When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi referred Balochistan, the troubled province of Pakistan, in his address from the ramparts of Red Fort on 15th August 2016, the occasion reminded many of us the multi-layered inside story of the days that unwillingly created the situation for Balochistan to accede to Pakistan. The concept of Balochistan as a nation-state was formed in 1410. Stretching till Iran to the West and Afghanistan to the North, it was an independent country before the British attacked and annexed it in 1839. Then it was British who arbitrarily sliced Balochistan into three pieces – Northern Balochistan, Western Balochistan, and Eastern Balochistan through two artificial borders-the Goldsmith Line (1871) and the Durand Line (1895). Northern Balochistan and Western Balochistan were given to Iran and Afghanistan respectively, while Eastern Balochistan, now a part of Pakistan, remained independent and maintained treaty relations with the British (First post, August 20, 2016). Till 1947 the British stayed in Eastern Balochistan and at the time of their departure they recognized Balochistan as an independent state. Thus, in post-withdrawal phase, Balochistan, like the State of Jammu and Kashmir, was an independent entity before whom there was a clear option to accede with any or remain independent. In a fast moving development and change of attitudes, on March 27, 1948, Balochistan made a choice to join Pakistan with a heavy heart.
History of Balochistan
With combined history the Baloch, Baloch or Balochi are people who live mainly in today’s Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan. About 50% of the total Baloch population lives in the western province of Pakistan, 40% of Baloch are settled in Sindh; and a significant number of Baloch people in Punjab of Pakistan. They make up nearly 3.6% of the Pakistani population, about 2% of Iran’s population and about 2% of Afghanistan’s population (Central Intelligence Agency, 2013). Although the exact origin of the word “Baloch” is unclear, the Balochi hail from Aleppo, now in Syria and are descendants of Hazrat Ameer Hamza, the uncle of the Prophet Muhammad, who settled in present-day Aleppo. The Balochi live in remote mountainous and desert regions, which have protected them from invasion and allowed them to form a distinct cultural identity. They are predominantly Sunni Muslims, but a significant number in Balochistan region are Shia Muslim. Balochi customs and traditions are conducted according to codes imposed by tribal laws. From the 1st century to the 3rd century CE, the region of modern Pakistani Balochistan was ruled by the Paratarajas, a dynasty of Indo-Scythian or Indo-Parthian kings. In succeeding years Arab forces invaded Balochistan in the 7th century, converting the Baloch people to Islam (Nasser, 2012). Arab rule in Balochistan lasted until the end of the 10th century.
In the Medieval era, shortly after that western Balochistan fell to Nasir-ud-din Sabuktagin. His son, Mahmud of Ghazni, conquered the whole of Balochistan. A little later, western Balochistan, Iranian Balochistan, became part of the dominion of Sultan Muhammad Khan in 1219. Afterward part of the history of Balochistan centered around Kandahar, and it was in this area in 1398 that Pir Muhammad, the grandson of Timur, fought the Afghans in the Sulaiman Mountains. In the succeeding century, the Pakistani Baloch extended their power to Kalat, Kachhi, and the Punjab and the wars took place between Mir Chakar Khan Rind and Mir Gwahram Khan Lashari. Further from 1556 to 1595 the region was under the Safavid dynasty. The army of Akbar the Great then brought what is now Pakistani Balochistan under control of the Mughals of Delhi until 1638 when it was again transferred to Persia. However, Makran alone remained independent under the Maliks, Buledais, and Gickis, until Nasir Khan 1 of Kalat brought it within his power during the 17th century (Imperial Gazetteer of India: 276). In coming years as Mughal power declined, the British gradually became involved in Balochistan during the reign of Mir Mehrab Khan – a symbol of British opposition in the area.
British Arrival and the Baloch
Among the Balochs, the Khans of Kalat consolidated most of the Baloch country into a feudal state during the 18th century. Abdullah Khan, the fourth Khan (1714-1734) expanded his realm from Kandahar, across the Makran area all the way to Bandar Abbas and extended his dominion to embrace Dera Ghazi Khan District on the edge of Punjab (Harrison: 18) while Nasir Khan 1 (the sixth Khan) became the most popular, powerful and dynamic ruler of the Khanate (1739-1795) who claimed sovereignty over all lands where the Baloch lived. He brought Karachi and most of western (Iranian) Balochistan under his administration. At an early period, he consolidated his authority over an immense kingdom, the secret of his success being that he had influence enough to ensure the obedience of his feudal chiefs and discretion sufficient to refrain from interfering in their internal affairs. Possibly the most interesting aspect of the long reign of Nasir Khan was his skillful domestic policy, directed towards strengthening the powers and figure of the Khan, though without destroying traditional political mechanisms of a society that were still eminently tribal and pastoral in nature. He was regarded as the greatest and most influential Khan among all the rulers of the Khanate. As a result of his successful reformist policies, he is sometimes compared to Peter the Great of Russia in the Baloch nationalist circles (Marri: 131). With the death of Nasir Khan 1 in 1795, the deterioration of the central authority in Khanate started, even though it maintained its independence until the arrival of the British on the scene in the mid-19th century.
