Khan Wali Khan

Khan Abdul Wali Khan
In office
1972 – 1975
Succeeded by Sherbaz Mazari
In office
1968 – 1975
Preceded by Maulana Bhashani
In office
1986 – 1990
Succeeded by Ajmal Khattak

Born January 11, 1917
Utmanzai, North-West Frontier Province
Died January 26, 2006
Peshawar, Pakistan
Political party National Awami Party(Wali), Awami National Party
Spouse Nasim Wali Khan
Residence Walibagh, Charsadda, North-West Frontier Province
Religion Islam

Khan Abdul Wali Khan (Pashto: خان عبدالولي خان) (January 11, 1917 – January 26, 2006) was a Pashtun freedom fighter against the British Raj, a senior politician in Pakistan, and a noted writer. After the formation of Pakistan, Khan became a controversial figure in Pakistani politics, referred to as both a hero and traitor during his political career because of his association to the Congress which opposed the creation of Pakistan. A respected politician in his later years, he contributed to Pakistan's third constitution, led protests for the restoration of democracy in the 1960s and 1980s. In the 1970s, he served as the parliamentary leader of opposition in Pakistan's first directly elected parliament. He stoutly advocated Pashtunistan movement and Pashtun nationalism, provincial (state) rights within Pakistan's federal structure but always remained an advocate of political change through dialog.[1]


Khan Abdul Wali Khan had the rare distinction to suffer from both the British colonial power and the newly created Pakistan government. He spent years in jail under both governments. Khan was raised under the tutelage and example of his father, Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, nicknamed "Frontier Gandhi," a highly regarded freedom fighter. His father started the pacifist Khudai Khidmatgar (Servants of God) movement, centered in the North-West Frontier Province(NWFP). Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan's pacifistic movement earned him a close relationship with Mahatma Gandhi, an association carried on by his son, Khan Abdul Wali Khan, while his father served time in prison. Wali Khan drove Gandhi through the North-West Frontier Province during a campaign tour. Gandhi's movement, and the movement of Wali Khan and his father, resembled each other; Wali Khan aimed at creating a pacifist movement for the Muslim community. At his funeral in 2006, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf remarked: "The entire political life of the late Wali Khan was an embodiment of these qualities. The sad demise is indeed a great loss for the nation."[2] Like other peace activists, including Gandhi, at the end of his life even those who opposed him honored him.


Early life

Khan was born on January 11, 1917, into a family of local landlords in the town of Utmanzai in Charsadda district of the North-West Frontier Province(NWFP). His father, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, had been a prominent Pashtun Nationalist and confidante of Gandhi. A non-violent freedom fighter, he founded the pacifist Khudai Khidmatgar (Servants of God) movement. His mother, Mehar Qanda, from the nearby Razar village, married Bacha Khan in 1912; she died during the flu pandemic after World War I.

Khan, the second of three sons, received his early education from the Azad Islamia school in Utmanzai. In 1922, that school merged with a chain of schools his father had formed during his social reform activities. The Khudai Khidmatgar movement developed from that network of schools, eventually challenging British authority in the North-West Frontier Province through non-violent protest and posing one of the most serious challenges to British rule in the region.[3]

In May 1930, Khan narrowly escaped death during a British military crackdown in his home village. In 1933, he attended the Irish government's Deradun Public School and completed his Senior Cambridge. He discontinued education because of recurring problems with his eyesight. As a young freedom fighter, Khan seemed exasperated with the pacifism advocated by his father and Gandhi. He later explained his frustration to Gandhi in a story he told Muklaika Bannerjee; "If the cook comes to slaughter this chicken’s baby, is non-violence on the part of the chicken likely to save the younger life?” The story ended with a twinkle in his eye when he remembered Gandhiji’s reply, “Wali, you seem to have done more research on violence than I have on non-violence.”[4] His first wife died in 1949 while Khan was in prison. In 1954, he married Nasim Wali Khan, the daughter of an long time Khudai Khidmatgar activist.

