Baluchistan, Pakistan’s largest yet sparsely populated province, has always been on the margins of the nation and state. Its numerous tribes are known to jealously protect their independence, its rugged terrain is always thought of as forbidding, and the nomadic lifestyle of most of its people is usually seen as a barrier against national integration.
Being on the periphery of both our imagination and reality has meant that there has been little understanding of Baluchistan, its people, culture and history, in Pakistan and abroad. One such mystery—not in academic terms but in the popular imagination, is how Baluchistan became part of Pakistan in 1947.
Baluchistan, Pakistan’s largest yet sparsely populated province, has always been on the margins of the nation and state.
If one asks the average Baloch on the streets of any town or village in Baluchistan how the area became part of Pakistan, one would quickly hear the names of His Highness Mir Ahmed Yar Khan, the Khan of Kalat in 1947 and Prince Abdul Karim, the younger brother of the Khan.
The popular narrative would go that Mir Ahmed Yar Khan acceded to Pakistan under duress, even military action, in March 1948, and as a result, Prince Abdul Karim launched a revolt in favour of independence in June 1948, which is now remembered as the first Baloch insurgency against Pakistan.
As with most such romanticised narratives, the devil is in the detail, as they say, and it remains so in this case too. In 1947, the province which we now call Baluchistan was composed of four different parts. The first part was called, confusingly, British Baluchistan.
This was mainly the Pashtun majority area of northern Baluchistan together with the Chaghai district. The second area was the ‘leased areas’ of Quetta, Nushki and Nasirabad. These areas were leased by the British Government of India from the Khan of Kalat through various agreements from the 1880’s onwards and were administered as part of British Baluchistan.
The third area was Gwadar which has been ruled by Oman since the 1700’s when that territory was given to an Omani prince by a Khan of Kalat. The fourth, and largest part of what is now the Baluchistan province, was the state of Kalat. The Kalat State was a nineteen-gun salute state, making it one of the highest ranked states in India under the British.
The All India Muslim League was quite popular among the Pashtuns and under its President Qazi Isa.
Being on the border with Afghanistan and Iran, and also having a long coastline, made it strategically very important and it became a major supply route during the Second World War. In fact, the British had first come in contact with Kalat as part of the First Afghan War in 1838-39, when Kalat was used as route to attack Kandahar.
Since then the Khan had been in political relations with the British which were only revoked with the end of British Paramountcy and the independence of India and Pakistan in August 1947. As the sun began to set on the British India Empire in the hot summer of 1947, the whole area of what is now Baluchistan province found itself in a bizarre situation.
While it was easy for British Baluchistan to opt for either India or Pakistan as it was directly ruled by New Delhi, what was going to happen with the other three areas comprising it? What would happen to the leased areas? How would Kalat react, and what about the Omani enclave on the coast? British Baluchistan was an easy bet for Pakistan.
The All India Muslim League was quite popular among the Pashtuns and under its President Qazi Isa. The Shahi Jirga and the Quetta Municipality thereby clearly voted in favour of joining Pakistan in July 1947. In terms of Gwadar, it was expected that nothing would change concerning its status for the time being and that Oman will continue to control it.
British Government of India from the Khan of Kalat through various agreements from the 1880’s onwards and were administered as part of British Baluchistan.
Therefore, the two immediate concerns were the leased areas and the Kalat State. Kalat State was perhaps one of the most peculiar states which formed part of ‘Princely India,’ a motely collection of over six hundred principalities which ranged from the grand Kashmir and Hyderabad states to the over two hundred tiny states which dotted the Kathiawar region of Gujarat.
Whereas in most other states the ‘prince’, i.e. Raja, Maharaja, Nizam, Nawab, etc, was the autocratic ruler of the state, in Kalat the system was more federal in nature. A government report from 1877 thus noted: ‘…The political institutions of Kalat State are in the main of a feudal character; that is to say the Khan rules, not directly over the people but over a number of tribal chiefs, who in turn exercise over their own tribes a power which has never been sharply defined…’
The traditional title of the Khan of Kalat, Beglar Begi, meaning ‘Chief of Chiefs’ therefore made sense too. However, in practice, the lines were never as demarcated and the powers of the Khan and the sardars varied over time and in different regions of the principality. Thus, by the early part of the twentieth century the British realised that ‘… Kalat is a multiple federal state and not a simple confederacy.
