A History of the Left in Pakistan – 20

By Ahmed Kamran

Chapter Four: The Road to Pakistan – (Continued)

Balochistan – A Tribal Rebellion

Among Muslim majority areas of British India and the princely states inside Pakistani territory, Balochistan occupied a unique position. It was neither a wholly British Indian province nor a subordinate princely state like Kashmir, Bhawalpur, Junagadh, and Hyderabad. Its relationship with British India evolved differently and this factor has continued to mar its relationship with Pakistani state till today. As a separate political entity in history, Balochistan evolved as a Rind-Lashari tribal confederacy, first established by Mir Chakar Rind in late 1400s. It comprised of a large swathe of mostly barren land, stretching from Kirman in the west (in present day Iran) to Derajat on the right bank of Indus River in the east, including Kalat highlands and the fertile areas of Kacchi and Sibi. It had united all Baloch inhabited areas in a political entity for the first time. The confederacy was centered around two most powerful Baloch tribes of Rind and Lasharis, each in turn constituting loosely organized federations of several lesser tribes. During his peak, Mir Chakar also advanced into Punjab, taking over Multan and southern parts of Punjab in the early 1500s. The 16th century saw not only the rise of Safavid power in Iran, but also the Mughal power in India, and the arrival of European ships in the Sea of Oman and the Persian Gulf. Towards the beginning of the sixteenth century, the Portuguese found their way to the region and captured several places along the Makran coast. In 1510 AD, they occupied the small port of Gwatr (not Gwadar), east of Chahbahar in western Balochistan. Later, they also occupied two other larger coastal settlements of Gwadar and Pasni further east. Thus, the conflict of interest between these three external imperial powers (the Persians, the Mughals and the Europeans) continued to influence the internal politics of the Baloch. Portuguese were soon replaced by the British. The first Baloch confederacy did not survive long. Mir Chakar Rind died in 1550 and lies buried at Sahiwal in Punjab. After witnessing periodic border expansions and contractions by the time British arrived in the area, the nominal seat of Baloch tribal confederacy was based in Kalat. Mir Ahmed Khan I established the dynasty of the last Khannate of Kalat in 1666 and since then the ruling family has been known as Ahmedzais.

The Baloch Confederacy had treaty obligations with Afghanistan (1758) from the time of Mir Noori Nasir Khan. In its ‘Forward Policy’ for securing the western borders of India and for resisting the southward push of the Russian Empire in the Central Asia, British needed to keep Afghanistan and Iran under its influence, or, at least, ‘neutral’ to serve as buffers between the two expanding European empires. But the British supply routes to Afghanistan and Iran could not be safeguarded without securing Sindh and Balochistan. For this reason, the British advanced into Kalat as early as November 1839. The reigning Khan of Kalat, Mehrab Khan was killed in the battle. His minor son was installed in his seat and a regent was appointed to oversee the British interests. To serve their military strategic interests, the British parceled out the Baloch country. The Derajat, Khangarh (now Jacobabad) and Kacchi area were detached from Balochistan and annexed to British India. Quetta and Mastung were given to a pliant ruler of Afghanistan, Shah Shuja in a treaty with Afghanistan. The British signed their first formal treaty with Kalat in 1854. Recognizing Khan of Kalat’s nominal sovereignty over Baloch areas, an annual subsidy was agreed to be paid to him in exchange for his loyalty. British expansion towards Afghanistan continued and it annexed its Pishin, Zhob, and Loralai regions. Meanwhile, taking advantage of the situation now Qajar Shahs who had in the meantime replaced Safvi rulers of Iran also captured parts of western Balochistan and included them in their territory.

