The Aḥmadzay khanate of Kalat up to the intrusion of British power (1666-1839)

07 Apr

By: Brian Spooner

The major factors in the history of Kalat in this period (before the encroachment of the British and the reawakening of Persian interest in the area) were the expansion of Kalat territory under the early khans, the effects of Nāder Shah’s activities with regard to India, and the Persian Gulf; the power of Nāder Shah’s successor in Qandahār, Aḥmad Shah Abdālī; the decline of the khanate after the death of Mīr Naṣīr Khan I in 1795; the ambitions of Moḥammad Shah Qājār, and the development of British interest. The uplands and the lowlands continued to have distinct political histories, though the success of Naṣīr Khan I in the second half of the 12th/18th century integrated them to some extent for the duration of his reign. From this period onward the history of the area has been seen in relatively exclusive terms as the history of Baluchistan (though its exact boundaries were often vague). Outside interest in the area, such as that of Oman (in Gwadar) and of Afghanistan (in “Pashtunistan”), have been seen as intrusive. However, a deeper historical perspective makes it clear that up until this period the area was neither an exclusive nor an integrated political or cultural unit; rather it formed part of a larger area that included Qandahār and Sīstān to the north and Oman to the south, and lay between the political poles of Iran and India. Within Kalat the highlands and lowlands were only loosely related: The lowlands were closely related to Oman, and the highlands were an extension of Qandahār. The subsequent history of the area is easier to follow when seen in these larger geopolitical terms. (This section is based on the more detailed discussions in Baluch, Lockhart, Rooman, the Gazetteers, and the author’s unpublished ethnohistorical research.)
Continuity of authority in Kalat dates from the accession of Mīr Aḥmad Qambarānī in 1666. Mīr Aḥmad ruled for thirty years and became an ally of the Mughal emperor Awrangzēb ʿAlamgīr I. He spent his life fighting the Bārōzay Afghans to the north and the Kalhora rulers of Sind to the south in order to preserve and expand his territory. He finally succeeded in controlling both Sibi and the Quetta-Pishin area. But his son, Mīr Meḥrāb Khan I, was still obliged to fight the Kalhoras. He defeated them in 1695, though he died in the battle. Mīr Samandar Khan, Meḥrāb’s brother’s son and successor, continued to keep the Kalhora family in check and also defeated a military expedition from Iran under Ṭahmāsb Bēg, who planned to annex western Baluchistan to Iran. Samandar was rewarded for these services by the Mughals with the port of Karachi and other gifts.
The acquisition of power by a local leader, who was able to establish the framework for dynastic succession in Kalat, transformed the political economy of the area, and set the scene for the later development of Baluch society. During the two centuries up to the time when the British took over the affairs of Kalat the general pattern of the khan’s external relations was accommodation with the political power in Qandahār and in Delhi, hostilities with Sind, and disorder in relations with Kermān. Baluch tribes in western Makrān and the Sarḥadd often raided into Iran—especially during the reign of Shah Sultan Ḥosayn, the last Safavid monarch 1105-35/1694-1722 (Lorimer, I/2, p. 2152). In 1721 the British and Dutch factories at Bandar-e ʿAbbās (q.v.) were attacked by a force of four thousand Baluch on horseback, who (apparently encouraged by the Afghan invasion of Persia) overran the province of Kermān and raided westward into Lorestān.
The rise of the Ḡelzay under Mīr Ways in Qandahār early in the 12th/18th century changed the political climate in Baluchistan. Quetta and Pishin were reattached to Qandahār in 1709. Mīr Aḥmad Khan II, the son of Mīr Meḥrāb Khan, whose profligacy displeased the Baluch sardars, was killed by his younger brother Mīr ʿAbd-Allāh Khan who then succeeded him. ʿAbd-Allah (r. 1714-34), who was known as Qah(h)ār Khan, was one of the stronger Aḥmadzay rulers, and remained relatively free to pursue his military and political ambitions during the period immediately preceding Nāder Shah’s appearance at Qandahār. He managed to conquer Kacchi in the south, Harand and Dajil in the northeast, Panjgur, Kech, and even Bandar-e ʿAbbās to the west, and Shorawak in the northwest. The last brought him into more direct conflict with Shah Ḥosayn Ḵaljī (r. 1725-38) of Qandahār, who joined forces with the Kalhoras in Sind in an attempt to defeat him. They were successful, and the khan tried to punish the Kalhoras again, but was defeated and killed in Kacchi.