Almost by the time the big power rivalry in Central Asia began and it resulted in the British invasion of Afghanistan. It also brought British forces into the Baloch region. The British supply routes to Afghanistan could not be safeguarded without securing Balochistan, and it gained much importance in British Central Asian Policy. As a result in November 1839, the British forces were ordered to subjugate Kalat where Khan Mir Mehrab Khan refused to surrender and fought back against the invaders. In the war, he was killed with his four hundred men and the British installed Shahnawaz Khan, a fourteen-year-old distant relative of the deceased Khan, posted a Lieutenant Loveday as regent and started the dismemberment of the Baloch country. Soon after that, as the British army left Kalat, Baloch tribes revolted and Mehrab Khan’s son, Nasir Khan II, was enthroned as the new Khan. Nasir Khan II (1830-1857) was recognized by the British in 1841 and thirteen year later (1854) Kalat signed its first twenty-five-year treaty. In persuasion of the treaty British federal agents were assigned to the Khan, with an annual subsidy paid to the Khan for loyalty and Quetta was returned to the Khanate. In a new treaty with Kalat, which was ratified at the end of 1876 it was arranged that British troops might be stationed in Kalat territory. In the following year (1877) Robert Sandeman was appointed Agent to the Governor-General, Chief Commissioner and put in charge of the Agency for Balochistan (Buller, 1908). His appointment opened a new chapter in relations between the colonial power and the Baloch. He introduced a new system called “Sandeman system” and in this respect, considered as the real conqueror of Balochistan by the British Chroniclers.
The new Sandeman system was aimed at establishing direct relations with the Sardars and tribal chiefs, bypassing the Khan. He managed to have his way, and earned the loyalty of the Sardars by granting them allowances; his personal charisma enabled him to establish a whole network of close personal relations, undermining the prestige and sovereignty of the Baloch central power. Although the Baloch people did not like to live under foreign rule and soon after the martyrdom of Mehrab Khan in 1839, the hostility spread throughout the Baloch tribes in Eastern Balochistan. Further under an agreement with the Khan of Kalat in 1883, the British leased Quetta, Bolan Pass, Nasirabad, Chagai, Marri-Bugti and certain other Baloch areas and attached those with the Pashtun regions to rename “British Balochistan.” Under the British, the Khanate’s administration was carried out through the prime minister who was appointed by the British Government while the released regions (British Balochistan) were ruled by the Agent to the Governor-General of India.
Thus, even under the British, the State of Kalat held a unique position within the British Indian imperial system. In theory, it was sovereign and different from the other states. The northern belt of the Khanate (British Balochistan) and the responsibility for its defense and foreign affairs were handed over to the British Crown by mutually agreed upon friendly treaties. The Khan, in general, was expected to regain these territories and rights whenever the British decided to leave. What the British had gained by the treaties was not transferable to a third party. However, during British hegemony, the Baloch country was arbitrarily divided into several parts. One portion was given to Iran; a small portion was with Afghanistan and the northeastern region remained with the colonial administration under the lease. The rest of the country was left in possession of the Kalat State. The Kalat state was further carved into the agencies territories, and the Federation of Balochi States (Kalat, Kharan, and Las-Bela) remained with the Khan of Kalat, as the head of the federation. As the prospect of the British withdrawal came closer, the National Party and other nationalist organizations joined the Khan of Kalat to seek independence of Balochistan. The Khan made a strong legal case for independence, arguing that Kalat like Nepal enjoyed a legal status based on direct treaty relations. In the earlier treaty of 1876, the British were committed to respecting the “independence of Kalat” and to protect its territory against external aggression.
