Foundations of the Baloch problem

Published: July 18, 2011
The writer is a historian at Keble College, University of Oxford

The writer is a historian at Keble College, University of Oxford

The intractability of the Baloch problem lies in a skewed understanding of its historical roots, which has prevented successive governments from fully grasping the issue.

When Pakistan was established in August 1947, it was constitutionally composed of only those areas of British India which had opted for it. The British allowed the Muslims to establish a separate homeland for themselves, but only on the basis of the will of the people and through democratic channels. Therefore, Punjab and Bengal legislatures voted for partition along communal lines. In Sind, the Muslim League ministry supported Pakistan, and the Shahi Jirga and the members of the Quetta municipality voted to join Pakistan on behalf of British Balochistan. Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KPK), at that time, was run by a congress government and the British allowed for a referendum on the issue of Pakistan. The resulting referendum in July 1947, showed overwhelming support for the new country and so KPK was included in Pakistan. Hence, Pakistan was democratically created (as understood at that time) with the aforementioned areas.

What did not constitute Pakistan on August 15 1947, were the erstwhile princely states of Kalat, Khairpur, Bahawalpur, Dir, Swat, Chitral, Amb, Hunza and Nagar. Under the Indian Independence Act 1947, all the princely states of India were free to join either Pakistan, India or remain independent. The problem was that since these states were not part of British India, (they were bound only by certain treaties) and were in fact sovereign fiefs of their rulers, the British could not force them to adhere to the will of their people. The story of Kashmir — where the Hindu maharaja set aside the aspirations of two-thirds of his population and threw in his lot with India — is too well known to us. Similarly, the Nizam of Hyderabad wanted to remain independent, but his state was attacked and annexed by India in September 1948.

It is within this context that we need to understand the Baloch problem. It is sufficiently clear that the people of Kalat state did not want to join Pakistan, but wanted to have close and friendly relations with its neighbour. It is also obvious that the Khan of Kalat’s accession to Pakistan was quickly challenged by his people and his own brother took up the banner of revolt in July 1948. Also, important here to note is that the Khan of Kalat presided over a very complex tribal confederacy, where he was not ‘sovereign’ like the other maharajas and the Nizam. The nature of Kalat, bound him to consult and respect the views of the tribal sardars. Hence, unlike other rulers, he could not sign away the state without the agreement of his sardars — a fact he himself noted in his autobiography published in the 1970s.

Therefore, the March 27 1948, Instrument of Accession signed by Ahmed Yar Khan, might have constitutionally made Kalat a part of Pakistan but it did not have the force of moral and political authority. To put it in a clearer perspective, a Baloch nationalist would compare him/herself to a Kashmiri whose state was signed off to a country by the ruler without the consent of the people. If we are so adamant in supporting the moral cause of the Kashmiri people, then how can we ignore and persecute those who want the same right of self-determination in Balochistan?

With an understanding of this history, we need to realise that this is not some mere insurgency. The longevity of their struggle is a sign that this is not a small, fanatical movement, but a struggle which has roots in a historic wrong (again, like Kashmir) — but which we still have a chance to correct. Therefore, we need to treat and talk to the Baloch with respect and equality and give them concrete incentives to remain in the federation of Pakistan — or else accept their right of self-determination. To keep Pakistan together as a country and in order to make it a strong and prosperous state we need to — in a way — go back to 1947 and begin with a clean slate, and reconstruct the country based on freedom, equality and democracy.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 19th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (23)

  • Mir Agha
    Jul 18, 2011 - 11:02PM

    Kalat isn’t Balochistan. Fact is the other tribes did want Pakistan in order to get away from the tribal hold Kalat had over them. Recommend

  • sajjida
    Jul 19, 2011 - 12:14AM

    How come insurgency rises and then falls?
    Here’s an interesting discussion of the Baloch tribal system.
    First paragraph starts here:
    The set up of the tribal system is the result of an evolutionary process of hundreds of years. The seed of tribal system was sown in the time of Mir Chakar Khan Rind. In the reign of Ahmadzai Khans, the sardars of Balochistan were strengthened and their powers gradually enhanced. The sovereignty of sardars came into full bloom, when the British Government started to pay money to Sardars to establish semi-militant forces called “Levies”. A levy was recruited and commanded by a sardar. Sardars were required to maintain, in any way they liked, law and order in their respective areas.

