Three Peace Forces

The Khudai Khidmitgars, Shanti Sena and Nonviolent Peaceforce are compared and contrasted in terms of their peacekeeping, peacemaking and peacebuilding roles.

By Damon Lynch, December 2004.

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Twenty years before former UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros Ghali made them widely known in 1992, Galtung identified three strategies for peace—peacekeeping, peacemaking, and peacebuilding.1 In midst of probably the most violent century in all of human history, the 20th century, a gamut of organized nonviolent groups have implemented all three strategies. Some of these groups were sufficiently organized, trained and disciplined that comparisons between them and traditional armies were made. The Khudai Khidmitgars (KKs), Shanti Sena and Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP) are three of the most compelling examples of nonviolent forces. This essay highlights distinct and important differences beyond their common desire to resolve violent conflicts and create peace without resorting to violence. It argues that despite their differing peace strategies and contrasting ethno-religious and political ambitions, there are key parallels in their peacekeeping roles, training, and their spirit of service and self-sacrifice.

Overview of the three peace forces

The Khudai Khidmitgars (“Servants of God”) were a highly disciplined nonviolent army of Pakhtuns—complete with uniform, rank, and a band—who fought British imperial rule in the Northwest Frontier Province of what is today Pakistan. Their nonviolent resistance activities included noncooperation, picketing, boycotts, marching, demonstrations and meetings. They remained resolutely nonviolent in the face of severe repression, violence, and humiliation from British colonial rulers (including torture and massacres), despite the Pakhtuns having a renowned history of violent resistance. Their handcrafted guns and daggers remained at home as they faced the wrath of the world's largest empire.2

The Shanti Sena (“Peace Army”) was founded by Gandhian Vinoba Bhave in India, drawing on ideas Gandhi had proposed on the topic at various times.3 Schweitzer says the Shanti Sena “was meant to be an alternative to the military and the police. The members of Shanti Sena primarily worked where they lived, becoming so-called peace soldiers only when there was an emergency. They worked to de-escalate communal riots, helped to re-integrate members of criminal gangs into society and did humanitarian work during refugee crises (like the Bangladesh war in 1971) or natural disasters. In the middle of the 1970s, they were part of the resistance movement against the authoritarian government of Indira Gandhi. . . . Shanti Sena was not dissolved but became active only again in the1980s when there was another wave of communal riots.”4

Reflecting its origins in an era of globalization, the Nonviolent Peaceforce is a contemporary attempt to undertake truly international nonviolent peacekeeping and peacemaking. The mission of the Nonviolent Peaceforce is to “facilitate the creation of a trained, international civilian nonviolent peaceforce. The Peaceforce will be sent to conflict areas to prevent death and destruction and protect human rights, thus creating the space for local groups to struggle nonviolently, enter into dialogue, and seek peaceful resolution.”5

Table 1: Overview of the Khudai Khidmitgars, Shanti Sena, and Nonviolent Peaceforce

KKs Shanti Sena NP
Primary role

Nonviolent combatants on one side of an otherwise violent conflict; significant social reform; occasional peacekeeping.

Peacekeeping, peacemaking and peacebuilding in India.

Peacekeeping and peacemaking as an external party intervention force, impartially intervening in conflicts only when invited and only to supplement efforts by existing local groups.



1957-74; 1980-present6



Up to 100,000 in the 1930s.

6,000 in the mid-1960s.7

Intends to train 2,000 active members, 4,000 reserves, and 5,000 support personnel over a six-year period.8 16 fieldworkers currently in Sri Lanka.

Financial remuneration of members


Community support via voluntary contributions9



Abdul Ghaffar Khan (1890-1988).

Vinoba Bhave (1895-1982) and Jayaprakash Narayan (1902-1979).

Fifteen member International Governing Council with representatives from every continent.