Early politics

In 1942, Khan while still in his teens, joined the Khudai Khidmatgar movement. Soon after, he joined the Indian National Congress where he served as a provincial joint secretary of the party. He had been arrested and charged under the Frontier Crimes Regulations in 1943, at the height of the crackdown against the Quit India Movement. He opposed the 1947 partition of the subcontinent and criticized the British decision to break up India.

His elder brother, Ghani Khan's, withdrawal from politics may have influenced his decision to serve in a more prominent political role. With his father in jail, Khan assumed leadership of his father's movement. Despite his father's efforts against partition, and the attempt to instead create a new nation called Pakhtunistan, on August 14, 1947, Pakistan became a sovereign nation divided into West and East Pakistan. 1500 kilometers separated of Indian territory separated the two sections from each other.

Like his father after the creation of Pakistan, Khan agitated for Pashtun autonomy within a Pakistani Federal system, which placed him at odds with government authorities. Imprisoned without charge in 1948, he spent five years in prison until freed in 1953. He immediately started negotiations with the central government to allay apprehensions about the Khudai Khidmatgar.[5] He held talks with then NWFP Chief Minister Sardar Abdul Rashid and Prime Minister Muhammad Ali Bogra. He also held a series of meetings with then Governor General Ghulam Mohammed. Those negotiations proved successful and led to the release of hundreds of imprisoned activists belonging to the Khudai Khidmatgar movement. Khan next joined the National Awami Party (NAP) in 1956, a new political party formed by his father along with other progressive and leftist leaders from both wings of Pakistan.

The National Awami Party seemed to be on its way to victory in the 1959 elections,[6] when Commander-in-Chief Ayub Khan ousted the civilian President Iskandar Mirza in a military coup. He immediately outlawed political activity and imprisoned politicians, among them Wali Khan.

Politics: 1958–1972

After a few years of martial law, Ayub Khan introduced a new constitution and announced he would run in the next Presidential election. The opposition parties united under the Combined Opposition Party alliance and fielded a joint candidate against Ayub Khan in the Presidential elections. As an opposition leader, Wali Khan supported the consensus candidate Fatima Jinnah, sister of Pakistan's founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Wali Khan assisted Fatima Jinnah in her election campaign and served as her campaign manager.

The opposition's election campaign failed when Ayub Khan alleged rigged the vote and the opposition suffered from divisions among themselves.[7] The divisions between Wali Khan and National Awami Party President Maulana Bhashani especially harmed the opposition. Pro-Mao Bhashani allegedly unofficially supported Ayub Khan because of the government's pro-China policy.[7] Those divisions surfaced again in 1967, when the National Awami Party formally split into Wali Khan and Bhashani factions. That split corresponded with the Sino-Russian split, with Khan taking the Soviet side.

Wali Khan won election as president of his own faction of the National Awami Party in June 1968. In the same year, popular unrest broke out against Ayub Khan's rule in Pakistan, due to increasing corruption and inflation. Wali Khan, along with most of the opposition parties, including future Bangladeshi President Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and others, formed the Democratic Action Committee to negotiate with Ayub Khan for the restoration of democracy.[8] Attempting to provide Ayub Khan with an honorable exit from power, negotiations between Ayub Khan and the opposition continued between May 9 and May 10, 1969. Despite a compromise agreement on some issues, the military leadership and its political allies allegedly opposed Ayub Khan. Wali Khan held a separate meeting with Ayub Khan on May 11 to convince him to compromise. Ayub refused, and shortly afterward Ayub resigned under pressure from the military.[8]

The new military leader, Yahya Khan, called for general and provincial elections in 1970, promising to transfer power to the majority party. In the elections, Sheikh Mujeeb-ur Rehman, Bengali nationalist and leader of the Awami League, won a majority of seats nationally and all the seats from the East wing of the country. In West Pakistan, the charismatic populist Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto won the second largest number of seats in the assembly, almost solely from the Punjab and Sind provinces. Wali Khan won election to both the provincial Assembly as a member of the Provincial Assembly and the National Assembly from his home constituency of Charsadda. In the 1970 provincial elections, his National Awami Party won a near majority in Baluchistan and became the majority party at the provincial level in two of the four provinces in West Pakistan as well as a handful of seats in East Pakistan. Despite the results, the military government rejected the Awami League's victory.