  • Tribune Reader
    Jul 19, 2011 - 12:18AM

    another pro baloch nationalist propoganda, oh media of Pakistan what is wrong with u. i see diplomacy failing with the seperatists of that province, they want nothing but absolute power and complete control over resources. lets assume geographic constraint brought balochistan to pakistan, what about all those princely states in India like Hyderabad, Junagadh,Kashmir, lets not forget
    laces like goa and sikkim which were independent, india took over by force.
    what the government of pakistan needs to do is silence the traitors and do a thorough pr exercise in Balochistan to address the greviences of the aam awaam in Balochistan, no bowing down to these corrupt power hungry balochi tribal leaders, their gona treat their people far worse then thr government of Pakistan.


  • Moi
    Jul 19, 2011 - 12:44AM

    The Princely State of Kalat constituted only a part of what today is Balochistan. Strictly speaking, the issue of accession of Kalat has no correlation with the law-and-order problem in Balochistan. It is historically incorrect to do so.


  • Pat
    Jul 19, 2011 - 1:22AM

    In-continuation of Mir Agha’s comment, one state can not define the fate of an entire province. fact presented by the author n his views on the subject are noted with respect n honour, but to get carried away with the idea of giving up an entire province will not be justified.


  • First drink, don't think
    Jul 19, 2011 - 3:20AM

    Whatever is happening in Balochistan right now has no relation with it’s accession to Pakistan. Establishment is responsible for the whole mess. During Pre-1971 period resources of the country were divided on the basis of area, post 1971 after separation of Bangladesh they decided the resources should be divided on the basis of population. Balochistan has been ignored thorough out the history of Pakistan.

    But there is major role of Baloch sardars in situation we have in Balochistan right now. All Baloch sardars and their kids get good educations and that too from prestigious institutes of Punjab and Sindh but no common Baloch is allowed to leave the place without the permission of his sardar. The so called father of Balochis Nawab Akbar Bugti had been the Defense Minister of Pakistan and had been the CM and Governor of Balochistan, how come it is possible that he didn’t even construct a road from Quetta to his own town. That’s because he didn’t want to! Same is the case with rest of the Sardars. They all are politically impotent. Just have a look at the Provincial Assembly all those who were ministers in last term are ministers in this term! One quotable case is that of Zahri brethren, one of them is with PML N, one with PMN Q and one with PPP and all of them are ministers, wow!

    Balochistan has Quota in CSS examinations, I don’t know the situation now, but previously even this 5% quota used to go unfilled just because they didn’t have any educated persons!

    There is no benefit in writing such articles. If you are trying to highlight how Pakistan made Balochistan to accede to Pakistan than please also do try to highlight the cases of Junagarh and Manwadar!


  • A reader
    Jul 19, 2011 - 7:33AM

    Apart from the northern edge of Balochistan, Kalat controlled most of the lands of the province. It is disingenuous to suggest that it was “merely” a state within the larger province. The only part of said province Kalat did not control is the part that is populated by the Pashtuns.


  • Moi
    Jul 19, 2011 - 8:23AM

    @A reader:

    Check out the map of the State. Its hardly even 30% of the province of Balochistan. And most of the Balochi population resides in the northern belt around Quetta (that voted in favour of joining Paksiatn) or the Makran coast (which was in influence of the Kalat State but was never a part of it).

    The right of self-determination of Baloch tribes was duly respected by Pakistan in 1947.


  • Frank
    Jul 19, 2011 - 9:07AM

    Yaqoob Khan Bangash

    To put it in a clearer perspective, a
    Baloch nationalist would compare
    him/herself to a Kashmiri whose state
    was signed off to a country by the
    ruler without the consent of the
    people. If we are so adamant in
    supporting the moral cause of the
    Kashmiri people, then how can we
    ignore and persecute those who want
    the same right of self-determination
    in Balochistan?