Table 1 usefully highlights key differences between the three peace forces. Galtung defines the purpose of peacekeeping as being to “control the actors so that they at least stop destroying things, others, and themselves.” Peacemaking “is concerned with the search for a negotiated resolution of the perceived conflicts of interests between the parties.” Peacebuilding “is the strategy which most directly tries to reverse those destructive processes that accompany violence.”10

The Khudai Khidmitgars standout due to their impressive size and because they were never anything other than active participants in an intense conflict. Before the movement was formed, their leader Khan was imprisoned merely for opening schools and instigating social reform among Pakhtuns; in their first year of operation, they faced violent repression such as the Qissa Khawani Bazaar massacre in which two to three hundred nonviolent demonstrators were killed. Their heroics in the period 1930-34 inspired the rest of India; Gandhi said “that such men who would have killed a human being with no more thought than they would kill a sheep or a hen should at the bidding of one man have laid down their arms and accepted non-violence as a superior weapon sounds almost like a fairy tale.”11 Not only the British but many Indians looked down upon the Pakhtuns as brutes. When the British inflicted cruel violence upon the nonviolent Pakhtuns, colonial claims about their inherent superiority in contrast to the violence and social decay of the Pakhtuns were demonstrated to be false. Khan used the traditional Pakhtun sense of individual and tribal honor for a new end—keenly aware of the third party effect of nonviolence and the need for unified opposition to the British, he told them that if they put aside their differences and fought nonviolently people all over the world would marvel to see what they thought was “such a barbarous nation observing patience.”12

In contrast, the Nonviolent Peaceforce is an external party to conflicts. It chooses conflicts in which to intervene from among a variety of possibilities, with the capability to determine how far to stretch the scope of its relatively narrow objectives. Expectations are that casualties among members will be very minimal. It draws lessons from the experience of many previous successful and unsuccessful attempts at nonviolent intervention—their feasibility study contains an impressive discussion on the varieties of nonviolent intervention and conflict transformation approaches that have occurred in the 20th century. Its determination to work with existing local groups draws on the advantages for peace-work of long-term community engagement, as seen in experiences of the Shanti Sena and Peace Brigades International (PBI). PBI's success with accompaniment informs their field strategies, and positive and negative experiences of their operational policies on issues such as turnover, duration, and remuneration have also had significant influence.

The Shanti Sena fall somewhere between the Khudai Khidmitgars and the Nonviolent Peaceforce in the range of nonviolent approaches they practiced. They attempted to faithfully enact Gandhian principles and politics in a situation of unresolved structural and ongoing communal violence in post-independent India, as well as limited international peacekeeping. As an individual, Gandhi was a formidable spiritual and political force, and the Shanti Sena tried to work with both forces to transform Indian society. Its two strong-willed leaders, Bhave and Narayan, had faithful but diverging Gandhian visions of peacekeeping and peacebuilding. As Gandhi's spiritual heir, Bhave saw the Shanti Sena's primary function as preventive and preferred to focus on peacebuilding via village development; Narayan, Gandhi's political heir, was determined to confront violent struggles directly by focusing on peacekeeping. Nevertheless, “In terms of peace strategies, Shanti Sena used all three strategies: peace building, . . . peace-keeping in emergencies, and peace-making on the local level where riots occurred.”13 The Shanti Sena are noted for their riot prevention and control work. The “movement split even over the question of the war between India and China 1962 where the majority led by Vinoba Bhave considered the military defence by India against the Chinese invasion as justified, while a minority led by Jayaprakash Narayan proposed to interpose Shanti Sena between the two warring parties in order to stop the war.”14

The contrasts between the three movements are perhaps most dramatically revealed when examining the political and religious dimensions of their nonviolence (Table 2):

Table 2: Religious and Political Orientation

KKs Shanti Sena NP
Posture toward existing power structures

Aimed to eliminate imperial rule in Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) of India and in the Indian Subcontinent generally.

Challenged local power structures, particularly large landlords, mullahs, and patriarchs.

