A warrior with pen and sword

After leaving his job as a school teacher, Kakaji Sanober Hussain Momand waged a long struggle against the British

Kakaji Sanober Hussain Momand, the freedom fighter, waged a long struggle against the British in the Tribal Areas.

He was born in January 1897 at Kazha Wala, a village near Peshawar. After matriculation from Islamia College, Peshawar, he joined government service as a school teacher in Bazi Khel area. However, he soon left the job and started his journey to resist imperialism.

He joined the Khudai Khidmatgar Tehreek, led by Bacha Khan, a staunch follower of Mohandas Gandhi and adherent to his philosophy of non-violence. However, Kakaji soon parted ways with the movement, concluding that a strategy of non-violence would allow the British to strengthen their stranglehold on the subcontinent rather than forcing them to leave.

He later established political ties with the Indian National Congress but soon left it on account of its soft stance towards the British. Kakaji established the Anjuman-i-Zamindaran in 1924 to protect the rights of the farmers of the area, in particular to address their demand for a steady supply of water.

In order to extend the range of anti-imperialistic resistance, he later formed another political organisation, Nojawanan-i-Sarhad, in 1924. It was later merged with the Bharat Sabha, led by Bhagat Singh. Kakaji became the party’s secretary general and Mufti A Rahim Popalzai its president.

In April 1923, British troops opened indiscriminate fire at a crowd protesting against the arrest of Bacha Khan in the famous Qissa Khwani Bazaar of Peshawar. More than 400 people were killed and hundreds were wounded in this carnage. In the aftermath of the Qissa Khwani incident, both Kakaji and Mufti Popalzai were arrested and imprisoned at Bala Hisar Fort in Peshawar.

Kakaji was freed after six months. He immediately moved to the Tribal Areas where he joined Haji Sahib Turangzai’s movement and fought at several fronts against the British troops.

Kakaji was an upright Muslim, staunch socialist and fiercely anti-imperialist. In order to strengthen his movement, he not only established relations with Bhagat Singh, Subhash Chandra Bose, Haji Sahib Turangzai, Mufti Popalzai and Faqir Ipi, he was also in contact with the Bolshevik leaders of the time and with Ghazi Amanullah Khan of Afghanistan.

After prolonged resistance against British imperialism in the Tribal Areas, Kakaji returned to Peshawar in 1948 and engaged in progressive literary activities. Being a pro-socialist and liberal writer, he was designated president of the NWFP chapter of the Anjuman-i-Taraqqi Pasand Musannifin. When the government of Pakistan banned the Communist Party and arrested its leaders, Kakaji was also imprisoned in Dera Ismail Khan in 1952. During this time, he was seriously injured when an insane prisoner attacked him with a knife.

Research scholar Hamesh Khalil says: “I had known Kakaji from my childhood. I learnt a lot from him. I also had the privilege of spending time in prison with him during the Martial Law imposed by Gen Ayub Khan in 1958. In those days, I was arrested by Peshawar police for expressing anti-government views and was detained at Gul Bahar station. Once when I questioned a police official about the charges against me; he replied: ‘Be patient and wait. The rest of your comrades will also be brought here soon.’”

Kakaji was indeed a staunch socialist. He was fiercely anti-imperialist. In order to strengthen his movement, he not only established relations with Bhagat Singh, Subhash Chandra Bose, Haji Sahib Turangzai, Mufti Popalzai and Faqir Ipi, he was also in contact with the Bolshevik leaders of the time and with Ghazi Amanullah Khan of Afghanistan. 

“Later, I was surprised to see three people who were brought to the police station. One of them was Kakaji Sanober Hussain. By that time, Kakaji had become quite frail due to old age. I was shocked to see Kakaji there and wondered why they were so afraid of this thin and old man? We were then taken to Rawalpindi jail. After more than three months, we were transferred to Lahore District Jail, where several writers including well known Urdu poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz were also present.”

Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi (a renowned Urdu poet and writer) who was also imprisoned in Rawalpindi with Kakaji, later wrote in his memoirs: “In prisons, the real strength of a soul becomes apparent. Political prisoners, who have real moral strength, start to radiate their inner sunshine and become conspicuous. Of course, I am talking about Kakaji Sanober Hussain Momand, whom I met in jail for the first time. I had heard about how intolerant Pathans are. However, after meeting Kakaji, I realised that they are totally solemn. Those who fear truth and frankness mislabel such attributes as violence. I got introduced to Kakaji during the martial law imposed in 1958 and I felt the strength of his character and optimism. I have met thousands of people in my life. I, however, only accepted two or three of them. One of them is Kakaji Sanober Hussain.”

Kakaji proved himself to be a mature journalist and writer of his time as well. He started his first weekly Sarfarosh in 1930. After his arrest, the paper was banned by the government. To advance the aims of the Bharat Sabha, Kakaji next edited the Urdu magazine Sailab. After the publication of only three editions of Sailab, the government once again issued arrest warrants for Kakaji. However, he moved to Bajaur and started another journal in Pashto. It was called Shu’la.

After his return to Peshawar, Kakaji edited an esteemed literary magazine, Aslam, in the memory of his most trustworthy comrade Sahibzada Mohammad Aslam who had lost his life while fighting against the colonial forces in the Tribal Areas.

In collaboration with renowned Pashto poets and writers like Amir Hamza Shinwari, Kamil Momand, Ajmal Khattak, Hamesh Khalil and Qalandar Momand; Kakaji set up the Pashto Olasi Adabi Jirga (The National Pashto Literary Board) in 1951 that proved to be a milestone in the history of Pashto literature.

Kakaji translated several Persian and Arabic books into Pashto. These included Umar Khayyam’s quatrains, the travelogue of Ibne Battuta, Fitnatul Kubra by Egyptian writer Taha Hussain and M’aashyat aur Imranyat of Shah Waliullah into Pashto.

He also wrote several books on notable Islamic scholars. Kakaji was also a Pashto poet, literary critic and story writer. He passed away on January 3, 1963.

The writer is a lecturer at Degree College Zhob and a columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]

Kakaji Sanober Hussain Momand: A warrior with pen and sword