The British Advent in Balochistan

11 Dec

Javed Haider Syed
Assistant Professor,
Department of History,
Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.

An Abstract
On the eve of the British advent, the social and economic infrastructure of Balochistan represented almost all characteristics of a desert society, such as isolation, group feeling, chivalry, hospitality, tribal enmity and animal husbandry. There was hardly any area in Balochistan that could be considered an urban settlement. Even the capital of the state of Kalat looked like a conglomeration of mud dwellings with the only royal residence emerging as a symbol of status and power. In terms of social relations, economic institutions, and politics, society demonstrated almost every aspect of tribalism in every walk of life.
The British Advent in Balochistan This paper, therefore, presents a historical survey of the involvement of Balochistan in the power politics of various empirebuilders. In particular, those circumstances and factors have been examined that brought the British to Balochistan. The First Afghan War was fought apparently to send a message to Moscow that the British would not tolerate any Russian advances towards their Indian empire. To what extent the Russian threat, or for that matter, the earlier French threat under Napoleon, were real or imagined, is also covered in this paper.
A holistic account of British advent in Balochistan must begin with “The Great Game” in which Russia, France, and England, were involved. Since the time of Peter the Great (1672-1725), the Russians were desperately looking for access to warm waters. The Dardanelles were guarded by Turkey. After many abortive attempts, Russians concentrated on the Central Asian steppes in order to find a route to the Persian Gulf as well as the Indian Ocean. The British perceived the Russian advances in Central Asia as a threat to their Indian empire because of the ancient historical, religious, and cultural linkages between Central Asia and South Asia. This linkage goes all the way back to the period of the Indus Valley civilization. Successive Indian rulers from Chandragupta Maurya onwards pursued a “forward” policy towards Central Asia. In turn, successive Central Asian leaders and people penetrated South Asia during the latter’s long periods of internal weakness. Both the areas were particularly linked since the Sultanate period. Apart from religious, cultural and linguistic links, commercial relations were perhaps the most important. Although the British did not want to lose the trade with Central Asia, they were apprehensive of possible influences emanating from the Muslim population of the region. No wonder, Russian advances in Central Asia were cause for much concern in London. By the end of the eighteenth century, the Russians had occupied the Central Asian steppes and, in fact, had started sending diplomatic missions to Iran, Afghanistan, Sindh and the Punjab, which was an independent state under Maharaja Ranjit Singh.
These developments were complicated by Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt in 1798. The French had lost their Indian territories and were now keen to make up for the lost “French prestige in India.”1 After his initial success in Egypt and Syria, Napoleon had sent missions to the Qajar Shah of Iran, Fateh Ali Shah (1797-1834). His chief envoy, M. Jaubert, persuaded the Qajar King to seize Georgia from Russia. A military mission was also sent to train the Iranian Army.2 The other area of the French contact was Mysore under Tipu Sultan who was fighting a desperate war against the British. After Tipu’s defeat and death in 1799, the French concentrated on Iran. In 1807, the Russians defeated the Iranians at Arpatch and under the humiliating Treaty of Fars,3 Iran lost more territory to Russia. They also lost faith in the French pledges of help against the Russians. The British did not wait for long to take advantage of the changed situation. After the Treaty of Fars, the British Resident in Basra offered the Shah of Iran 125, 000 rupees and several diamonds from George III to fight the Russians.4 Not only that, the Governor General of India sent Mountstuart Elphinstone, the Governor of Bombay, who was well versed in Eastern languages, to Peshawar where the ruler of Kabul, Shah Shuja-ul-Mulk, had his winter capital. In 1809, he managed to extract a treaty of mutual defense between the British and the Afghans.5
Although the battle of Waterloo in 1815 put an end to the French threat to British India, the Russian presence remained effective in the region. Indeed, they emerged as the major rivals of the British in Asia. The Iranians tried to recover their lost territories from the Russians but invariably ended up loosing even more, whereas the Anglo-Persian Treaty of 1814,6 which promised military and financial aid to the Iranians in wake of a foreign aggression, did not change the situation. In fact, when Shah Abbas Mirza Qajar tried to recover part of the Caucasus in 1826,7 with the help of the British, it again resulted in a disastrous defeat. To add to their woes, the British never fulfilled their commitments. By the Treaty of Turkmanchai in 1828,8 the Russians not only gained full control of the South Caucasus but also received a heavy indemnity from the Iranians (equal to 15 million dollars)9 along with external territorial rights and commercial advantages. It seemed that the British had some sort of understanding with the Russians and in fact wanted to weaken Iran so that it would no longer pose a threat to the British interests in India and Afghanistan. In fact, one may argue that this attitude was typical of the British policies and postures in this region. On the one hand, they signed treaties with Iran for help in case of foreign invasion and, on the other, with Afghans against the Iranians, as was evident in Elphinstone’s contacts with Shah Shuja.
In 1809, however, Shah Shuja was replaced, and after unsuccessful attempts to seek help from different rulers of the area, he fled to Lahore in 1813. After five years, he became a British pensioner.10 By now, the Sikhs, under Ranjit Singh had become a formidable power and the British sought their help in reinstating Shah Shuja to the throne of Kabul. However, after many years of civil war the Afghans acknowledged Dost Mohammad Khan as the Amir. In the process, of course, the Afghans had lost their territories in Sindh and Balochistan. The Mirs of Sindh and the Khans of Balochistan had broken away from the influence of Kabul.
During the turmoil and uncertainty in Afghanistan, the Sikhs had occupied Peshawar in 1834. In 1836, Amir Dost Mohammad Khan defeated the Sikhs and had almost recovered Peshawar but instead of occupying the city, he sought British approval. He sent a letter to the new Governor General, Lord Auckland, and asked permission for retaining Peshawar. In the words of Louis Dupree, a noted scholar on Afghanistan, “Auckland replied that the British government followed a consistent policy of non-interference in the affairs of independent nations.”11 Ironically, “Auckland himself,” according to Fraser Tytler, “in fact, was responsible for the First Afghan War”.12 Yapp also agreed with this assessment. According to him, “Auckland went to war to safeguard the internal rather than the external frontier.”13 He dispatched Captain Alexander Burnes to sort out the Afghanistan situation. Burnes arrived at Kabul in 1837. He declared that the objective of his mission was to restore commercial relations between India and Central Asia and to “workout the policy for opening River Indus for commerce.”14 Amir Dost Mohammad Khan wanted British help in recovering Peshawar, only to realize soon that British would do nothing at the expense of their relationship with the Sikhs.