Bhave's vision was to create the conditions for the State to gradually whither away, emphasizing peacebuilding through spiritual awakening.15

Narayan, by contrast, was much more of a political figure and on June 5 1974 called for “total revolution” and “direct attacks against all systems fostering oppression on all fronts at once” during the oppressive rule of Indira Gandhi.16

Consciously avoids alignment with world powers.

Seeks nonalignment and nonpartisanship in the conflict area in which it works.

Diversity of funding sources sought.

Political involvement

Closely aligned with All-India National Congress Party (AINC), in which Khan had leadership roles, although ultimate KK loyalty was with Khan himself, not the AINC. Political power gained in NWFP 1937-1939 and 1946-47 through the leadership of Khan's brother Dr. Khan Sahib; seen as not radical enough by the KKs in 1939.17

Tension in perspective between factions following Bhave and Narayan eventually led to a debilitating split and eventual freeze in the movement. Narayan's faction engaged in politics; Bhave advocated Shanti Sena members not even vote, and that the ballot “smelled of bullets”.18

No explicit political orientation.

Religious orientation

Overtly Islamic in culture and ideology; tolerant of all religions. Khan was proud his ancestors ancient religious heritage; he “studied both the holy Koran and Bhagavat Gita profoundly and reverently.”19

Bhave drew heavily on the Bhagavad Gita and other sacred scriptures; he undertook cow protection late in life, a deeply symbolic Hindu act. He believed “politics disintegrates and spirituality unites”, and that spiritual change led to socio-economic and political change, not the other way around.20

No organizational religious orientation. Participants likely to have a religious and spiritual foundation.

Formal membership includes religious peace building organizations including those from Christian, Jewish, and Buddhist faiths. 23% of 2003 funding from faith organizations.21

Ethno-religious identity

Pakhtun first and foremost, then Muslim, and finally Indian / Pakistani.

Indian, working in Gandhian spirit with people of all faiths. Members pledged to “respect all religions equally.”22

Global composition, governance and orientation, with regional offices worldwide.

Nonviolent intervention

The three peace forces share experiences with nonviolent intervention, as seen in Table 3. Czempiel says intervention is “Any influencing of a system of rule from the outside, no matter if the influencing is done by nonviolent or by violent means.”23 Schweitzer suggests nonviolent conflict intervention occurs when “1. the objective is conflict transformation, and the [sic] when the intervener, (either as a nonpartisan external party taking the interests of all conflict parties into consideration, or as a partisan party supporting one side in the conflict), engages in conflict transformation and/or human rights and justice, and when 2. there is no use of direct or indirect deadly violence.”24 The peacekeeping activities of all three peace forces fit this definition.

Table 3: Examples of peacekeeping for violence dissolution and human rights protection during violent conflict

KKs Shanti Sena NP
Protective accompaniment

Following attacks on Sikhs and Hindus by pro-Muslim League Muslims, 10 – 20,000 KKs entered Peshawar on March 19 1947 to protect religious minorities, dispersing to other trouble spots in April once they had successfully calmed the area.25

In conjunction with other peace teams, identified and accompanied Turkish refugees back to their villages in the Cyprus Resettlement Project, 1973.26

Placed eleven international peacekeepers in four locations in Sri Lanka in November 2003, doing accompaniment work and election observing in the April 2004 parliamentary elections.30 Sixteen currently serve, with plans to expand their number to fifty.31

Inter- / intra-national presence

Riot prevention in Indian trouble spots through public presence, leadership persuasion, and community building measures.27

Witnessing, monitoring and observing

Formed peace centers and inspired a local observers team in Nagaland, Northeast India, 1965 – 1972.28


Riot dissolution by placing women and men in riots.29

Narayan proposed inter-positioning between invading Chinese troops and Indian troops in 1962; rejected by Bhave.