In the niabats, both in Sarawan and Jhalawan and in Kachhi, the Khan was an autocratic ruler … while in the tribal territory he is head of a confederacy but even so holds a position higher than that of primus inter pares … the difference between the Khan and the sardars is, therefore, not of degree but of kind…’ This made matters worse, as for the very hierarchical and legalistic British, it was now very unclear as to who wielded real and final authority in the state.
No wonder then the Government of India became ‘thoroughly confused … (and) finally concluded that the constitution of Kalat State seemed to defy any definition and was fated to arise controversy among those who attempted one.’
The government of India replied in 1941, reasserting their decision that Kalat was an Indian state and had been treated as such for decades.
It was with the above background that Mir Ahmed Yar Khan became the Khan of Kalat in 1933. Among his first tasks was to consolidate control over this sardars, where a number of them had almost become independent of the Khan, and also to claim from the British a ‘different’ status than the rest of the Indian Princely States.
In a long memorandum to the British, the Khan claimed that his state was like Afghanistan and Nepal and should be treated separately from the other Indian states. The government of India replied in 1941, reasserting their decision that Kalat was an Indian state and had been treated as such for decades.
In fact, it was at the insistence of Ahmed Yar Khan’s ancestor Khan Khodadad Khan in 1877, that Kalat even became an Indian state because the Khan was so enamoured by the titles and banners being given to Indian princes that he insisted to the Viceroy Lord Lytton that ‘But I am a feudatory quite as loyal and obedient as any other.
I don’t want to be an independent prince and I do want to have my banner like all the rest. Pray let me have it.’ Thus, Kalat was an Indian state not because the British had deemed it, but because the ruler himself had practically begged for it. When the British decided to leave the Indian Empire they also decided to terminate all the agreements with the princely states.
Whereas in most other states the ‘prince’, i.e. Raja, Maharaja, Nizam, Nawab, etc, was the autocratic ruler of the state, in Kalat the system was more federal in nature.
This ‘Lapse of Paramountcy’ on August 15, 1947 meant that for all intents and purposes all the six hundred or so princely states became legally independent entities on that day. This was the legal reality but both the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League feared the balkanization of South Asia and had hoped that a majority of these states would merge with the successor states of either India or Pakistan.
Therefore, an ‘Instrument of Accession’ was drawn up whereby the princes would sign away only three subjects, defense, foreign affairs and communications, to the successor government and keep the rest to themselves.
This measure of internal autonomy seemed like the best solution as all the princes had already abdicated responsibilities over the three aforementioned subjects to the British for centuries. In the case of Baluchistan, the lapse of paramountcy created one critical problem.
Under the terms of the lapse, the lease of Quetta, Nasirabad and Nushki would come to an end and these areas would have to be returned to Kalat state. While this seemed possible on paper, practically it was very complicated as these areas were the main developed areas of the region and the most important cantonment in the region was in Quetta, together with the Staff College.
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Therefore, the successor Government of Pakistan could not afford to give these lands back to the Kalat state. It was then that the claim of Kalat to a status different than the rest of the Indian princely states came to the rescue of the Pakistan Government.
Subsequently, on August 11, 1947 the Government of Pakistan-designate recognised the separate status of Kalat, meaning that under international law Pakistan would inherit the treaty obligations of the soon to be defunct British Government of India and so there would be no return of the leased areas.
Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of India, wryly noted this reality and wrote to the Secretary of State for India that ‘it looks as though if the Khan of Kalat insists on his independent status it will cost him the leased territories including Quetta—a high price to pay for vanity.’
The government of India replied in 1941, reasserting their decision that Kalat was an Indian state and had been treated as such for decades.
On his part the Khan of Kalat was also playing his cards. He contended that once the independent status of Kalat was recognised he would remain independent and then also eventually get the leased areas back. Thus for him the August 11, 1947 communiqué held great value. However, for the Government of Pakistan after the lapse of paramountcy the communiqué held no value as according to them all Indian princely states had become independent on that day.
As Pakistan Foreign Secretary Ikramullah noted: ‘… During his last visit the Khan was told quite clearly that the fact of independence was immaterial because according to our interpretation all states became independent and sovereign on the lapse of Paramountcy. Therefore, even if there was a difference in the position of Kalat in the pre-partition days…after the partition, the position changed completely.’