In 1876, Britain signed a new treaty with Kalat as an independent state but under protection from Britain and the British troops were stationed in Kalat. The establishment of the Balochistan Agency with its headquarter at Quetta followed in early 1877. In the same year, Scottish General Robert Sandeman was transferred from the post of Assistant Commissioner Punjab to Balochistan. Having experience of working as district officer of Dera Ghazi Khan, he was appointed Agent to the Governor General (A.G.G) and Chief Commissioner of the Agency for Balochistan. Under an agreement with the Khan of Kalat in 1883, the British obtained Quetta, Nushki, Bolan Pass, and Nasirabad areas on lease from Kalat and attached them with the British controlled Pashtun regions renaming the area as the ‘British Balochistan’. With a view to lure Afghanistan and Iran away from Czarist Russia, the Britain unilaterally ceded some parts of Baloch areas of Kalat State territory to Iran and Afghanistan. Thus, the Baloch country was arbitrarily divided into several parts. Initially, Khan of Kalat was included in the border negotiations but later he was excluded from the process and unilateral boundary decisions were taken by the British (44). Under a British-Iranian agreement the ‘Goldsmith Line’ drawn in 1871 as border between Iran and British interests, large parts of the western Balochistan were ceded to Iran. Similarly, a little later the ‘McMohan Line’ drawn in 1896 demarcating boundary between Afghanistan and the British Balochistan left a northern portion of Baloch area with Afghanistan. Large tracts of eastern Balochistan including Kacchi, Sibi, Jacobabad and adjoining areas together with Quetta and other Pukhtun areas remained with the British administration under long term lease contract. The rest of the Baloch territory was left in possession of the Kalat State. Thus, the Baloch territories were divided among three states – India, Afghanistan and Iran. In India, the Baloch areas were sub-divided between British Balochistan (areas under direct British rule) and the State of nominally independent Kalat. In theory, Kalat was a sovereign state, much like Nepal and Bhutan and was different from other Indian Princely States. The responsibility for its defence and foreign affairs were handed over to the British Crown based on mutually agreed friendly treaties promising British support to Kalat in case of need in the maintenance of a just authority and protection of territories from external attack. The Kalat state was further carved into the agencies’ territories of mainly Pukhtun belt and the federation of Baloch States (Kalat, Makran, Kharan and Lasbela) with the Khan of Kalat as the head of the federation. The Khan of Kalat was, however, traditionally bound to consult the Jirga (Council) of main tribal Sardars (chiefs) on all important social and political matters. During First World War, some tribes of Marri-Khetran and Mengals revolted against conscription and British interference in their areas but the revolt was crushed and some tribal leaders, including Misri Khan Baloch, fled to Afghanistan and to the newly established Soviet Union for assistance (45).

Over time, the Baloch tribal system, unlike the Pukhtun tribal system, had ossified into a highly oppressive feudalistic Sardari system, giving near absolute control to the Sardar (Chief of tribe) over life and death of its subjects, perpetuating their abject poverty and deprivation. The Kalat Confederacy was not exactly a princely kingdom in its strict sense either. It evolved differently. Nina Swidler of Fordham University, New York, a pioneering scholar on the subject completing her doctorate thesis on The Political Structure of a Tribal Federation in 1969, succinctly explains the characteristic of the Confederacy thus, “Even though the Ahmedzais consolidated a new order of structure, they did not integrate Kalat into one uniformly administered territory. Although a central bureaucracy developed, the khan never succeeded in incorporating the tribes economically. No revenues of any kind were exacted from them. Each tribal constituent of the Khannate was internally and territorially autonomous. The khan had no access to the tribes except through the chiefs…The autonomy of tribal constituencies in the Khannate is based on the authority of the sardar, which is largely a result of Brahui tribal structure” (46). The nature of a despotic Sardari system developed in Balochistan may be adequately depicted by an observation by Sylvia Matheson in her book The Tigers of Balochistan (1967) recording the remarks of a typical representative of Baloch Sardars, Tumandar Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti on a question to him during her interview sometime in 1948 about his plain admission that he had killed the first man when he was only 12, he said, as he sipped his tea, “Oh that! Well that man annoyed me. I’ve forgotten what it was about now, but I shot him dead. I’ve rather a hasty temper you know, but under tribal law of course it wasn’t a capital offence, and, in any case, as the eldest son of the Chieftain I was perfectly entitled to do as I pleased in our own territory. We enjoy absolute sovereignty over our people and they accept this as part of their tradition” (47).

