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Humshehri: Thinking Pakistan's History

Thinking Pakistan's History

Balochistan Historical Overview

Urdu Version

The unique history of Balochistan is essential to understanding the current situation, origins of the Nationalist movement, and its calls for further autonomy.

Origins

The geographical location of Balochistan as the farthest Western corner of the subcontinent grants it its unique cultural and historical attributes. Though touched by the trails of many great conquerors over the centuries, the rugged terrain has yielded very few archaeological traces of their presence. Yet Balochistan is home to the pre-Indus civilization at Mehrgarh. In 1979 archaeologists found evidence of sedentary settlements deemed to stretch back as far as the Stone Age (70,000 to 7,000 BC) along the west bank of the Bolan River on the plains of Kachhi, roughly 30 km from the town of Sibi.

Balochistan Map
Balochistan map 1905
(Rumsey Map Collection)

Early history

Balochistan is splayed across the border with Iran, and historically there has been a strong connection with the Persian Empire. Aside from speculation that the Balochi language belongs to the Indo-Iranian family of languages, the Makran Coast was conquered by Cyrus the Great in the sixth century BC and was ruled by the Persian Empire till Alexander passed through in 330 BC, passing power on to Greco-Bactrian kings. Balochistan was also ruled by the Paratarajas Dynasty of Indo-Scythians from roughly the first till the third century AD, as evidenced by coins bearing the Brahmi swastika found in the Loralai area of Balochistan. Till the Arab conquest, Balochistan was ruled by the Central Asian Sakas who came to the region by way of Helmand, introducing a Buddhist influence that was not challenged till the sixth century AD.

Muslim rule

Balochistan fell under Arab rule in the seventh century AD during which time mass conversions to Islam took place. However, there was conflict with the competing power of Rai Chach from Sindh who conquered Makran in the 14th year of Hijra. By 654 AD the whole of what is now Balochistan in Pakistan was under Arab control under the Rashidun Caliphate, with the exception of the mountain town of Kalat, which was brought under Arab rule under the Caliphate of Hazrat Ali. Arab rule over Balochistan was tenuous at best, with multiple revolts till its demise in the tenth century AD.

The region was subservient to greater regional powers from both the East and West. After the fall of Arab rule, the Ghaznavids had significant control over the area, as subsequently did the Ghorids. Around 1223 AD the invasion of the Mongols by Chenghiz Khan’s son Chaghatai Khan left a lasting mark on Balochistan. Cantonments of Mongol troops were left behind, said to be the ancestors of modern day Hazaras of Balochistan and Afghanistan. In the turmoil of the Mongol invasions, tribes of Baloch migrated to Sindh, where they are settled to this day.

British policy

British Policy
Khan of Kalat and sons
(Fred Bremner)

During the expansion of British power in the subcontinent, the support of Baloch Sardars was garnered by offering them the title of Nawab, and in this way the British managed to maintain colonial power in the Western frontier of their new empire. During the Great Game, the British created buffer zones to protect its colonial interests from the French and the Russians. In 1838, it turned its attention to the rulers of Kalat, who controlled a large area of modern central Balochistan, in order to open a corridor of communication with the Afghans. Till the treaty of 1854, Kalat was treated as a vassal state of the Afghan Kingdom, but defeat in the First Anglo-Afghan War led to increased British support for the state of Kalat, endowing it with the autonomous status of a princely state, putting it on par with Afghanistan to safeguard against Russian invasion in particular.

Administrative and development intervention during the colonial era was minimal, following the Sandeman system which assigned the Sardars as custodians and guardians of the land. This decentralized political system divided power amongst the Sardars, creating distance both between them, tribal support and the Khan. The system survived on British subsidies and agents and the central political role the khan used to play was eroded with this division of power.

Political consciousness

In the 20th century, what is now known as Pakistani Balochistan was in fact split into three: the Khanate of Kalat, British Balochistan (ruled directly under the Governor General) and the tribal areas leased by the Khan to the British. As the departure of the British became imminent, and the winds of Indian nationalism began blowing, the younger generation of educated elite, though hailing mostly from Sardar backgrounds, saw that despite the vast differences between Baloch and Indian identity, the region had been absorbed into Hindustani affairs. The Government of India Act of 1935 implicitly incorporated the Khanate of Kalat as part of the Indian princely states, reneging on previous constitutional promises of Kalat’s sovereignty.

