When the 27-year-old Khan Abdul Samad Khan appeared before the colonial magistrate’s court in Pishin, British Balochistan, in 1934, his testimony was not hyperbole to appease an enthusiastic crowd of followers. Tried under the black law of the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) for political activities aimed at attaining freedom from British rule, he stood undaunted and unflinching in the dock before a British magistrate. He fully realised the significance of each word – written or uttered it could mean the difference between life and death for him.
His words clearly indicated his preference:
“I would like to clarify at the outset that my testimony should not be perceived as a premeditated contrivance on my part to influence or change this court’s opinion. In fact, I am testifying at another court – the court of Allah, which is adjudicated by time, where a prospective historian acts as jury and public opinion hands down the final, definitive verdict.”
He continued in this vein:
“Allah’s court is also governed by laws, coded by sections in the penal system and, as of this moment, I believe that this particular trial is underway with a different rubric in His court of law. There my trial is not titled ‘Abdul Samad’, but is put forward for hearing as a contest between veracity and falsehood. The contest, or more accurately, the battle between the two eternal parallels is interminable where the challenge put forth by truth is potent enough to annihilate falsehood.”
Abdul Samad Khan Achakzai was born in 1907 at Inayatullah Karaz, Gulistan, close to Quetta. His primary education at his local village school was rather short: he was expelled at the age of 15 for leading a procession of schoolboys in support of the Khilafat Movement against the British.
Khan also dispelled the notion of Pakhtunistan as a secessionist project
That trial was neither the first nor the last of his political struggle until his assassination on December 2, 1973.
Defying caution, he continued to challenge destiny at the same court when he asserted, “I have said earlier that it is a matter of pride for me, greater than a royal status, to be in this dock – a dock where hundreds of thousands of martyrs sacrificed their lives in defence of their beliefs, when arraigned. Now that I have been tried under Section 40 of the blackest of laws, the Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR), it adds to my pride, as my hopes increase to emulate the great people struggling for freedom.”
His testimony is a classic example of courage, sincerity and commitment to the cause of freedom from colonialism. He owned up to all that was presented to the court as evidence in the form of writings and speeches and stood by every word written and uttered by him. “Yes, I admit to the prosecution that I made speeches at Hyderabad and Karachi and wrote all those newspaper articles presented here. It is true that they were penned by me.”
While addressing the annual meeting of his recently formed political party, ‘Anjuman-i-Watan’, in June 1938, he lamented that the plight of Balochistan was all too obvious and required no detailed inspection. “I have no qualms in saying that it is a result of despicable slavery wherein we have no right to shape our own destiny.”
He was acutely aware of the importance of communication with the outside world and the role of the press. In the absence of press and political institutions in Balochistan, no one was privy to its socio political conditions, particularly those struggling for freedom. The establishment of Balochistan’s first newspaper, Istiqlal, by Samad Khan made an invaluable contribution until its closure by the government in the early 1950s.
He vehemently opposed the British government’s efforts to push people of the subcontinent into World War II. Opposing British conscription in Balochistan, he demanded that the colonial authorities provide educational facilities instead, which were almost non-existent.
Unfortunately, the situation did not change for Samad Khan after independence. Even though the executive committee of the Anjuman-i-Watan declared its allegiance to the state of Pakistan after its creation, he was arrested after a few months of independence. In his testimony before the Lahore High Court in 1956, he declared that in the nine years of independence he was rarely out of prison – all because of false charges of opposing the creation of Pakistan.
During his hearing at the Lahore High Court, Khan also dispelled the notion of Pakhtunistan as a secessionist project and clarified that he had only demanded the incorporation of all the Pakhtun areas on the Pakistani side of the Durand Line into one federating unit with full provincial autonomy. He further elaborated that after independence, 75 percent of Pakhtun-populated land in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan fell under the tribal, semi-tribal and special areas, depriving people of their basic constitutional right to vote.
In 1951, Khan wrote to the Balochistan Reforms Committee, chaired by Dr Mahmoodul Hassan, minister of state and tribal affairs, from Haripur jail. He stated that Balochistan was treated differently from the rest of the country – authorities were not willing to tolerate even a moderate newspaper such as Istiqlal, let alone alleviate the area’s peripheral status. From prison he demanded of the government to scrap all the colonial legal and political measures and treat its people like citizens of a free country. He presented 23 points for the committee to consider, but its fate was little different from that of the contemporary reforms committees on Balochistan.
Khan Abdul Samad Khan Achakzai was a man of unflinching resolve. His political thought and struggle could shape a viable constitutionalism, federalism and truly representative democracy, if only his legacy were not relegated to a corner by the non-representative power centres in the country.