Due to arid lands, stagnant repressive social conditions and little agricultural and commercial opportunities coupled with religious persecution (Shia rulers persecuting mostly Sunni Baloch) in Iranian parts of western Balochistan gradual migration of Baloch population from both eastern and western Balochistan into Sindh and Southern Punjab resulted in more Balochs living in Sindh and Punjab than in Kalat itself. Many of these migrating Baloch settled in Karachi making it the largest Baloch urban centre. Balochistan in general and Kalat confederacy remained one of the most under-developed and poor parts of India. There were almost no modern schools. In 1903, there were only 21 schools in Balochistan with 800 students, mostly children of non-Baloch servicemen of British Administration in Quetta. To move its part of Balochistan away from Persian influence, British made Urdu as its official language replacing Persian. The first newspaper ‘Balochistan’ was started in 1927 by Abdul Aziz Kurd and Master Pir Bukhsh. Inspired by the bold ‘modernist’ political developments taking place in Turkey (Mustafa Kamal) and Iran (Reza Shah) in 1920’s, the earliest Baloch political activists included Yousuf Ali Magsi and Abdul Aziz Kurd who established an underground organization ‘Young Baloch’, which was later converted into an open ‘Anjuman-e-Ittehad-e-Balochan’ (Baloch Unity Organization) in late 1920s. This Anjuman marked the beginning of modern Baloch middle class nationalist movement. Yousuf Magsi was the scion of Nawab Qaisar Khan, the Chief Sardar of Jhal-Magsi area in Balochistan, who was made to abdicate and exiled to Punjab by the British-appointed Chief Minister of Kalat. In his youth, Magsi lived in Multan and Lahore and was influenced by the then Indian independence movement. Aziz Kurd was the son of a middle class civil servant of the Khannate of Kalat. Karachi, having the largest Baloch urban population, also played an important role in the development of Baloch nationalist movement. A ‘Baloch League’ was founded in Karachi with Ghulam Nooruddin as president (48). The Baloch League held its conference in Karachi in 1930. After graduating from Aligarh College, noted Baloch nationalist leader Ghaus Bukhsh Bizenjo also first joined the Baloch League in Karachi. By early 1930s, Anjuman-e Balochan was demanding political reforms in the Khannate of Kalat, reunification of all Baloch territories in one political unit and the establishment of a united independent Balochistan. The demands of political reforms included establishment of an elected parliament and a cabinet under the Khan of Kalat. A Baloch Unity Conference was held in December 1932 at Jacobabad. The Anjuman’s weekly magazine ‘Al-Baloch’ from Karachi also published a map of ‘Greater Balochistan’ showing the State of Kalat together with British leased and Iranian occupied parts of Baloch territory, including large parts of Sindh and the state of Bhawalpur as a united Baloch political entity. The Khan of Kalat, Muhammad Azam Jan, died in 1933 and his young son, Ahmad Yar Khan, 31, ambitious for a Greater and United Balochistan took over the reins in his place. He sent Yousef Magsi of Anjuman Balochan to London in 1934 as his personal representative for pleading the case for Balochistan’s sovereignty but the mission failed as the British Government in London did not pay serious attention to the Baloch pleadings and refused to introduce reforms in Balochistan. At this stage, Magsi is also said to entertain the idea of seeking help from the Soviet Union and start an armed struggle but it seems no meaningful step was taken in this direction. Magsi was killed in the severe Quetta earthquake in 1935.