Interestingly, on December 19, 1837, a Russian diplomat, Captain Ivan Vickovich, arrived at Kabul with letters from the Russian government (the Czar also wrote a letter in response to a letter sent by Amir Dost Mohammad through Mirza Husain) ostensibly for the same purpose that Burnes had come.15 In order to make the British position absolutely clear, Burnes, the British envoy delivered the following ultimatum to Dost Mohammad Khan on March 6, 1838:
You must desist from all correspondence with Persia and Russia: you must never receive agents from (them) or have ought to do with him without our sanction: you must dismiss Captain Vickovich with courtesy: you must surrender claims to Peshawar on your account as that Chiefship belongs to Maharaja Ranjeet Singh: you must also respect the independence of Candahar and Peshawar and cooperate in arrangements to unite your family.16
Although the Amir agreed, but Burnes, refused to spell out the terms particularly with reference to Peshawar. Disappointed and frustrated, Dost Mohammad Khan entered into negotiations with the Russian representative. Meanwhile the Russians continued to help the Iranians in the siege of Herat and pledged more help in the future.17 These events in Herat and Kabul made the British reassess their policy in the area, which ultimately led to their occupation of Balochistan. Since Iran was wooing the Russian ambassador to the embarrassment of the British, Lord Auckland sent an army to Persian Gulf to occupy Kharaj Island in June 1838. In the same month, a treaty was signed between the British Governor General, the Sikh ruler (Ranjit Singh), and Shah Shuja.18 The treaty stipulated that with the Sikh and the British help, Shah Shuja would rule Kabul and Qandahar. Herat would remain independent. In turn, Shah Shuja would recognize the Sikh government in the Punjab, in North-West Frontier including Peshawar and Kashmir, but excluded from further advances against the Amirs of Sindh. Shah Shuja surrendered himself before the British and aligned his destiny with the Indian subcontinent, rather than with Central Asia. The GovernorGeneral was convinced that “a friendly power and intimate connection with Afghanistan, a peaceful alliance with Lahore and an established influence in Sindh are objects for which some hazard may well be run.”19
Consequently, the British raised a large military force known as the “Army of Indus,”20 at Ferozpur to attack Afghanistan and install Shah Shuja on the throne of Kabul.21 Consequently, so-called First Afghan War started in 1839. As the present study is not directly related with the causes of the war which brought the British into Balochistan, the discussion will be confined to the route that this army took and how this invasion affected the people and rulers of Balochistan.
When the time came for the Indus Army to attack Afghanistan, Ranjit Singh not only withdrew his pledge to support this mission but also refused to let Lt. General Sir J. Keane, Commandant of the Indus Army, to march through his territory. General Keane had to find an alternative route (almost threefold longer and through difficult terrain) through Sindh and Balochistan. Keeping in view the hostile environment in terms of supplies, General Keane denuded Balochistan of much of its meager resources to keep his army moving.22
The British had already signed a treaty (March 1839) with the Khan of Kalat who honoured this agreement to the best of his abilities. The army reached Quetta in March 1839 for its onward journey to Qandahar. General Keane took Qandahar without a fight on April 26, and then moved towards Ghazni, which was occupied on July 22, 1839. On August 7, 1839, the army entered Kabul along with Shah Shuja without any resistance.23 Dost Mohammad Khan fled to Bukhara.
During this period, two important events influenced the future. Ranjit Singh died in 1839, and thus the British prospects of occupying the Punjab became brighter. Secondly, the British realized that Shah Shuja was extremely unpopular among the Afghans and if they withdrew their forces, he would be dethroned. It was, therefore, decided to maintain a British garrison in Afghanistan. Realizing the difficulty of persuading the Afghan chiefs to accept a British ‘stooge’ as their leader, William Macnaghten was sent to do the job. Almost every conceivable move was made to reconcile the people to Shah Shuja but in vain. In a letter to Captain Macgregor, he confessed:
I have been striving in vain to sow ‘Nifaq’ (dissension) among the rebels and it is perfectly wonderful how they hang together.24
Finally, in desperation, the British decided to leave Afghanistan and their retreat proved the foolishness of the adventure. Their retreat began on January 6, 1842. In addition to the hazards of the freezing weather, the resistance and the attacks of the local people combined to make this retreat one of the most humiliating and bloody in the history of wars. The sole survivor, Dr. Brydon, saved the gory details for the future historians.25
The disastrous aftermath of the First Afghan War proved to be even more disastrous for Sindh and Balochistan. The British had realized the importance of both these areas for their Afghan and Central Asia policy. The logistic importance26 of the area especially the coastal areas of Balochistan attracted them for pursuance of their forward policy westward. They wanted to capture a suitable port, i.e., Jiwani which was on few days cruise from their stronghold, Bombay. They had already acquired Karachi port facilities in 1820s. They were also aware of the vulnerability of the political and administrative set-up of the local rulers. Thus, they lured the Brahui Khan of Kalat to enter into various treaties with the British starting from 1839 to help reinforce their position in this area.
