Princely states of Pakistan

Print edition : October 28, 2016
This volume documents the accession and integration of the princely states of Pakistan, especially Kalat, which forms a large part of Balochistan province.

IN a strategic shift in foreign policy vis-a-vis Pakistan, Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently raised the issue of human rights violations in Balochistan, even going to the extent of referring to the Baloch freedom struggle in his Independence day address to the nation. While there were official statements from Pakistan objecting to Modi commenting on its internal affairs, exiled Baloch nationalists conveyed their gratitude to him. On this side of the border, the killing of the militant Burhan Muzaffar Wani on July 8 in Kashmir led to fierce protests and subsequent action by security forces.

The British transferred power to the governments of India and Pakistan in 1947, but the process of national integration in both countries remains incomplete even 69 years later. Pakistan’s excesses in suppressing Baloch separatists are well documented. At the same time, separatists continue to find support in Kashmir.

Interestingly, both these areas were parts of princely states before their integration into Pakistan and India respectively. Thus, it is useful to understand the nature and the process of the accession of these states to find long-term solutions to the situations there. The story of the princely states of India, including Jammu and Kashmir, is fairly well documented. Barbara N. Ramusack’s The Indian Princes and their States (2004) is a comprehensive work that discusses the nature of the princely states. Other important works by historians such as Janaki Nair ( Mysore Modern, 2011) have looked at individual princely states.

The historian Yaqoob Khan Bangash fills the gap as far as the princely states that became part of Pakistan are concerned. His book on the accession and integration of the princely states of Pakistan is useful because it looks at the events surrounding the accession of Kalat (that forms a large part of Balochistan province) apart from several other states, including large entities such as Bahawalpur that bordered India.

Unlike the vast number of princely states (more than 500) that were part of the region that became post-independent India, the region that eventually became Pakistan after the creation of Bangladesh in 1971 had fewer states ruled by princes. Bangash’s research identifies the following states: Kalat (now part of the province of Balochistan); Bahawalpur (now part of Punjab); Khairpur (now part of Sind); Chitral, Dir, Swat and Amb (now in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province); and Hunza and Nagar (now part of the disputed Gilgit-Baltistan region).

Most of the princely states of India grew out of the political vacuum created after the decline of the Mughal Empire, but the states in Pakistan emerged in the wake of the departure of Nadir Shah and Ahmed Shah Durrani. Except for Bahawalpur, which was the largest state to become part of Pakistan, all the other states were tribal in nature and more akin to the Arab sheikdoms of the Persian Gulf. This made them different from other princely states, which were influenced by Mughal and British courtly culture.

By the early 20th century, more than one-third of India was ruled by native princes who recognised British paramountcy. As Indian National Congress political activity against British rule began to gather tremendous support in the provinces, the party devised a policy in the 1930s that allowed its workers to agitate politically in the princely states. The Muslim League did not have any such policy; therefore, it had a minimal presence in the princely states that would become part of Pakistan. After the formation of Pakistan, all the princely states mentioned above did accede to it but not before Bahawalpur and Kalat seriously considered the idea of independence.

In a detailed chapter, Bangash explains the circumstances under which the state of Kalat became part of Pakistan. This recounting is significant for foreign policy scholars considering recent developments. There was a nascent democratic nationalist movement in Kalat before it became part of Pakistan. The Kalat State National Party (KSNP) even joined the All-India State People’s Conference in 1945 when Jawaharlal Nehru was its president. On the other hand, the Muslim League could never gain a lot of support in Balochistan.

Bangash writes: “The democratic ideals of the Khan (of Kalat) and the KSNP converged in the aftermath of the transfer of power. Being ideologically nationalist, the KSNP was not eager to join a Pakistan led by the Muslim League and preferred either a relationship with India or, in agreement with the objective of the Khan, complete independence.” Support for a democratic movement by the Khan of Kalat even led to the formation of a bicameral system of parliament. Kalat’s parliament felt that the state should not accede to Pakistan just because the Balochis were Muslims. This resistance was broken by the Government of Pakistan, which even sent its forces to ensure accession.

The initial instrument of accession that the princely states signed while acceding to Pakistan did not allow the Government of Pakistan to intervene in the internal affairs of the state, but gradually, over the next few years, the internal autonomy of many of the states was completely eroded. In an attempt to counter the demographic advantage of East Pakistan, the various provinces of Pakistan were consolidated into one unit under the Establishment of West Pakistan Act of 1955. Thus, the various princely states lost their identity as distinct geographical entities. There was a similar Act in India, the States Reorganisation Act of 1956, which effaced the geographical distinctiveness of the Indian princely states. About this, Bangash writes: “[W]hile India moved towards recognising regional diversity and strengthened it by linguistic reorganisation, Pakistan moved in the other direction by trying to diminish regional identities in the name of administrative and political efficiency.”

In the period between the accession and merger into the one unit in 1955, varying levels of democracy were also introduced in the states. The residents of these states also had to make the change from being “subjects” of a prince to being “citizens” of Pakistan. Bangash discusses these aspects in subsequent chapters.

In his concluding chapter, the author uses his research on the princely states to ponder the idea of the Pakistani state. He quotes from Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s famous August 11, 1947, speech in which he articulated a universal idea of Pakistani citizenship rather than a state based only on religious identity. In this speech, Jinnah had stated: “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed, that has nothing to do with the business of the state.” Jinnah died the following year, and the Pakistani state took an Islamic turn, with the “Objectives Resolution” being adopted by the Constituent Assembly in March 1949.

By the time Pakistan’s first Constitution came into effect in 1956, the bureaucracy and the military had a stranglehold on the princely states. While the states’ geographical integration into Pakistan was complete, a more thorough social integration was yet to happen. In Kalat, especially, with the lack of space for political activity, much of the underground Balochi discourse turned against Pakistan. Bangash concludes: “Therefore, by the time of the much-lauded inauguration of the One Unit in October 1955, Pakistan had only achieved ‘notional’ sovereignty in the states, no national discourse had been developed, national identity remained uncontested, and the state and society remained in a constant state of flux. These issues still haunt Pakistan.”