Dr Naseer Dashti
The Baloch consider 27 March 1948 as one of the darkest days of their national history. On this day they lost their newly gained independence from the colonial power of Great Britain.
With the British announcement of their withdrawal from India following the end of the Second World War, the Baloch state of Khanate of Kalat prepared for independence after a prolonged British occupation. Efforts were made to regain territories that had been incorporated in the province of British Balochistan and a group of lawyers was hired by the Khan of the Baloch to plead his case on the sovereignty of these areas, once the British have gone. The Baloch state itself proclaimed its independence on August 12, 1947. Elections were held for a bi-cameral parliament. However, it became short-lived independence and Pakistan occupied the Baloch state only 9 months following the declaration of its independence.
To understand the context of 27th March 1948, it is imperative to discuss the political situation of Balochistan at the time of British withdrawal from India.
At the time when preparations were being made for the creation of Pakistan and eventual British withdrawal from India, Eastern Balochistan under British control was divided into British Balochistan and the Khanate of Kalat. British Balochistan comprised of Afghan areas ceded to the British under the Treaty of Gandamak in 1880 and areas of the Khanate of Kalat including, Quetta, Marri-Bugti Agency, Sibi, and Chagai, which were leased out by the Khan of Kalat to the Government of British India with the signing of various accords in 1883, 1899, and 1903. Dera Ismail Khan and Dera Ghazi Khan regions of Balochistan were already included in the province of Punjab. British Balochistan was part of British India and ruled by an Agent to Governor-General, while the Khanate was in a treaty relationship directly with Whitehall.
With the announcement of Clement Attlee, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom on 20 February 1947 that the British Government would grant full self-government to British India by 30 June 1948 at the latest Balochistan prepares for independence.
However, the matter of full independence of Balochistan became complicated from the impact of the 1935 Government of India Act. Besides formally establishing the province of British Balochistan under the Government of India Act, the Khanate of Kalat itself was declared as part of British India. This was in clear violation of the Treaty of 1876, which committed the British to recognize and respect the independence of Kalat under its various articles. The treaty was signed between the Khan and the Viceroy of India, Lord Lytton, at Jacobabad in July 1876. It was the renewal and reaffirmation of the treaty which was concluded on 14 May 1854 between the British Government and Khan Naseer Khan II which affirmed the perpetual friendship between the British Government and Khan of Kalat, his heirs, and successors.
Article 3 of the treaty explicitly mentioned that: “whilst on his part, Meer Khodadad Khan, Khan of Kalat, binds himself, his heirs, successors, and Sirdars, to observe faithfully the provisions of Article 3 of the Treaty of 1854, the British Government on its part engages to respect the independence of Kalat, and to aid the Khan, in case of need, in the maintenance of a just authority and the protection of his territories from external attack, by such means as the British Government may at the moment deem expedient”. However, it appeared that the Treaty of 1876 was only on paper, and the British never fully honored its treaty obligations with the Khanate of Kalat. Tragically, the Khan of the Baloch did realize the importance of settling the issue of the status of his state with the British authorities in the wake of developing changes. He was not strong enough to take a robust and workable attitude toward the issue. He hired a known protégé of the British authorities, Mr. Muhammad Ali Jinnah, as the lawyer to represent the interests of the Balochistan in New Delhi, a move which later became an important factor in the demise of the Baloch state. Mr. Muhammad Ali Jinnah, when appointed as the first Governor-General of Pakistan in 1947, played a key role in the occupation of Balochistan by Pakistan. The Khan neither had grasped the reality that Great Britain planned to create a country by dividing India nor was he able to realize that his state by its geographical location and its contiguity with the proposed new country would be vulnerable.
With the pressure from tribal chiefs and the leadership of the Kalat National Party, the Khan of Kalat, Mir Ahmad Yar Khan put forward the following demands to the British authorities concerning various treaty agreements between the British and the Khanate:
- The British must honor all their commitments, and the treaty of 1876 must be fully honored.
- All leased and tribal territories such as Quetta, Chagai, Bolan, Nasirabad, and Mari-Bugti areas should be returned to the control of the Khanate.
- The Khan should be allowed to announce the establishment of a parliament, which should comprise of two houses.
- The right to appoint the prime minister of the Khanate should be given to the Khan with the consultation of the British Government.
- Instead of the tribal chiefs, the Khan should exert control on Jhalawan and Sarawan without the interference of the British political agents.
The demands of the Khan were ignored. Receiving no positive response from the British authorities, the Khan, in 1939, called a “Consultative Jirga. (assembly) of all tribal chiefs and elders from all over the state in which he announced the establishment of a cabinet and a Council of State without prior consultation with British officials. The cabinet comprised of twelve independent ministerial members of equal importance, and the Wazir-e-Azam (prime minister) was to be responsible to the Council of State. Irritated and alarmed by the unilateral actions of the Khan, an open antagonism began between the Kalat state and the colonial administration in New Delhi.