In 1971, in an attempt to avert a possible showdown between the military and the people of East Pakistan, on March 23, 1971, Khan, along with other Pakistani politicians, jointly met Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. They offered support to Mujeeb in the formation of a government, but that proved too late to break the impasse as Yahya Khan had already decided on a full scale military crackdown. Pakistan's increasing vulnerability, and the widespread international outrage against the military crackdown, eventually created a situation that led to war between Pakistan and India. That disastrous war culminated in the defeat of Pakistan's armed forces in East Pakistan and the creation of the new state of Bangladesh. Shocked by the defeat, Yahya Khan resigned from office and the military. Under General Gul Hassan Khan, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto returned from America and received appointment as President.

During the martial law crackdown against East Pakistan, the National Awami Party under Wali Khan had been one of a handful of parties that protested the military operation. In one case, Khan helped a senior East Pakistani diplomat's son escape to Afghanistan from possible internment in West Pakistan. The military government, in retaliation against the protests, banned the party and launched mass arrests of party activists.[9]

Politics: 1972–1977

Tripatriate agreement

Khan, as the opposition leader, was contacted by Zulfiqar Bhutto, who wanted to lift martial law and set up a new constitution. Wali Khan's negotiations with civilian Martial Law Administrator President Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto led to the signing of an agreement with the government in 1972 called the Tripatriate Agreement.[10] The agreement led to the lifting of martial law, the removal of the ban on the National Awami Party, and the formation of National Awami Party coalition provincial governments in the NWFP and Balochistan. Despite the initial positive start, the agreement rapidly began to unravel due to the growing animosity between Khan and Bhutto.[11]

Liaqat bagh massacre & framing the constitution

On March 23 1973, the Federal Security Force, a paramilitary force under the alleged orders of Bhutto,[12] attacked a public opposition rally at the Liaquat Bagh in the town of Rawalpindi and killed a dozen people with many more wounded by automatic gunfire. Wali Khan narrowly escaped a bullet during the attack. Public anger among ethnic Pashtuns ran high, as almost all the dead and most of the wounded were from the NWFP and were mostly members of the National Awami Party. The enraged party workers and followers wanted to parade the dead bodies on the streets in Peshawar and other cities of the province, and provoke a full scale confrontation. Wali Khan rejected plan, restraining his infuriated party cadres. He escorted the bodies to Peshawar, had them buried quietly and shared condolences with their bereaved families.[12]

Despite the massacre, Wali Khan continued to support talks with Bhutto over a new constitution. Shortly afterwards, he received appointment as the leader of the opposition by joint agreement of all the opposition parties. He then led negotiations with Bhutto for the passage, in August 1973, of Pakistan's only unanimous constitution. Despite disagreements over issues ranging from provincial rights to the renaming of NWFP, according to federal negotiator Abdul Hafiz Pirzada,[13] Despite reservations, Wali Khan agreed to a compromise on the precondition that issues of judicial independence and provincial rights would be granted by the federal government after transition periods of five and ten years, respectively.[14]

He succeeded in incorporating Hydel and gas royalties for NWFP and Balochistan as well as having obligated the Federal government to ensure equal improvements for all regions in Pakistan. Due to Bhuttos party's large majority in Parliament and opposition divisions, Khan failed to stop Bhutto from concentrating greater power in his office.[15] Khan supported Bhutto's move towards the release of prisoners of war captured by India in the 1971 war and full normalization of relations through the Simla peace agreement.[16]