Though the Aḥmadzay’s alliance with the Mughals had served them well, their enforced accommodation with the highland power of Nāder Shah and his successor in Qandahār, Aḥmad Shah Abdālī, served them even better. The conflict between Nāder Shah and the Mughals allowed the Aḥmadzay to establish themselves to the point where the British would later decide to rule through them, despite their declining abilities.
In concentrating his attention on the south, Mīr ʿAbd-Allāh Khan had served the Mughals too well and incurred the wrath of Nāder Shah. Nāder had named ʿAbd-Allāh his governor of Baluchistan and required him to move against the ʿAbdālīs in Qandahār from the south, while he, Nāder, moved in from the west. Owing to his entanglement with the Kalhoras, which led to his death in battle, ʿAbd-Allāh had failed to respond. Before Nāder was able to punish Kalat, ʿAbd-Allāh’s son, Mīr Moḥabbat Khan, was found unsatisfactory by the Baluch sardars, and replaced by his brother Mīr Ahltāz Khan. However, the sardars soon found Mīr Ahltāz no better and reinstated Moḥabbat (though Ahltāz seems to have retained some power among the Dehwār in Mastung). Nāder sent Pīr Moḥammad, the beglarbegī of Herat, against Kalat. In 1149/1736, rather than fight, both Moḥabbat and Ahltāz went to Qandahār and submitted to Nāder Shah, who took the elder, Moḥabbat, into his service and appointed him governor of Baluchistan including Makrān. Nāder also gave them the lowland plains of Kacchi (then ruled by the Kalhoras of Sind) as blood compensation for the death of Mīr ʿAbd-Allāh Khan. As a result the khanate now controlled both highland and lowland grazing and more land for cultivation throughout the year. Their resource base was greatly increased and the stage was set for further internal political development.
Following the assassination of Nāder Shah in 1160/1747, Aḥmad Shah Abdālī, later known as Dorrānī, who was heir to Nāder Shah’s paramountcy over Kalat, deposed Moḥabbat and put in his place another younger brother, Mīr Naṣīr Khan, who with his mother had been a hostage in Nāder’s camp since 1737. Naṣīr was historically the most significant of the Aḥmadzay rulers. He ruled for nearly half a century, and established the organization of the state of Kalat for the remainder of its existence. He was the only khan who successfully transcended tribal loyalties.
Of the land that had accrued to the state of Kalat up to this time half was reserved for the Aḥmadzay as crown land and the other half was divided among the tribes that made up the fighting force from Sarawan and Jahlawan. The khan allocated land to the tribes in two categories: gām lands and jāgīr lands. Gām lands were allocated according to the number of fighting men supplied by each tribe, with the stipulation that the land be used to raise crops to support the fighting force in the field. Since it was communal property of each tribe, it could not be alienated. One-twelfth of the income was gathered by the leader of each tribe and submitted to the khan as revenue. Unlike the jāgīr this land could be confiscated by the khan if the tribe failed in its obligations. It is interesting to note that this communal tenure originated with the khan and was not generated by the tribal community itself, as is often assumed. The khan’s crown lands were worked by Dehwār, whereas the tribes used Jat cultivators.