At a time, when the Baloch state was expecting that, upon the cessation of British power in India, its pre-1876 full independent status would be restored and it would regain sovereign rights over all its territories held or leased to Britain; things were moving fast towards the creation of Pakistan. A three-member Cabinet Mission was sent from London in 1946 to devise the methodology for the transfer of power in India. The Khan of the Baloch decided to raise the status of his state and presented a memorandum to the Cabinet Mission. The salient features of the memorandum were as follows:
- The Kalat is an independent and sovereign state, its relationship with the British Government being based on various mutual agreements and treaties.
- The Kalat is not an Indian state, its relations with India being of only a formal nature under Kalat’s agreements with the British.
- With the ceasing of the agreement of 1876 with the Kalat Government, the Khanate of Kalat should regain its complete independence as it existed before 1876.
- All such regions as were given under the control of the British in consequence of any treaty would return to the sovereignty of the Kalat state and resume their original status as parts of the Kalat state.
- On the lapse of the British sovereignty, the agreements in respect of the parts under their control should cease to have any legal binding; and the rights hitherto vested in the British shall automatically be transferred to the Kalat Government.
On April 11, 1946, the Khan, discussed these issues during his meeting with Indian Viceroy Lord Wavell.
After the announcement of the plan for partitioning British India into India and Pakistan on June 3, 1947, the Kalat Government had a series of meetings and presentations with representatives of the Viceroy and officials of the future Government of Pakistan. On August 4, 1947, a tripartite meeting was held in Delhi, chaired by Viceroy Lord Mountbatten and attended by his legal advisor Lord Ismay. On the Baloch side, Khan Ahmad Yar Khan, and his Prime Minister Barrister Sultan Ahmad were present. Mr. Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Mr. Liaquat Ali Khan represented Pakistan. In the meeting, a consensus was reached regarding the future of Balochistan and it was agreed that the Baloch state of Kalat would be independent, enjoying the same status as it originally held in 1839 before the British occupation. It was also agreed that in case, relations of Kalat with any future government of divided India become strained, Kalat would exercise its right of self-determination, and the British Government should take precautionary measures to help the Khanate of Kalat in the matter as per the Treaties of 1839 and 1854. In the meeting, a “Standstill Agreement” was signed by Mr. Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Mr. Liaquat Ali Khan on behalf of the future state of Pakistan and Mr. Sultan Ahmad on behalf of the Khanate of Kalat. In the agreement, the Government of Pakistan recognizes the Khanate as an independent sovereign State, in a treaty relationship with the British Government, with a status different from that of an Indian princely state. It was also agreed that regarding areas of the Khanate leased out to the British in the 19th century, the legal opinion would be sought as to whether or not the agreements of leases made between the British Government and the Khanate of Kalat would be inherited by the Pakistan Government.
After the formal declaration of Balochistan as an independent state on August 12, 1947, the Khan appointed Nawabzada Muhammad Aslam Khan as the first Prime Minister of the independent state and Mr. Douglas Fell as the Foreign Minister. The Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Balochistan visited Karachi to negotiate with the Government of Pakistan on modalities for concluding a treaty of friendship based on the August 4, 1947 Standstill Agreement, including matters relating to the areas held under lease with British authorities. The response by Pakistani authorities for a friendship treaty was not promising which later proved their malicious designs towards the Baloch state.
With the promulgation of the Government of Kalat State Act 1947, the new constitution of the newly independent Baloch state established a representative system of governance. According to the constitution, a council of ministers was constituted, headed by a Prime Minister. The ministers were appointed by the Khan and held their office at the discretion of the Khan. The function of the council was to aid and advice the Khan of the Baloch, in the exercise of the executive authority of the state. A bicameral legislature was enacted composed of an upper and a lower house. The Upper House (Darul Umara) was composed of tribal chiefs from Jhalawan and Sarawan. It had forty-six members, ten of whom were appointed by the Khan. Eight of these ten members were to be selected from the Lower House as well as from the Council of Ministers, and the other two members were to be selected from the minority groups. The members of the cabinet were allowed to participate in debates in the house but were not allowed to vote. The Lower House (Darul Awam) was composed of fifty-five members, of whom fifty were to be elected and the Khan to nominate the remainder. Elections were held for both houses of the parliament under the Government of Kalat Act 1947. The majority of the members in the House of Commons were elected from candidates nominated by the nationalist organization, the Kalat State National Party (KSNP). The first session of the Darul Awam was held at Shahi Camp, Dadar, on December 12, 1947.
However, the independence of the Baloch state was short-lived. Unexpected events began to unfold, leading to the second demise of the Baloch state. After the first occupation of Kalat in 1839, the newly independent Baloch state once again faced another occupation in 1948.