On March 28, 1839, the British had entered into a treaty with the Khan of Kalat to provide a passage and supplies to the Army of Indus on way to Qandahar through Shikarpur, Jacobabad (Khangarh), Dhadar, Bolan Pass, Quetta and Khojak Pass.27 The son of a deposed vizier, Akhund Mohammad Hasan, secretly opposed it. Even the Khan did not like such terms of the treaty, which included acknowledgment of the supremacy of Shah Shuja, his reinstallation in Kabul, to collect and protect supplies of British troops and to get in return an annuity of 150,000 rupees. The Army of Indus faced problems when passing through the Bolan Pass as they were attacked by the tribes of Kachhi and Bolan and it was alleged that all was done at the instigation of Akhund Mohammad Hasan. The British held Mir Mehrab, Khan of Kalat (18171839), responsible for this “violation”. General Willshire, on return from Qandahar, proceeded towards Kalat and deposed the Khan. Mir Mehrab Khan was killed fighting and the British occupied Kalat on November 13, 1839.28 Now it was established that Akhund Mohammad Hasan was, in fact, a protege of the British, and, in order to avenge the removal of his father by the Khan, he had informed the British of the machinations of the Khan.29
Had Mehrab Khan acted like Ranjit Singh and made an alliance with Amir Dost Mohammad Khan perhaps the future history of the area would have been different. However, with the passage of time, the British involvement increased and they gradually attained and strengthened their control in Balochistan through further treaties, military expeditions and intrigues. They installed a teenager, Shahnawaz Khan, a distant relative of Mehrab Khan as the new ruler with Lt. Loveday as Regent and started the dismemberment of Balochistan by giving Quetta and Mastung to Shah Shuja and Kacchi to the rulers of Sindh. But as soon as the British forces left Kalat the tribal sardars revolted and Nasir Khan II (1840-1857), son of Mehrab Khan was enthroned.30 By signing a treaty on October 6, 1841,31 the Khan of Kalat agreed that the British Government would station troops in Kalat, control its foreign relations and rule the State with the British Resident. Within the next few years, the British had annexed Sindh (1843) and the Punjab (1849) and now there was hardly any possibility for the Khan to look for a potential ally in the neighbourhood.32
After many abortive attempts to adopt an effective Afghan policy, the British realised that it was in their best interest to keep the pressure through the frontiers to make sure that the Russians did not succeed in their efforts to move towards Herat and then to Qandahar. Most of the diplomatic correspondence and the concern of the travellers manifested the danger of Russian advance in that region. Nonetheless, we also come across some evidence which suggested that some tacit agreement existed between Moscow and London about the extent to which the two would not pose a threat to each other.
But when the Iranians, encouraged by the Russians, occupied Herat in 1853, it was considered as a clever Russian move. The British immediately moved to establish friendly relations with Amir Dost Mohammad Khan of Kabul through the Treaty of Peshawar, which was signed on March 30, 1855.33 But before that, the British had concluded a treaty with the Khan of Kalat on May 14, 1854,34 which abrogated the treaty of 1841. The new treaty recognized the Khan as an independent ruler while he was expected to oppose the enemies of British and to be friendly with their supporters. Their foes and friends were not named; however, it was clear that the Khan would act as a close ally of the British. In return, the British promised to pay an annual subsidy of 50,000 rupees and to provide military help in case of foreign invasion. This treaty was signed at Mastung, by which Khan’s authority was recognized over the areas from south of Kalat to Arabian Sea and west of Sindh to Iran including Las Bela. According to a British source, “In 1854, when war was anticipated between England and Russia, to strengthen the position on the frontier, a fresh treaty was made.”35 This treaty was further strengthened in 1862 when the boundary between Balochistan and British India was defined and Kalat was declared as a neighbouring state of India. The subsidy was also doubled.36
Another treaty was signed in 1863 which also sought pledge from the Khan to safeguard the British installations. The British Government agreed to pay 20,500 rupees per annum to the Khan for the establishment of posts and development of traffic along the trade routes.37 In this year, the Khan received further boost from the death of Amir Dost Mohammad Khan, the ruler of Kabul. In fact, the British Agent in Qandahar reported to the government that Khan of Kalat, Mir Khudadad Khan (1857-1893) had offered the province of Shal (Quetta) to the ruler of Qandahar if the latter would assist him in consolidating his position at Kalat.38
By now, the British had realized that, for the Khan to be an effective and successful ruler, it was essential that he should have the best of relations with the Sardars of different tribes in his area. If this relationship was good and friendly, the Khan would feel secure. If there was mistrust or enmity between the Khan and the Sardars, the former would either look for help from the British or from the neighbouring rulers. Therefore, it was stipulated that it would be better if the British presence was secured in that area to ensure that this relationship remained good and cordial as well as to keep an eye over the activities of the Khan. It was in view of this that the British occupied Quetta in December 1876, and a new treaty was signed. It was a renewal of 1854 treaty with a few supplementary provisions and was named as the Treaty of Kalat. Some of the provisions of this treaty were: 1. A British Agent would permanently reside at the court of Kalat. 2. The British Agent would use his good offices to settle any dispute between the Khan and the Sardars so that the peace of the country is not disturbed; and 3. The British Government would be at liberty, by arrangement with the Khan, to construct in Kalat territory such lines of telegraph or rail roads, which might be beneficial to the interest of the two governments.39
This treaty was literally imposed on the Khan by the special representative of the Governor-General, Sir Robert Sandeman. It is reflective of the way the British influence in affairs of Balochistan had increased. It is pertinent to point out that John Jacob had written on July 28, 1856, to the Viceroy, Lord Canning, “we should continue to exert such influence which is absolutely necessary and it would neither be advisable nor necessary to assume, in these respects, greater power, either in nature or extent than we now virtually possess or exercise.”40 But, now, the situation had changed and the British had assumed more power in this region than was envisaged before the Uprising of 1857.
This treaty was essentially concerned with the relationship between the Sardars and the Khan, but neither for this treaty nor for the treaty of 1854, were consultations with the Sardars deemed necessary. These treaties were between the British and the Kalat Khanate, yet the Sardars were mentioned with the Khan as parties. 41 This treaty, of course, led to the construction of telegraph and railway lines through the Kalat territory. Sandeman, who was Deputy Commissioner of Dera Ghazi Khan, was instrumental in stationing a British garrison at Quetta. The subsidy of the Khan was increased to rupees thirty thousand per annum with the appointment of Sandeman as Agent to the Governor General with his headquarters at Quetta. On February 21, 1877, the foundation of the Balochistan Agency was laid.42 The British extended their influence around Quetta and the Bolan Pass and the Khan’s control was reduced to nominal.43
In order to understand subsequent events in Balochistan, we have to take into account how the British perceived their interests in Afghanistan. As discussed earlier, the relevance of the vast territory of Balochistan to the British Empire became manifest during the First Afghan War (1839-1842), which, was apparently fought to protect Afghanistan from the Russian influence. Since Balochistan provided easy access to Qandahar and Herat, developments in Afghanistan and Central Asia shaped the British policy towards Balochistan. A loyal and friendly Balochistan definitely meant a safe and reliable launching pad for the necessary interventions in Afghanistan and even in Iran. We shall see how the ‘Great Game’ shaped the destiny of Balochistan after the Second Afghan War.