The tenuous position of Kalat, British Balochistan and the leased areas caused the birth of political consciousness in the form of nationalism. In the 1920, leaders such as Mir Yusuf Ali Magsi and Abdul Aziz Kurd founded the first political party, Anjuman-e Ittehad-e Balochan wa Balochistan, that united Balochis and Pathans both in the demand for constitutional reforms and an autonomous united Balochistan. After the passing of the Government of India Act in 1935, rifts within the party formed, with one faction aiming to participate as a member of the new federal India and the Khan striving to gain sovereign status for his kingdom. Those that were willing to cooperate with the British were seen as traitors. In 1937, the Kalat State National Party (KSNP) was formed from the radical wing of the Anjuman, aimed at unifying Balochistan around the figure of the Khan and the Anjuman-e Watan was founded by Abdus Samad Khan Achakzai as a vanguard of Pashtun nationalism in Balochistan.

Accession dispute

The political leanings of these local parties had little in common with the Muslim League’s vision of Pakistan, and local support for the Pakistan Movement managed to gain humble ground only by 1939, though support increased with time. Baloch nationalism, the Khan’s desire for a sovereign state, and affiliation with Indian federalism of the Congress were the largest ideological challenges that Pakistan would face in Balochistan.

As the date of British departure became imminent, the fate of British Balochistan and the Marri-Bugti leased tribal areas was put up to the Sardari system by way of the Shahi Jirga referendum in 1947. Due to the administrative and constitutional ambiguities of the three regions that made up Balochistan, the question put to the Jirga – whether these regions would join the Pakistan or Indian constituent Assembly – led to complications during session which were not cleared up, and it was announced that a decision had been passed in favor of creating a Chief Commissioner’s Province in Pakistan.

Jinnah & Sardars Jamai
Baloch Sardars & Jinnah

On 15 August 1947, both Pakistan and India had achieved independence, yet Kalat maintained its sovereignty. According to the Standstill Agreement that Ahmad Yar, the Khan, who had also been a close associate of Jinnah and a sympathizer of the Islamic ideology of Pakistan despite his desire for an independent Kalat, signed on 5 August 1947, Kalat became an independent state. However, the agreement included the paradox of establishing Pakistan as the legal, constitutional and political successor of the British. The Khan’s decision proved to be extremely unpopular within the tribal confederacy over which he did not have sole authority, and the accession was fiercely debated.

Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo, later to be named Baba-e Balochistan, delivered a powerful speech in December 1947 declaring Balochistan to have a distinct civilization, “We are Muslims but it is not necessary that by virtue of our being Muslims we should lose our freedom and merge with others…We are ready to have friendship with that country on the basis of our sovereign equality but by no means [are we] ready to merge with Pakistan…”

In March 1948, the Khan’s younger brother Abdul Karim led a revolt against the state. The Pakistani military was immediately deployed to Kalat to crush the uprising, thus beginning the legacy of military presence in Balochistan, and the radical nationalist movement against it.

Tensions continue

Before Independence, the Muslim League had promised the hitherto undefined territory of Balochistan the opportunity to march toward progress on an equal footing with its Muslim brothers in its neighboring provinces, and guaranteed complete freedom in internal affairs in an independent Pakistan.

However, these promises were not upheld when Balochistan merged with Pakistan, and relations with the center have remained tense since. The substantial military presence, lack of administrative and developmental reforms, issues with the Makran Coast and the exploitation of resources such as gas have all led to repeated insurgencies and uprisings in 1958 – 1959, 1963 – 1969, 1973 – 1977 and 2004 to the present.

Primary sources

Instrument of Accession, Kalat (1947): An article that reproduces the text of this instrument (towards the end).

Parliamentary Committee on Balochistan Report (2005): In response to the deteriorating law and order situation, a committee on Balochistan was constituted in 2004 to discuss the problems of Balochistan and ways to ameliorate the situation. This report provides the outcome of these discussions.

Find out more

Books & Articles

Axmann, Martin. Back to the Future: The Khanate of Kalat and the Genesis of Baloch Nationalism, 1915-1955. Karachi: Oxford UP, 2008.

Meyer, William S., Richard Burn, James S. Cotton, and Herbert H. Risely. Imperial Gazetteer of India. Vol. 6. Oxford: Clarendon, 1908-1931. Digital South Asia Library. University of Chicago.

News

Bangash, Yaqoob K. “Recalling Baloch History.” The Express Tribune, 14 June 2011.

Bangash, Yaqoob K. “Foundations of the Baloch Problem.” The Express Tribune, 18 July 2011.

Siddiqa, Ayesha. “Spinning Half-truths on Balochistan.” The Express Tribune, 9 July 2011. 


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