The revolutionary Achakzai

Abdul Samad Achakzai, popularly known as Khan Shaheed, has left behind a rich legacy of resistance

The revolutionary Achakzai

By determinedly opposing British colonialism, on the intellectual and political fronts, Abdul Samad Achakzai, popularly known as Khan Shaheed, left an indelible mark on the history of the freedom movement.

Khan Shaheed’s forefathers were also known to be formidable persons of their time. This is especially true of his great-grandfather Barkhordar Achakzai, who is believed to have commanded a regiment in the third battle of Panipat fought between the Maratha Empire and the Afghan army led by Ahmed Shah Abdali in January 1761.

According to a biography of Khan Shaheed, he was born on July 7, 1907, in the Inayat Ullah Karez village of Gulistan, then part of Quetta district (now Qilla Abdullah). After acquiring basic education from his father, Noor Mohammad Achakzai at home, he was enrolled in a hometown school at the age of 13. After passing middle grade, he quit studies and started helping his family in farming.

Khan Shaheed was one of the few revolutionaries in the era who spent about 28 years behind bars. For the first time, he was arrested with 16 other companions by the British political agent when they prepared to go Afghanistan to help Ghazi Amanullah Khan, who had been ousted by Bacha Saqaw in 1929. Amanullah Khan planned to regain his lost kingship with support and a march from Kandahar to Kabul. They were released after 28 days’ detention when Amanullah Khan went on self-exile.

For his unshakeable stance and untiring struggle for the liberation of his people, the British government often locked him up.

Khan Shaheed made his first trip to east India in 1931 at a time when political temperature of the subcontinent was peaking. Although, he stayed there for just 15 days, he was highly influenced by the teachings of Mohandas Gandhi. This proved a turning point in his life.

In his noted autobiography, Zama Zhwand aw Zhwandun (My life and life style), he writes: “I learnt in these 15 days what I could not have learned in 15 years.”

Upon his return to Balochistan, Khan Shaheed eagerly began organising political activities against the British. In 1931, he was once again imprisoned along with his brother Abdul Salam Achakzai and Ayub Khan Achakzai. They were detained in the notorious Mach Jail for 11 months.

The revolutionary Achakzai

After that, with the collaboration of many Baloch political leaders, he held the Balochistan and All India Baloch Conference in Jacobabad in December 1932. As a staunch follower of Gandhi, especially of his non-violence teaching, Khan Shaheed was often called the Balochistani Gandhi. He was imprisoned for the third time in 1934 for three years. In those days, Mir Abdul Aziz Kurd of Baloch National Movement was also in prison for advocating his people’s rights.

It is believed that Maulana Zafar Ali Khan wrote an Urdu poem titled Inqilab-i-Balochistan to pay tribute to these two revolutionaries. The poem was published on the front page of his popular newspaper, Zamindar.

(Ayubis are proud of Abdul Aziz Kurd,

Achakzais are proud of Abdul Samad,

They are once again defying the kings

While facing hunger)

In 1933, Khan Shaheed became a member of the executive committee of the All India Conference at a time when the conference had elected Allama Mohammad Iqbal as its chairman. Although, he had started his political career in 1929, he founded his first political party Injiman Watan Party in 1938.

As a firm believer in press freedom, Khan Shaheed understood that an independent press could be used as a mighty tool against the colonisers. He faced many problems while trying to launch a newspaper. He established his own press in Quetta under the pen name of Yousaf Ali Khan Mugsi called Aziz Electronic Press and for the first time started printing a newspaper, Istaqlal, (in Pashto and Urdu). He is, thus, considered a pioneer of journalism in the British Balochistan. The growing influence of Istaqlal among the people perturbed the government. Ultimately, the district magistrate retracted its printing rights in 1943. However, Khan Shaheed started writing for some newspapers based in Delhi.

The partition of India in 1947 didn’t bring an end to Khan Shaheed’s trials. Three years later, he was again sent to jail.

Khan Shaheed founded Wror Pashtun (Pashtun Brotherhood) in April 1954 when he was freed after four years of imprisonment. The purpose of Wror Pashtun was to ensure the unity of Pashtuns.

Khan Shaheed merged the Wror Pashtun with the National Awami Party (NAP) formed in 1957 to bring democratic reforms, gain provincial autonomy and to resist the One Unit that was imposed in 1955. The NAP proved a strong nationalist and progressive alliance comprising noted Pashtun, Baloch, Sindhi and Bengali nationalist factions. Mian Iftikharuddin, Maulana Bhashani, GM Syed, Bacha Khan, Abdul Samad Achakzai (Khan Shaheed) and Ghous Baksh Bizenjo were among its members. After just a year of the NAP formation, Khan Shaheed became the first victim of the martial law imposed by Gen Ayub Khan in 1958 when he was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment.

While he was still in jail, the NAP broke into Maulana Bhashani and Abdul Wali Khan factions in 1967.

Upon his release from jail, Khan Shaheed quit the NAP following differences with its leadership over Pashtuns’ rights and founded the National Awami Party Pashtunkhwa in July 1970. The same year, he contested elections to a provincial assembly seat from his party’s platform and won against the NAP Bhashani, NAP Wali and JUI Hazarwi candidates.

Khan Shaheed was a distinguished writer. He had command over several languages. He authored Pashto Zhaba au Likdoon, Zama Zhwand aw Zhwandon (autobiography) and Samadu-Lughatat (a Pashto dictionary).

He translated several books by noted writers into Pashto, including Tarjaman-ul-Quran by Maulana Abulkalam Azad, Gulistan-i-Saadi, Kemia-i-Saadat of Imam Ghazali, Seeratul Nabi by Maulana Shibli Numani, Future of Freedom by Dotson Carto into Urdu as Azadi Ka Ufaq.

Khan Shaheed was assassinated at his Quetta residence on December 2, 1973. He was laid to rest in his ancestral graveyard in Inayatullah Karez of Gulistan.

Khan Shaheed left behind a rich legacy of resistance. Mehmood Khan Achakzai is now carrying forward his mission under the banner of Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PK MAP).

Pashto poet Prof Darwesh Durrani has paid tribute to him in a touching poem Da Shaheed Qabr Ta (To the grave of a martyr):

“He was declared a sinner when he refused to look at the enemy suns in his own sky.

He discriminated between light and dark,

He spent his entire life in darkness trying to light up suns for others,

But the heirs of Pharaoh soon got together quickly and called him a rebel,

They feared that a fledgling eagle was about to come out to hunt their dove of absolutism.

The senseless nation was deceived by the baseless allegations of the enemy,

They broke him, who was shedding tears over their wounds,

O grave. Now his blood-stained body has reached your lap. Please keep it in peace.”

The writer is a columnist and teaches literature at Boys Degree College Zhob. He can be reached at

The revolutionary Achakzai