Weber says “The history of nonviolent, unarmed peacekeeping forces only really commenced in the 20th century.”32 The first and “most celebrated” example was that of Maude Royden's Peace Army, which although unsuccessful was intended to intervene between warring Japanese and Chinese forces in Shanghai.33 At different times British Members of Parliament like Henry Usborne and Richard Acland proposed unarmed United Nations peace forces.34 Other 20th century initiatives included the World Peace Brigade and the World Peace Guard; Schweitzer suggests that since World War I there have been at least one dozen documented proposals for standing nonviolent peace forces, with at least twice as many that have been overlooked.35

In comparison to the advanced development of the inter-state system and its norms of sovereignty and limited intervention, the body of knowledge and expectations for international nonviolent intervention is relatively tiny. Nevertheless, international norms regarding human rights, the use of force, and the limits to state sovereignty are all moving in the direction of making international nonviolent intervention more feasible. Organizations like the United Nations are now more likely to consider what relevance the experiences of groups like the Nonviolent Peaceforce have for their operations.36


Peace forces provide unparalleled opportunities for nonviolent training compared to more transitory nonviolent organizations. They have time to develop and refine their training until it meets requirements. The Khudai Khidmitgars and Shanti Sena both ran training camps in the field. Shanti Sena training camps were generally one weekend or one-week in duration, although annual camps could be ten days long. Camps were tailored for youth, villagers, tribals, and intelligentsia. Depending on the participants, camp activities included prayer and meditation, collective study, lectures and discussions, cultural programs, sanitation, games, manual labor and constructive work, and theoretical aspects of the Shanti Sena. Integrated living was stressed.37 Typical Khudai Khidmitgar training camps lasted one week. Strict discipline was emphasized. Activities included drills, physical fitness training, village cleaning, political education, spinning, grinding wheat, political-cultural performances, and speeches from senior members including Khan. These speeches included not only key themes such as “the importance of unity and the need for adherence to non-violence, but would also give lessons of a quite direct and practical nature” on topics such as what prison life was like.38 The camps were often large; some camps had 800 participants.

Nonviolent Peaceforce training is designed for three different groups. The first is the field workers themselves. Initial inductees into the Nonviolent Peaceforce underwent a three-week training in Thailand in 2003, with their program developed by U.S. based group Training for Change. The Nonviolent Peaceforce has also been using training as a way to strengthen relationships with partners who practice nonviolence, such as organizations drawn from Muslim, Bihar, and Tibetan exile communities in South Asia.39 Finally training is also used to educate supporters in wealthy donor countries and draw them into the organization, solidifying their commitment.


Executive Director of the Nonviolent Peaceforce, American Mel Duncan, currently has a son serving with the National Guard in Iraq. Duncan says “While I disagree with his actions, I do respect his commitment and sacrifice.” Whilst reflecting on the sacrifice of soldiers, whether armed or unarmed, he says it is “clear that the rest of us who strive for peace and nonviolence have to demonstrate the same depth of commitment shown by the individuals involved in these organizations. While demonstrating, advocating, and donating money are important, if we are to build a truly viable nonviolent alternative to military interventions, many of us, including me, will have to deepen our commitment. . . . We must resist wars. But it is not enough to be against something. We also have to create. An attractive, achievable vision compels people to act.”40

Duncan's advocacy of an achievable alternative to violence through sacrifice and service was precisely what Khan demonstrated to his people. “We recognised Badshah Khan! People always recognise practical people with a drive to do things,” said one Khudai Khidmitgar. “Badshah Khan himself conveyed a sense of total self sacrifice—that was the secret of his growing following,” said another.41 Khan summed up what he meant by selfless service when he said “if you want your country and your people to prosper you must stop living for yourselves alone, you must start living for the community. That is the only way to prosperity and progress.”42