In 1937, the Anjuman was converted by its left-wing workers influenced by the socialist and communist ideas led by Mir Ghaus Bukhsh Bizenjo, Gul Khan Naseer, and Abdul Aziz Kurd into Kalat State National Party seeking constitutional rule in the Khanate and founding of an independent Balochistan after British leave from India. The principal objective of the nascent middle class and petty bourgeoisie of Balochistan was to get freedom from an overbearing traditional Sardari (tribal chief’s) system of oppression, which was supported and perpetuated by the British and the Khan of Kalat in their own interests. Unlike Muslims of other parts of India, the Baloch intelligentsia was not threatened by the Hindu domination and, therefore, did not find Muslim League’s struggle in British India for ‘protectionist’ rights of Indian Muslims attractive for itself. Herein lied its predicament; on the one hand, it was seeking more political and economic space for itself from the oppressive Sardari system with Khan of Kalat as the overlord of the whole system, and, on the other hand, it was rallying around the Khan in his ambitions for getting full independence from the British rule. The Khan of Kalat was not interested in relenting any democratic rights or equal economic opportunities to the Baloch people. He never allowed even those limited political and democratic rights that were granted in the British Balochistan and neither did he promoted any social or educational development of people in his Kalat state. But, he was keen to exploit the political activism and popular appeal of the middle class nationalist leaders in his grand monarchical designs. In return for some pep talk by the Khan and few symbolic gestures by him in theory (nothing changed in practice) like announcement of abolition of Bigar (free compulsive labour) and other illegal taxes, the National Party gladly conferred the title of ‘Khan-e-Muazzam’ (the Great Khan) on the Khan of Kalat in 1938 as a gesture of party’s full support and loyalty to the Khan. The British government through its political agents was adept at using the self-centered tyrant tribal Baloch Sardars and Pukhtun tribal leaders to put pressure on and keep the Khan of Kalat under check. The strong opposition of Kalat National Party frustrated British efforts at obtaining Jiwani port on lease from Kalat. Unhappy over the Kalat National Party’s increasing activities and Khan’s tacit support to it, the powerful Sardars with a wink from the British retaliated against the party. On 6 July, 1939, a tribal Lashkar (armed band) attacked the National Party convention at Mastung and dispersed the gathering. On the demand from Sardars, the National Party was banned by Khan of Kalat and its leaders were expelled from the state, and strict restriction was imposed on its newspapers and literature entering the state from British Balochistan. As a measure of delimiting Khan of Kalat’s influence and cut him to size, the British government had also ‘encouraged the vassals of the Khannate in Makran and Lasbela to emerge as separate protectorates and thus there was a practical administrative trifurcation of the Khannate even within British India, i.e. the British India, the Khannate and independent princely states of Makran, Kharan, and Lasbela, and [Pukhtun] tribal territories’ (49).

With the Pakistan movement gaining traction and the transfer of power from Britain to one or two independent governments in India becoming imminent, the Khan of Kalat, Mir Ahmad Yar Khan, made efforts to obtain full independence for Kalat state. His argument was based on the fact that unlike other 560-odd Princely States of India, the state of Kalat as a sovereign state had special treaty agreement (1876) directly with the British government in London as the paramount power, and not with British Indian government in Delhi. Therefore, with the withdrawal of Britain from India the state of Kalat together with its leased territories like Quetta will legally revert to its original position before 1876 and it will be released from all treaty obligations and lease contracts; that no government in India, as successor to the British Indian government, can inherit that role. Khan of Kalat also engaged M.A. Jinnah as his lawyer in this regard who apparently agreed with this legal position. Khan of Kalat also presented a Memorandum to the visiting Cabinet Mission of the British Government in March 1946 through M.A. Jinnah as his lawyer. The Kalat state’s case was prepared by I.I. Chundrigar, a noted lawyer from Bombay and a future Prime Minister of Pakistan, Sir Sultan Ahmed, a noted barrister-at-law of India, and Sir Walter Monkton, an influential British lawyer and the Solicitor General in Winston Churchill’s caretaker government of 1945. The Khan of Kalat also sent Abdul Samad Achakzai, a member of All India Congress Committee, to plead his case with Nehru, and Ghaus Bukhsh Bizenjo, the head of Kalat National Party, to meet with Indian Congress President Abul Kalam Azad. But Indian Congress was mute and avoided coming out in Kalat’s favour fearing creation of a bad precedent for similar counter moves by the Muslim League in the matter of the states of Junagadh and Hyderabad inside the territory of India. This way, Indian Congress implicitly conceded the right of contiguous successor state of British India over Princely States falling inside its territory. Similarly, on 27 March, 1947, V.P. Menon was reported in an All-India Radio broadcast that India has declined repeated requests of Khan of Kalat for accession of his state to India instead of Pakistan. Although, subsequently this report was denied by Nehru (50) but the message to Khan of Kalat was clear that India may not help him at that stage. The Marri-Bugti Baloch tribal chiefs, Sardar Doda Khan Marri and Sardar Akbar Khan Bugti are reported to have sent memorandum to the British government for joining with the state of Kalat. Similarly, Sardar Jamal Khan Leghari, the father of future President of Pakistan Farooq Leghari, together with few other tribal chiefs is also reported to have sent a memorandum demanding their separation from Punjab and joining with the Kalat state. But, the British government ignored these requests.