The First Afghan War was fought on the pretext of the presence of a Russian diplomat in Kabul. It needs to be noted that at that time the Russians were more than two thousand miles away from the Afghan border. The Russians kept advancing in Central Asia without eliciting any reaction from the British. By 1872, they had subdued Khiva, Bukhara, Samarqand, and Turkistan. Instead of strengthening Afghanistan, the British had annoyed the Afghan ruler by awarding the Sistan proper (about 950 square miles, with a population of 45,000) to Iran and leaving the Outer Sistan, and the district on the right bank of Helmand, to Afghanistan as a result of the deliberations of the Siestan Arbitrary Commission in 1872.44 It is true that Siestan was, initially, a part of the Iranian territory but had been attached at different periods to Herat and Qandahar.45 Amir Sher Ali (ruler of Afghanistan) did not approve these arrangements. The British Viceroy, Lord Northbrook (1872-75), anticipating more trouble, refused to accept Amir Sher Ali’s nominee, Abdullah Jan, as heir-prince.
The new Viceroy, Lord Lytton, added fuel to the fire when he demanded that the Amir of Kabul should accept a British Resident at his court. On the Amir’s refusal, he invaded Afghanistan in 1878, and thus the Second Afghan War started. How the fate of Balochistan was tied to the British adventures in Afghanistan is obvious from the role and activities of Sir Henry Rawlinson. In 1868, Rawlinson had advised his government to “occupy Quetta, gain control of the Afghan area by subsidizing the Amir in Kabul, and establish a permanent British Mission in Kabul to keep the Russians out.”46 After the occupation of Quetta, Rawlinson pressed for another war against Afghanistan.
The Second Afghan War, like the First Afghan War, was started on the pretext of keeping the Russians out and feeding the home government with the fear of Russia. Ironically, the declared policy of the British in Afghanistan since the outbreak of the Crimean War (18531856) was “to build up a strong, friendly and united Afghanistan which should serve as a buffer between the British and the Russian aggrandizement.”47 Apparently, not only was Russo-phobia unfounded but also some tacit understanding existed between the two powers. For example when Amir Sher Ali asked the Russians for help against the British during this war, he was advised to make peace with the British. Frustrated, the Amir had to escape to Turkistan. He died near Balkh on February 21, 1879.48
Amir Sher Ali was succeeded by his son, Amir Yaqub Ali Khan in 1879. In order to prevent further advances of the British, Amir Yaqub Ali acceded to their demands in the Gandamak Treaty that was concluded on May 26, 1879.49 This treaty added the districts of Kurram, Pishin and Sibi to the British Empire along with permanent control of Khyber and Michni passes. The British were also given Loralai and the Pashtoon territories lying to the north and east of Quetta. A British Resident was to reside at Kabul. The Amir was prohibited to engage with any foreign power without approval of the British. He was granted 600,000 rupees stipend in return. Not only the treaty extended the boundaries of Balochistan, it reduced Afghanistan to dependency.
This was a very important development because now the British had established themselves on the western frontiers of Balochistan which sandwiched the Khan and the Sardars between British India and British Balochistan. Now the British frontier stood across the Khojak Range to Chaman near Qandahar. Within the next decade, a broad gauge railway line was constructed up to Chaman by tunnels through the hilly areas. In the words of Edward Oliver, “Baluchistan thus became the first point of advance in the pursuit of Forward Policy.”50
The next decade saw the establishment of the contours of the British administration in Balochistan, which remained intact, more or less, for a long time. The near eastern part of Balochistan, inhabited mostly by the Pashtoons, came under the direct administration of the Balochistan Agency. The southern part of Balochistan remained predominantly Baloch in population, whereas the Brahuis were concentrated in the highlands. Further division of Balochistan took place in 1877 whereby some Baloch tribes of the Derajat were put under the Punjab administration. These tribes included Buzdar, Khetran, Khosa, Leghari, Mazari, Qaisrani, etc.51
In order to finalize the demarcation of the border between Balochistan and Afghanistan, a “Baluch-Afghan Boundary Commission”, was instituted in 1895. Colonel McMahon brought to a successful conclusion the demarcation of Durand Line from Gomal to Koh-i-Mulk Siah. The latter is tri-junction of British India, Afghanistan and Iran. Sir Thomas Holditch proposed a boundary between Balochistan and Iran in consultation with the Iranian Commissioner. The Administration Report of Baluchistan Agency 1886 gives the background to this situation.52 The report describes in detail the dissensions among the Makrani Chiefs that invariably led to the raids on Iranian territory. In order to put an end to these raids, the Iranians brought these areas under their control and imposed tribute on these tribes. With the passage of time, they extended their claims over Kej and its dependencies, which were under the suzerainty of the Khan of Kalat.
In order to remove the threat of the raiders and to demarcate the areas under the Khan, the British government and the Shah of Iran had already approved a proposal in Tehran in September 1871. According to the memorandum by the British Commissioner, Major General Goldsmid, Panjgur, Parum, and other dependencies with Kohuk. Boleidee, including Zamiran and other dependencies; Mand, including Tump, Nasirabad, Kej, and all districts, Dehs, and dependencies to the eastward; and Dasht with its dependencies as far as the sea, were declared to be beyond the Persian frontier.53
By the end of the nineteenth century, the British had consolidated their hold on Balochistan, reduced the Khan of Kalat to the status of a vassal, and secured their borders with Iran and Afghanistan through rail and road links, and cantonments.