Arrest and Hyderabad tribunal

In 1974, after Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto's close ally and governor of the North-West Frontier Province Hayat Sherpao died in a bomb blast, Bhutto believed that Wali Khan and the National Awami Party were responsible, and in retaliation the federal government banned the National Awami Party. It also ordered the arrest and imprisonment of most of its senior leadership, including Wali Khan. The widely discredited Hyderabad tribunal subsequently put Wali Khan and his colleagues on trial.[17]

Refusing to participate in what he perceived as a farcical trial, Wali Khan declined to participate in his own legal defense. In response to one of the charges before the Hyderabad Tribunal, that he had been sent Rs 20 million by Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi through a certain emissary, Wali Khan sarcastically filed a civil suit against the emissary for the recovery of the Rs 20 million. Wali Khan argued that, although he could not imagine why Indira Gandhi would send him such a large sum of money, he had never received the money, and obviously the emissary had embezzled the money.

Politics: 1977–1990

After being freed in 1977, Wali Khan joined the National Democratic Party (NDP) led by Sardar Sherbaz Khan Mazari, and other former National Awami members. Khan refused the post of party President, preferring a career as an ordinary political worker. Showing a preference for the politics of principles, Khan and his party refused offers to join the Zia government as well as at least one offer to become the Prime Minister of an interim National government,[7] despite many of his former political allies and friends in the Pakistan National Alliance already accepting offers of ministry positions.

Despite that, the Zia era marked the beginning of the end of Wali Khan's role in politics at the national level, due to several factors, among them declining health, a split with Baloch Nationalists Mir Ghous Bizenjo,[7] his perceived support for the execution of Z.A Bhutto,[9] and his opposition to the Mujahidin resistance of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Khan opposed the Pakistan-U.S backed support for the conservative Mujahidin because he believed that Pakistan and the Mujahidin fought an American-backed war, and that the long term consequences of an interventionist policy in Afghanistan would harm all parties concerned.

Facts are Sacred

Although not widely known, Khan had previously written a book in Pashto on his father's non-violent movement, The Khudai Khidmatgar. In 1986, he published another book called Facts are Sacred. He wrote the book over many years, including critical and declassified British Imperial documents before the creation of Pakistan. Khan, citing those documents, alleged that Pakistan's formation had been part of a deliberate "divide and rule" policy of the British and that Muhammad Ali Jinnah (Pakistan's founder), along with various religious leaders and feudal landlords, acted on their behalf.

Awami National Party

In July 1986, Wali Khan and other former National Awami Party members formed the Awami National Party (ANP). Khan won election as the first President and Sindhi Nationalist Rasool Baksh Palijo became the first Secretary General of the party. The ANP, under Wali Khan's presidency, contested the 1988 national elections in alliance with former rivals the Pakistan Peoples' Party (PPP) of Benazir Bhutto (Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto's daughter). The ANP's success in the elections was limited to the NWFP and even then only certain regions of that province. In addition, Wali Khan lost his provincial seat to a PPP candidate, a sign of the decline in the ANP's popularity. The ANP-PPP alliance collapsed in 1989 after a perceived snub by PPP Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and a dispute over ministerial posts and the governorship of NWFP. After joining the opposition, Wali Khan started talks with the Army backed IJI (Islamic Democratic Alliance) and joined the alliance before the 1990 general elections.