Beyond the service of joining the movement and the risks in entailed, both the Khudai Khidmitgars and Shanti Sena insisted on daily practical community service by their members. The Khudai Khidmitgar oath concluded by saying “I promise to devote at least two hours a day to social work.” An early Shanti Sena pledge said “I will devote my whole mind to dis-interested service of the people. . . . I will give my whole time and my best thought to the work of the nonviolent revolution of Sarvodaya [the uplift of all], with its practical programs of Bhoodan -yajna [land gift movement] and village industry.” A later Shanti Sena pledge included devoting “regularly a part of my time to the service of my fellowmen.”43 Khudai Khidmitgar Safaraz Nazim illustrated the critical contribution of selfless service to nonviolence when he said “To induct people into the philosophy of the movement the first step was to instil [sic] a sense of service. Then came a sense of non-expectation and humility and from there on came a feeling of non-violence. The KK had to first understand the importance of humble, selfless service (khidmat) to the people. The term Khudai Khidmitgar literally means the one who serves God. Badshah Khan said that the best way to serve God was to serve one's fellow beings. Revolutionary political activity . . . could come only later”44

The time spent doing community service by Nonviolent Peaceforce field workers is unclear, although they do have a policy of leading a “modest life style” and accompaniment itself is an act of service.45 Their relative outside role likely makes it more difficult to carry out the type of service performed by the Khudai Khidmitgars and Shanti Sena.


The Khudai Khidmitgars were a highly ambitious organization led by one of humanity's more remarkable figures.46 Their disciplined nonviolence was exceptional; they were a faithful demonstration of Gandhi's nonviolence of the brave. Their strategy went beyond nonviolent resistance to encompass political work, socioeconomic reform, constructive work, the empowerment of women, and significant cultural change. Their success in these areas is all the more stunning considering the impoverished and fractured society in which they arose. While they did not remain a powerful force after Indian independence and the subsequent creation of the state of Pakistan (whose creation they had opposed), their valuable contribution to freedom is undeniable.

The Shanti Sena were also truly ambitious. Their long-term vision of a spiritual and empowered society was revolutionary in all senses of the term. While their work and example did improve the lives of untold numbers of India's most vulnerable, their difficult struggle to embody both the political and spiritual dimensions of Gandhi's nonviolence provides a precautionary lesson for those who wish to strategically advance nonviolent social change. Their size was never large considering India's population and the clear need for their services. It may be that the visible threat of a common external enemy is an important contributer to the growth of a nonviolent force, given the relatively small size of the Shanti Sena and the decline of the Khudai Khidmitgars once independence had been achieved.

At least as much as any recent organization dedicated to nonviolence, the Nonviolent Peaceforce is cautiously and systematically attempting to build upon the failures and successes of previous attempts at international nonviolent intervention as they apply principles of strategic nonviolence in the midst of violent conflict. While their mission is broad, their size is small and their objectives are considerably narrower in scope than that of the Khudai Khidmitgars or Shanti Sena. Given the brief history of international nonviolent intervention compared to the many centuries of humanity's experience with empires, war and exploitation, the potential for substantial innovation is great. The many cases of peaceful change in violent conflicts made by nonviolence in recent history indicate that the potential for their success is clear. Whether this potential is realized in practice is of course completely unpredictable.

