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Old Friday, April 18, 2008
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Post The Land And People Of Baluchistan


In spite of the intrinsic hostility of its landscape and climate, archaeological discoveries have confirmed that Baluchistan was already inhabited in the Stone Age, and the important neolithic site at Mehrgarh is the earliest (7000-3000 B.C.) on the subcontinent. Until its overthrow by Alexander the Great, Baluchistan was part of the Persian Empire, whose records refer to it as "Maka".

In 325 B.C. Alexander led part of his army back from his Indus campaign to Babylon across the Makran Desert at the cost of terrible suffering and high casualties. Thereafter Baluchistan lay for centuries on the shadowy borderlands of the Zoroastrian rulers of Iran and the local Buddhist and Hindu dynasties of northwestern subcontinent.

Islam was brought to Baluchistan in 711 when Muhammad bin Qasim led the army which was to conquer Sind across the Makran route, but the area was always too remote for firm control to be exerted by any of the later local dynasties. It accordingly receives only very passing mention in the court histories of the time. The connections of the inland areas were variously with Iran, Afghanistan and India, those of coastal Makran rather across the Arabian Sea with Oman and the Gulf.

The name "Baluchistan" only came into existence later with the arrival from Iran of the tribes called Baluch (usually pronounced "Baloch" in Pakistan). Just how and when they arrived remains a matter of hot debate, since the traditional legends of their Middle Eastern origins, supposed to have been in the Aleppo region of Syria have been further confused by cranky theories either that like the Pathans they may descend from the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, or that they originated from Babylon, since "Baluch" is phonetically similar to the names of the god Baal or the Babylonian ruler Belos.

Better evidence is suggested by the Baluchi language which beIongs to the same Iranian group of Indo-European as Persian and Kurdish. This suggests that the Baluch originated from the area of the Caspian Sea, making their way gradually across Iran to reach their present homeland in around A.D. 1000, when they are mentioned with the equally warlike Kuch tribes in Firdausi's great Persian epic, the Book of Kings:

Heroic Baluches and Kuches we saw,
Like battling rams all determined on war.

Warlike the history of the Baluch has certainly always been. As the last to arrive of the major ethnic groups of Pakistan they were faced with the need to displace the peoples already settled in Baluchistan. Some they more or less successfully subjugated or assimilated, like the Meds of Makran and other now subordinate groups. From others they faced a greater challenge, notably from the Brahui tribes occupying the hills around Kalat.

The origins of the Brahuis are even more puzzling than those of the Baluch, for their language is not Indo-European at all, but belongs to the same Dravidian family as Tamil and the other languages of south India spoken over a thousand miles away. One theory has it that the Brahuis are the last northern survivors of a Dravidian-speaking population which perhaps created the Indus Valley civilisation, but it seems more likely that they too arrived as the result of a long tribal migration, at some earlier date from peninsular India.

As they moved eastwards, the Baluch were initially successful in overcoming the Brahuis. Under Mir Chakar, who established his capital at Sibi in 1487, a great Baluch kingdom briefly came into existence before being destroyed by civil war between Mir Chakar's Rind tribe and the rival Lasharis, whose battles are still celebrated in heroic ballads. Although the Baluch moved forward into Panjab and Sind, the authority of the Moghuls stopped them establishing permanent kingdoms there, although the names of Dera Ghazi Khan in Panjab and Dera Ismail Khan in NWFP are still reminders of the Baluch chiefs who conquered these lands in the 16th century. The Baluch who settled in the plains gradually became largely detribalised, forgetting their native language and increasingly assimilated to the local population, with their tribal origins remaining little more than a proud memory.

In Baluchistan itself, which came only briefly under the authority of the Moghuls, the tables were turned on the Baluch by the Brahuis who succeeded in re-establishing their power in Kalat. Throughout the 18th century, the Khans of Kalat were the dominant local power, with the Baluch tribes settled to the west and to the east of them being forced to acknowledge their suzerainty.

The greatest of the Khans was Mir Nasir Khan (1749-1817), whose military success owed much to the regular organisation of his army, with its separate divisions recruited from the Sarawan and Jhalawan areas which constitute the northern and southern parts of the Brahui homeland. The Khanate of Kalat became the nearest thing there has ever been to an independent Baluchistan. This extended beyond the modern boundaries, since Mir Nasir Khan's authority ran as far as the then insignificant town of Karachi. Although dominated by the Brahuis, they themselves became increasingly "Baluchified". Today, for instance, the Brahui language only keeps the first three of its old Dravidian numbers. From "four" upwards Brahuis count in Baluchi, in which most are anyway bilingual.

With the British expansion into northwestern subcontinent and their disastrous first Afghan war (1839-41), internal power struggles within Kalat prompted the first British military interference, and the signing of a treaty in 1841. The British annexation of Sind in 1843 from the Talpur Mirs, themselves a dynasty of Baluch descent, and the subsequent annexation of Panjab meant that Kalat and the other regions of Baluchistan were now part of the sensitive western borderlands of British India, where the possibility of Russian interference induced a permanent state of imperial neurosis. Although the eastern Baluch tribes were partially pacified by the efforts of Sir Robert Sandeman, it was thought easiest to leave the Khan and his subordinate chiefs in control of most of the rest of Baluchistan.

A further treaty was signed in 1876, which forced the Khan to 'lease" the strategic Quetta region to the British but left him in control of the rest of his territories with the aid of a British minister. Granted the rank of a 19-gun salute to mark the size if not the wealth of Kalat, the Khans were for a while content to pursue the eccentric Iifestyle characteristic of so many south Asian princes of the time. One Khan became legendary as a passionate collector of shoes, and made sure no pair would ever be stolen by locking up all the left shoes in a dungeon below the Fort at Kalat.

With the last ruler of Kalat, Mir Ahmad Yar Khan (1902-79), the Khanate again briefly entered the political arena. Exploiting the opaque clauses of the 1876 treaty, which left some doubt as to just how independent Kalat was supposed to be, he hesitated to join Pakistan in 1947. The brief independence of Kalat finally ended in 1948 when the Khan signed the necessary merger documents, followed by his formal removal from power and the abolition of the state's boundaries in 1955. The present shape of Baluchistan was finally rounded out in 1958 when the Sultan of Oman sold Gwadar, given to one of his ancestors by the Khan of Kalat, back to Pakistan.
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