Naṣīr set about building his fighting force in three “regiments”: the Sarawan regiment, the Jahlawan regiment, and a special regiment directly under his own command. He chose one tribe each from Sarawan and Jahlawan (which may have laid the basis of the later ranking of the tribes) to lead and to be responsible for recruitment from their respective areas. He also formed a bureaucracy, by creating offices of government: a wazīr was given charge of internal and foreign affairs; a wakīl was made responsible for the collection of tribute and blood compensation, and the revenue from crown lands; a dārōḡa was put in charge of the organization of the Dehwar cultivators on crown lands, and worked through Brahui nāʾebs (deputies). Finally, a šāh(ā)qāsī (after Nāder’s ešīk-āqāsī was given direction of darbārs and the seating arrangement for leaders according to their rank. Beside these officers, he created two councils. Membership in one of the councils (majles-e moṣāḥebīn) was by his own nomination, and primarily from among his close kinsmen, but it also included the two leaders of the tribes of Sarawan and Jahlawan. The second was a council of sardars (majles-e mošāwarat). Members of the first council, or their representatives, had to remain at Kalat continuously along with one-twelfth the number of soldiers raised by each tribe (gāmē paškar). Judicial powers were vested in the sardars who were subject to guidance by qāżīs (judges) according to the religious law (Šarīʿa), except that local custom took precedence in matters of adultery and murder. The written language for state business was Persian, and bureaucratic positions were recruited from the Persian-speaking Dehwār peasant community.
Quetta had come under Nāder Shah when he took Qandahār, and he assigned it to Naṣīr and his mother during the time that Mīr Moḥabbat Khan held Kalat. Aḥmad Shah is said to have finally given it to Kalat after receiving assistance from Naṣīr in a campaign in eastern Iran in 1751—as a kind of šāl (lit. present of a shawl) for his mother, Bībī Maryam. But Pishin remained under the Dorrānīs.
Kalat was still subordinate to the Abdālī court of Qandahār. The treaty between them called for an annual payment of Rs 2,000 from Kalat to Qandahār, and the provision and maintenance of 1,000 soldiers in Qandahār. An apparent act of insubordination on the part of Naṣīr, who failed to respond when summoned to Qandahār, led to the negotiation of a new treaty after Aḥmad Shah Abdālī failed to defeat him outright.
Because Aḥmad Shah needed Naṣīr’s support elsewhere, the new treaty was more equal. The khanate no longer paid tribute or maintained a force at Qandahār. Instead, Kalat provided a fighting force only when the Afghans fought outside their kingdom, and then the khan would be provided with money and ammunition. The new treaty was sealed by a pledge of loyalty to Qandahār and the marriage of the khan’s niece to Aḥmad Shah Abdālī’s son. In the settlement with Qandahār the final accommodation was that the shah gave Naṣīr the title of beglarbegī while the khan recognized him as suzerain.
With the security and freedom of action afforded by the new treaty with Qandahār and the resulting stabilization of the northern and eastern border, Naṣīr was able to move against the neighboring territories of Kharan, Makrān, and Las Bela. The Gīčkī (who had become dominant in Makrān in 1740) and most of the Bulēdī were Ḏekrī. Naṣīr made nine expeditions against them. The struggle was ended, apparently before 1778, by a compromise under which the revenues of the country were divided equally between the Gīčkī leaders and the khan, with the direct administration remaining in the hands of the Gīčkī, who were divided into two branches, a senior branch in Panjgur and a junior one in Kech and Gwadar.
Naṣīr led some twenty-five military expeditions during his rule. Beside the Gīčkī in Makrān, he fought against Las Bela, Kharan, the Marī, and the Baluch Tālpūr family that had succeeded the Kalhoras in Sind. All these accepted his suzerainty. He also fought with the Sikhs of Punjab and with ʿAlī Mardān Khan of Tūn and Ṭabas in eastern Iran. At the end of his rule his authority extended over an area not very different from the later Pakistani province of Baluchistan, though it did not extend so far to the north or northeast, and only the central parts were directly administered.
