Balochistan: tribes

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This is a collection of articles archived for the excellence of their content.


Part I

Tribal Structure

The structure within each Baluch tribe follows a more or less common pattern; Graphic courtesy: Tribal Analysis Centre
Analysis of multiple sources indicates the following are the primary Baluch tribes in Pakistan; Graphic courtesy: Tribal Analysis Centre

Tribal Analysis Centre

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.

A grouping called a sub-tuman occurs in some cases between tuman and para and is a large clan or sub-tribe, having its own significant sections akin to clans. Examples of these are the Haddiani clan of the Leghari tribe, the Durkani and Lashari clans of the Gurchani tribe, the Ghulmani clan of the Buzdar tribe, the Shambani clan of the Bugti tribe, and the Mazarani clan of the Marri tribe.

According to legend, when the Baluch first arrived in Baluchistan, they were united under one headman, one Jalal Khan, but soon split either

along ancestral lines or based on which headman they chose to follow as they spread north and east across Baluchistan. Some sources indicate the Baluch are essentially made up of three or five main tribal groupings, though these vary according to the source. Some list the Narui, Rind, and Magzi, some the Rind, Magzi, and Lashari, and some the Rind, Hot, Lashari, Kaheri, and Jatoi.25 In addition to these, there were several other unaffiliated Baluch tribes. These divisions seem to serve little purpose today. Though a Baluch tribe may hearken back to their Rind or Lashari origins, they are independent of these tribes.

Part II

In connection with Afghanistan

Tribal Analysis Centre

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, was an 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.”

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 Brahui 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.

Rivary, amongst tribes

Rind and Lasharis tribes

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.

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.

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.

Rise of Khans of Kalat

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 HughesBuller 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.

Hault in stability in Balochistan

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 natural resources, and was immediately suspected of casting a covetous eye on a wide section of Baluchistan. Of particular suspected interest was 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.

Brahui, vanish from political and tribal affairs

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.

Occupation by Pakistan's Army

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.

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