Dr. Naseer Dashti
In a discussion on the short-lived independence of Balochistan in 1947, it is important to take some of the contextual factors into consideration including its occupation by the British in 1839.
Balochistan became the victim of the forward policy
During the 19th century, political and strategic happenings in faraway Europe changed the destiny of the Baloch state by default. In June 1807, the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte concluded the alliance of Tilsit with Czar Alexander 1 of Russia. It is believed that the details of a combined invasion of India by land route were also agreed upon between them. This caused much alarm for the British as India was their prime colonial possession and the backbone of a flourishing imperial economy.
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 in acquiring colonial possession. By the Treaty of Turkmanchai with Persia in 1828, the Russians not only gained full control of the South Caucasus but also received a heavy indemnity from the Iranians along with external territorial rights and commercial advantages. The Russians were also advancing towards the borders of Afghanistan overpowering many Khanates in Central Asia, posing a direct threat to India.
To provide against the Russian danger, the British strategy was to create two layers of friendly states as lines of defense for India. The inner layer was to be comprised of Punjab and Sindh while territories like Afghanistan, Persia, and Balochistan were to be included in the outer layer of defense. This became known in the historical accounts as the forward policy. This policy initiated an endless tussle between Russia and the British Empire for gaining influence in Central Asia which was termed as the great game. Many states and nationalities became the victim of this great game.
The Indus Army
After the end of Napolean, there was a pause of many years before new developments prompted the British to implement their strategy. Events were rapidly developing in Afghanistan which was considered by the British as alarming and dangerous to the security of its Indian possessions. The Afghan Ruler Dost Muhammad Barakzai was secretly engaged with Russians. To counter this, the British authorities finally decided to intervene directly in Afghanistan by a grand plan of regime change. They have a readymade choice for the replacement of Dost Muhammad Barakzai in the person of Shah Shujah-ul-Mulk who was earlier deposed by him in 1809. Shah Shujah fled to Lahore in 1813 to seek help from East India Company.
Disappointed and frustrated with the British, Amir Dost Muhammad Khan entered negotiations with the Russian representatives to establish links and get help from the Czar.
The initiatives of Amir Dost Muhammad Khan with the Russians were unacceptable to the British. Hasty preparations were initiated to raise an invading army to install Shah Shujah on the throne of Afghanistan. In June 1838, a treaty was signed between the British governor-general, the Sikh ruler (Ranjeet Singh), and Shah Shujah. The treaty stipulated that with the help of the Sikh ruler of Punjab and the British, Shah Shujah would rule Kabul and Kandahar. The invading army was named “the Army of Indus”. It was decided that the Army of Indus should attack Kabul through Khyber Pass and Bolan Pass. As the company’s finances could not bear the expense of war in Afghanistan, it was decided the expenses would be recovered mainly from Sindh. Sindhi rulers were also asked to grant the permission for free movement of the Army of Indus which was to attack Kandahar through Bolan Pass.
The British had, of course, realized the importance of Balochistan for their Afghan and Central Asia policy. For the invasion of southern Afghanistan, safe passage through Balochistan was essential. Keeping in mind the logistic importance of the area, they began to send many delegations to Kalat to secure from the Khan of Kalat various treaties to help reinforce their position in this area. After initial hesitation, the Khan being in a very weak position had no choice but to finally agree with the British. An agreement was arrived at in March 1839, which made the Khan responsible for the safe passage and provisioning of the British troops in return for 15,000 rupees annually, in addition to the cost of provisions. This agreement was the beginning of a process, which ultimately ended in making the independent Baloch state a vassal of the British Empire. Although bounded by an agreement of friendship, on the pretentious ground, the Khan was accused of violating the agreement. After enthroning Shah Shujah in Kabul, on the orders of the Governor-General Lord Auckland, a detachment of the returning Army of Indus under the command of general Wilshire was sent to Kalat. The Khan was asked to surrender. On his refusal, the fortress of Miri was bombarded by the British artillery, Khan and several hundreds of his men were killed on 13 November 1839. For one hundred years, Balochistan remained a colony of the British; ruled by a nominal Khan. Practically speaking, the areas where nominally the Khan was entitled to exert his authority were under the control of tribal chiefs taking direct orders from the British administrators.
Balochistan prepares for independence
Things changed during the second world war when the British under various internal and international compulsions finally decided to quit India. Conscious of the rapidly changing scenario in India and anticipating the impending withdrawal of the British from the region, the Baloch nationalists and some of the tribal chiefs tried to influence the Khan for political reforms. They also tried to embolden him to prepare for the eventual independence of Balochistan. However, soon, they were disappointed by the sheer incompetence and unwillingness of the Khan to stand firm.
However, under pressure from nationalist forces and tribal chiefs of Sarawan and Jhalawan, the Khan Ahmed Yar Khan tried to invoke the articles of various treaty agreements with the British. He put forward the following demands to the British authorities regarding 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 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.