Meanwhile, the course of events in the Makrān lowlands had been changed by activities in Oman and by the interest Nāder Shah had taken in the Persian Gulf—although Nāder’s officers were incompetent and corrupt and were defeated by the Gīčkī. The imam of Oman continued a practice, possibly originated by the Portuguese, of recruiting Baluch from Makrān into his service. At least one exclusively Baluch community on the Omani coast today dates from this period. In 1740 Aḥmad b. Saʿīd, governor of Sohar, conducted a coup and founded the Āl Bū Saʿīd dynasty. Being a merchant and shipowner, he was unable to rely on tribal connections and was obliged to recruit Baluch and African slaves as mercenaries. In 1784 a pretender to the government of Oman, named Sayyed Solṭān b. Aḥmad, sought refuge in Makrān. According to local traditions Solṭān came first to Zik, a fortified village of the Mīrwārī tribe in Kolwa, and thence, having been joined by Dād-Karīm Mīrwārī, proceeded to Kharan, where his cause was espoused by Mīr Jahāngīr, a Nowšērwānī leader. The group then paid their respects to Mīr Naṣīr Khan at Kalat. Naṣīr at first seems to have undertaken to help the supplicant to establish himself in Oman, but in the end only gave him Gwadar. At the time Gwadar had declined in prosperity and was an insignificant fishing village. There is no record of Naṣīr’s intention. He appears to have given no thought to the interests of the Gīčkī. Later Oman claimed that the gift was intended to be in perpetuity—which later khans denied but were generally unable to contest. The situation was contested by the Gīčkīs, who argued that Naṣīr could alienate only his own half of the revenue, not the half that belonged to them. Until 1792, when Solṭān finally became ruler of Oman, he appears to have made Gwadar a base for expeditions against the Omani coast. After establishing himself in Oman he made Gwadar a dependency and sent a representative with troops to occupy it and build a fort. He then sent a force to Čāhbahār, which (with the aid of the Ismaʿili merchant community) entered the harbor under the pretext of fishing, and then took the town by surprise. Čāhbahār had been under a Bulēdī, named Šafīʿ Moḥammad, who paid a quarter of his revenue to Mīr Sobḥān, the Jaḍgāl ruler at Bahu, though he had for some time also paid another quarter to Oman. Čāhbahār seems to have been lost to Oman on the death of Solṭān in 1804, but to have been recovered again after a short interval. Its revenue in 1809 was Rs 5,000 per year, which still went entirely to the Sultan of Oman. Little more is known of Gwadar and Čāhbahār until the encroachment of the British attracted the interest of the Persian government in the 1860s, except that it rapidly overtook the neighboring ports, Pasni and Jiwanri, in prosperity. The rulers of the major Makrān settlements were in continuous contact with Oman with regard to the status and security of the ports.
Mīr Naṣīr Khan was a strict Muslim. He protected the Hindu traders in his territory, and felt an obligation to combat the heresy of the Ḏekrīs (Zikris) in Makrān. The half-century of political stability he provided had significant economic results. Both agriculture and trade increased. Some sections of the Nārūʾī in Kharan, Chagai, and southern Sīstān turned to agriculture. But after Naṣīr’s death the decline was rapid. He was succeeded by his eldest son, Maḥmūd, who was still a minor aged seven. Almost immediately the influence of Kalat ceased to be felt in Makrān and the area became divided among the local leaders. The circumstances of the succession are unclear. But it appears that it was disputed by a grandson of Moḥabbat, called Bahrām. Bahrām took Karachi, but was defeated by the regent acting in the name of Maḥmūd, with assistance from Shah Zamān, the ruler of Qandahār.
When he came of age, Maḥmūd proved inadequate to the task of rebuilding his father’s state. Seeing his lack of aptitude for the position, the peripheral territories all reasserted their independence. In 1810 Henry Pottinger, one of the first English travelers to visit Baluchistan, found the sardars acting independently. Maḥmūd’s son, Mīr Meḥrāb Khan II, stopped the decline for a while. He regained Kech, but had trouble with his ministers, which caused him losses in the north and east.
