By: Dr. Rajkumar Singh
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.
History of Baloch people
With combined history the Baloch, Baluch or Balochi are a 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. Although exact origin of the word “Baloch” is unclear, the Balochi generally 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 generally 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. Arab rule in Balochistan lasted until the end of the 10th century.
In Medieval era, shortly thereafter western Balochistan fell to Nasir-ud-din Sabuktagin. His son, Mahmud of Ghazni, conquered the whole of Balochistan. A little latter, western Balochistan, Iranian Balochistan, became part of the dominion of Sultan Muhammad Khan in 1219. Afterwards 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 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. 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
The big power rivalry in Central Asia began 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 thereafter, 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 political 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. 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.
Effects of British policy
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 a 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 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 on the basis of mutually agreed upon friendly treaties. The Khan, in general, was expected to regain these territories and rights when ever 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 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 for 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 was committed to respect the “independence of Kalat” and to protect its territory against external aggression.