The modern period

07 Apr

By: Brian Spooner

Since the end of World War II great changes have occurred for all Baluch throughout Baluchistan—gradually at first, accelerating since 1970 because of the changed political economy of the Persian Gulf. At the same time Baluch history has diverged. Since the state of Kalat became an integral part of the new independent state of Pakistan, three separate national governments, none of which included Baluch representation, have sought to integrate and assimilate them into national life at minimum cost. In Afghanistan the major factors affecting the Baluch have been the Helmand river development schemes, the government’s Pashtunistan policy, and (most recently and drastically) the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. In Iran the successive Pahlavi governments attempted to neutralize the sardars and at the same time suppress any activity among the Baluch that could lead to ethnic consciousness or solidarity. Their tactics were similar to those of the Qajars, and the tactics of the Islamic Republic since 1979 have not differed significantly. However, the significance of these tactics and the relative power of the government of Iran to control the area have changed in important ways. In Pakistan, where ethnic awareness has been most developed, the political discourse has revolved around the general objective of reestablishing the autonomous Baluch polity, the khanate, in something resembling its mid-13th/19th-century form, independent of Afghan (local Pathans or Pashtuns), Persian, or Punjabi (in the guise of Pakistani bureaucracy) interference, though probably connected in some form of federation with Pakistan. Failure to achieve this objective led to fighting with the Pakistan army in 1973-74 and isolated guerrilla activity before and since. Overall, as a result of increased literacy and access to the outside world, this period has seen the growth of ethnic and cultural awareness among all Baluch, which should be evaluated in the context of similar phenomena in other parts of the world during the same period.
The Baluch in Afghanistan have received the least attention from their national government. The main effect on their lives of the Helmand project that began in 1948 and continued in various forms until the end of the Dāwūd regime in 1978, was that it brought a steady stream of outsiders into an otherwise isolated part of the country. The declaration of the Afghan government for a “Pashtunistan,” which (though left purposely vague) was inspired by the idea of restoring to Afghan rule the areas lost to Kalat and the British which were ruled from Qandahār in some cases as late as the mid-13th/19th century, similarly barely affected them. Until 1978 many Baluch in Afghanistan related more closely to their kin in Iran and Pakistan than to the rest of Afghanistan.
Soon after the coup in April, 1978, however, officials of the new government entered the area and attempted to reconstruct community life in accordance with Marxist principles. The Baluch reacted strongly, especially to measures that interfered with their ideas of gender relations, property, and authority. Since the Soviet occupation in 1980, most of the estimated ninety thousand Afghan Baluch have moved into Iran or Pakistan. A relatively small number are engaged in resistance activity inside Afghanistan, with medical and other support from relatives mainly in Iran. Generally, the great majority of the Baluch of all three countries have avoided commitment either for or against the Kabul regime, because of their rivalry with the Pashtuns and the Punjabis in Pakistan and with the national government in Iran.
One policy of the Ḵalq regime in Afghanistan (1978-79) deserves special notice. Immediately after the coup, Baluchi (along with Uzbek, Turkman, Nūrestānī) was added to Pashto and Darī in the list of official languages of Afghanistan. Baluchi, therefore, became a language of publication and education in Afghanistan. However, there is currently no evidence that the policy continues, or that books or periodicals in Baluchi continue to be published.
In Iran the Baluch were barely the majority of the population in the province of Balūčestān o Sīstān. There were no institutions that could serve as a focus for the development of a Baluch ethnic or cultural awareness. Publication in Baluchi was illegal. Education was in Persian only. Baluch dress was not allowed to be worn in school or in any official activity.
The Bārakzay, who returned to Iran after the departure of the British, campaigned successfully for the return of the ḵāleṣa lands which had been their main support up to 1928. Government policy was to provide a livelihood for the old ruling families throughout the province in order to make them dependent and coopt them into the national system. They also used them for local positions such as town mayors. The policy worked in the long term, and with few exceptions in the short term as well. On the other hand, the province was barely touched by the economic and social reforms that were carried out at the national level. For example, no Baluch owned enough land to be affected by the land reform law. The province was still not entirely quiet, but serious incidents were rare. Minor revisions were made to the border with Pakistan in 1958.
Several members of the old ruling families, especially the Bārakzay and the Sardārzay in Sarāvān, Sarbāz, Qaṣr-e Qand, and Daštīārī, showed an interest in a Free Baluchistan movement beginning in the 1960s. They had a small but loyal following among the nomads in the Makrān mountains and connections with Baluch of a similar mind in the émigré communities across the Persian Gulf. Through these connections they developed contacts with the government of Iraq, which was always ready to stir up Baluch in Iran in retaliation for the shah’s interference among the Kurds in Iraq. Mīr ʿAbdī Khan Sardārzay was the major figure in this movement, but he eventually submitted and was pardoned by the shah on condition he live the rest of his life in Tehran, which he did. Another figure in the movement was Amān-Allāh Bārakzay, who took up the cause again after the revolution of 1357 Š./1978-79.