    Wrong. Kalat was a state created by natural historical forces that contained a Baloch-Brahui population ruled by a Baloch-Brahui Khan. The rulers of Kalat were of the people of Kalat. Jammu and Kashmir, on the other hand, was a totally artificial state created by the British invaders, who made an alien Dogra servant of Ranjeet Sindh from Jammu, Gulab Singh, the ruler of people with whom he did not share an ethnicity, language, culture or even homeland. Therefore, contrary to the author’s claims, there is no comparison at all between Kashmir and Balochistan.

    A reader

    Apart from the northern edge of
    Balochistan, Kalat controlled most of
    the lands of the province. It is
    disingenuous to suggest that it was
    “merely” a state within the larger
    province. The only part of said
    province Kalat did not control is the
    part that is populated by the Pashtuns

    Not true. Kalat state was the largest princely state in Balochistan but it did not cover the majority of the area of Balochistan. T


  • commonsense
    Jul 19, 2011 - 11:48AM

    the reality is balochistan should have plebicite to decide its fate


  • Baloch
    Jul 19, 2011 - 12:04PM

    Hats off for the writer


  • Imran K
    Jul 19, 2011 - 12:11PM

    what is this guy talking about?

    Kalat? or Balochistan as a whole?

    is this a Blog? or a real article?Recommend

  • Baloch
    Jul 19, 2011 - 12:31PM

    good map and all the ridicules comments by the commentator, Balochistan was forcefibily occupied by the pakistani amry with the help of british on 27 march 1948, and this map of kalat shows the province of Kalat not the Kalat Confederacy, Kalat means the Capital in Balochistan and its federating units were Makran (Prince Agha Abdul Kareem the brother of Khan of Kalat who started the the first revolt against pakistan was the governor of Makran) Lasbela, Kharan, Sarawan. kindly do not propogate misleading information about Balochistan, as it will further enhance the hatred in the Baloch people against pakistan.


  • M Ali Khan
    Jul 19, 2011 - 12:42PM

    “Under the Indian Independence Act 1947, all the princely states of India were free to join either Pakistan, India or remain independent.”

    That is incorrect. The Indian Independence Act FORBID any princely state from seeking independence and had to merge with either India or Pakistan depending on geographical and communal make-up!


  • Shahzad A Shaikh
    Jul 19, 2011 - 12:45PM

    This is a distortion of history. All princely states at the time of Partition had two options only, India or Pakistan. The third option of independence was never considered as that would have lead to complete fragmentation and balkanisation of the Sub-continent. The ruler of the erstwhile State of Kalat chose the only viable option, which was merger with Pakistan. This has nothing to do with Kashmir either. Even there the only two choices are India or Pakistan, it is a different matter that the Kashmiris would now rather have their own independent country, which is of course an impossibility. However, it is certainly correct that Baluchistan as a whole, which was only made a full province in 1970 after the break-up of the One Unit lunacy, has had a raw deal from Islamabad, dominated as the center is by the Punjab and the Army, both of which are quick to shout about their own loyalty and patriotism to Pakistan while doubting everyone elses.


  • Jul 19, 2011 - 1:41PM

    After introduction of latest amendments in the Constitution – All Provinces have ample powers.

    Such discussions are out of time and place……..


  • abbas
    Jul 19, 2011 - 6:04PM

    Ohhhh wowww man I just can not believe what I just read above. What an irrationale attempt to justify the inhuman acts of BLA who have a mandate to kill innocent Panjabi’s living in Baluchistan. To cut it short Mr. Bangash and look around you. The world has moved far ahead of your traditional khans / prince / kings system. Root cause of Baluchistan issues in simple. They are being ignored on purpose and ofcourse at the request of local Sardars who would never want the masses to get better of and challenge their dynasty. They want people not to have govt sponsored education, health and other living facilities so that they always remain dependent on Nawabs. Look at the parties in Karachi DHA and you will find most of them dancing with girls whereby the people in Baluchistan not meet basic needs of life. Forget it man what ever are the resources in this country be it glaciers and water reserviors in KPK / Northern Areas, be it agriculture products of Punjab and Sind, be it thar coal in Sind, be it natural gas / minerals in Baluchistan belong to us the people of Pakistan. We are done and dusted with all nawabs, prince, rajas etc etc. and people like you better stop supporting them.


