Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Independence Day speech from the Red Fort mentioning Balochistan has set in motion a debate on motives, linkages with Jammu & Kashmir and whether India can stay the course.
However, the moot point being missed is the legal status of Balochistan. The whole issue hinges on whether or not Kalat (as Balochistan was then called) was an Indian princely state or an independent non-Indian state under British rule. If it is the latter, then clearly what the Baloch nationalists say about Pakistan’s illegal occupation has merit.
The British came into contact with Kalat in 1839 seeking passage and provisions during the disastrous first Afghan war. The British signed treaties with the Khan of Kalat in 1839, 1841, 1854, 1862 and 1876. While each treaty eroded the Khan’s sphere of action and the territories of the Khanate, all of them essentially recognised his independence. For example, the agreement of 1862 called the Khanate a neighbouring state of India and the 1876 treaty acknowledged the Khan as an independent ruler, an ally and a friendly neighbour.
The legal status of Kalat as an independent state continued till 1947. It was on this basis that the Khan never joined the Chamber of Princes in Delhi and always maintained that they were not a part of Britain’s Indian empire. While the 560-odd princely states in India belonged to Category A and were dealt with by the political department, states like Kalat, Nepal, Bhutan and Sikkim, were Category B states and dealt with by the external affairs department.
However, for reasons that are not very clear, the Government Of India Act, 1935 treated the Khanate as a part of India. In protest, the Khan wrote to the British government demanding that the “restrictions and conditions imposed, contrary to the terms of the treaty of 1876… may be withdrawn and rescinded and the independence of the Kalat government may be honoured scrupulously in accordance with the treaty.” After his protest, on June 10, 1939, the British government informed the Khan that “His Excellency recognises the treaty of 1876 as fully valid in every respect and that it would henceforth form the relations between the British and Kalat.”
In March 1946, the Khan submitted a memorandum to the Cabinet Mission through his lawyer — none other than Muhammad Ali Jinnah. The memorandum argued that: “On the transference of power in British India, the subsisting treaties between the Khan of Kalat and the British government would come to an end, and whatever obligations have been imposed on the Khan by these treaties will ipso facto terminate. The consequence will be that the state of Kalat will become fully sovereign and independent in respect of both external and internal matters.”
As the Cabinet Mission could not find flaws with the legality of the demand, it left the issue unresolved. At a round table conference held in Delhi on August 4, 1947 — attended by Lord Mountbatten, the Khan of Kalat and Jinnah — it was decided that the “Kalat State will be independent, enjoying the same status as it originally held in 1838.” Jinnah also signed a standstill agreement with the Khan on August 4, 1947. According to it, “The government of Pakistan recognises Kalat as an independent sovereign state in treaty relations with the British government, with a status different from that of Indian states.”
Thereafter, the Khan declared the independence of Kalat on August 12, 1947, two days before the creation of Pakistan. The independence, however, was short-lived. At the end of March 1948, Pakistan occupied Kalat and forced the Khan to sign the instrument of accession.
From the evidence, it is clear that Kalat was not an Indian state. Thus, legally at least, Pakistan’s occupation of Balochistan is dubious at best, illegal at worst. In either case, there is merit in the argument of the Baloch nationalists that Balochistan is not an internal matter of Pakistan. As Jinnah argued before the Cabinet Mission, the association of Balochistan with India was “merely due to its connection with the British government.”
It is one of the ironies of history that Jinnah, who as Kalat’s lawyer had argued for its independence and as governor general-designate of Pakistan agreed to its independence, was later to force its accession to Pakistan.