The most significant events in Baluch history since the departure of the British have occurred, as might be expected, in the area they vacated. They left behind a significant degree of confusion about the status of the princely states, such as Kalat, in relation to the successor governments of India and Pakistan. Kalat, in addition, had made it clear that its position was different from that of other princely states, because it was not “Indian.” On August 15, 1947, the day after the creation of Pakistan, the khan accordingly declared the independence of Kalat. But he offered to negotiate a special relationship with Pakistan in matters of defense, foreign affairs, and communications. His offer was rejected. The strategy pursued by the government of Pakistan in the following decades was conditioned partly by Afghanistan’s Pashtunistan policy and partly by the imperative need to build a viable state. We still do not know to what extent international interests in the stability of the region, especially on the part of the British and the Americans, may have played a role. In March, 1948, the khan was persuaded by Mohammad Ali Jinnah (the founder of Pakistan; 1876-1948) to bring Baluchistan into Pakistan, despite the fact that the sardars had not agreed to the move. Less than a month later the Pakistani army annexed Baluchistan (Baluch, Inside Baluchistan, pp. 150-66).
A major factor in the opposition of the Baluch sardars to straightforward accession to Pakistan was the fact that Pakistan had insisted on perpetuating the separate status of the three “leased” Baluch territories (Las Bela, Kharan, and Makrān) that had been detached by the British (Harrison, p. 24). But the use of coercion was mitigated by its action a few years later in constituting the Baluchistan States Union within West Pakistan (1952-55), which provided for substantial autonomy and postponed final integration (Wirsing, p. 10). The final blow to Baluch aims came in 1955 when Baluchistan along with all the other provinces of West Pakistan were incorporated into One Unit. (Gwadar remained with Oman until it was purchased by Pakistan for 3 million sterling [$8,400,000] in 1958.)
To begin with, the biggest problem of the Baluch was lack of strong leadership. As resistance built up during the One Unit period (1955-70), three men gradually began to stand out as potential modern leaders. These were Khair Bux Marri (Ḵayrbaḵš Marī), Ghaus Bux Bizenjo (Qawsbaḵš Bīzenjō), and Ataullah (ʿAṭāʾ-Allāh) Mengal (Harrison, pp. 40-69). When the One Unit was dissolved in 1970 the Baluch reacted cautiously. In the following general election, Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) won no seats in Baluchistan, only 2 percent of the vote, and no seats in the provincial assembly. The National Awami Party (NAP) emerged with three seats in the National Assembly and eight seats in the Baluchistan provincial assembly. The NAP was headed by Khan Abdul Wali (ʿAbd-al-Walī) Khan, a Pashtun who was the son of the veteran Pashtun nationalist Khan Abdul Ghaffar (ʿAbd-al-Ḡaffār) Khan, and was basically a regionalist alliance of Baluch and Pathans. It had been founded in 1957 and was to some extent a descendant of a pre-independence anti-partition movement. Within days of the election Bhutto attempted to set aside the results by appointing one of his own supporters among the Baluch, Ghaus Bux Raisani (Qawsbaḵš Raʾīsānī), as governor of Baluchistan. Under pressure, however, he agreed to let the NAP, in coalition with the conservative Jamiat-ul-Islam (Jamʿīyat-al-Eslām) party (JUI), form a government. Mir Ghaus Bux Bizenjo was appointed governor of Baluchistan in April, 1972. The NAP-JUI parliamentary coalition in the Baluchistan Provincial Assembly elected Sardar Ataullah Khan Mengal as its leader, who thus became chief minister of the province. In February, 1973, Bhutto replaced both governors, and dismissed the government of Baluchistan on the pretext that the NAP-JUI government had allowed and even encouraged the spread of lawlessness and violence throughout the province, and that it aimed at independence. A cache of Soviet arms was discovered in the Iraqi embassy, supposedly destined for Baluchistan. Bhutto then appointed Akbar Khan Bugti, the leader of the Būgṭī tribe and hostile to NAP, as governor. But Bugti was forced to resign in less than a year, and the disorder and violence spread. Ghaus Bux Bizenjo and Ataullah Khan Mengal, as well as Khair Bux Marri, who was the president of NAP in Baluchistan, were arrested. Between 1973 and 1977 eastern Baluchistan became the scene of a major tribal rebellion against the government of Pakistan. At its height in 1974 an estimated 55,000 Baluch were engaged, mainly from the Mengal and Marī tribes. The number of Pakistani troops has been estimated at 70,000. Iran, which continued to fear Baluch separatism, sent a number of helicopters. Many Baluch fled to Afghanistan. As many as 10,000 Marī remained there in 1986. The major part of the fighting was over in 1974, when the government of Pakistan published its view of what had happened in a white paper, but hostilities continued intermittently until the end of Bhutto’s regime in 1977. In April, 1976, Bhutto announced the abolition of the “sardari system” in a speech in Quetta, making illegal the traditional tribal system of social control and revenue. (Ayyub Khan had already attempted to abolish it, without success.) In 1977 the martial law administration released the NAP leaders and hostilities ceased (Wirsing, p. 11).
Meanwhile, in Pakistan Baluchi had been given the status of an official language for both publication and education. Two academies were established for the promotion of Baluchi and Brahui languages and cultures. (It was in the government’s interest to see Brahui develop as a distinct identity, which would weaken Baluchistan solidarity.) Quetta radio became the major producer of programs in Baluchi. (Radio Zāhedān and Radio Kabul had less than ten hours a week each.) Baluch writers published magazines and books in Baluchi, English, and Urdu. Beginning in the 1960s an increasing number of Baluch writers have published on the history and culture of the Baluch.
In Pakistan Baluch nationalism continues to be a political factor at the national level. It has been suggested that the idea of Baluch nationalism began with Dūst-Moḥammad Khan’s resistance to Reżā Shah in Iran in 1928 (Harrison, p. 3). But it is doubtful whether the combination of general ethnic awareness, interest in political unity, and potential for strong leadership, which are necessary for a successful nationalist movement, existed in a significant proportion of the Baluch anywhere before the 1960s at the earliest. Since then it has motivated an increasing number of young Baluch in Pakistan, Iran, and the Persian Gulf. In February, 1981, Khair Bux Marri and Ataullah Mengal were persuaded to help create a London-based coalition of Baluch émigré groups called the World Baluch Organization, the purpose of which is to raise money for the Baluch cause.


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