Samad Khan Achakzai addresses a public gathering in the southern Pashtun belt of Balochistan in the 1970s. Photo: Provided

December 2, 2020, was the 47th death anniversary of Abdul Samad Khan Achakzai, the father of modern Pashtun nationalism, pioneer of the “one man one vote” idea in early Pakistani politics, and the first to coin the political term “Pashtunkhwa” in the united Indian subcontinent. Samad Khan Achakzai was in the front lines of the freedom movement against British imperialism in the subcontinent.

Samad Khan was born in July 1907 in Gulistan, Qilla Abdullah Khan, a Pashtun-majority district of Balochistan. In his 20s, disappointed by the colonial and imperialist designs of the British Raj, he started participating in politics.

In 1932, Samad Khan, along with other nationalists hailing from Balochistan, participated in the All India Baloch and Balochistan Conference (AIBC) in Jacobabad. Stabilizing and strengthening his Pashtun nationalist and democratic narrative against British rule, in 1938, he laid the foundation of the first newspaper in the history of Balochistan, Istiqlal (“Independence”).

With the foundation of the Anjuman-e-Watan organization in 1939, Samad Khan Achakzai formally entered the hemisphere of Indian politics.

Subsequently, in 1954, Kahn Shaheed, as he was known, registered his political party Wror Pashtun (Pashtun Brotherhood) and aligned with Pakistan’s largest progressive political alliance, the National Awami Party, to support constitutional democracy and ensure the equal provision of natural resources to all provinces in Pakistan. During the entire period of the One Unit Scheme (1955-1969), Samad Khan Achakzai remained in prison. 

For the general elections of 1970, Samad Khan Achakzai advocated the rights of women to vote and categorically challenged the established cultural and tribal taboos against women.

On December 2, 1973, he was a member of the Balochistan Provincial Assembly when he was martyred in his home in Quetta, the capital city of Balochistan province. 

Example for modern times

In 1947, in the aftermath of World War II, when Britain was facing political and economic challenges, it decided to divide the South Asian subcontinent into two separate states, India and Pakistan. Since that time, Pakistan’s geography has been confusing and ambiguous; parts of India and Afghanistan along with Bengal were united and an Islamic state of Pakistan was formed.

Along with Bacha Khan and Mahatma Gandhi, his just message and struggle for democracy, freedom, identity and rights against unjust regimes is self-explanatory. Opposing British colonial hegemony and the dictatorial regime of Pakistan Army Chief General Ayub Khan subsequently, Samad Achakzai remained in prison for more than 33 years (out of his 66 years). Today in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, many see him as the embodiment of democratic principles and nationalism. 

Khan Shaheed sacrificed his life for the causes of democracy, supremacy of the constitution, and to secure the geographical identity of Pashtuns in Pakistan. 

In current political scenarios, a modern version of Samad Khan’s political philosophy “struggle for just rights in democratic way” could provide an effective track for political stability. Since 1947, Pakistan has faced major political instabilities, controversies over division of resources among the provinces, involvement of the military in politics, and aristocracies of religious fanatics that have brought Pakistan to the brink of total destruction. 

The dictatorial atrocities of General Ayub against progressive nationalists and socialists put Pakistan on the road to national disintegration and instability, and provided the nexus for the establishment of Bangladesh in 1971. 

General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq’s Islamist era of the 1980s and General Pervez Musharraf’s 1999 imposition of martial law further destabilized Pakistan. Currently, the state of democracy is in an embryonic phase, and will be smashed completely if the situation becomes worse politically in Pakistan. 

Samad Khan Achakzai was the first advocate of constitutional supremacy and democracy during the One Unit era. For him, the solution of an integrated and politically stabilized Pakistan was in supporting constitutional supremacy and democratic principles that keep all ethnic groups on one platform.

To oppose the dictatorial regimes of General Ayub and General Yahya, and to ensure equal representation of all ethnic groups, Samad Khan Achakzai greatly favored the democratization of Pakistan’s political structure that had been badly poisoned by the military’s involvement.

Taking into account his political philosophy, it is no exaggeration to say that even in the current dire political and institutional scenarios, the success of democracy and constitutional supremacy could guarantee a politically stable Pakistan. No doubt, the surest and finest way to stabilize Pakistan both politically and ethnically is ensuring institutional cooperation, support to democratic principles, mutual understanding on national issues, equal political rights and above all supremacy of the constitution of Pakistan.  

Today, Pakistani politics has been hijacked by conspiracies against democracy and constitutional supremacy. All three pillars of the state are involved in a “pull and grab game” to undermine one another. 

However, there is still time to turn the current political chaos into political stability. Samad Khan Achakzai’s political philosophy, “struggle for just political rights in a democratic way,” provides us with the solutions.

None of Pakistan’s political parties should compromise on democratic and political principles, and must struggle for the supremacy of the constitution. By doing so, politically troubled times will surely give way to a better future.  

Rahim Nasar

Rahim Nasar, an Islamabad-based security and political analyst, contributes to national and international newspapers on regional security, political and strategic affairs with special focus on South Asia, Central Asia and Indian Ocean regions. He tweets on @RahimNasari.