A recent Democracy Forum seminar in the House of Commons raised legal and moral points about this disputed region and its history

The House of Commons was the imposing setting for The Democracy Forum’s first seminar of 2017, which cast a look back over the history of Balochistan and the events leading to its accession to Pakistan.

Following a welcome from Nigel Huddleston MP, Dr William Crawley, chairing the event, offered a brief overview of Balochistan before handing over to the first speaker, parliamentary researcher Maxwell Downman.

Downman’s presentation focused on the negotiations of the Khanate of Kalat’s accession to Pakistan in the spring of 1948, following the partition of India in 1947, and its wider implications for the region. From his research into confidential correspondence between the British, Pakistani and Kalat governments, he attempted to explain how the Khan of Kalat was initially co-opted and eventually acceded to the newly created Pakistan.

The Khan’s insistence on Kalat being treated as an independent state rather than an Indian princely state, Downman argued, disadvantaged him in negotiations with Pakistan in 1947 and 1948. British and Pakistani legal opinion concurred that the rights to leased areas controlled by the British would pass directly to Pakistan. As a result, the Khan found himself negotiating for what remained of his territory, with no agreement on the future of leased areas.

Having lost de facto control of these contested areas, the Khan had little option but to accede completely to Pakistan. Without these territories, which deprived it of access to the sea, the geographical and military weakness of an independent Balochi state would have forced it to enter into some form of subservient treaty relation. Downman said the documents showed British and Pakistani complicity in recognising that a weakened Balochi state would have no option but to accede to Pakistan. Although the 1876 treaty with Kalat stated that the Khanate was not part of the Raj, Britain never treated its independence seriously, and constantly undermined the Khan’s position.

Panellists & audience members at the TDF seminar
Panellists & audience members at the TDF seminar

The present Khan of Kalat, His Highness Mir Suleman Ahmedzai Daud, spoke about the various treaties between the British government and his predecessors, including those of 1854 and 1876, which recognised Balochistan as a sovereign country outside India. In the partition plan of 3 June 1947, both Pakistan and the British had accepted Kalat’s sovereignty, said the Khan, yet after the British withdrawal plan from India was announced, the Viceroy of India, Earl Mountbatten, decided that the leased land (British Balochistan) should join Pakistan.

Calling Balochistan’s accession to Pakistan in 1948 an ‘annexation’, the Khan argued that Balochistan had lost its independence ‘because of geo-politics’, saying Britain wanted to deny the Soviet Union access to ‘warm waters’ – the Indian Ocean. ‘This is why [the British] went back on the treaties [they had signed with Kalat.’ The Khan also questioned whether Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, had the mandate to declare Kharan, Lasbela and Mukran princely states.

British Crown representatives recognised Kalat as an independent country, said the Khan, and Jinnah was the attorney for Kalat in all negotiations prior to the annexation of Balochistan by Pakistan in 1948. Balochistan was therefore an illegally occupied territory, he argued, and Britain had played its part in betraying the Baloch people.

The Khan made no apology for approaching Afghanistan, Iran and other countries, including the US Congress, to pursue independence for Balochistan, and said he was willing to approach India as well. He welcomed PM Narendra Modi’s public airing of the Balochistan issue in his Independence Day speech on 15 August last year.

Professor Sabir Badal Khan of the University of Oriental Studies, Naples looked back over the history of Balochistan, including the British invasion in 1839 and the killing of the then Khan of Kalat, after which the British installed his 14-year-old nephew and manipulated him into signing unfavourable treaties. Earl Mountbatten recognised the independence of Balochistan in August 1947, he said, but afterwards reversed his position.

Balochistan’s merger, said Professor Badal Khan, was arbitrarily decided by the British on June 29, 1947, despite the fact that they had taken the Baloch part of the territory on lease from the government of Balochistan in Kalat and were supposed to return it to Balochistan before they left the region. He also spoke of Balochistan’s strategic importance as a buffer state for the British, and the disputed 1947 referendum in the region.

A representative of Baloch nationalist leader Hyrbyair Marri, reading from an address prepared by Marri, accused Britain of failing to honour its treaties, and of supporting Pakistani aggression when it illegally occupied Balochistan in 1948.

He also referred to the Indian Independence Bill of July 14 ,1947, about which it was claimed that even if Balochistan did not wish to join Pakistan, nothing in the world could save it from being forced to do so if the Bill were to be passed without amendment. The Balochistan Accession Treaty of 1948 was questionable, he added, because the Khan was under duress when signing it, it was signed by both parties at different times, and there were no independent witnesses to his signature on the document – although Downman countered that there was some evidence of witnesses being present.

During the lively Q & A sessions, there were several heated exchanges, particularly between supporters of Pakistan and the Khan of Kalat.

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