty years ago General Zia ul Haq seized power and put the country under its third and longest martial law. Over the next decade, he decisively transformed what was left of Jinnah’s dream of a secular democratic Pakistan into an almost completely theocratic polity. His handiwork has survived more than three decades and appears unlikely to be replaced with another political structure in the foreseeable future. There are people who doubt Zia’s reasons for raising the Islamic slogan; whether it was for political purposes to counterbalance Bhutto’s appeal or was it to enforce Islam in its true sense. General Zia-ul-Haq wanted to make Pakistan the citadel of Islam so that it could play an honorable and prominent role for the Islamic world. The steps taken by General Zia were in this direction and had a long-term impact; the Zakat tax introduced by General Zia still holds and so does many of his the other laws.

The passing years are bringing about a slow but sure unmasking of the real nature of the Pakistan Army. From 1971 to Kargil to the Waziristan debacle, the Pakistani Army has slowly transformed from a fighting machine to money minting institution and a land-grabbing mafia only willing to wreak its prowess on the innocent and the dispossessed. The Disaster-e-Waziristan has applied a blowtorch to the shiny tin exterior that has for long covered the papier-mâché stuffing of the Pakistan Army.

While the prime minister and his Cabinet are the visible façade, the inner core of power lies with the army chief, just as Zia had designed it to be. So not just defence matters but also critical foreign policy concerns like relations with the US, Afghanistan, India and China are decided at General Headquarters in Rawalpindi and not the prime minister’s office in Islamabad. The Pakistan army will not topple elected governments because it doesn’t need to; instead, it will embarrass and restrict their powers. This civilian façade is the velvet glove it needs to cover its iron fist.

This army has lost Pakistan’s territory, ideology; financial and intellectual capital ruined its institutions, democracy and reduced its status to a globally acknowledged university of jihad.

Not only that, but here the army is backing all the terrorist organizations and even supporting them. For the military establishment, bolstering these Islamist groups not only dents the vote bank of the ruling Party in Pakistan. Giving formal political shape to the decades-old mullah-military nexus also further aids the military’s strategic interests in Afghanistan and Kashmir. The answer to why Pakistan’s mighty army seems impotent against Taliban insurgents is that it is more mafia than military.


In a nutshell, indifference, apathy and even collusion by elements of the state have resulted in their nation paying a heavy price in terms of violence and bloodshed. There is no one trying to reverse the tide of sectarianism by breaking the nexus between obscurantist mullahs and the deadly militants.

The one great hope against this tendency is the ideology of the Khudhai Khidmatgars and the non-violent philosophy of the Badshah Khan. If only his struggles could serve as a reminder that one doesn’t need to be violent in order to bring about change, for change can be possible through peaceful means as well.

The founders of Pakistan never envisioned for Pakistan to be an Islamic state but the push for the creation of the country was rather an ethnic argument against remaining a part of India. But once the religious zealots and the Mullahs got involved the entire evolution of Pakistan was to be forever skewed from its original intent.

How might Bacha Khan have responded upon seeing the state in which his country today is, the very creation of which was never supported by him? We all can see he was right after all!!

27 Jan 20/Monday                                                             Written By: Saima Ibrahim