Volume 6, No. 2, February 2024
Editor: Rashed Rahman
Nationalism is not a factory-produced finished good. Like all social processes it is constantly evolving as economic relations and conditions, political ideals, awareness of history all contribute towards its growth or retardation. Moreover a lot depends on those who are the icons and opinion makers of that nation to determine which way it will evolve. A lot also depends on how a society is organised and what values the people hold close to their hearts. This being said, the natural corollary is that each nation and society will opt for the nationalism that is closer not only to its ideals but also to its needs. Hence it follows that Baloch nationalism has evolved in an environment specific to its people and towards goals cherished by the people. Let me add: the Baloch history of resisting aggressors forms the crux of its culture and the Baloch are brought up in an ethos that equates freedom with dignity.
Baloch society was and still largely remains tribal, so expectations that the evolution of nationalism would be uniform or coordinated and standardised is to harbour hopes not based on ground reality. Each tribe, though with the same basic social structure, was in different locations and therefore had different neighbours and different influences, but all were very conscious of their independent existence and the absence of any domination by others. The geographical location of the tribes also determined their economic system. Those that lived in the mountains were detached from the economy and had to be self-sufficient with little interaction with others due to inaccessibility, while those in the plains traded, farmed and had different economic systems and needs as their life necessitated more interaction. Geography also was a determinant in the developing of social and political consciousness and therefore the evolution of their nationalism. Another important and definitive factor was the character of the tribal leader. In the past the actions, words and character of the leader had an immense influence on what path the tribe’s political evolution took. If the leader was a good for nothing character, the tribe simply existed on compromises and opportunism; if the leader was strong and bold, the tribe’s political development was more forceful and forthright. Interactions with others also brought knowledge of how and what the world and its people were thinking and doing and what their social consciousness was. Interaction with others naturally rubs off and influences thought and worldview. The inhabitants of the world have always learnt from each other and in this way the world has progressed materially, socially and politically.
These different strands of social, political and economic relations and developments coalesce to give rise to national consciousness or nationalism. Baloch nationalism also evolved in a similar pattern but in conditions that were naturally specific to it and therefore is as it is seen today. Terming this nationalism good or bad is being judgemental. The tribes had to fight other tribes to gain control of the land they live in and this process made them conscious that in this world what you gain is always under threat and has to be preserved and defended. These struggles gave them a sense of their identity and also laid the seeds of future nationalism. Yes, there were inter-tribal rivalries, fighting and conflicts too, but these were more of an economic nature as the tribes vied for better pastoral grasslands and cultivable lands. These struggles were divisive but they also did give them a sense of authority and independence from domination and dictation by others.
The Baloch lived in relative isolation until the British colonised India and turned their attention towards Afghanistan with the intention of halting Czarist Russia’s increasing influence in the region. Balochistan was the gateway to Afghanistan; here too its strategic position explains the attention it attracted. The British had to pass through Balochistan and there were tribes that resented this encroachment on their land by foreigners. These tribes attacked the British where and when they could. Britain being a dominant colonial power, took these attacks as an affront and a challenge to its authority. There were skirmishes; the Baloch knowing their land well, were able to harass the British. On November 13, 1839, the British attacked Kalat, the capital of the Baloch tribal confederacy. Mehrab Khan, the Khan of Kalat, symbolised Baloch power. The British felt if they could subdue him, the task of subduing others would become relatively easy. Mehrab Khan died fighting and Kalat fell. This day is now celebrated as Martyrs’ Day.
The martyrdom of Mehrab Khan failed to overawe the Baloch. There were more battles and defeats that the British had to face as they did in the Marri area at Nafusk and Sartaaf in August 1840 or the rout of Charles Napier’s forces in the defile (Tank) of Traki in Dera Bugti in 1845 in their battle against Bijjar Khan Domki. There were more battles in many of which the Baloch were defeated, but that did not stop them from reorganising to fight again. The only and most fatal lapse was that each tribe fought on its own and there never was a unified fight against the British. This allowed the latter to range one tribe against another and also defeat each one separately. The Marris and Khetrans fought the British in 1917 and 1918 at Harab and Gumbaz, but after these there were no more battles with the British.
(To be continued)