Fast Political Developments
In a final bid to devise the methodology for the transfer of power in India, the Labor Party Government sent a three-member Cabinet Mission headed by Sir Stafford Cripps who arrived in India on March 24, 1946. With his case prepared by several eminent lawyers including M.A. Jinnah, Mir Ahmad Yar Khan, the then ruler of Kalat, approached the Mission on behalf of his government to discuss the future status of his state in the scheme of independence for India (Khan: 255). The primary concern of the submitted official memorandum regarded the future position of the Khanate at the time and to restore its independence with the British withdrawal. By this submission the Khan of Kalat expected to restore its pre – 1876 status by regaining its full independence. As stated by the memorandum, the state of Kalat “will become fully sovereign and independent on both internal and external affairs, and will be free to conclude treaties with any other government or state. Earlier in 1872, Sir W.L. Merewether, who was in charge of the British Government’s relations with Kalat, wrote “There cannot, in my opinion, be the least doubt of the course which should be followed concerning the Kalat or Baluchistan as it should be correctly termed. Ruler Khan is the de facto and de jure ruler of that country. We have treaty engagements with him under which he is bound to keep his subjects from injuring British territory or people to protect trade. But the treaty is with him as ruler only (Khan:265). In the above and many similar contexts in another petition prepared for the purpose, the Baloch nationalists stated that Kalat, which is not an Indian state and which was brought about the British Government on account of its geographical position on the border of India, is just like Afghanistan and Persia. The State had no intention of entering into a federal relationship with successive government or politics in British India and therefore it requested your Excellency to declare the independence of Kalat State. Also, although the other surrounding Baloch chiefs and Sardars demanded their separation from Punjab and to be linked with the Kalat state, the British representatives failed to settle any of the matters put forwarded by Kalat.
Even earlier to the formal announcement of Kalat’s independence on 15th August 1947, by the Standstill Agreement (11th August 1947), on April 11, 1947, the declaration of independence was published and distributed as a pamphlet that outlined the constitution of a Free Baloch State. It followed a roundtable conference held in Delhi which was attended by Lord Mountbatten, Jinnah, Liaquat Ali Khan, Prime Minister of Kalat, Chief Secretary of Kalat, and the Legal Advisor of Kalat State. The deliberations agreed, “Kalat State was independent on August 15, 1947, enjoying the same status as it initially held in 1838, having friendly relations with neighbors. In case the relations of Kalat with any future government become strained, Kalat will exercise its right of self-determination, and the British Government should take precautionary measures to help Kalat in the matter as per the Treaties of 1839 and 1841 (India Office Record:352). This “Standstill Agreement” which was formally announced on August 11, 1947, accepted the sovereign status of Balochistan. It stated, “The government of Pakistan recognized the situation of Kalat as a free and independent State which has bilateral relations with the British Government, and whose rank and position is different from that of other Indian states” (Baloch:352).
Short-lived Independence and Accession
As a follow up of the Standstill Agreement, the Khan of Kalat proclaimed Khanate’s independence on August 15, 1947, and addressing the audience he announced. “Today our country is independent, and I can express my views freely and openly.” The lower house of the Kalat which was convened specially for the purpose in September 1947 overwhelmingly approved this move. The majority of the fifty-two assembly members voted for independence but did not foreclose the possibility of a special relationship between the independent Kalat and the newly established state of Pakistan (Baloch:150-66). The traditional flag of the country in green over red color and the crescent and star in the center was hoisted and in a prayer in the Jamia mosque of Kalat, as independent ruler of the state, addressed the audience in a lengthy speech, expressed his determination to achieve three objectives:
Complete independence of the country from the foreign yoke and domination.
Promulgation of Shariat Law with a constitution based on the injunctions of Holy Quran as understood; and
The unity of the Baloch as a nation spread over a large part of Asia in large numbers (Nasir: 489-90).
In line, the bicameral legislature, its composition, and Rawaj continued
as unwritten constitution while the Kalat Act of 1946 was used as the written law. In the year 1947, the election was held in Kalat and Makkoran. It was the first general election in Balochistan’s history in which the National Party won 39 seats out of 52 in the Lower House.