Meanwhile, as far as the British-controlled part of Balochistan was concerned, as per the local tradition, an assembly of Baloch & Pukhtun tribal leaders of the area (Shahi Jirga) was called on 29 June, 1947, which voted in favour of joining with Pakistan. The Municipal Council of Quetta also voted for Pakistan (51). However, in a round-table conference held in Delhi on 4 August, 1947 attended by the Viceroy Lord Mountbatten, Khan of Kalat, his Chief Minister, Liaqat Ali Khan, Sir Sultan Ahmed, as advisor to the Indian Chamber of Princes, and M.A. Jinnah as Khan of Kalat’s legal advisor, it was decided that the Kalat state would become independent on 5 August, 1947. Subsequently, the rulers of Kharan and Lasbela were informed by the British government that control of their regions together with the Marri and Bugti tribal regions under British control had been transferred to Kalat State. After a series of meetings held between the leadership of Muslim League, including M.A. Jinnah, and Khan of Kalat, the Muslim League signed a joint ‘Stand-Still’ statement with Khan of Kalat on 11 August, 1947 saying, “The Government of Pakistan recognizes Kalat as an independent sovereign state; in treaty relations with British government, with a status different from that of Indian states. Legal opinion will be sought as to whether or not agreements of leases made between the British government and Kalat will be inherited by the Pakistan government” (52).

On Friday, 15 August, 1947 Khan of Kalat declared full independence of the State of Kalat, which was immediately ratified by the Kalat State parliament that was hurriedly elected only a few weeks before. The traditional flag of the state in green over red colour and the crescent and star in the centre was hoisted and a traditional Khutba (religious address) was read on the day in Khan of Kalat’s name in Friday congregational prayers in the Jamia Masjid of Kalat. The Khan of Kalat offered to negotiate a special relationship with Pakistan in the spheres of Defence, Foreign Affairs, and Communications. But, the Pakistani leaders promptly rejected Kalat’s declaration of independence and its offer for negotiation on its relationship with Pakistan, triggering a 7-month row over Kalat’s accession to Pakistan. In the changed circumstances, Jinnah in his personal capacity also advised Khan of Kalat to join with Pakistan but the Khan evaded the issue. Feeling the increasing pressure from the government of Pakistan, he also sought help from outside. He instructed Kalat’s army commander-in-chief, Brigadier General Purves to prepare for armed resistance and arrange for weapons and ammunition. Brigadier Purves approached the British Commonwealth government in London in December 1947 for supply of arms to Kalat state but the British government refused the request without the Pakistan Government’s approval (53). There were also reports that Khan of Kalat was seeking support from the Indian government and the Afghan King but with no success. Nehru, however, denied these reports (54). The rulers of Kharan, Makran and Lasbela, being too timid to side with Khan, voted to join Pakistan on 18 March, 1948, immensely weakening the Khan of Kalat’s position. Finally, after a Pakistan military action in Kalat, Mir Ahmed Yar Khan also signed the instrument of accession to Pakistan on 27 March, 1948. The state of Kalat as legal entity was abolished and merged with Pakistan. Most of the members of a short-lived Balochistan cabinet were arrested or exiled from Balochistan (55).

Notes

44. Balochis of Pakistan: On the Margins of History, The Foreign Policy Centre, London, UK, 2006 [henceforth FPC UK Report], p. 14.
45. Taj Mohammad Berseeg, Baloch Nationalism-Its Origins & Development, BalochWarna.org, p. 211.
46. Nina Swidler, The Development of the Kalat Khannate, monograph in the Journal of Asian and African Studies, p. 118.
47. Quoted in The Tumandar of the Bugtis by Ardeshir Cowasjee, Daily Dawn, Karachi, 3 Sep, 2006.
48. Waja Omar Bukhsh, Maulvi Muhammad Usman, Mehrab Issa Khan, Allah Buksh Gabol, and Abdul Samad Sarbazi were among its other leaders.
49. Balochis of Pakistan: On the Margins of History, p. 15.
50. FPC UK Report, p. 24.
51. Ibid, p. 16.
52. Ibid, p. 21.
53. Taj Mohammad Berseeg, p. 250.
54. FPC UK Report, p. 18.
55. Taj Mohammad Berseeg, p. 253

Chapter 4… To be Continued

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