It is interesting to note the way the British saw the role of the Khan of Kalat and the Balochi Sardars. In a memorandum, Sir Robert Montgomery described the political structure of Balochistan and advised the British Government to strengthen and secure the position of the Khan of Kalat. According to him, “this would secure not only our borders of Sindh and the Punjab against the inroads of Baloch robbers, and the plunder of travellers and merchants to and from our territories to Central Asia but also to the protection of India itself against the possible dangers from the direct or stimulated advance of Persia.”54 He conceded that the revenues of Balochistan were not sufficient for the Khan and the Sardars to effectively manage the affairs of the confederacy. But since there was the British Resident in Kalat, he suggested, “Would it not be possible to make arrangements for the subsidizing of inferior chiefs guaranteed and secured by English power, through English payment? It is my opinion that great political advantages may be gained by the extra grant of the subsidy to the Khan.”55
This preoccupation with the subsidies seemed to be the cornerstone of the British policies. Though nominal, these subsidies, nonetheless, gave the British Resident an upper hand in the affairs of the state administration. Sir Henry Green, a Political Agent at Kalat, proudly mentioned the effect of these subsidies on his status: “The Chiefs and people seem to think that I and the Khan should divide the throne equally, but I have told the Khan that I want to place the power I have gained over his people in his hands.”56 This situation had shaped Lord Lytton’s “Forward Policy”. It appears that this policy also inspired Lord Lytton’s Afghanistan policy, “It had been the policy of Lord Lytton’s government to subdivide the Kingdom of Afghanistan, on the grounds that no Chief could be found sufficiently strong to rule the whole country and secondly, that it was necessary on the line of Quetta, Qandahar, and Herat.”57
While this policy proved successful for the British, it became a handicap for the Khan especially when the subsidy was withdrawn. Again, Henry Green’s reflections on the position of the Khan are revealing. Green had assumed his office when the Khan was only twelve years old. This provided him enough opportunities to win his confidence. He wrote:
The Khan is absolutely powerless to exert unaided by any physical force over his unruly Chiefs and their followers: he can but rule by setting Chief against Chief and the tribe against tribe, and he can only do this with the assistance of money and by its use maintaining on his side the most powerful of his Chiefs. By depriving him of his subsidy we have reduced him to equality with the weakest of his Sardars. We have deprived the country of any semblance of a head.58
It was under these circumstances that the Khans operated under British supremacy. The diplomatic skills of the British officers were not wanting when it came to giving the Khans a sense of false pride. For example, on January 1, 1877, the Khan of Kalat (Khudadad Khan 18571893) and various Sardars of Balochistan were invited to attend the Imperial Assemblage at Delhi. Robert Sandeman was the Agent to the Governor General (hereafter AGG), in Balochistan. In his account, he mentions how these local chiefs were overwhelmed with the railway and telegraph system and how for the first time they realized the strength of the British Government. The Khan, the Jam, and the Sardars from Balochistan were placed apart from the other Indian chiefs as distinguished strangers. When the Khan resented this discriminatory treatment and complained to Sandeman that he was not even considered worthy of receiving a banner which was presented to every other prince, “I (Sandeman) was desired to assure His Highness that no slight of any kind was intended; on the contrary the reason that he had not received a standard was that he occupied the position of a Sovereign Prince entirely independent of the British Government. The Khans and the Sardars were satisfied with this explanation.”59 Lord Lytton also paid return visit to the Khan whereas the native Indian Princes were not granted this high protocol.
The British did not follow a clear and consistent policy in their relations with the Khan and the Sardars. They acted according to the given situation and demand of the circumstances. Thus, at times, they humiliated them, as indicated above. At times, they were honoured and decorated. For example, Lord Lytton admitted Khan Khudadad Khan to the rank of a Knight Grand Commander of the Most Exalted Order of the Star of India. Some Sardars also received honours.60
However, such gestures were mostly extended in the time of war or any other grave crisis which demanded loyalty, and support of the local rulers. On special occasions, pleasantries were exchanged. Sandeman wrote to the Khan of Kalat before he went on leave in 1881: “I pray you to think of this sincere friend who is ever with you like a second kernel in one almond”. In response, the Khan acknowledged Sandeman’s contribution to the settlement of disputes of the frontier tribes, opening up the trade routes, administration of the country and the peace of its inhabitants.61 However, not all Khans acted with dignity and self-respect. Mostly it depended on their status and standing with the Baloch Sardars. Khudadad Khan, in particular, was so weak and servile that when Colonel Colley, the Military Secretary to the Viceroy, brought a letter to the Kalat Darbar on October 10, 1887, the Khan “received the viceregal letter under a salute of twenty guns and pressed the document to his forehead.”62
In this context, it would be worth exploring a little further how the British really perceived the position and status of the Khan. Did they consider Balochistan as a protectorate, a confederacy of different tribes under the Khan or a divided state between directly administered areas and the region under the Khan? Indian rulers normally found it to their advantage to maintain a high level of ambiguity towards turbulent border regions. This was often deliberate as it allowed the paramount power greater freedom of action. This freedom was necessary for the center to avoid getting drawn into conflicts too often. Surprisingly the British were not clear about the real status of Balochistan and its rulers. For example, Colonel Graham, the Commissioner of the Derajat and Colonel Phayre, the Political Superintendent of the Upper Sindh Frontier, were not even sure whether Balochistan was a confederacy or a state with a sovereign ruler. The Administration Report of 1886 reflected this confusion. Indeed, in its estimate the view to be taken of the conduct of the Sardars towards the Khan during the prolonged struggle between them, which involved so much loss of life and property, depended entirely on the answer to be given to this question:
If the Khan were a supreme ruler, the Sirdars were rebels without excuse for their rebellion; but if the Khan were the head of a confederacy, of which the Sirdars were members, the latter must be regarded as men engaged in an earnest endeavour to defend their liberties and privileges.63
In an earlier Conference held at Mithankot in February 1871 on question of the relations of the Khan of Kalat towards the Sardars of Balochistan, the British administrators expressed conflicting opinions. Sir W. Merewether and Captain Harrison, Political Agent at Kalat regarded the Khan as a supreme ruler and the Sardars as his subjects and feudatories. On the other hand, Colonel Phayre, Police Superintendent of Sindh, held that the Khan was no more than the head of a confederacy. He could not rule without the support and countenance of the British Government. Robert Sandeman and Colonel Graham were of the same opinion.64
