The tribes inhabiting Baluchistan came under the identical pressures influencing the tribes of Afghanistan during their violent histories. Living at the crossroads of Central Asia had one great disadvantage, and this involved the repeated and serial invasions by migrating tribes pressed from their original homelands and armies bent upon conquest. Generally, these invasions came from the west – along the same route of the tribal migrations. In southern Afghanistan, individual tribes began to organize themselves into larger aggregations in hopes of defending themselves against the repeated threats emerging from the west of their tribal areas. Only the armies of Alexander the Great entered the region using the “northern route,” and even he chose the more obvious southern route as his men struggled to depart from Central Asia. The terrain of the south, less the large desert areas, wasban ideal invasion route and army after army used it.
The Baluch tribes also migrated into the region from the west. Their traditions say they originated from the vicinity of Aleppo, Syria, while scholars studying comparative linguistics suggest their origin in an area of the Caspian Sea, possibly a waypoint with extended residence before being pressed further east by the arrival of more aggressive migrants. Regardless, the Baluch tribes were present in Baluchistan in 1000 A.D. and were mentioned in Firdausi’s book, Shahnamah (the Book of Kings), and like all invading armies they were described as being aggressive, “like battling rams all determined on war.”1
As the last of the migrating tribes to arrive, the Baluch had to displace or assimilate the tribes that were already present and occupying the land. Opposed by the powerful Brahui2 tribes, the Baluch were able to overcome them until an extended civil war broke out between the Rind and Lashari Baluch tribes which weakened them substantially.
After defeating the Brahui under their chief, Mir Chakar of the Rind tribe in approximately 1487, the Baluch kingdom was destroyed in the 30- year civil war between the Rind tribe and its rival, the Lasharis. The Baluch had expanded eastward as they spread into modern Pakistan’s Sind and North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) before being halted by the powerful Mughals of India. The names of Dera Ghazi Khan and Dera Ismail Khan serve as reminders of the Baluch presence in these areas in the 16th century.3
Once they were weakened by civil war, the Baluch tribes fell under the control of the population they once defeated – the Brahui – whose leaders became the powerful Khans of Kalat. Any attempt at understanding of the Baluch tribes requires a careful review of the role played by the Brahui ethnic group. Kalat was well-positioned to divide the two large branches of the Baluch tribes, making them easier to control. To the north of the Brahui and Baluch tribes are broad areas under the control of the Pashtuns – the Kakar, Tarin, Pani, and the Shiranis that occupy Zhob, Quetta-Pishin, Loralai, and Sibi districts as well as the vicinity of Takht-i-Sulaiman.4
The presence of these martial tribes, combined with their allied tribes in Afghanistan, effectively blocked the weakened Baluch tribes from a northward expansion while the Khan of Kalat’s Brahui tribes kept them divided. And the Khans were also limited in options they might consider:
“The rulers of Kalat were never fully independent. There was always … a paramount power to whom they were subject. In the earliest times they were merely petty chiefs; later they bowed to the orders of the Mughal emperors of Delhi and to the rulers of Kandahar, and supplied men-atarms on demand. Most peremptory orders from the Afghan rulers to their vassals of Kalat are still extant, and the predominance of the Sadozais and Barakzais was acknowledged as late as 1838.”5
But the Brahui tribes, speaking Dravidian and not integrated within the Baluch tribes, were able to control the larger and warlike Baluch. More was involved than the Khan’s geographical location. British officer R. Hughes-Buller explained in a section of the 1901 Baluchistan gazetteer: “The Brahuis consist, in fact, of a number of confederated units… of heterogeneous and independent elements possessing common land and uniting from time to time for the purposes of offense or defence, but again disuniting after the necessity for unity has disappeared. “Thus the two bands which unite the confederacy are common land and common good and ill, which is another name for a common blood feud.
“At the head of the confederacy is the Khan, who, until recent times at any rate, appears to have been invested in the minds of the members of the confederacy with certain theocratic attributes, for it was formerly customary for a tribesman on visiting Kalat to make offerings at the Ahmadzai Gate before entering the town. Below the Khan, again, are the leaders of the two the two main divisions, who are the leaders of their particular tribes, and at the head of each tribe as a chief, who has below him his subordinate leaders of clans, sections, etc.