To strengthen his position, the Khan, in 1939, called a “Consultative Jirga” (assembly) of all Sardars and the lesser tribal chieftains from all over the state. He introduced some reforms in the education, bureaucracy, and revenue departments of the Khanate. Schools were opened in many towns, and the educated Baloch youth were recruited in the bureaucracy of the state. The Khan also introduced reforms in the taxation systems in the Khanate as well as some changes in the criminal justice system. The Khan announced the establishment of a cabinet and a Council of State without prior consultation with the British officials. The Council of State was to comprise twelve independent ministerial members of equal importance, and the Wazir-e-Azam (prime minister) was to be responsible to the Council of State.
On June 3, 1939, the Khan has been informed by the British authorities that subject to the provision of Article 5 of the 1876 treaty, full powers, control, and jurisdiction over Sardars and tribal areas of the state would now be restored to him. However, the demand for returning the Bolan Pass was rejected and returning of leased areas was also postponed.
Meanwhile, a new development in the Indian political scene adversely affected the endeavors of the Khan for regaining some of the autonomy for the Khanate. In 1935, another Government of India Act was promulgated, which introduced far-reaching constitutional and administrative changes in British India. Besides formally establishing the province of British Balochistan under the Government of India Act, the Khanate of Kalat itself was declared as a part of India in clear violation of the 1876 agreement between the Khanate and the British.
The Khanate of Kalat and the British relations were based on the Treaty of 1876, which committed the British to recognize and respect the independence of Kalat under Article 3. However, with the promulgation of the Government of India Act 1935, the Khanate was reduced to the rank of an Indian princely state, at least de facto if not de jure.
The Khan protested the action in vain. However, he continued his attempts to be heard by the British in this matter. In October 1940, he demanded from the Viceroy of India, Lord Linlithgow, for the approval of posting a representative of the Khanate at New Delhi to avoid all possible chances of misunderstanding, to render a correct explanation of facts concerning the Baloch state, and to safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of the state. There was no meaningful response from the colonial administration in New Delhi on any of the Khan’s initiatives.
The Khan tried to raise the issue of leased areas with the British authorities but got no response. One of the blunders he made was the hiring of a known protégé of the British authorities, Mr. Muhammad Ali Jinnah, as the lawyer to represent the interests of the Khanate in New Delhi. He was also unable to grasp the reality that the British had made their mind to create a client state by dividing India and that his state (the Khanate of Kalat), by its geographical location and its contiguity with the proposed new country, might be collaterally damaged. According to family sources of the Khan, the decision of hiring Mr. Jinnah as the constitutional expert to plead the case of the Khanate was not a mistake but based on the prevailing perception that Mr. Muhammad Ali Jinnah was an ally of the British administration in India and his position might be of advantage for 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.
In 1946, the British Government sent a three-member Cabinet Mission to India in a final bid to devise the methodology for the transfer of power in India. The Mission, comprising the Secretary of State for India, Lord Pethick Lawrence, A. V. Alexander, and Sir Stafford Cripps, arrived in India on March 24, 1946. The Khan of Kalat, Mir Ahmad Yar Khan, told the mission that Kalat expected, upon the cessation of her power in India, to restore its pre-1876 status and its sovereign rights over all the Kalat territories held or leased to Britain.
It was emphasized in the memorandum to the mission that although administration of leased territories of Quetta, Noshki, and Nasirabad is vested in the British Government under the treaties in 1883, 1899, and 1903, the sovereignty of these areas remains with the Khanate of Kalat. It was also emphasized in the memorandum that a specific declaration of retrocession is necessary before the transfer of power takes place, and there should be a simultaneous delivery of possession as an agreement to retrocede is not sufficient by itself. The memorandum urged upon the British Government that it is imperatively necessary that before it handed over power in India, it should formally declare that they relinquish or retrocede all their powers and authority in and over the niabats and districts of Quetta, Mushkaf-Bolan, Noshki, and Nasirabad.
Short-lived independence of Balochistan
On June 3, 1947, the last British Viceroy of India, Viscount Louis Mountbatten, announced the final plan for partitioning British India into India and Pakistan. In the months following the announcement, the Kalat Government made a series of meetings and presentations with representatives of the Viceroy and officials of the future Government of Pakistan in Delhi. A tripartite meeting was held on August 4, 1947, in Delhi, chaired by Viceroy Lord Mountbatten and attended by his legal advisor Lord Ismay. Kalat State was represented by the Khan of Kalat, Ahmad Yar Khan, and his prime minister Barrister Sultan Ahmad. Mr. Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Mr. Liaquat Ali Khan represented Pakistan. A consensus was reached upon three points, regarding the future of Balochistan.
- Kalat state will be independent on August 5, 1947, enjoying the same status as it originally held in 1838, having friendly relations with its neighbors.
