By Dhirendra Sharma
Having overthrown an elected government, General Pervez Musharraf had, at the gunpoint, declared himself President of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. But Musharraf was not the first dictator of Pakistan. When I crossed over Wagah border, the people of Pakistan had been under seize for well over 55 years. And I was visiting my childhood land after six decades. For all practical purposes I was not in an alien country. The people spoke familiar dialect, wore the same dress and ate the same food. After visiting Karachi, I was heading to Peshawar from Lahore via Islamabad and Rawalpindi
American presence in Pakistan notwithstanding, the motor highway to Peshawar was ditto copy of the U.S. Motorways – built by South Korean engineers. Military Raj had produced Atom Bombs but in a Third World country the motorway was the symbol of modernity. The bus too was made in South Korea but the video playing was an Indian Bollywood hit.
I halted at the State Tourism Guest House outside Taxila Museum. Archaeological sites dating back to the 5th century B.C. offers a glimpse of rich Gandhara arts, architecture, sculpture and learning of the Buddhist heritage of the central Asian civilization. Entire site of this great historical vintage was well preserved and protected by armed guards. Security officer’s room was echoing with popular Indian songs.
Looking at the artefacts of the ancient heritage one wonders what had gone wrong with the people of this great civilisation. Just a few kms. away, beyond the Khyber Pass, monumental structures of the great civilization, 5 storey tall, mountain statues of Bamian Buddhas were, inside Afghanistan, blown to dust by the Taliban government. A young curator confirmed unnecessary hostility prevailing towards “Indian civilization”. No Pakistani visits the site of Taxila, nor had any Indian visited Taxila confirmed the curator. Has he visited the Buddhist sites in India?
“I am working here for 20 years, but have not been to Sanchi, Vaishali or Bodh Gaya.
No Indian scholar had visited us. Nor have we in touch with any Buddhist centre in India,” he lamented, but assured me that many western, European and American Indologists– do frequently visit Taxila to study the ancient Indian history.
In Peshawar, we collected permit to visit the Khyber Pass and a gunman escort was provided for personal safety. The Gateway to the sub-continent, which Alexander took around 350 BC., is the Khyber Pass –through which came Babar and Tamur Lang, and the route that allowed the British to colonize India.
At the height of Khyber, today, every stone is witness of human tragedy: The vast Refugee camps where over two million Afghan people-mingling, quarreling, living out with peddling drugs, guns and prostitution. Two teenage boys offered us bundles of thousands of Taliban currency for one-US dollar baksheesh! They don’t go to school, and had been orphaned during the tragic civil war. Mother and sister had disappeared during the Islamic Taliban revolution.
Three local Pathans were enjoying mid-day meal, crossed legs on a clean spread of duree. “Our Indian guest must break roti with us”, insisted friendly Kabuliwalas. Being a vegetarian, politely I excused. But “Tumko kaun bola gosht khane KO?’ one Pathan roared and I floored to eat “Chane ki daal, mooli and Peshawri nan”. They were opposed to Talibanisation of the region and very angry with Musharraf’s friendship with the Yankee bully Bush. Nearby was an international gun market where one could openly purchase high-powered guns and missiles, Made in USA, Russia and China.
At the Frontier Gandhi’s Abode:
Returning to Peshawar, I visited “Wali Bagh” – the country residency of Dr. Wali Khan, the illustrious son of the late Frontier Gandhi, Abdul Gaffar Khan.
Dr.and Mrs. Wali Khan narrated atrocities committed by the Pakistani military dictators upon the helpless Pakhtoon nation of the North West Frontier. Cry for Freedom in Bangladesh was helped by India but the struggle of the Pakhtoons was lost in the cold-war strategy of the western powers (US and UK) who used Islamabad to crush aspiration of the Pakhtoon nationalism. But the Frontier Gandhi refused to recognize the Islamic Republic and had willed not to be buried in the na-Pak soil. His last resting place is across the Khyber, in the Pakhtoon soil of Afghanistan.
“India had abandoned us to the wolves”, wailed the Khan. He listed Pakhtoon families who on Mahatma Gandhi’s call gave up guns; becoming “Unarmed Volunteers” (khudai-khidmadgar) led by the Frontier Gandhi. More than 15,000 of them were imprisoned during the Indian Freedom Struggle 1942. But they had carried the Gandhi an Torch of Freedom inside the tribal areas of the North-West Frontier. But at the Mid Night hour of Independence, (1946), the Indian Congress led by Jawaharlal Nehru accepted the Partition. No one considered the future of the Pakhtoom people. Nehru did not consult the Frontier Gandhi. No-reward, or recognition was given to the sacrifices of the Pakhtoon people. They received no Freedom Fighters’ pension. Tagore had written a play “Kabuliwala” made into a film.
But New Delhi government had thrown the Pakhtoons to the wolfs. During the British Raj the Frontier Gandhi had spent eight years in prison But he was kept in prison for eighteen years by the Military rulers of Islamabad. His son Dr. Wali Khan too had spent three years under the British but Pakistani dictators kept him in prison for eight years. In the residency of Wali Khan, I visited the Saga of the Indian Freedom Struggle. Thousands of photographs of 1942 Quit India years of our last Battle of Independence led by Mahatma Gandhi were spread over all the walls of the Khan’s house. Outside was playing the Kabuliwala film song …aye mere pyaare vatan…un havaon ko Salaam!
Let a joined statue of Gandhi and Khan be placed at the India Gate!