“Such a system might work well so long as there was a strong ruler in Kalat, but once his power diminished, the natural result was civil war…”6
The Brahui not only out-organized the Baluch tribes, they managed to form alliances that further strengthened them. First, they were allied with Persia’s Nadir Shah, then with Ahmad Shah Durrani during the Pashtun invasions of India, before forming an alliance with the British that left the Khans of Kalat in charge of Baluchistan until Pakistan gained its independence in 1947. But once the powerful and influential Khans were removed from their positions from which they controlled Baluchistan, R. Hughes-Buller’s prophecy became self-fulfilling as a series of civil wars and rebellions continued throughout Pakistan’s history.
Hughes-Buller also wrote that “…the welding together of the tribes now composing the Brahui confederacy into a homogeneous whole was a comparatively recent event…. Their traditions tell us that they acquired Kalat from the Baloch, and that they were assisted in doing so by the Raisanis and the Dehwars … the assistance given by the Raisanis is to be noted because the Raisanis are indisputably Afghans.”7
“Welding together tribes” and forming external alliances that allowed the Brahui Khan of Kalat and his forces to maintain significant levels of control over the larger, more populous Baluch and Pashtun tribes found in Baluchistan. Their position, alone, in Kalat allowed the Brahui to split the two large Baluch tribal divisions and this system provided much of the stability that made Baluchistan far more governable than nearby Afghanistan. In 1955, it all changed. Kalat had survived through its alliances, if not its outright subjugation to powerful external forces, such as Nadir Shah’s Persians, Ahmad Shah Durrani’s Pashtuns, and Robert Sandeman’s Imperial British Army, but the newly formed Pakistan was less reliable as an ally. As Pakistan’s ability to control its internal politics, its partially independent “states” were absorbed into Baluchistan to form one of Pakistan’s four provinces in 1955.8
Unfortunately, the “Iron Law of Unintended Consequences” resulted in increasing instability. This was predicted by Hughes- Buller in 1901 in his essay on the Brahui that appeared in the 1901 Baluchistan census: “So long as there was a strong leader in Kalat … once his power was diminished, the natural result was civil war.” More unfortunately, the increasing instability soon started to draw nearby Afghanistan into the political and military fray.
The key question that emerges is simple. If the British realized the importance of the Khans of Kalat in the tribal balance of power that was so critical to Baluchistan’s stability, why did Pakistan’s new rulers miss this? The removal of the stabilizing impact of the Khan of Kalat whose prestige and semi-theocratic influence left a power vacuum in the wake of this unfortunate decision that was soon filled by individual tribal leaders and Hughes-Buller’s “natural result” was not long in coming. Pakistan’s largest political grouping, those speaking Punjabi, were intent upon creating a modern nation-state and Baluchistan had ports and considerable natural resources that were unavailable elsewhere in new Pakistan. Independent states with ports and natural resources were not to be tolerated by the Punjabis.9
When the Brahui Khan of Kalat refused to join the newly created state of Pakistan in 1947, Kalat was swiftly occupied by Pakistan’s army in 1948 – provoking a first rebellion that was led by the Khan’s brother, Prince Karim Khan.10 Unfortunately, nearby Afghanistan was landlocked, lacked the region surrounding Gwadar port, an area ruled by Oman at the time. Equally unfortunate for future Afghanistan-Pakistan relations, Prince Karim Khan and his followers relocated into sanctuaries within Afghanistan’s nearby Kandahar Province. Relations between the ancient state of Afghanistan and the new country of Pakistan had already been poisoned by demands for the creation of Pashtunistan, a vassal state for the Afghans that would have stretched from today’s North-West Frontier Province’s northern limits southward to the Arabian Sea. These conflicting claims developing over Baluchistan resulted in Pakistanis becoming increasingly angry as Afghanistan’s Durrani monarchy began to refer to the region as “South Pashtunistan.” Prince Karim Khan’s arrival in Afghanistan did little to settle the frayed nerves among Pakistan’s new and inexperienced leadership.11
Prince Karim Khan’s short-lived revolt failed because of his inability to attract foreign support for the creation of an independent Baluchistan.
