Balochistan: Qadeem Taareekhi Tanaazur
By Dr Wahid Bakhsh Buzdar
Balochi Academy, Quetta
ISBN: 978-9696801474
430pp.

The history of Balochistan and of its people has remained a mystery for years. Some relate the Baloch people to the Arabs and some to the Irani and Indian branches of the Aryans. Others believe the people originated from the Alborz Mountains on the Iran-Azerbaijan border, and yet others claim the Baloch have lived in the region of Balochistan since the very beginning.

Much of Balochistan’s ancient past still needs to be researched and hidden facts brought to the surface. For this, it is necessary for Baloch academic, historical and literary institutions and figures to unite in their efforts.

The Balochi Academy in Quetta is one of the oldest institutions working on Balochi literature and history. To highlight factors that have played a significant role in the development of the region’s history, the Academy has recently brought out Balochistan: Qadeem Taareekhi Tanaazur [Balochistan: Ancient Historical Perspectives] by Dr Wahid Bakhsh Buzdar.

Buzdar is a respected name in the field of historical research and has written quite a few books on ancient Baloch history. In his preface to his latest book, he notes that there have been some contradictory points of view in tracing Balochistan’s past. A number of travellers/ British spies, and national and international scholars and intellectuals have presented the story from varying perspectives and this has generated much confusion among readers. The author mentions plenty of names in the preface and continues to refer to them in the chapters following, to support his claims.

A respected historian gives various perspectives on the province’s ancient history, so readers can judge their veracity for themselves

An appreciable element of Balochistan: Qadeem Taareekhi Tanaazur is that the author compares and contrasts two or more writers, then puts forward his own scholarship and leaves it to the readers to choose whom — and what — to believe.

This allows readers to observe the manner in which many writers have differed on the same point. It also makes it easier for readers to see how some writers — most of them foreign — have tried to manipulate Baloch history for their own national interests and justify the exploitation of Baloch land.

One such case is of Henry Pottinger. On the orders of the East India Company, the Irishman disguised himself as a Muslim merchant and set out to map the region of Balochistan. His version of historical events served as the basis on which the British empire positioned its process of strengthening British presence in the area. Pottinger’s ‘record’ also influenced policy-making during the ‘Great Game’ to use Afghanistan — and, in some sense, Balochistan — as a buffer state against opposing Russian forces.

Buzdar separates his book into chapters that discuss Balochistan’s land, languages, religions, castes, tribes, ancient local places, names, and customs and traditions. These demarcations allow readers to easily comprehend, in particular, how shifts were brought about in Balochistan by foreign elements.

When the British infiltrated Balochistan during Khan Mir Mehrab Khan’s reign in 1839, they brought with them policies to increase their physical and psychological rule. A friend of mine, Abdullah Baloch, is a law student whose final thesis is based on the ancient laws of the Baloch. Drawing upon findings from his research, he observed that, “Along with ‘Divide and Rule’, the British also launched the ‘Define and Rule’ policy, through which they preserved the national histories of many nations wrongly and maintained their empire in deception.”

He further added that sending in spies posing as travellers served the same purpose. These spies — such as Pottinger — lived among the people, imitated their way of life to understand their psyches, and then wrote history from the biased and untrue perspective of the occupiers.

Many travellers/spies, and national and international scholars and intellectuals have presented the story from varying perspectives and this has generated much confusion in readers.

After his discussion of national and international historians and spies, Buzdar introduces the theory of British army officer and diplomat Edward Mockler, who termed the Baloch as ancestrally belonging to the same place as they now lived in. Mockler is said to have noted: “The Baloch were basically of Makoran [Makran] and the adjoining areas.” Buzdar agrees with this thesis and emphasises the point in his book.

Mockler’s ideas were taken further by Baloch historians Maulana Abdullah Dermani and Qazi Abdul Samad Sarbazi. Buzdar himself devotes a chapter in his book to the history of “Makoran”, an area that is presently divided in two parts: one in Iran and the other in Pakistan.

In one of his chapters on languages, Buzdar explains how multiple writers limited the beginnings of Balochistan’s history to the 15th-16th century chieftain Mir Chakar Khan Rind, and incorrectly claimed that speakers of Brahvi — which is merely one of the two most commonly spoken languages in the area — were a separate nation.

To support his statements further, Buzdar adds that those writers and historians who claim that Brahvi speakers are a separate nation, trace the history of the language from Mir Umar Wadi, whose name — in contradiction to their assertions — is unquestionably Baloch. Buzdar writes: “It proves that Balochi and Brahvi speakers have been part of the Baloch nation for long, with the same basic fundamentals of living life side by side.”

Although most of the ruling Khans of the princely state of Kalat spoke Brahvi, they considered themselves Baloch, which is the biggest proof of them being part of the same nation. In 1934, when the British authorities in Subcontinental India sent a letter to the last Khan of Kalat — Khan Yar Ahmad Khan — to invite him to a meeting of the rulers of the princely states, they wrote ‘Brahvi’ at the end of his name, instead of ‘Baloch’. In response, the Khan sent their letter back and asked them to first fact-check missives before sending them out.

In another incident, after Balochistan became independent from British rule in 1947, Khan Yar Ahmad Khan made his first speech to the nation in the Balochi language. He stated that, from there on, the people of Balochistan were slaves to none and all his future addresses to the nation would be in no language other than Balochi. In fact, Balochi was declared the official language of the State of Kalat in the same year.

While reading Buzdar’s book, it becomes quite clear that he has put a substantial amount of effort in research, ensuring that every claim he makes is supported with logic and evidence. The presenting of multiple accounts of any incident or event also allows readers to appraise vested interests and, consequently, the skewed perspectives of many other books and writers and to question their credibility. From this, it becomes easy to determine who the well-wishers of Balochistan are, and who view it with an evil eye.

The one thing I felt was missing in the book was that, although Buzdar visited several ancient sites in Balochistan in support of his research, he seems to have neglected the Iranian and Afghan portions, which historically are part of Balochistan as a whole. But this may well have been because of difficulties in obtaining travel permits, since it would have necessitated petitioning the administrations of two other countries. The lack of resources and adequate funding is another dilemma to deal with in Balochistan’s research institutes.

Overall, though, Buzdar has produced a superb book and we need more of the same in order to satisfactorily trace the actual, authentic history of the Baloch, Balochi and Balochistan.

The reviewer is a student of law and a journalist based in Balochistan. He tweets @Alijanmaqsood12

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, October 16th, 2022

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