Soon after that, Kalat parliament and the ruler began to work independently and in its first three-day meeting held in Dadar in December 1947 recognized Baloch as the “official and national language” of the state of Kalat and decreed that it should be taught in schools (Nasir:499). The decision was approved unanimously by the Lower House in its meeting of January 4, 1948, and a committee was formed to study and report on the adoption of measures and methods for the introduction of Baloch as a medium of instruction in schools. Earlier to this the Khan of Kalat visited Pakistan as the head of a sovereign state in October 1947 and was received like the King of Balochistan by thousands of Baloch in Karachi. By the time Pakistan’s attitude began to change and in the course of the visit M.A. Jinnah advised the Khan to expedite the merger with Pakistan. Khan, at the moment, refused Jinnah’s demand and argued, “As Baluchistan is a land of numerous tribes, and the people there must be consulted in the affairs before any decision. I take, according to the common tribal convention, no decision, which can be binding upon them unless they are taken into confidence by their Khan (Baloch: 183).
Following Jinnah’s proposal on Kalat’s merger the Khan of Kalat summoned the legislature’s meeting in which both houses of Parliament not only unanimously opposed the merger proposal but also argued that it was against the spirit of the earlier agreement arrived between Kalat Government and the spokesmen of Pakistan on August 4, 1947, as well as against the Independence Act of 1947. Earlier to this in September Kalat’s Prime Minister and Foreign Minister were sent to Karachi to meet the Secretary to the Government of Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign and State Affairs. Their meeting was not fruitful as the host (Pakistan) advised them a merger with Pakistan rather than a treaty relationship. On the other hand from there onwards Pakistani authorities not only started campaigning against the Khan to compel him to join Pakistan but also prepared to use coercive methods for a forced merger of the state. As per the demand of the situation, the Khan of Kalat instructed the General to reorganize force and arrange arms and ammunition. In December 1947 he also approached the Commonwealth Relations Office for help, but the British did not agree to supply arms without the Pakistan Government’s approval. In the same time, the desperate Khan also requested Indian authorities and the Afghan King for help, but with no success.
At the time the State of Kalat was made up of four feudatories – Lasbela, Kharan, Makkoran and Kalat itself which was the largest of all. In an unfortunate development, the Government of Pakistan announced on March 18, 1948, the accession of Lasbela, Kharan, and Makkoran which robbed Kalat of more than half of its territory and made access to the sea. In a last attempt on March 25, 1947, the desperate Khan of Kalat summoned and tried to persuade his Sardars against accession, but only two unimportant Sardars obeyed the call while others refused to attend. Although, in the safe side, a letter of 27 March from the Khan to Jinnah denied reports that he had attempted to urge Sardars and people against Kalat’s accession to Pakistan. In it, he also denied reports that he had entered into negotiations with India or Afghanistan. In this way the independence move came to an end when the Khan of Kalat, Mir Ahmad Yar Khan acceded to Pakistan on March 27, 1948, defining the matter of signing the merger document as a “dictate of history.” On April 1, 1948, the Pakistan army moved to Kalat with orders to overcome the resistance from the nationalists. The accession of Balochistan into Pakistan was one of the epoch-making events in the history of Baloch people and their country. On March 28, 1948, the Khanate became a part of Pakistan. By this, the legal entity of the Khan of Kalat was abolished.
Balochistan, having an integral part of newly-formed Pakistan, failed to receive a provincial status soon after that and remained under the direct rule of central government of the country till 1970. The great central authority, although strengthened central government’s position in the region, it also gave birth to Baloch dissatisfactions followed by the marginalization of the area in all spheres of life. Series of coercive measures and methods adopted by Pakistani democratic/military rulers in the last seven decades have made this part of the country underdeveloped on socio-economic and political issues. In recent decades, Baluchistan-related problems have caught regional/global focus. The situation is getting bad to worse day by day and needs remedy without further delay.
Given that Balochistan is critical to broader regional peace; it should be accorded more attention in academic and policy discourse.
- There is a major communications gap amongst the Baloch, the Army and the Federal Government and hence, all the parties involved should recognize the conflict appropriately.
- In a similar vein, there is a difference in the interpretation of the term “development”. It must be taken by all in a realistic perspective.
- The political establishment is well advised not to rely on rhetoric and realize that a change in Balochistan can only come with a holistic approach, which is a lasting and sensible political solution.
- The army at the federal level and the Frontier Corps (FC) at the provincial level should demonstrate respect and have faith in the policies of elected governments.
- The Balochistan solution has to be a political one rather than a “whitewash” of replacing the military with paramilitary forces.
Recently the federal government has taken several steps to appease the Baloch, but despite their goodwill, they did not translate them into practical changes on the ground. At the juncture, comprehensive and full-proof efforts are urgently needed to address Balochistan’s issues peacefully in the largest interest of all with added emphasis on Pakistan itself.