During his feuds with the Sardars, the Khan used to ask for the British armed intervention to settle the problem. However, unless the British interest demanded such an intervention, the Viceroy would not oblige.65 On one occasion, the Khan told the Political Agent, Major Harrison, that if he failed to obtain assistance from the British Government, he would have to ask Afghanistan or Iran for aid. The Political Agent reminded the Khan of the article 3 of the Treaty of 1854, which restricted him from entering into negotiation with other States without the consent of the British Government. He also told the Khan that the Viceroy would not extend any help unless the Kalat government was established on a just basis, the rights of his subjects were properly cared for, and their grievances enquired into and redressed. As a matter of fact, he had simply conveyed to him what the Viceroy had observed: “If we were to intervene in force to support his authority, it would be necessary to enquire into and guarantee the rights of those whose alleged grievances have driven them into what may possibly be a justifiable rebellion.”66
This policy was certainly meant to ensure that the Khan would not emerge as a strong leader. The British wanted to keep for themselves the role of the final arbiter between the Khan and the Sardars without committing their soldiers to strengthen the office of the Khan. Hence, the memorandum on his powers and the responsibilities of the British government clearly stated that:
It was not the duty of the British Government to settle by armed intervention the administration of the Kalat, or to adjust the quarrels between the Khan and his nobles or to help the Khan to assert nominal suzerainty over recalcitrant tribes; and that His Excellency in Council would only give moral and material support.67
In fact, the memorandum clearly curtailed the powers of the Khan by suggesting that, “we shall take our own measures, without reference to him, to protect our territories and the lives and properties of our subjects; that any of his subjects who may commit offences in British territory and be apprehended there, will receive the utmost penalty of the Law.” 68
That does not mean that the British did not intervene in the feuds between the Khan and the Sardars. Often, they settled the disputes, but, each time, the Khan’s financial and administrative powers were further curtailed. The real author of this policy was Sandeman who ensured that the Khan had no right to a financial contribution from the Sardars. He was allowed income only from crown lands and custom duties, after paying the share to the local Sardars. The Sardars remained supreme in their own tribes whereas inter-tribal feuds were adjudicated by Jirga in which the Khan did not enjoy any special privileges. Thus, for all practical purposes, the Agent to the Governor-General was the real head of the Baloch Confederation. The glory of the Khan’s status was confined only to rituals of his court where “His Highness is still the nominal head, the Sarawan and Jhalawan Chiefs still sit on his right and left in the Durbars. And till he (Sardar) is invested by the Khan with the robe of succession, a Sardar, is not legitimized as a representative of his tribe”.69
With the passage of time, the AGG assumed the power of nominating the Sardars, summoning of Jirgas for the settlement of intertribal disputes, and the general observation of law and order in the country. The British believed that the AGG commanded more respect and obedience than the Khan in spite of the fact that in certain parts of the tribal areas like Sarawan and Jhalawan, the Khan was still respected.70 The presence of five thousand British soldiers at the Quetta Cantonment further strengthened the position of the AGG. The local chiefs were either ruled through the Khan or received money from the AGG, either as pension compensation for custom dues or for rendering services in the levies. Whenever either the Khan crossed his limits, in internal matters or in relation to the British interest, he was changed and replaced by a son or brother, whatever the requirement. On March 29, 1893 Mir Khudadad Khan was imprisoned and his son, Mir Mahmud Khan II (1893-1931), was placed on the throne of Kalat.71 Mir Khudadad died in captivity on May 21, 1907 at Pishin.72 The Khan functioned virtually like a dummy and the British AGG, in the name of the Khan, passed practically all court and administrative orders.
However, these measures were in no way endearing to either the Khan or some Sardars. Khan of Kalat, Mir Mahmud Khan II, for example, though weak, could not hide his feelings against the British. “He neither went to visit a British official nor went out of his way in welcoming them. On the contrary, he is reported to have encouraged many anti-British uprisings in Balochistan. Realizing his failure in regaining his lost prestige, he died in his palace on November 2, 1931”.73 His several abortive attempts to regain his powers through all possible means did not earn him a good name in the annals of Baloch history. One nationalist Baloch author however, declared all his reign of thirty-eight years as “shameful” and described him as the “Prince of Darkness.”74
The British had established themselves as rulers of Balochistan without much opposition. They received enthusiastic support from the loyal Sardars during the First World War. Official communications showed that the Khan and his associates offered recruits, camels, and, in certain cases, even cash to finance the British war efforts. Though there were reports of the presence of Turkish and German agents in Balochistan, Iran and Afghanistan, yet there was no major uprising in favour of Turkey in Balochistan during the war. The British, however, highlighted and exaggerated the German threat. In 1915, the infamous, future “butcher” of Jallianwala Bagh (1919), Amritsar, BrigadierGeneral Dyer was sent to Balochistan to deal with the threat. The British thought that Germans would invade India through Balochistan, and would ultimately break their Indian Empire. In 1916, the “German agents” allegedly killed two British officers, Lt. Horst and Lt. Hughes in Makran,75 which resulted in the unleashing of several punitive expeditions under General Dyer.76 The areas particularly hit were Jhalawan, in 1915-16 and Marri-Bugti areas in 1918.77
The whole Pashtoon belt adjacent to the Afghanistan border, including the Zhob, Qila Saifullah, Loralai, Sanjawi areas were up in revolt at the advent of the Third Afghan War in 1919. Although the war lasted hardly a week or so, the British had to face a staunch resistance from the Pushtoon freedom fighters in Balochistan. Among Pashtoons, there is a long list of such freedom fighters but the place of Shahjahan Jogazai was the most prominent of all.78
The first two decades of the twentieth century witnessed many developments that affected the people of Balochistan significantly. PanIslamic movement, the Khilafat movement, and the Third Afghan War directly affected the people, particularly the Pashtoons. The Bolshevik Revolution in Russia replaced the Czarist threat to the British Empire with an ideology that was directed against the capitalist and the colonial West. The British forces were kept engaged quelling various disturbances during this period. During 1915-1919, the British faced revolts from both Baluch and Pashtoon tribes. They mounted about fifteen major expeditions and several minor expeditions to subdue the defiant forces in Balochistan.79
But there were some developments that helped ease British relations with Russia and Afghanistan, and thus allowed them more freedom to deal with the situation in Balochistan. The Durand Line80 was drawn under a treaty signed on November 12, 1893 between Sir Mortimer Durand on behalf of the British India and Amir Abdul Rahman of Afghanistan.81 In 1887, the Ridgeway Line, named after Sir West Ridgeway, fixed the northern boundaries of Afghanistan and Russia.82 Thus, Afghanistan emerged as the buffer state lying between the Imperial British India and the Czarist Empire (after 1917, the Soviet Union) in Central Asia.83

In summation, several conclusions can be drawn from the above lines. First, it can be said that by the time political activities began in India on a large scale, Balochistan was still struggling to cope with the advent of the new British administrative set-up. After the death of Mir Mahmood Khan on November 2, 1931,84 his brother, Amir Azam Khan was taken out of captivity, and installed as the Khan of Kalat. Lord Willingdon, the Viceroy of India, visited Balochistan to install the new Khan himself. A Grand Durbar was held at Quetta on April 26, 1932 for the purpose.85 Khan Amir Azam Khan died in December 1932 and his son, Mir Ahmad Yar Khan, succeeded him in 1933, who eventually helped the transformation of Balochistan from a British dependency to a part of Pakistan.