1Christine Schweitzer, “Putting Nonviolent Peaceforce in the Picture,” in Nonviolent Peaceforce Feasibility Study, Donna Howard, Mareike Junge, Corey Levine, Christine Schweitzer, Carl Stieren, and Tim Wallis (Hamburg: September 2001),, 26.
2See in particular Eknath Easwaran, Nonviolent Soldier of Islam: Badshah Khan, A Man to Match His Mountains, second ed. (Petaluma: Nilgiri Press, 1999), and Mukulika Banerjee, The Pathan Unarmed: Opposition & Memory in the North West Frontier, (Oxford: James Currey, 2000).
3Gandhi was assassinated two days before he was due to leave for Sevagram to lead a meeting to discuss creating a Shanti Senta, inter alia.
4Donna Howard, Christine Schweitzer, and Carl Stieren, “Strategies, Tactics and Activities in Intervention”, in Nonviolent Peaceforce Feasibility Study, Donna Howard, Mareike Junge, Corey Levine, Christine Schweitzer, Carl Stieren, and Tim Wallis (Hamburg: September 2001),, 197.
5Nonviolent Peaceforce,
6To what extent the contemporary Shanti Sena reflects its former strength is unclear.
7Mark Shepard, Soldiers of Peace: Narayan Desai and Shanti Sena, the “Peace Army”,
8Nonviolent Peaceforce, FAQ,
9Thomas Weber, Gandhi's Peace Army: The Shanti Sena and Unarmed Peacekeeping (Syracuse University Press, 1996), 74.
10Cited in Schweitzer, “Putting Nonviolent Peaceforce in the Picture,” 27.
11Cited in Easwaran, Nonviolent Soldier of Islam, 20.
12Banerjee, The Pathan Unarmed, 156.
13Howard, Schweitzer, and Stieren, “Strategies, Tactics and Activities in Intervention,” 198.
14Howard, Schweitzer, and Stieren, “Strategies, Tactics and Activities in Intervention,” 197.
15Weber, Gandhi's Peace Army, 141-143.
16Weber, Gandhi's Peace Army, 94.
17Shah, Ethnicity, Islam and Nationalism, 83.
18Weber, Gandhi's Peace Army, 97.
19Abdul Ghaffar Khan, My Life and Struggle (Delhi: Hind Pocket Books, 1969), 194.
20Weber, Gandhi's Peace Army, 142.
21Nonviolent Peaceforce, 2003 Annual Report,, 20.
22Weber, Gandhi's Peace Army, 207.
23Cited in Schweitzer, “Putting Nonviolent Peaceforce in the Picture,” 18-19.
24Schweitzer, “Putting Nonviolent Peaceforce in the Picture,” 23.
25Shah, Ethnicity, Islam and Nationalism, 203.
26See for overviews Weber, Gandhi's Peace Army, and A. Paul Hare, “Cyprus Resettlement Project: An Instance of International Peacemaking” in Nonviolent Intervention Across Borders: A Recurrent Vision, Yeshua Moser-Puangsuwan and Thomas Weber (Honolulu: Spark M. Matsunaga Institute for Peace, University of Hawai'i, 2000) 115-129.
27See Shepard, Soldiers of Peace, and Weber, Gandhi's Peace Army.
28Weber, Gandhi's Peace Army, 107.
29Narayan Desai suggests women “are more successful” in direct intervention during riots “because they are less likely to be attacked.” See Shepard, Soldiers of Peace.
30See various updates at
31Mel Duncan, “Father and Son: Seeking Alternatives to War” in Peace Work (Cambridge, MA: American Friends Service Committee, April 2004),
32Ibid., Gandhi's Peace Army, 13.
33Weber, Gandhi's Peace Army, 14.
34Weber, Gandhi's Peace Army, 15.
35Ibid., “Putting Nonviolent Peaceforce in the Picture,” 42-43.
36As suggested by NP co-founder David Hartsough, 2004.
37Weber, Gandhi's Peace Army, 134-136.
38Banerjee, The Pathan Unarmed, 75-76.
39Nonviolent Peaceforce, 2003 Annual Report,
40Ibid., “Father and Son: Seeking Alternatives to War”.
41Banerjee, The Pathan Unarmed, 66.
42Khan, My Life and Struggle, 95.
43Weber, Gandhi's Peace Army, 207-209.
44Banerjee, The Pathan Unarmed, 79. The importance of service suggests Ackerman and Kruegler ought to add it to the list of responsibilities of a nonviolent organization's operational corp. See Peter Ackerman and Christopher Kruegler, Strategic Nonviolent Conflict: The Dynamics of People Power in the Twentieth Century (Westport: Praeger Publishers, 1994).
45See Charles Otieno, Letter from Nonviolent Peaceforce Sri Lanka Project (December 2003),
46There has perhaps been no one else in human history who spent close to 80 years in the service of his or her people.