  • Cynical
    Jul 19, 2011 - 6:18PM

    @ M Ali Khan

    You are correct. The choice for the princely states was either join Pakistan or India.
    Independence was not an option.But I think we should not talk much about the Indian Independence Act.1947. Hari singh’s accession with India was in line with this Act. and as such the Indian’s occupation of Kashmir becomes legal and AJK becomes a teritory occupied by Pakistan.


  • Critical
    Jul 19, 2011 - 8:43PM


    Hari Singh’s accession cannot be viewed in isolation. Junagadh had acceded to Pakistan and India had sent in troops to forcibly annex it. So India is still illegally occupying Junagadh today?


  • Chakar
    Jul 20, 2011 - 12:46AM

    It may be difficult to accept the truth but you may can not hide it very long, Baloch was a confederacy, Baloch people silently support Afghanistan against British during 1938/1939 during great game, after Afghanistan, British attack Balochistan’s capital Qalat city and Baloch head of state received martyrdom (Mehrab Khan), after that attack British twist Baloch tribal system with Sardari system, today most of sardars support Pakistan (as Musharaf claim it on the record).

    British divide our land in D.G. Khan in Punjab, D.I. Khan in KPK, Khanghar (Jacobabad) to Sindh, all wester part to Iran and southwest to Afghanistan, eastern part mixed with Afghan belt and called it British Balochistan.

    You guys support the colonial and post colonial division of Baloch land just because of your own sake of interest! why?

    We the Baloch people have right to decide our own future, why we are dying at border areas just to visit our uncles or close blood relatives? same culture/ language / religion / language / land and blood relation but divided because of the interest of few armed and civil bureaucracy of Punjab?

  • A J Khan
    Jul 20, 2011 - 10:23AM

    Historically speaking, there was never any Balochistan before the arrival of British in this area who named the areas captured from Afghanistan in second Afghan War as British Balochistan. It is true that DG Khan was part of British Afghanistan but D I Khan was never.
    The State of Kalat was restricted to 7 districts of Present Balochistan ie Mastung, Kalat, Khuzdar, Lasbella, Panjgur, Awaran and Kech. Gwader was then part of the Sultanate of Oman.
    The total population of State of Kalat in 1947 was less than half a million. Most of the claims that we see today are not supported by history, but creation of 21st century blogging.
    History is also quite on any Baloch empire or state. Chakar Khan the revered leader of Balochs rule was restricted to the present date Sibi Division less Harnai. He too had to abdicate his rule to Lasharies and took refuge in todays Punjab, where he lived a low profile life and died in Okara.
    Have a nice day.Recommend

  • A J Khan
    Jul 20, 2011 - 10:26AM

    Yaqoob Khan Bangash has drawn wrong conclusions from premise. The case of Balochistan has no semblance with that of Kashmir. Dogra was an imposed ruler of Hindu origin imposed on Muslims of Kashmir where Khan of Kalat was the most respected and explicit leader of Balochs. His consent to join Pakistan cannot be compared to Dogra signing the instrument of Accession.
    As correctly mentioned by Moi the Princely State of Kalat constituted only a part of what today is Balochistan. British Balochistan which volunteered to join Pakistan was not part of the State of Kalat. The areas of British Balochistan today house 80% of population of todays Balochistan and 70 % of land mass. (22 out of 30 Districts of todays balochistan were part British Balochistan : Quetta, Sibi, Jaffarabad, Nasirabad, Dera Bugti, Kohlu, Barkhan, Loralai, Musakhel, Harnai, Zairat, Zhob, Sherani, Killasaifullah, KillaAbdullah, Pishin, Noshki, Chaghi, Kharan, Washuk, Dalbadin and Chaghi).
    State of Kalat had the following districts of today ( 7 District out of 30) : Mastung, Kalat, Khuzdar, Bela, Turbat, Awaran, Panjgur
    Gwader was part of the Sultanate of Oman.


  • Romonovsky
    Jul 21, 2011 - 6:41PM

    Lets’s recall the period of Sardar Mehmood Khan, how he was treating his people.
    Why dont you people understand the world’s situation and work for your homelands?Recommend

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