Secondly, the British had employed the policy of ‘divide and rule’ by keeping the Khan under their supervision, curtailing his powers, and acting as intermediaries between the Sardars and the Khan. Instead of establishing a clearly demarcated role for the Khan and the tribal chiefs, they ensured that confusion and complications existed between their relationships. They had established their rule in Balochistan but continuously faced opposition from different tribes.
Thirdly, the British never lost sight of their initial objective in occupying Balochistan which was to guard the frontiers of India against possible intrusions from the mountain passes, which separated the subcontinent from Iran and Afghanistan.
Fourthly, since the major victims of British colonialism in India were Muslims, the British wanted to ward off any linkages between the Muslim world and Muslim India. They achieved this through a clever use of strategic points in Balochistan, demarcation of boundaries, and actively intervening in the affairs of the two neighbouring Muslim states of Afghanistan and Iran.
Fifthly, though in the traditional sense, the Russian and the French threats were over, the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, the emergence of Germany as a major power, and, Turkey being its ally, never let the British sit comfortably in the saddle of power. All this indeed determined the nature of administrative patterns of the British rule in Balochistan.
Finally, one has to agree with Embree in context with the continuing policy of Pakistan towards Balochistan, “In any case the new state of Pakistan, for better or worse, lives with realities that link it with the great transformation of politics that took place in the sub-continent in the mid-nineteenth century”.86


1  Louis Dupree, Afghanistan (Karachi, 1977), p.362.
2  Percy Sykes, The History of Persia (London, 1969), Vol.II, p.298.
3  Dupree, Afghanistan, p.363.
4  Ibid.
5  Fraser Tytler, Afghanistan (London, 1967), p.80.
6  Muhammad Anwar Khan, England, Russia and Central Asia (Peshawar, 1963), p.4.
7  Tytler, Afghanistan, p.81.
8  Sykes, The History of Persia, Vol.II, p.319.
9  Ibid.
10  Dupree, Afghanistan, pp.365-368.
11  Ibid., p.369.
12  Tytler, Afghanistan, pp.84-85.
13  M.E. Yapp, Strategies of British India; Britain, Iran and Afghanistan 1799-1850 (New York: 1980), p.253.
14  John William Kaye, A History of the War in Afghanistan (London: 1874, 2nd ed, New Delhi, 1999), Vol.I, p.18.
15  J.I. Norris, The First Afghan War, 1838-1842 (Cambridge: 1967), p.134. It is amazing to see that both the hostile envoys paid visit to each other and were combined together at Christmas Dinner at Burnes’ residence in 1837.
16  Dupree, Afghanistan, p.371.
17  Kaye, A History of War, p.269.
18  Ibid., pp.319-23.
19  A.T. Embree, ed. Pakistan’s Western Borderlands (Karachi, 1979), pp.30-31. He was further of the view, “to extend the British influence into Afghanistan so that Russian dominance not be extended throughout the area.”
20  Ibid., pp.404-406.
21  Dupree, Afghanistan, p.377.
22  Mir Naseer Khan Baluch Ahmadzai, Tarikh-i-Baloch wa Balochistan (Quetta, 2000), Vol.VI, pp.49-50.
23  Dupree, Afghanistan, p.378.
24  L/P&S/5. Enclosures to Secret Letters Received from India, Vol.82. January 9, 1842, No.9. India Office Records (British Library), London.
25  Baluchistan and The First Afghan War, pp.375-76.
26  For best account of the logistic and strategic importance of the area consult, M.E.Yapp, Strategies of British India.
27  Ahmadzai, Tarikh-i-Baloch, Vol.VI, pp.57-58. It must be pointed out that Alexander Burnes negotiated this treaty. For text of the treaty see, C.U. Aitchison, A Collection of Treaties, Engagements and Sanads Relating to India and Neighbouring Countries, Baluchistan (Delhi, 1933), Vol.XI, pp.350-51.
28  Ibid., pp.67-68.
29  Ibid., pp.79.
30  A.B. Awan, Baluchistan: Historical and Political Processes (London: 1985), p.62.
31  Aitchison, A Collection of Treaties, Vol.XI, pp.351-52.
32  The Press List of Old Records in the Punjab Government Secretariat, Lahore, Serial No.2346,
33  Dupree, Afghanistan, p.401.
34  Hughes, The Country of Baluchistan, pp.216-17. See also Aitchison, A Collection of Treaties, Vol. XI, pp.352-353.
35  First Administration Report of the Baluchistan Agency (Calcutta, 1886), p.4.
36  Aitchison, A Collection of Treaties, Vol.XI, pp.357-58.
37  Ibid., pp.358-60.
38  The Press List of Old Records, Serial No.2346. Dated September 16, 1863.
39  First Administration Report, pp.54-55. Also see, Aitchison, A Collection of Treaties, Vol. XI, pp.362-64.
40  H.T. Lambrick, John Jacob of Jacobabad (Karachi, 1975), p.412.
41  Ibid. p.413. T.H. Thoronton, Acting Foreign Secretary to the Govt. of India in the year 1877, states that, “while the treaty of 1854 is between the British Government and the Khan of Kalat alone, in the Treaty of 1876 the Sardars are mentioned with the Khan as parties”. Col. T.H. Thoronton, Sir Robert Sandeman (London, 1895), p.93.
42  Ibid.
43  Mir Ahmad Yar Khan ‘Mukhtasar Tareekh Qaum-i-Baloch Wa Khawanee-i-Baloch (Quetta, 1970), p.61. Also Edward Oliver, Across the Border: Pathan and Biloch (London, 1890), pp.22-23.
44  Sykes, The History of Persia, Vol.II, pp.363-64.
45  Ibid.
46  D. Ghose, England and Afghanistan: A Phase in their Relations (Calcutta: 1960), p.10.
47  First Administrative Report, p.88.
48  Dupree, Afghanistan, p.409.
49  First Administrative Report, pp.77-78.
50  Oliver, Across the Border, p.123.
51  Mir Khuda Baksh Bijrani Marri Baluch, Searchlight on Baluchis and Baluchistan (Karachi: 1974), pp.18-20.
52  First Administrative Report, p.9.
53  Ibid.
54  Political & Secret Department, L/P&S 18 A, pp.6-20 Memorandum by Sir Robert Montgomery on the Punjab and Scinde Frontier, Khelat, etc., February 7, 1870.
