Heated debate over the historical status and pre-1947 sovereignty of the Khanate of Kalat has often arisen in discussions around federalism, autonomy and nationalism in Pakistan since Partition. In this article, I try to gather some of the facts around the relationship between the Khanate and the British empire.
In the Baloch nationalist narrative, two points regarding the status of Kalat stand out. One is that before the arrival of the British, Kalat was an independent and sovereign state. The second is that the British never incorporated and/or treated Kalat as an Indian state and the relation can best be described as one based on a number of treaties that were signed between the British and the Khan of Kalat. This reading of history basically postulates that the British treated Kalat as a non-Indian state. ‘Baba-e-Balochistan’ Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo, reaffirming such a narrative, wrote: “Kalat, as I have repeatedly said, was not one of the several princely states of British India. It had been affirmed and reaffirmed time and again by the British Government that Kalat Baluchistan was not an Indian princely state but had a treaty relationship with Britain, under which it enjoyed a special status and if it wanted to, it was free to establish relations with Afghanistan.”
These two points, then, constitute a major segment of the nationalist narrative that focuses on the political developments when the Khan of Kalat, Ahmed Yar Khan, negotiated the accession of Kalat to Pakistan. The role of Ahmed Yar Khan in developing this narrative is overwhelming. According to him, Kalat was not part of the British India and that Kalat was an independent and sovereign state before the British took over – hence Kalat had the right to be independent.
The role of Ahmed Yar Khan in developing this narrative is overwhelming
We cannot independently verify the source of Ahmed Yar Khan’s claim about the status of Kalat before the arrival of the British with the available historical data. In fact, the rise of the Ahmadzais and the establishment of the Khanate of Kalat itself is a historical riddle. The golden period of the khanate arrived when Nasir Khan became the Khan. Under Nasir Khan, Kalat comprised two different types of areas. One that belonged to Kalat and the Khan directly ruled it through his Naibs (deputies). He also established a proper administrative setup and appointed a prime minister and a council of sardars (chiefs). The second area comprised of two provinces of Sarawan and Jhalawan. He established an army of 25,000 men and 1,000 camels. But Nasir Khan’s Kalat was under the sovereignty of Nadir Shah of Persia and he paid tribute to the court of Nadir Shah. As a reward, Nadir Shah rewarded Kalat with the Kacchi plain. After, Nadir Shah’s assassination in 1747, Nasir Khan accepted the suzerainty of Ahmed Shah Abdali’s newly created Afghanistan. Nasir Khan agreed to ensure the safe passage and security of the Afghan trade caravans, to pay Rs. 2,000 annually to Abdali and to station and maintain a 1,000-strong military contingent at Kandahar. As a reward, Kalat received a vast area including Quetta and Mastung. In 1758, after a brief clash, both Nasir Khan I and Ahmed Shah Abdali negotiated a new treaty. Under the new treaty, Kalat would provide a military contingent to Afghanistan in case of a war. Nasir Khan also agreed that Kalat would not support or provide shelter to any anti-Abdali elements. Ahmed Shah Abdali agreed not to interfere in Kalat’s internal affairs, to provide financial support and to return all captured areas of Kalat on these favorable terms.
However, as Akbar Bugti wrote: “Soon after Nasir Khan’s death, his confederacy almost immediately fell back into anarchy, and the powers of his successors as rulers diminished even more rapidly than Nasir Khan had augmented it.” According to the Baloch historical tradition, one can also see that a majority of the Baloch were never part of this tribal confederacy, for example the Marri, Bugti, Buledi, Khosa, Bijrani, Sundrani, Mazari, Lund, Drishak, Leghari, Gishkori, Dashti, Ghulam-Bolak, Gophang, Dodai, Chanday and Taalbur tribes.
Based on the available information, one can infer that the establishment of the confederacy of Kalat was indeed a significant development. Kalat operated at a level ahead of a tribe but it was still far away from attaining the status of a state. Despite the infighting and the internal fissures and instability after the death of Nasir Khan Nuri, had the British not intervened, there was a fair chance that, under a more assertive Khan, Kalat might have been able to inch towards statehood.
After their arrival on the geostrategic landscape of Balochistan on October 6, 1841, the British signed a treaty with the new Khan of Kalat. According to this, the British government in India would station British troops in Kalat, control its foreign relations and a British resident would oversee and conduct the business of the state of Kalat. On 14 May 1854, the British signed a new treaty with the Khan of Kalat at Mastung. Under this treaty, the British authorities in India recognised the Khan of Kalat as an independent ruler and also recognised the Khan’s authority from the south of Kalat to the Arabian Sea and Las Bela. The British pledged to pay 50,000 rupees annually and to provide military training and assistance in case of an invasion or attack on Kalat. In return, the British demanded that the Khan of Kalat ensured that he ‘reined in’ the Bugti and Marri tribes. In exchange for this recognition, the Khan of Kalat pledged not to get into an alliance with any rival power or adversary to the British. In fact, he agreed to facilitate the British and their allies. The agreed subvention was doubled in 1862 by the British. The treaty was revisited by both sides in 1863. According to the revised treaty, the Khan pledged to ensure the safety and security of the British personnel and installations in the area. The British agreed to pay the Khan a sum of Rs. 20,500 annually.
In January 1877 Lord Lytton, the Viceroy of India, invited the then Khan of Kalat Mir Khudadad Khan to attend the royal darbar. This event is highlighted by the Baloch nationalist historians as a proof that the British had a special relationship with Kalat and did not treat it as an Indian state. They argued that the fact that the British did not give the Khan of Kalat a banner like other Indian princes implies that he was not treated like the rulers of the Indian states. They further argue that due to their sovereign status, the Viceroy not only received the Khan of Kalat and the Sultan of Oman but also paid them return visits.