The Khan was unable to take any positive step to regain possession of the Baloch areas of British Balochistan as the British in collaboration with the new administration of Pakistan had other plans for the future of Balochistan. The first blow to the newly independent Balochistan came with the merger of British Balochistan with Pakistan, using unfair means by the British authorities in Quetta. In a sham referendum, the authorities pressurized members of Shahi Jirga of Quetta Municipality, who were the nominees of the colonial administration to vote for the merger of British Balochistan with Pakistan. However, they were unable to muster the support of the majority. The date of the referendum was brought a day earlier, and without voting, it was announced in New Delhi that members of Shahi Jirga voted for the annexation of British Balochistan with Pakistan. Earlier, the British authorities rejected out-rightly the demands of the Baloch tribal chiefs in the Mari, Bugti, and Derajat regions to re-join the Khanate of Kalat after the British withdrawal. The Baloch state was powerless to do anything on the loss of its precious territories.
Sensing the real intentions of the Pakistani state which was basking in the glow of all-out British support, the Government of Kalat invited the Indian Government to agree to friendship and cooperation. A request was also made by the representative of the Khan, Sir Sultan Ahmad, for permission to establish a trade agency in New Delhi. The Congress government in New Dehli was not interested (for reasons still unknown) and the Khanate’s representative was informed that the request could not be considered. It appears that the refusal of Pakistan and perhaps also of India to conclude friendship treaties with Balochistan was consistent with the British designs of drawing a new map of the region after their formal withdrawal. A viable Pakistan was the aim of the British and without Balochistan, it was difficult to give a proper geographical and strategic viability to its newly created client state. The British authorities impressed upon the Pakistani leaders the need to take practical action for the incorporation of the Baloch state into Pakistan. Mr. Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who was hired and handsomely paid by the Khan of the Baloch to represent the case of the leased areas of the Baloch state before the colonial administration in New Delhi was now playing the role of Brutus. To the astonishment of the Baloch, Mr. Jinnah and the Pakistani authorities were openly encouraged by the British administration in India to deal with (the danger of) an independent Balochistan. An extract from a secret memorandum prepared by the British Minister of State for The Commonwealth Relations Office on September 12, 1947, is indicative of the master-mind role of the British Government in the future development of events leading to the occupation of the Baloch state by Pakistan in 1948. The secret memorandum states that:
“Pakistan has entered into negotiations with Kalat on the basis of recognizing the state’s claim to independence and of treating the previous agreements between the crown and Kalat providing for the Lease of Quetta and other areas, which would otherwise lapse under section 7 (I) (6) of the Indian Independence Act, as international agreements untouched by the termination of paramountcy. The Khan of Kalat, whose territory marches with Persia, is, of course, in no position to undertake the international responsibilities of an independent state, and Lord Mountbatten, who, before the transfer of power, was warned of the dangers of such a development, doubtless passed on this warning to the Pakistan Government. The United Kingdom High Commissioner in Pakistan is being informed of the position and asked to do what he can to guide the Pakistan Government away from making any agreement with Kalat which would involve recognition of the state as a separate international entity”.
Emboldened with the support of the colonial power, Pakistan began pressurizing the Khan of the Baloch to merge his state with the religious state. Mr. Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the Governor-General of Pakistan, in October 1947, menacingly proposed the accession of Khanate of Kalat to Pakistan. The Khan summoned his parliament in December 1947, during which the Darul Awam (House of Commons) debated the issue of Khanate’s relationship with Pakistan and the consequences of any move by Pakistan against the Baloch state. The House of Commons rejected any form of a merger with Pakistan and resolved to protect the sovereignty of the Baloch state at any cost; unanimously rejecting the proposal for the accession of the Baloch state into Pakistan. The Darul Umarah (House of Lords) during its session on January 2–4, 1948, endorsing the decision of the Darul Awam, also rejected the accession proposal. Both houses of Kalat Parliament once again rejected any merger proposal with Pakistan during their sessions held on the last week of February 1948.
After failing to pressurize the Baloch parliament, the Pakistani authorities now openly adopted an aggressive policy towards the Baloch state. They successfully manipulated Kharan and Lasbela, — the two subordinate regions of the Khanate — for their “merger” with Pakistan directly. Similarly, Makuran, another province of the Khanate, was forced to declare its “independence” from the Baloch state on March 17, 1948, and a day later announced its merger with Pakistan. Lacking resources to counter the Pakistani moves, the Government of Kalat could only issue a press statement declaring Kharan, Lasbela, and Makuran integral parts of Balochistan. The Khan, in a press interview, expressed his desire for an amicable settlement of the dispute with Pakistan over the accession of three constituent units of his state. The Pakistani government did not bother to respond. In his memoirs, the Khan lamented on the loss of territories by stating that the Pakistani Cabinet was working on the scheme to break up the centuries-old Baloch state. The taking over of Khanate provinces of Makuran, Kharan, and Las Bela, was tantamount to the political castration and geographical strangulation of the Khanate of Kalat.