Britain worked to ensure that Pakistan remained stable while the Afghan royal government remained unable to support Karim Khan alone. Stalin’s Soviet Union remained interested, but was non-committal because they felt the greater opportunity for Soviet expansion lay with Pakistan. As a result, Karim Khan was forced to return to Kalat where he continued his rebellion until he and his small group of followers were captured and jailed – by Pakistanis. In the wake of this unsuccessful revolt, relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan became increasingly bitter and as Pakistan’s Punjabis took greater control of Baluchistan’s resources, the Baluch tribes began to build grievances – toward Pakistan. Unfortunately, seeds of a lasting type were being sown in very fertile tribal soil. Now the significantly weakened Brahui tribes were no longer able to act as a buffer between the Baluch tribes while tense relations between old Afghanistan and new Pakistan grew to the point that reconciliation was unlikely to occur. On one side, Afghanistan wanted to see the creation of “Greater Pashtunistan” that would provide both resources and access to ports for the landlocked nation while Pakistan knew the Afghan goal would result in the loss of half of their national territory, leaving its two remaining provinces, Punjab and Sind, unable to survive economically – and militarily. Pakistan had just fought its first war with India and the concept of “Greater Pashtunistan” became a lasting national survival issue for Pakistan.
This situation worsened as Pakistan’s dominant population, the Punjabis, began to complain that Baluchistan comprised 40 percent of Pakistan’s territory, but contained only four percent of its total population. Baluchistan’s tribes failed to recognize the Punjabi logic as a series of rebellions continued, culminating – to date – in a four-year outbreak of fighting in which Pakistan’s new army engaged the Baluch tribes that once fought a 30- year civil war among themselves.
Another careful observer of tribal behavior, British officer C. E. Bruce who spent 35 years in the region following his father’s 35 years, provided useful insights into the relationship between the tribes and the emerging town-based and generally “de-tribalized” inhabitants:
“…the politically minded of the official class, to which must be added the ‘middlemen,’ as well as the ‘intelligentsia,’ were jealous of the tribal leaders. ‘They looked upon them as revolutionaries and against the interests and aspirations of the educated classes.’ For, as Sir Henry Dobbs pointed out, ‘Civil officials are mostly educated Orientals brought up in towns, who have a great dislike and suspicion of the tribes, the tribal organization, and the tribal chiefs, and more often than not are out to destroy them by every means in their power.’ Written of Irak [sic], it was equally true of the frontier.”12
Bruce also wrote about the position of the tribal leaders regarding the growing animosity with the emerging town elites:
“Up to now you have always worked through us. Just because a man can read and write it does not necessarily mean that he is a better man or that he can control our tribes better than we can. Yet these are the men you are putting over our heads and deferring to. And what have been the results?”13
Here lies the clue to understanding the tension between the rural tribes and the urban classes, led by Pakistan’s Punjabis, as they looked at the land and resources under the control of tribal chiefs from the Baluch and Pashtun ethnic groups. The process controlled by the urban elites that began in 1947 is still underway that was described by C. E. Bruce:
“…more often than not are out to destroy them by every means in their power.”
By 1973, Pakistan’s government had run to the limits of their patience with the Baluch tribes. Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto imposed central rule, arrested the principal Baluch leaders, and ordered 70,000 troops into the province. A student of Baluchistan’s politica, Selig Harrison, wrote accurately about this stage of the Baluch rebellion:
“At the height of the fighting in late 1974, American-supplied Iranian combat helicopters, some of them manned by Iranian pilots, joined the Pakistani Air Force in raids on Baluch guerrilla camps. These AH-1J Huey-Cobra helicopters provided the key to victory in a crucial battle at Chamakung in early September when a force of 17,000 guerrillas of the Marri tribe, one of the 27 major Baluch subdivisions, were decimated. “… Allowing for distortion by both sides, nearly 55,000 Baluch were fighting in late 1974, some 11,500 of them in organized, hard core units. At least 3,300 Pakistani military men and 5,300 Baluch guerrillas as well as hundreds of women and children caught in the crossfire, were killed in the four year war…. “Although military conflict between the Baluch and the central government dates from the creation of Pakistan in 1947, the wanton use of superior firepower by the Pakistani and Iranian forces during the 1973-1977 conflict instilled in the Baluch feelings of unprecedented resentment and a widespread hunger for a chance to vindicate their martial honor.”14
By this time, Baluch guerrillas had been allowed to shelter in Afghanistan, once again implicating the Afghan government in the eyes of Pakistan’s leaders. But the impact was greatest on the Baluch tribes, especially the Marri tribe that suffered a military defeat and heavy losses at the hands of the Pakistani and Iranian air forces – that flew American helicopters. For the Baluch tribes, not only was their tribal territory now split and occupied by Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan, instead of becoming Greater Baluchistan, their resources were now being appropriated for use in Pakistan’s larger provinces, Sind and Punjab.