Post retirement politics

After his defeat in the 1990 elections at the hands of opposition candidate Maulana Hasan Jan (a close confidante of the Afghan Pashtun leader Gulbadin Hekmatyar), Wali Khan opted to retire from electoral politics and turned down a senate ticket from his party and the offer from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of contesting Lahore. When asked his reason for retirement, he said that he had no place in politics “when the mullahs and ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) decide our destiny and politics”.[18]

As Wali Khan withdrew from politics, his contact with the press and public became limited. That period in the 1990s marked his party's assumption of power in alliance with former army-backed opponents, a focus only on provincial politics, the increasing influence of his wife in party affairs, corruption scandals hitting the once clean image of his supporters and in particular the focus on renaming the NWFP Pakhtunkhwa ("Land of the Pashtuns").[19] The exception in 1998 came in response to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's announcement of the construction of Kalabagh Dam, Pashtun and Sindhi nationalists opposed construction of the dam because they believed it would give control of Pakistan's water resources to the majority Punjabis. In response to the announcement, Wali Khan led a massive rally against the dam in the town of Nowshera. The rally spurred other parties, in particular Benazir Bhutto's PPP, into leading a campaign against the construction of the dam. The campaign successful forced Sharif to drop the plan.

In a press conference in 2001, Wali Khan supported the United States led attack on the Taliban and said that had the United States not attacked Afghanistan, the country would have turned into an Arab colony since Osama Bin Laden had a well-equipped army of 16,000 people, which far outnumbered the trained soldiers in the Afghan army. In a final press conference in 2003, Wali Khan announced his close friend and colleague Ajmal Khattak's return to the ANP, along with many other colleagues, who had briefly led a splinter faction of the party between 2000 and 2002.


Critics argue that Khan made limited contributions to Pakistan's polarized and corrupt political system. They challenged his claim that he had been the major or sole spokesperson for Pashtuns,[20] discounted the benefits of the 1973 constitution and the Simla agreement, and disagreed with his principles of not compromising with dictators. Others argue that if he had compromised with Pakistan's military establishment he may well have ended up Pakistan's Prime Minister, but that his principles proved to be his undoing.

Some Pashtun nationalists also criticized Wali Khan, as many felt that he squandered a chance to unite all Pashtuns in NWFP, Balochistan and Federally Administered Tribal Areas into one large province that could be named Pakhtunkhwa or Pakhtunistan. Khan also faced criticism for his "betrayal of his language" because of his, and the National Awami Party, support for Urdu as the provincial language of instruction in NWFP and Baluchistan (declared in 1972) rather than the majority languages of Pashto and Balochi.[21]

In the final analysis, senior Pakistani journalist M.A Niazi summed him up when he wrote:

Leaders of Wali Khan's calibre would challenge one of the reasons they trot out to justify their military interventions: the poor quality of civilian leadership. But in the long run, it is the nation as a whole that loses. We have not had so many politicians or statesmen that we can afford to waste such assets. If Wali Khan's potential was not fulfilled, Pakistan lost more than he did.

After a long illness, Wali Khan died of a heart attack on January 26, 2006, in Peshawar, Pakistan. Buried in his ancestral village in Uthmanzai, Charsadda, his funeral attracted wide attendance including members of the public and senior political leaders among them Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz. Condolence messages came from Pakistani President Pervaiz Musharraf, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Afghan President Hamid Karzai. His wife, Nasim Wali Khan, three daughters and two sons survived him. Asfandyar Wali Khan, his eldest son, true to the political traditions of Wali Khan's family, became a politician in Pakistan and the current President of the Awami National Party.