Attempts to put up any meaningful resistance against the Pakistani aggression came to an end when the British government flatly refused to supply any arms and ammunition to Balochistan when the Commander-in-Chief of the Khanate forces, Brigadier General Purvez approached the Commonwealth Relations Office and the Ministry of Supply during his visit to England in December 1947. On February 2, 1948, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the former hired attorney of the Khan and now the Governor-General of Pakistan, in a letter to the Khan, forcefully repeated the Pakistani demand for a merger. The parliament of the Khanate was then finally informed by the Prime Minister of the Baloch state that Pakistan had refused to enter any treaty relationship and had extended an ultimatum for unconditional accession. The Baloch state was helpless against the Pakistani aggression and the Khan of the Baloch could only threaten to appeal to the International Court of Justice and the United Nations. After gaining possession of the Khanate provinces of Makuran, Las Bela, and Kharan, the Pakistani authorities were now openly threatening the use of force against the capital of the Baloch state. The tribal chiefs and various political parties and groups, including Kalat State National Party (KSNP), advised the Khan that since it was not possible to face the might of the Pakistan Army in a head-on confrontation, in the given situation, the only option to defend the country was to wage a defensive guerrilla war. The Khan was advised to proceed to Afghanistan and from there to approach the United Nations, while Baloch fighters waged the war against the invaders. However, the Khan could not muster enough personal courage, and under the influence of his Foreign Minister and advisor Mr. Douglas Fell, he decided to hand over the Baloch state to Pakistan. The Khan of Kalat, Mir Ahmad Yar Khan, after hearing the news that the Pakistani troops had moved into southern coastal towns of Pasni and Jiwani, eventually succumbed and affixed his signature to the Agreement of Accession on March 27, 1948, terming his action as a “dictate of history”:
“I confess, I knew I was exceeding the scope of my mandate . . . [but] had I not taken the immediate step of signing Kalat’s merger, the . . . British Agent to the Governor-General could have played havoc by leading Pakistan into a fratricide war against the Baluches.”
The occupation of their country by Pakistan was unexpected and came out of the blue for the Baloch. It was unacceptable for them, but they were unable to offer any meaningful resistance. On the one side, there was the might of the Pakistan army and on the other side, the Baloch were unarmed and disorganized, whose symbol of unity and strength – the Khan of the Baloch– had betrayed them. In the words of Mir Ghous Bakhsh Bizenjo, who was the leader of House of Commons in the Baloch parliament at the time of occupation, in taking such a step—in gross violation of the will of Baloch people as expressed unanimously by members of both Houses of Parliament—the Khan rendered himself guilty of an act of great injustice to them by his act of cowardly submission to invaders. At the crossroads of history, Balochistan was unfortunately without any robust leadership; a leadership, which was needed to consolidate the newly achieved independence after a long and dark period of colonial rule. The Baloch leadership was caught unawares by the fast-moving developments of international politics. They could not formulate robust policies to safeguard their independence.
With the connivance of the colonial power which was determined to make its client state of Pakistan viable at any cost, the Baloch land was taken away. The Pakistani authorities resumed the full charge of the Khanate on April 1, 1948, by appointing a political agent for the administration of its administration. A short-lived and ineffective resistance against the occupation led by the younger brother of the Khan was crushed by Pakistan, political activities were banned, and Kalat State National Party was declared illegal and its leaders were arrested. After nearly a hundred years of colonial control, the Baloch dreams of an independent and honourable status were shattered.
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Dashti, Jan Mohammad (2020) The Baloch National Struggle in Pakistan: Emergence and dimensions. Bloomington: Trafford Publishing
Dashti, N (2012) The Baloch and Balochistan: a historical account from the beginning to the fall of Baloch state. Bloomington: Trafford Publishing
Dashti, N (2017) The Baloch Conflict with Iran and Pakistan: aspects of a national liberation struggle. Bloomington: Trafford Publishing
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About the Author:
Dr. Naseer Dashti is a writer on south-central Asian affairs. His books include; Tears of Sindhu: Sindhi National Struggle in the Historical Context (2018) The Baloch Conflict with Iran and Pakistan: aspects of a national liberation struggle (2017), The Baloch and Balochistan: a historical account from the beginning to the fall of the Baloch State (2012), The Voice of Reason (2008) and In a Baloch Perspective (2008). He has contributed numerous articles on current affairs related to South Central Asia in general and on Balochistan and Sindh in particular. He is the Editor-in-Chief of Balochistan Affairs.