This clearly was the legal position post-independence, and by insisting on his separate status the Khan only lost his immediate right of retrocession of the leased areas. With no hope for the retrocession of the leased areas, negotiations began between the Government of Pakistan and the Government of Kalat in September 1947 over accession.
Kalat was insistent on a treaty while Pakistan only offered a modified Instrument of Accession. Interestingly, even during these early days the Prime Minister of Kalat, Nawabzada Aslam, confided to the Pakistan Foreign Secretary that the Khan would eventually sign the Instrument as ‘if he did not, his sardars would turn him out, as they were determined to join Pakistan anyhow and were only waiting to be assured of their own rights.’
It was only a battle of wits now. Sensing that there was no real progress, the Quaid-e-Azam asked the Khan to visit him in Karachi in October 1947. The Quaid knew the Khan for a long time and the Khan often noted that he used to refer to the Quaid as his father figure. In fact, Jinnah was the lawyer for the Kalat state when Ahmed Yar Khan was trying to consolidate his power after acceding the throne.
Thus they had deep concern and affection for each other. At this time, however, even this decades-long connection was not bearing fruit and the Khan now asserted that he must ascertain the will of his ‘Dar ul Umra’ (House of Lords) and ‘Dar ul Awam’ (House of Commons), as he had called both these houses to session after the lapse of paramountcy.
The lower house was largely composed of members of the Kalat State National Party, a party which had been affiliated with the Indian National Congress.
Both these houses were hurriedly assembled; the upper house composed of all tribal heads, while the lower house broadly represented the will of the people. But both houses were constitutionally only advisory, and real power was in the hands of the Khan. The House of Lords and the House of Commons of the Kalat state then met during the winter of 1947-48 and deliberated upon the nature of the relationship between Kalat and Pakistan.
The concern in the upper house was mostly related to the status and power of the sardars. The lower house was largely composed of members of the Kalat State National Party, a party which had been affiliated with the Indian National Congress. Constitutionally republican, but recently very pro-Khan, this party led by the charismatic and young Ghous Bakhsh Bizinjo in the House of Commons.
At the parliamentary session even though the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Kalat favoured accession, Bizinjo led the charge against it. Arguing that theirs was a different civilization he contended that: ‘We are ready to have friendship with that country on the basis of sovereign equality but by no means [are we] ready to merge with Pakistan…’. Similar sentiments were echoed in the upper house.
Realizing that once again there was a deadlock in negotiations, Jinnah asked the Khan of Kalat to meet him at the annual Sibi Darbar in February 1948. The aim was that after Jinnah had paid the Khan a visit in Dhadar, the Khan would return the visit to Sibi and sign the Instrument of Accession.
The Government of Pakistan after the lapse of paramountcy the communiqué held no value as according to them all Indian princely states had become independent on that day.
However, even after seemingly agreeing to sign the Instrument, the Khan cancelled the meeting pleading ill-health. This attitude simply exasperated the weak and dying Jinnah and he decided that from now onwards the Khan should be dealt with directly by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs rather than him.
Jinnah’s private secretary wrote to the Khan that ‘in view of the passage of time and the indecisive and changing attitude of Your Highness, he has now decided that it would be best to terminate his personal negotiations with Your Highness and to hand over the matter to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs…’ Now the bureaucrats were fully in charge.
Once the matter was in the hands of the bureaucracy, and some military men turned civilian officers, events took shape quickly. First, the bureaucrats determined what the real issue was. They surmised that while the Khan was largely agreeable to accession he wanted special treatment. Secondly, they also realised that it was Khan’s younger brother, Prince Abdul Karim, who was mainly against accession.
Thirdly, they found out that most sardars were not in fact against accession but only wary of their status. Once their status was confirmed they would be happy to accede. Therefore, the bureaucracy decided to use all these factors to bring about the accession of Kalat to Pakistan. The first focus of the bureaucracy was the feudatory states of Kharan and Las Bela.
Both these states formed part of the Baluch confederacy over which the Khan of Kalat presided but over the years they had attained considerable autonomy. While the British had rejected their request for complete independence, the Government of Pakistan had not committed on the repeated requests of the rulers of both territories for recognition.