For this period immediately preceding British intervention in the area, there is for the first time some relatively detailed economic data. The khan had crown lands in most of the provinces of the state, but most of the revenue was consumed by the agents who collected it. Most of his income was drawn from Kacchi, which was the most productive of his provinces. His revenue from this source was estimated at Rs 300,000 per annum. Kalat had earlier (as Kīzkānān) been an important entrepôt for merchandise from Khorasan, Qandahār, Kabul, and India, but by the 1820s its trade was insignificant (Waaltyer, II, p. 528; Masson, II, pp. 122-23). The entire income of Baluchistan and its dependencies in 1810 was estimated at no more than Rs 200,000 (Schefer, p. 7). Ḥājī ʿAbd-al-Nabī (who according to Leech undertook a secret reconnaissance of Makrān in 1838) traveled part of the way from Mastung toward Panjgur with the khan’s šāh-qāsī, who was on his way to collect the revenue with a body of 300 horse, foot, and camelry. The revenue is later stated to be 2,000 Kashani rupees, plus a proportion of the crop. The same traveler reported that at Kharan, which was independent of Kalat and under the suzerainty of Qandahār, there were five or six ironsmiths, one Hindu trader, many carpenters, and sixty weavers. At Dezak in the west he found at least 1,000 cotton weavers and fabrics exported in all directions, and a hundred Hindu traders. He continues to give figures for many of the settlements of the Sarḥadd and the Makrān, with many interesting political and economic details and accounts of his adventures. Beyond the authority of the khan of Kalat and the sultan of Oman the territory—most of what is now Baluchistan within Iran—was generally divided into miniature republics based on forts in the agricultural settlements. Pottinger in 1810 found that Persian authority was held in contempt by the ruler of Bampūr. The Persian claim to the whole of Baluchistan up to India had continued since the Achaemenids, though in the medieval period only Nāder Shah Afšār sought to enforce it. It was finally the activity of the rebellious Āqā Khan (q.v.) between 1838 and 1844 that led Moḥammad Shah Qājār to send forces into the area.
During the same period the eastern part of Baluchistan appears to have had more trade. We are told that Bela had about 300 houses, one third occupied by Hindus. Wad in Jahlawan was a small town, comprising two groups of mud houses about 100 yards apart, the western group containing about 50 houses mainly inhabited by Hindu traders, the eastern group containing 25-30 houses of Muslims including sardars of the Mengal tribe, ʿĪsā and Walī Moḥammad. Nal, the seat of the Bīzenjō tribe, 15 miles to the west, was roughly the same size but had a fort. Khuzdar had a ruined fort and several small hamlets of 2-3 houses each, perhaps 60 houses altogether, only three of Hindus, though there had formerly been 30. Kalat itself had as many as 800 houses, many inhabited by Hindus, and two outlying settlements inhabited by the Bābī tribe of Afghans in exile (Masson, II, pp. 121-23).
Early in the 19th century the British in India began to take a more serious interest in the interior because of their concern about their northwestern frontier. In 1809, when the first Englishman, a Captain Grant, set out to explore whether a European army might enter India from that direction, the British resident in Muscat (Captain Seton) advised him that the whole area was unsettled. Gwat(a)r, where Grant landed, belonged to Mīr Sobḥān, a Jaḍgāl leader who ruled from Daštīārī and Bāhū and was the strongest ruler in Makrān (Lorimer, I/2, p. 2154). From there he marched to Čāhbahār, then to Nigwar, the coastal plain to the east of Čāhbahār, where he met Mīr Sobḥān and was well received. At the end of February he reached Qaṣr-e Qand, where he found an independent ruler, Shaikh Samandar. He waited there for Moḥammad Khan, the ruler of Geh (now Nīkšahr), under whose protection he was to travel into the interior. Geh was second only to Kech in local power. From Geh he marched to Bampūr. The ruler in Bampūr was unreliable, and Grant returned to Qaṣr-e Qand, Geh, and Čāhbahār, and then along the coast to Jāsk, and on to Bandar-e ʿAbbās. Grant reported that his journey was possible only because of the letters of introduction he carried from the British resident in Muscat to Mīr Sobḥān. Grant also carried letters of credit from Muscat, and there was plenty of trade between Muscat and Čāhbahār. He traveled in European clothes and found everyone “more civil and hospitable than they had been represented.” Like Pottinger, he found no Persian influence in Makrān.
In 1839 the failure of a British diplomatic mission to Kabul and the arrival there of a Russian envoy led to the British viceroy’s decision to invade Afghanistan and reinstall Shah Šojāʿ in Kabul (see anglo-afgan wars, i). In order to ensure safe passage of the army to Qandahār, it was necessary to control Baluchistan. Leech, the first Englishman formally dispatched to conclude an agreement with the khan, failed. Later Sir Alexander Burnes was sent and an agreement was arrived at in March, 1839, which guaranteed the sovereignty and borders of Kalat and made the khan responsible for the safe passage and provisioning of the British troops in return for Rs 15,000 in addition to the cost of provisions (Aitchison, XI, p. 209). This agreement marked the end of the autonomy of Baluchistan.


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