- In case the relations of Kalat with any future government become strained, Kalat will exercise its right of self-determination, and the British Government should take precautionary measures to help Kalat in the matter as per the Treaties of 1839 and 1841.
- The Khan of Kalat, mentioning his services and those of the Baloch in the creation of Pakistan, expressed his full confidence in Mr. Muhammad Ali Jinnah and the Government of Pakistan to be established under his leadership.
The agreement is known as the “Standstill Agreement” and 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.
The very first clause of the agreement declared that the Government of Pakistan agrees that Kalat is an independent state, being quite different in status from other princely states of India:
“As a result of a meeting held between a delegation from Kalat and officials of the Pakistan States Department, presided over by the Crown Representative, and of a series of meetings between the Crown Representative, His Highness the Khan of Kalat and Mr. Jinnah, the following is the situation:
- The Government of Pakistan recognizes Kalat as an independent sovereign State, in a treaty relationship with the British Government, with a status different from that of an Indian State.
- Legal opinion will be sought as to whether or not agreements of leases made between the British Government and Kalat will be inherited by the Pakistan Government.
- When this opinion has been received, further meetings will take place between representatives of Pakistan and the Khan of Kalat at Karachi.
- Discussions will take place between Pakistan and Kalat at Karachi at an early date to reach decisions on Defense, External Affairs, and Communications.”
The Khan of the Baloch declared the Independence of Balochistan in a formal proclamation on August 11, 1947. Nawabzada Muhammad Aslam Khan was appointed as the first prime minister of the independent state. The prime minister and foreign minister Mr. Douglas Fell were sent to Karachi to negotiate with the Government of Pakistan on the modalities for concluding a treaty and discussion on the matter of mutual interests based on the Standstill Agreement of August 4, 1947.
The new constitution of the Baloch state had been earlier promulgated by the Khan and was known as the Government of Kalat State Act 1947. It was a way forward, moving toward establishing a representative system of governance, associating the people with the government and administration of the Baloch state. Implicit in the constitution was the understanding that sovereignty was vested in the institution of the Khan and that the parliament was the representative of the people. According to the constitution, a council of ministers was constituted which was composed of a prime minister and the members of the cabinet. They were appointed by the Khan and held their office at the pleasure of the Khan. The function of the council was “to aid and advise His Highness the Khan in the exercise of the executive authority of the state.” The prime minister was head of the council. The Khan had the power to appoint any person to be a cabinet member, including citizens of other countries.
The legislature was 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, such as the Hindus. 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 under rules made under Kalat State Act 1947 and His Highness, the Khan, was to nominate the remainder.
The legislative period was five years, but the Khan was empowered to dissolve any house of the parliament before the term expired as well as to extend the term of any house by a period not exceeding one year. In case of the dissolution of the Upper House, it was the responsibility of the Khan to arrange for a date for the next session of a new Upper House within six months.
Elections were held for the two houses of the parliament under the Government of Kalat Act 1947. Most of the members in the House of Commons were from the KSNP. The first session of the Darul Awam was held at Shahi Camp, Dhadar, on December 12, 1947. The KSNP, after the proclamation of independence, entered negotiation with the Khan, and some of its leaders joined the state government as secretaries.
At the time when the British decided to create Pakistan, Balochistan was divided into the Khanate of Kalat and British Balochistan. The British Balochistan comprised of Afghan areas ceded to the British under the Treaty of Gandamak in 1880 and leased areas of the Khanate of Kalat. After the announcement of the Indian plan of independence, the Khan of the Baloch asked for the return of leased territories and the Baloch territories of Derajat. The Khan was unable to take any positive step to regain possession of the Baloch areas as the British had other plans for the future of Balochistan. The first blow to Balochistan came with the merger of British Balochistan with Pakistan.
British Balochistan was annexed with the newly created country of Pakistan by using unfair means by the British authorities in Quetta. In a sham referendum, the British authorities were successful in pressurizing the members of ShahiJirga of Quetta Municipality, who were the nominees of the British authorities to vote for the merger of British Balochistan with Pakistan; however, they were unable to muster the support of the majority members of the Jirga. The date of the referendum was brought a day earlier, and without voting, it was announced that the members of Shahi Jirga voted for the annexation with Pakistan. Earlier, the British authorities outrightly rejected the demands of the Baloch tribal chiefs of Mari, Bugti, and Derajat regions for re-joining the Khanate after the British withdrawal. The Khan of the Baloch protested only mutely on the loss of his precious territories and powerful tribes while they were formally incorporated in the Pakistan scheme.
Events in the distant parts of the world forced the British in India to implement the forward policy. The forward policy initiated a great game between Russia and the British Empire in Central Asia. The Baloch state like many other small nations in the region became the victim of this superpower rivalry. However, after the second world war, Balochistan got the chance to enjoy a short-lived independence.
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.