Foreign Secretary Ikramullah noted: ‘Las Bela and Kharan have not been promised independence by me nor do I think they have been promised independence by the Quaid-i-Azam. The only authentic note we have on the subject which I submitted to the Quaid-i-Azam recognizes the suzerainty of Kalat over Las Bela and Kharan. What we shall do in the event of the Khan not acceding is a different story.’
Constitutionally republican, but recently very pro-Khan, this party led by the charismatic and young Ghous Bakhsh Bizinjo in the House of Commons.
Thus when the Khan of Kalat was not agreeable for immediate accession the Government of Pakistan, as the successor of the British Government of India, decided to recognise the independence of Kharan and Las Bela, together with the district of Makran, on March 17, 1948, and all these newly recognised states then gleefully joined Pakistan.
The Government of Kalat reacted badly to these accessions and a strong missive was sent to the Government of Pakistan. However, the Government of Pakistan contended that the nature of the Kalat confederacy was such that each sardar had the right to secede and accede to Pakistan on his own initiative and that is exactly what had now begun to happen.
Seeing that with the three accessions Kalat had been left with less than half its territory and was landlocked, the Khan of Kalat tried to rally the sardars against Pakistan and called a meeting on March 25, 1948. But the exodus towards Pakistan had begun and as noted by the report of the British High Commission only two out of seventy-two sardars attended the meeting, with the others simply refusing to come.
It was clear that the Khan’s vacillation had made even the earlier reluctant sardars to finally decide to join Pakistan. As the Khan’s position was being undermined by his own sardars, All India Radio made a startling announcement on March 27, 1947. In broadcast, it alleged that the Khan of Kalat had approached the Government of India with an offer of accession but that it has been rejected keeping in mind the geographical reality.
The first focus of the bureaucracy was the feudatory states of Kharan and Las Bela. Both these states formed part of the Baluch confederacy over which the Khan of Kalat presided but over the years they had attained considerable autonomy.
Upon hearing the news of the All India Radio broadcast the Khan immediately sent a statement to Karachi declaring that: ‘It had never been my intention to accede to India. … This was nothing but a piece of false propaganda. … My first reaction after hearing the news was that no time be lost to put an end to the false propaganda and to avoid and forestall the possibility of friction between the Moslem brethren in Kalat and Pakistan.
It is therefore declared that from 9 p.m. on March 27—the time when I heard the false news over the air, I forewith decided to accede to Pakistan.’ Later, All India Radio clarified that it was a mistake, but by that time Kalat had long acceded to Pakistan.
The formal accession of Kalat State did not end the issue and the younger brother of the Khan, Prince Abdul Karim, who had been dislodged as governor of Makran by its Nawab who had acceded to Pakistan, declared an insurgency against Pakistan. However, this insurgency, which mainly included the Prince and his disgruntled friends and followers, was short-lived and died within a couple of months.
Nevertheless, the insurgency later became legendary and Prince Abdul Karim a nationalist hero, where he is evoked even now. The accession of Kalat was a long drawn and complicated process and owing to the peculiar nature of Baluchistan fraught with difficulties. But by the end of it the accession was obtained legally and Kalat became a part of Pakistan.
The fact that it took so long and the negotiations were so tedious was mainly due to the nature of the Khan where his vanity got the best of him. The Khan’s nature would continue to create problems for both Pakistan and his own people in later years.
Baluchistan is indeed a unique and complex province. Large parts of the province are still not integrated in the country and the sparse population makes the provision of basic facilities an uphill task. Furthermore, the nomadic nature of most of its tribes coupled with the dry and arid climate and land makes the development of the area even more difficult.
Concerted efforts are needed to bring the province into the mainstream, provide basic facilities, and promote development. The centrality of an honest and clear historical narrative forms part of this endeavour and especially knowledge of the legal accession of the territory to Pakistan.
Dr Yaqoob Khan Bangash is a historian on Modern South Asia and currently Assistant Professor at the IT University, Lahore. He is the author of ‘A Princely Affair: The Accession and Integration of the Princely States of Pakistan, 1947-55.’ Dr Bangash has a DPhil in Modern History from the University of Oxford. He tweets at @BangashYK. The views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.