What is ignored in this narrative is that the Khan objected to this treatment. When he was informed that he was treated as such because he was not one of Her Majesty’s feudatories, he responded “I am 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.” And so it happened. At the end of the darbar, Mir Khudadad Khan was bestowed with the rank of Knight Grand Commander of the Most Exalted Order of the Star of India. So, even if he was not considered an Indian prince when he came to the darbar, by the time he left, he was transformed into one by his own will. In an official communication, the British authorities stated: “The extraordinary reception given to the Khan of Kalat at the Darbar of 1877 is to be explained by the fact that it was the first occasion in which a Khan had attended an Imperial Indian gathering… on the other hand, when the Khan of Kalat attended the Darbars of 1903 and 1911 he was received in exactly the same footing and was accorded identically the same treatment as other Indian princes of equal rank.”
The policy of famed British colonial administrator Robert Groves Sandeman further reduced the status of the Khan of Kalat to the merely ceremonial head of a state that was completely in control of the British. According to the administrative report of the Balochistan Agency, 1886:
“The Agent to the Governor-General has practically taken the place of the Khan as head of the Baluch confederation. His Highness is still the nominal head; the Sarawan and Jhalawan chiefs still sit on his right hand and his left in the durbar as of old, and till he is invested by the Khan with the khilat or mantle of succession, a sardar is not to be legitimised as the representative of his tribe. But in the essential questions of the nomination of sardars, the summoning of jirgahs for the settlement of inter-tribal disputes, and the general preservation of peace in the country, the Agent of the Governor-General is recognised all over Baluchistan as having taken the place of the Khan, and his mandate naturally commands a great deal more respect and obedience than ever did that of His Highness.”
From the Baloch historical tradition, one can see that a majority of the tribes were never part of this confederacy
Essentially, the introduction of the Sandeman system in Balochistan provided the British with a way to deal with the Khan of Kalat and the Baloch sardars. Up until the appointment of Ahmed Yar Khan as the Khan, the British authorities faced no problem in Kalat and Balochistan due to the loyalty of the Baloch sardars and British-backed but administratively and politically toothless Khans. During this period, the British authorities in India started taking steps to integrate Kalat into the colonial Indian political setup. Two seats in the Council of the States and one seat in the federal legislative assembly were allocated to Kalat. That the British were planning to include Kalat into the Indian federation could be substantiated from a communication between London and Delhi (the seat of the British government of India) from January 1935:
“The ultimate sanction for relations with these frontier states will be paramountcy of the crown, exercised through the viceroy, to the same extent as in the case of other Indian states which are units in the federation.”
Even Ahmed Yar Khan demonstrated an interest in the affairs of the Indian federation. The AGG in Quetta, according to Axamann, stated that Ahmed Yar Khan wanted to be informed as to whether Kalat would be incorporated in the Indian federation, so that he could start participating in Indian affairs. A question that can rightly be asked at this stage is this: if the British authorities in India considered Kalat an Indian state, why was it not properly integrated into India, especially under the 1935 India Act? Foreign secretary Olaf Caroe, addressing the issue of Kalat joining the Indian federation, commented that the Khan was not in a position to ensure that he was the sole authority in Kalat and that the rulers of Las Bela and Kharan would never accept the Khan’s sovereignty over them. Equally problematic was the issue of the Baloch sardars. Caroe was of the view that at this point in time, moving forward with making Kalat a part of the Indian federation would result in an inter-state and tribal war.
The British authorities made it quite clear to Ahmed Yar Khan that his interpretation of the treaties between the British and Kalat was not correct
By 1940, it emerged and was made obvious that the British viewed Kalat as an Indian state. The British authorities in India made it quite clear to Ahmed Yar Khan in a number of official communications that his reading and interpretation of the treaties between the British authorities and Kalat was not correct. In the light of Ahmed Yar Khan’s communication of 1941 stating that Kalat is not an Indian state, the Joint Secretary for External Affairs, on December 31, 1941, stated as follows:
“It would appear that His Highness bases his estimate of his constitutional position on a misperception of Article 3 of the Treaty of 1876…reinforced by family recollections of the special position accorded to his grandfather, Khan Khodadad Khan, at the Darbar of 1877. Article 3 of the treaty of 1876, however, expressly saves the provisions of Article 3 of the Treaty of 1854, by which the Khan of Kalat bound himself, his heirs and successors, in all cases to act in subordinate cooperation with the British Government. Thus the engagement of the British Government to respect the independence of Kalat must be read subject to the Khan’s undertaking to act in subordinate cooperation with them, and the position this arrived at does not differ materially from that reached in the treaties with various other Indian states…”
Furthermore, in a communication by the Secretary of State, it was stated:
“The treaties of 1854 and 1876 do not lead to the inference that Kalat is an Independent and sovereign state and it has, in fact, always been regarded as an Indian state.”
In light of the above, one could conclude that Kalat, before the arrival of the British, was operating at a level ahead of a tribe – arguably with some attributes of a state – but was still far away from attaining the status of a state, especially that of a ‘sovereign’ state. Above all, we are constrained to admit that at least as far as the colonial administration was concerned, the British considered Kalat to be an Indian state.
Rizwan Zeb, PhD, is Associate Editor of the Journal of Asian Security and International Affairs, senior research analyst at the Institute of Regional Studies and Associate Professor at Iqra University, Islamabad. He is a former Benjamin Meaker Professor at the University of Bristol and a visiting scholar at the foreign policy program of the Brookings Institution, Washington DC, USA. He tweets at @SRizwanZeb