One of the Baluch leaders predicted the future from his safe haven in Afghanistan:
“If we can get modern weapons,” said guerrilla leader Mir Hazar at the Kalat-i-Ghilzai base camp in southern Afghanistan, “it will never again be like the last time…. Next time we will choose the time and place, and we will take help where we can get it….”15
Low level insurgent operations continued until 2005 when an event occurred to galvanize the Baluch tribes into action. A female Baluch doctor was raped by four Pakistani soldiers guarding the Sui gas fields at Dera Bugti. Instead of the Marri tribe attacking Pakistani forces, this time it wasthe Baluch Bugti tribe doing the fighting.16 Time magazine provided details:
“In Pakistan’s Baluchistan province, nothing is held in higher regard than a woman’s honor, and the allegations of rape have the rough-and-tumble province, rich with natural gas fields, up in arms literally. Baluch tribesmen have attacked a refinery and pumping station at the Sui gas fields, have sabotaged the pipeline that sends the natural gas to the rest of Pakistan, have blown up railway lines, and have rocketed the provincial capital, Quetta. In response, President Pervez Musharraf has
sent 4,500 paramilitary troops, backed by 20 tanks and nine helicopter gunships, to Baluchistan to try to restore order. It will be a tricky mission. ‘This could be our last battle,’ Baluch tribal chieftain Attaullah Khan Mengal told Time. ‘At the end of it, either their soldiers will be standing alive, or we will.’ “…Workers at PPL reported the incident to Akbar Khan Bugti, the Nawab (or ruler) of the powerful Bugti clan. He says they told him the assailants were four soldiers in the Pakistani army. (Government troops protect the gas facilities.) Says the Nawab: ‘This gang rape took place on our land, in our midst. It has blackened our name.’ “The Nawab says he is taking the woman’s violation personally, and he can muster 4,000 armed men to back him up. Other leaders from the Mengal and Marri tribes have vowed to join him in his campaign for justice.”17
Soon, Akbar Bugti and some Marri leaders were killed in attacks by the Pakistani military. A Pakistani newspaper reported the details, but left out the reason for the revolt, the rape of the Baluch doctor:
“Nawabzada Baramdagh Bugti, grandson of Nawab Bugti, was among the dead but Agha Shahid Bugti said he couldn’t confirm the report. A private TV channel said that Mir Balaach Khan Marri was also killed in the operation. However, the report could not be confirmed. Mr. Durrani also said that Nawab Akbar Bugti had been killed along with two of his grandsons, adds Online.
“According to the sources, security forces started the operation in Bhambhoor area three days ago using heavy weapons and helicopter gunships. On Saturday, the sources said, more troops were inducted into the operation and helicopter gunships shelled the area throughout the day. “The sources said that helicopter gunships targeted the Chalgri area of Bhambhoor mountains and dropped troops who took action in the area. Armed militants of Marri and Bugti tribes resisted the troops and heavy fighting was reported for several hours.”18
And the survivors of the Pakistani raid? As usual, they went across the border into Afghanistan’s sanctuaries in what may be an implicit warning by the Afghan government to the Pakistanis to halt their alleged support for the Taliban insurgency or face a Baluch insurgency quietly supported by Afghanistan. Akbar Bugti’s grandson19 and probable heir, Brahmdakh Bugti, took the usual route into the safety across the border, but this only adds
to the tension between Afghanistan and Pakistan while both the Bugti and Marri tribes took casualties from the Pakistani army attacks. This will ensure a ready supply of antagonized militant tribesmen who will be available to rally to support the first charismatic leader to emerge against the Pakistan government that remained determined “more often than not are out to destroy them by every means in their power,” as C. E. Bruce’s words became prophetic. He knew that the “middlemen” living in towns believed that tribes must be eliminated as social organizations if new nation states are to survive and his prophecy is clearly playing out in Baluchistan.