See also


  1. "Interview with Wali Khan," Feroz Ahmed Pakistan Forum 2 (9/10) (Jun.–Jul., 1972): 11, 13, 18.
  2. The Hindu International, Wali Khan's death a great loss, says Musharraf. Retrieved September 16, 2008.
  3. Victoria Schofield, Afghan Frontier Feuding and Fighting in Central Asia (Tauris Parke, 2003, ISBN 1860648959).
  4. Muklaika Bannerjee, Wali Baba, my adoptive father," Indian Express. Retrieved August 29, 2008.
  5. Intikhab Amir, "Wali Khan: A life of struggle" (DAWN group). Retrieved August 29, 2008.
  6. Lawrence Ziring, "Pakistan in the 20th Century. A Political History," OUP Pakistan.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Sherbaz Mazari, A Journey into Disillusionment (Oxford University Press, 1999).
  8. 8.0 8.1 Altaf Gauhar, Ayub Khan: Pakistan's First Military Ruler (Oxford University Press, 1996, ISBN 019577647X).
  9. 9.0 9.1, HP Khan Abdul Wali Khan: "His Fathers Shadow?" Retrieved August 29, 2008.
  10. Ahmed Feroz, "Interview with Wali Khan," Pakistan Forum 2 (9/10): 11, 13, 18.
  11. Sayyid A. S. Pirzada, The Politics of the Jamiat-i-Ulema-i-Islam Pakistan, 1971–1977 (Oxford University Press Inc, ISBN 0-19-579302-1).
  12. 12.0 12.1 Hamid Khan, Constitutional and Political History of Pakistan (Oxford University Press, 2004).
  13., More autonomy for smaller provinces: Asfandyar Wali August 26, 2003. DAWN, Dawn group. Retrieved August 29, 2008.
  14. Pak Tribune, Report on Shaukat`s participation in election for UN secretary generalship all rubbish: Shujaat. Retrieved August 29, 2008.
  15. Under the Velvet Glove (Mar. 5, 1973), TIME Magazine.
  16. Trial and Error The Advent and Eclipse of Benazir Bhutto Iqbal Akhund, ISBN 0195791606
  17. Paula Newburg, Judging the State: Courts and Constitutional Politics in Pakistan (Cambridge University Press, 2002, ISBN 0-521-89440-9).
  18. Adil Zareef, "Wali Khan—demise of a dream," The Daily Times. Retrieved August 29, 2008.
  19. Ghazali, slamic Pakistan: Illusions & Reality. Retrieved August 29, 2008.
  20. Adeel Khan, "Pakhtun Ethnic Nationalism: From Separation to Integration," Asian Ethnicity 4 (1).
  21. Tariq Rahman, "Pashto Language & Identity Formation in Pakistan" Contemporary South Asia 4 (2): 151.


  • Akhund, Iqbal. Trial and Error: The Advent and Eclipse of Benazir Bhutto. Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2000. ISBN 978-0195791600.
  • Banerjee, Mukulika. The Pathan Unarmed: Opposition & Memory in the North West Frontier. Santa Fe, NM: School of American Research Press, 2000. ISBN 978-0933452688.
  • Gauhar, Altaf. Ayub Khan, Pakistan's First Military Ruler. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996. ISBN 978-0195776478.
  • Khan, Hamid. Constitutional and Political History of Pakistan. Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2001. ISBN 978-0195793413.
  • Khan, Adeel P. "Ethnic Nationalism: From Separation to Integration." Asian Ethnicity 4(1)(2003).
  • Mazari, Sherbaz Khan. A Journey to Disillusionment. Karachi: Oxford University Press, 1999. ISBN 978-0195790764.
  • Newberg, Paula R. Judging the State: Courts and Constitutional Politics in Pakistan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. ISBN 978-0521894401.
  • Pirzada, Sayyid A. S. The Politics of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam Pakistan: 1971-1977. Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2000. ISBN 978-0195793024.
  • Schofield, Victoria, and Victoria Schofield. Afghan Frontier Feuding and Fighting in Central Asia. London: Tauris Parke Paperbacks, 2003. ISBN 978-1417556922.
  • Wali Khan, Khan Abdul. Facts are Facts: The Untold Story of India's Partition. New Delhi: Vikas Pub. House, 1987. ISBN 978-0706937558.
  • Wali Khan, Khan Abdul. In the Supreme Court of Pakistan: Written Statement of Khan Abdul Wali Khan. 1975. OCLC 4006087
  • Wolpert, Stanley A. Zulfi Bhutto of Pakistan: His Life and Times. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993. ISBN 978-0195076615.
  • Ziring, Lawrence. Pakistan in the Twentieth Century: A Political History. Karachi: Oxford University Press, 1999. ISBN 978-0195792768.


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