My Life and Times is an autobiography of legendary Pashtun nationalist leader Abdul Samad Khan Achakzai (1907-73), commonly known as Khan Shaheed. It was originally written in Pashto, translated in English by Muhammad Khan Achakzai (ex Governor of Balochistan).
The book explores & critically reviews the dynamics of Pashtun nationalism in the Indian Subcontinent, the other side of the Freedom Movement and All India Muslim League, British Imperialism in the Indian Subcontinent, the politics of Indian National Congress, Pakistan beyond inception and the continuity of colonial legacy. It also outlines the story of overturning the 1956 Constitution of Pakistan, implementation of One Unit Scheme, General Ayub’s martial law and Samad Khan’s 14 years of imprisonment, and finally the fall of Dhaka.
The book contains seven chapters including an introduction and a note on the Chief Commissioner Province of British Balochistan. The last five major chapters are categorised in five parts in which the last one highlights the post-Partition political scenarios of Pakistan in a detailed way.
Part I and II of the book demonstrate Samad Khan Achakzai’s childhood, family background, early education, memories of the 1919 Afghan war of independence under the leadership of King Amanullah Khan. The writer then moves to his early interests in political affairs, participation in political and intellectual gatherings and debates.
The chapters critically explain the working style of Jirga and Judicial council which fuelled oil to the grievances of deprived Pashtuns in an era of colonialism. In these chapters, the author also briefs about his life of imprisonment during the British colonial Raja, his travels to India for political purposes, meetings with key leadership of Indian Subcontinent including Gandhi, M.A. Jinnah and Bacha Khan.
The third and fourth parts of the book focus on Khan Shaheed’s meetings with political leaderships of the British Balochistan and starting the first-ever newspaper of Balochistan, Istiqlal. Moreover, the merger of Muslim League and Muslim Conference, structural analysis of Pashtun society and the poor state of women have also been discussed in a well-defined way. The book gives a detailed note on the establishment of Anjuman-e-Watan, which primarily focused on the political role of Pashtuns. Undoubtedly, the author Samad Khan Achakzai, along with Bacha Khan, greatly campaigned for political goals to define and reimagine the status of Pashtuns in Indian Politics, their ethic and cultural identities, political representation and basic rights in an era of colonialism.
In his autobiography, Samad Khan profoundly focuses on Pashtun geography. He depicts the biased and derogatory policies of the British Raj in the Pashtun belt. The third part also highlights the then role of tribal Khans and Sardars in Pashtun society, the pejorative role of British-sponsored jirga. In the ending paragraphs, he depicts the aristocratic behaviours of jail authorities during the last phase of British colonial Raj.
The fourth part of the book significantly covers Samad khan’s meeting with Baloch leadership, especially the then Khan of Kalat. The working strategy of Samad Khan and Baloch leaders to bring reforms and spread political awareness among Pashtuns and Baloch are thought provoking. The last pages of part 4 also cover Samad Khan Achakzai’s visits to Peshawar, interaction with Frontier Gandhi Bacha Khan and discussions on Pashtun questions in the Indo-Pak region.
The last chapter, entitled “Post-Partition Scenarios” explains the establishment of Pakistan, Samad Khan’s letters to Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Liaqat Ali Khan and other key leaders of Muslim League. The letters explicitly reveal Samad Khan’s critical approach towards understanding matters of serious and grave concerns, ensuring principles of democracy and running a newly-born state of Pakistan.
Moreover, the last chapter scans the formation of the first-ever Pashtun nationalist party Wror Pashtun (Pashtun Brotherhood) Party in April 1954, which placed the foundation of modern Pashtun nationalism in the Indo-Pak region.
Additionally, the chapter also reveals the continuity of the British colonial legacy, the story of fake accusations and charges, and imprisonment of Samad Khan Achakzai. The author why Pakistan remained a state without constitution for almost seven years.
The writer unpacks the martial law of General Ayub Khan, and implementation of One Unit Scheme, which opened a gateway to injustice, inequality, exploitation and instability, and brought the state of Pakistan on the brink of national disintegration leading to secession of East Pakistan.
In the book, Samad Khan Achakzai discusses the nature and structure of Pashtunistan. By Pashtunistan, Mr. Achakzai means a province of Pashtuns encompassing all Pashtun belts within the territory of Pakistan. The book vividly describes that by Pashtunistan, Samad Khan Achakzai never meant an independent state. Mr. Samad Khan Achakzai also demonstrates that no political reform in the province of Balochistan can be useful without its division on an ethnic basis.
In his book, Mr. Achakzai brings the press conference of the then Chief Minister of Western Pakistan Dr. Abdul Jabbar Khan to the fore, in which he blamed Khan Shaheed for supporting a foreign agenda and waving the flag of a hostile state in the election campaign. Dr. Khan sb promised to bring the proofs before court, but failed to do so. Later on, Achakzai’s friends challenged his unlawful detention in the Karachi High Court, and he was released after three months of imprisonment.
The last pages of final part of the book cover the writer’s visits to different provinces of Afghanistan, meetings with Sardar Daud Khan, Zaher Shah and other notables of Afghan politics. The writer also shares his own observation of the political hemisphere and future of Afghanistan.
To conclude, the basic ingredients of the book My Life and Times, the tone of narration, style and depiction of incidents are unquestionably thought-provoking and worth reading. The uniqueness of the book is that it doesn’t bring in the personal grievances of the writer, but explains the political, social, educational and nationalist aspects in a very unbiased and scholarly manner.