The dictum “more often than not are out to destroy them by every means in their power” appears to have played itself out as well among the Brahui since they seem to have vanished from the tribal and political scene. The very ethnic group that assembled a powerful confederation to control the Baluch tribes is no longer a major participant and is usually reported as being assimilated into the Baluch tribes. There was no doubt in the reports filed by R. G. Sandeman in 1869:
“…with reference to the present disturbed state of Khelat, and the effect it has on the Khan’s hill subjects, the Murrees, Boogtees, &c…. The whole of Beloochistan, from Humund (a town of Dera Ghazee Khan) to the sea, was under the sway of Nurseer Khan of Khelat, a chief noted for his justice and prowess. He kept the Murrees, Boogtees, and other tribes resident along the Kafila route from Central Asia, as in good order as he did the people of the plains….”20
Another report showed the authority of the Khans of Kelat:
“…Still there is the fact … that the Shum Plain belongs chiefly to the Murrees and Boogtees (nominal subjects of the Khan of Khelat….”21
But all of the tribal balance of power shifted dramatically when the Pakistanis absorbed Kalat. The last Brahui leader, Ahmad Yar Khan, declared Kalat independent in 1947 and Pakistan’s army occupied Kalat and forced the Khan to sign the accession documents.22 Since then, the Brahui influence in Baluchistan has nearly vanished and observers of the slowly evolving insurgency in Baluchistan should remember the following:
“Such a system might work well so long as there was a strong ruler in Kalat, but once his power diminished, the natural result was civil war…”
(Baloch, Balooch, Beluch, Biluch)
The Baluch ethnic group is comprised of approximately 15-25 independent units, more akin to confederations than tribes. Baluch tribal hierarchies are somewhat loosely defined, being based more on alliance and location than tribal identity. Largely independent from one another, each tribe recognizes a clear internal hierarchical structure, a characteristic that differentiates the Baluch from the more egalitarian neighboring Pashtun tribes. This hierarchic structure greatly impacts Baluch tribal unity and interaction with other groups. The Baluch have traditionally been more responsive to both internal and external authority and more willing to incorporate outsiders than Pashtun tribes.
The Baluch are broadly divided into eastern and western linguistic groupings with the Brahui ethnic group falling between. The western Baluch tribes, referred to as Mekrani Baluch after the Mekran region, is the smaller of the two and includes those tribes located in Mekran Division, Kharan District of Kalat Division, Chagai District of Quetta Division in Baluchistan, and those living in southeastern Iran and southwestern Afghanistan. Most of the tribes of the eastern grouping, referred to as Sulaimani Baluch after the Sulaiman Range, are located primarily in Sibi Division, Baluchistan.
Others live in Nasirabad Division, Baluchistan, and large numbers live outside Baluchistan in Punjab and Sindh Provinces. A few also live in the North-West Frontier Province. The western or plains Baluch have historically been seen as more peaceful than the eastern or hill Baluch.
The British who dealt with the Baluch from the mid-1800s to mid-1900s saw both the western and eastern Baluch as easier to manage than the Pashtun tribes to the north and northeast. Stereotypes of the independent, egalitarian Pashtun with a strong sense of Pashtun identity contrast with those of the less independent, more hierarchical Baluch who mix more freely with other tribes. The stereotypes still exist, even among the Baluch and
Pashtuns themselves. Pashtun tribes usually claim descent from a common ancestor and recognize a familial-like bond within their division, clan, and tribe. They also recognize a very strict common set of characteristics that make one a Pashtun, including speaking Pashtu and following the Pashtun code or Pashtunwali. The Baluch on the other hand define their tribe according to more political and geographic criteria: loyalty to an authority and common location. Anyone choosing to live under the authority of the tribal chief can be considered a part of the tribe. An outsider wishing to join a Baluch tribe or section first moves into a Baluch tribe’s area, shares in the tribe’s good and ill fortune, is eventually able to obtain tribal land, and is fully admitted upon marrying a woman from the tribe.
The tendency of Baluch tribes to take on outside groups or members, and likewise for groups or members to leave one tribe for another, makes establishing a basis for a tribal hierarchy difficult. One often encounters the same sub-element split between two or more tribes. To further complicate matters, elements sometimes change their names or take on the name of their host, even in the case where they are not ethnically Baluch. In many parts of Baluchistan, it is popular to be considered a Baluch, so non-Baluch will sometimes take on Baluch tribal names, and after many years, may become considered as such. For example, Gichkis, Khetrans, and Nausherwanis are considered to be of non-Baluch origin (Khetrans do not even speak Baluchi), and yet multiple sources list them as Baluch in tribal hierarchies.