55  Ibid., p.7.
56  Lambrick, John Jacob of Jacobabad, p.412. The ruling Khan was Mir Khudadad Khan. The letter was written to John Jacob.
57  First Administrative Report, p.88.
58  Political and Secret Department, L/P&S 18 A.7. Major General Sir Green to Colonel Bruce, London, February, 18, 1875, pp.5-7.
59  First Administrative Report, p.56.
60  Ibid. Following it, the Government of India published its Resolution on February 21, 1877, ordering the re-establishment and extension of the Baluchistan Agency. Robert Sandeman was appointed the Agent to the Governor General.
61  A.L.P. Tucker, Sir Robert Sandeman; Peaceful Conqueror of Baluchistan (Lahore, 1979), p.58.
62 Col. T.H. Thoronton, Sir Robert Sandeman (London: 1895), p.58.
63  First Administrative Report, pp.15-17.
64  Ibid.
65  Ibid., p.31.
66  Ibid. Robert Sandeman further noted in this respect: “His Excellency in Council has long ceased to expect from the Khan any efficient action towards the establishment of even responsible Government. During the last 17 years, the British Government has done everything in its power to strengthen his hands and enable him to fulfil his treaty obligations. Extra subsidies have been given; he has received from us presents of money. The Viceroy with distinctions has received him. In short everything has been done by the British Government that could have been done to raise him in the estimation of his subjects, and enable him to discharge all the duties which devolve upon him as the ruler of the Kalat State but all has been of no avail.”
67  Ibid., p.20.
68  Ibid., p.36.
69 Ibid., p.9 “But in the essential questions of the nomination of the Sardars, the summoning of the Jirgas for the settlement of inter-tribal disputes and the general preservation of peace in the country, the Agent to the Governor General was recognized all over Baluchistan as having taken the place of the Khan, and his mandate naturally commanded a great deal more respect and obedience than did ever of His Highness (the Khan). Moreover, the Sardars looked to the AGG for protection against the Khan. The fact of the matter was that the Khan had no right to money contribution from the Sardars, though they were bound to fellow him to battle against a foreign foe. He derived his income from Crown Lands, from custom dues, to a share of which the local tribes were in place entitled, and to a very small extent from land revenue shared with local Chiefs. He had no power over the lives and property of the tribesmen outside what may be called the crown domains. The Chiefs settled disputes in their own tribes, and Jirgas of all the Chiefs adjudicated disputes between men of different tribes by Jirga. On very important occasions, the Khan presided the Jirgas. Such a state of affairs naturally led to infighting and feuds between the Khan and Sardars. Indeed since Sir Sandeman’s Missions in 1876-77, the AGG has practically taken the place of the Khan as head of the Baluchistan or Brahui Confederation.”
70  Ibid., p.9.
71  Ahmadzai,  Tarikh-i-Baloch, Vol.VI, pp.562-63. He is also blamed,” An ogre and had executed his 3500 subjects. Minor theft charges were stoned to death. Vizier’s 90 years old father was hacked to death.” Charles C. Trench, Viceroy’s Agent (London: 1987), p.87.
72  Ibid., p.569.
73  Ibid., p.216.
74  Sardar Mohammad Khan Baluch, The Baluch Race and Baluchistan (Quetta: 1958), p.45.
75  Sykes, The History of Persia, Vol.II, pp.441-53.
76  Dyer, R.E. The Raiders of the Sarhad (London: 1921), Personal account of his 18 month expedition in Balochistan.
77  Ibid., pp.454-55.
78 Abdul Rahman Ghour, Hamari Jido Jihad (Quetta: 1995), pp.11-13. The Pashtoons had been residing in Zhob, Loralai, Harnai, Quetta and Pishin districts of Baluchistan for thousands of years. They had resisted the invaders throughout the ages. In 1338, the Kakars of the area had fought against Peer Mohammad, the grandson of Amir Taimur. Ahmad Shah Abdali had assigned the Sardari of Zhob to a pious Jogazai, Baqaneka and entitled him as “Badshah-i-Zhob”. The Jogazais fought against the British also. The most active person against them was Shahjahan Jogazai. He inflicted heavy losses on them. He fought two major battles with the British. In 1879, a British force of about one thousand troops under General Biddulph challenged Shahjahan Jogazai’s 500 men at Baghao near Sanjawai. The British wanted to occupy Loralai. But the Jogazai force equipped with primitive swords repulsed the well-armed troops.  Consequently, till the next year, the British could not dare another expedition. On August 16, 1880, Colonel T.W. Pierce was sent at the head of 300 soldiers of Bombay Infantry. Shahjahan Jogazai and Sardars Faiz Mohammad Khan Panezai led Panezais, Sarangzais and Kakars of Zhob. The ill-equipped indigenous tribals repulsed the British army in three hours tough fight. The last two battles of 1883 and 1884 are very remarkable which were fought at Thal Chotali against the British. Shahjahan Jogazai stood victorious in these fights and the British had to bear heavy losses. Shahjahan fought the British till his death. The British had acknowledged his bravery.
79  Embree, Pakistan’s Western Borderlands, p.33. Also see “Frontier and Overseas expeditions From India,” Vol.III (Calcutta: 1910), pp.325-41.
80  Percy Sykes, Sir Mortimer Durand (London, 1926). The Durand Line running between Afghanistan and Baluchistan marks a common border of about 720 miles. It is considered one of the best-demarcated and easily recognizable boundary lines in the world. The British historian Fraser Tytler regards it “Illogical from the point of view of ethnography, strategy and geography.” Tytler, Afghanistan, P.188. Lawrence Ziring is of the view, “Durand Line met some of the defensive needs of the British Indian Empire”. Lawrence Ziring, Pakistan the Enigma of Political Development (Colorado: 1980), p.149.
81  Dupree, Afghanistan, p.424.
82  Ibid.
83  Ahmadzai, Tarikh-i- Baloch (Quetta: 2000), Vol.VII, p.216.
84  Ibid., p.256.
85  Ibid., p.267.
86  Embree, Pakistan’s Western Borderlands, p.40.

Courtesy: Pakistan Journal of History and Culture, Vol.XXVIII, No.2 (2007) 

Comments Off on The British Advent in Balochistan

Posted by on December 11, 2015 in Balochistan


Comments are closed.