Cohesive Bases of Baloch Nationalism

Taken from Taj Mohammad Breseeg book “Baloch Nationalism, its origin and development”.

Baloch Social Organization:

James Bill wrote that in the Middle East “the politics of development and modernization are profoundly influenced by the patterns and process that mark group and class relationship.” But another way, even in the late 19th century as modernization and urbanization reduced the importance of tribes and tribal organizations; the influence of tribal patterns is not destroyed. These already existent tribal patterns and processes influence how development and modernization takes place in rural parts of the Middle East. In Balochistan, the informal, paternalistic patterns of control through family networks (the tribes) continue to have relevance-particularly since tribal support or lack of support has been crucial to the success or failure of nationalist movements.

Dr. Nek Buzkar, a specialist on international economic development has written that the Baloch society, ‘by and large, adheres to traditional ways of life’. He believes that despite the emergence of political parties in Balochistan, tribal organization and political leadership still play a dominant role in local and provincial administration. Tribes in Balochistan are divided into shahri (sedentary) and nomadic units. The shahris were the backbone of the feudal order, which was predominant in central and southern Balochistan (Makkoran), while the nomads were the cornerstones of the tribal order prevailing mainly in the northern tribal areas. Both groups, however, were bound together by a set of political, military, and lingual interactions. Possibly, this separation of the tribes between the nomad (warrior nobility) and the sedentary shahris (peasants) had led many to conclude that the sedentary population many have been the original inhabitants who were conquered by later-arriving nomads.

The Baloch tribal system is segmentary. Describing this system, Salzman wrote, “By ‘segmentary system’ we mean a set of equal lineages allied relatively and contingently for political action, decisions being made by assemblies and councils, with no offices and hierarchy of authority, and thus no top.” Thus centralized authority is absent in such a system. They are constituted from a number of kindred groups. It has many sub-divisions or clans who claim to have blood relations with one another through common ancestors. Kinship, which has its characteristic from in clan and family structure, provides the basic ordering mechanism for society. Thus it is a major factor in regulating and systemizing individual behavior, which in turn influences the formation and sustenance of the socio-political organization of the entire tribe.

While the colonial government exercised control over the Baloch tribes, the British themselves were light on the ground, and in return for the chieftains’ loyalty gave them a free hand to keep the tribal way of life largely unchanged. But the position began to change in the last decades of the Raj, change accelerated with the creation of Pakistan and the annexation of western part of Balochistan to Iran. Furthermore, the growth of education, marked forces, and electoral politics has drawn the Baloch into regional and national networks both in Iran and Pakistan. However, the tribal power structure is still very important in Baloch rural society. Selig Harrison in 1981 counted seventeen major tribal groupings in Balochistan. Each of them was headed by a Sardar (Chieftain), selected usually from the male lineage of the ruling clan in each tribe. Harrison mentions some 400 tribal sub-grouping headed by lesser Sardars.

Probably the most widely known and generally loathed features of Baloch society are the Sardari and Jirga institutes of tribal organization and leadership. Under the traditional administrative set up of Baloch tribes, every tribe had its separate Jirga (council of the elders), which acted as a court of law. Then this system presented itself at all the administrative tiers of the tribe. Jirga at the tribe’s level operated under the leadership of Sardar. All other personalities of the tribe’s administration like Muqaddam, Wadera and Motaber were its members. Besides, at all the administrative tiers of the tribe, Jirga also functioned over the head of the tribe. Jirga at this level dealt with important matters concerning the tribes and disputes arising among them, the election of a new Khan or the eventual external threats. The head of Confederacy himself was the head of this Jirga.

Providing the Baloch society a historical, social and political structure, the Jirga remained intact for a long period and helped the Baloch deal with the situation of anarchy, chaos and emergency. However, under the British rule in 19th century, the traditional pattern of the Baloch Jirga began to change. Having masterminded the political set up of the Baloch country, Sir Robert Sandeman introduced a new kind of Jirga, the “Shahi-Jirga” (Grand Council or the council of the main tribal Sardars) where only Sardars and aristocrats could sit. The Shahi Jirga was held at Quetta, Sibi and Fort Munro once or twice a year. The new Jirga could impose taxes in property and labour; while only the Political Agent could review the decisions. As described by Janmahmad, the Shahi-Jirga was a shrewd mechanism of indirect rule with powers vested in a few carefully selected tribal eleders loyal to the British and ready to act against their own people.

The other well-established and widely known institution in the Baloch society is the Sardari system. This system appears to have had its origins in the Mughal period of Indian history, but it is believed to have assumed its present shape rather late, during the period of British colonial rule. In contrast to the marked egalitarianism that pervades tribal organization among the neighboring Pathans, the sardari system is highly centralized and hierarchical. At the apex of the system is the Sardar, the hereditary central chief from who power flows downward to waderas, the section chiefs, and beyond them to the subordinate clan and sub-clan authority within this structure probably stems from the essentially military character of early Baloch tribal society. This authority may also have originated in the requirements of the Baloch pastoral economy. The tribesmen’s seasonal migrations and isolation in scattered small camps would seem to have justified the emergence of a powerful and respected central figure that could obtain pasture lands and water, arrange safe passage through hostile territory for herdsmen and their flocks, and in other ways provide a shield against and unusually harsh environment.

Modernization has changed much of the tribal system. It was first challenged by the setting of international boundaries at the end of the 19th century. The new frontiers partitioned Balochistan between three states, dividing some of the large tribes between countries and prohibiting the traditional summer and winter migrations of nomads and semi-nomads. The Naruis, the Sanjaranis, the Rikis and the Brahuis were divided among Iran, Afghanistan and British Balochistan. The second challenge occurred between the world wars, when the British and Persians largely pacified Balochistan. From 1928, Tehran used its army to forcibly subdue the Baloch, often exterminating whole tribes in process.

The termination of the traditional nomadic economic system devastated the tribes. In the case of Iranian Balochistan, to force sedentarization, Reza Shah introduced land registration. Land which had previously been considered the proberty of the tribe as a whole became the sole property of the tribal chief in whose name the land was registered. The chiefs, with income from rents, could now move into cities and towns. This increased their distance from the tribe. The sedentary formers, tied to the land through debts and contracts, could no longer align themselves with rival chieftains. This increased the landlord’s control over the peasant, but the peasant’s loyalty to the landlord decreased as monetary ties replaced ties of sanguinity or of mutual self-interest. Baloch society lost its cohesiveness, and both landlord and renter turned to the central government for protection of their “rights”.

Parallel to the decline and disintegration of tribalism in Iranian Balochistan, the Sardars have also lost their base of power and influence there. This has been the case particularly during the 1960s and the 1970s, as the rapid growth in urbanization, expansion of modern means of communications, spread of modern education, and economic modernization in the province began to drastically undermine the tribal socioeconomic structure. These changes in turn brought with them a new Baloch elite identified with the middle-class. It must be borne in mind that the cooperation of the Sardars with the Shah’s regime representing “Shiite Gajars”, also served to undermine their traditional legitimacy among their peasant and nomadic followers politically.

Over the course of time, therefore, the traditional social organization of the Baloch to a great extent has changed. There is now a widespread Baloch national consciousness that cuts across tribal divisions. Islamabad and Tehran, however, ignoring this emergence of nationalism, tend to think of Baloch society solely in terms of its traditional tribal character and organizational patterns. Most Sardars have attempted to safeguard their privileges by avoiding direct identification with the nationalist movement, while keeping the door open for supporting the nationalist cause in time of confrontation between the Baloch and the central government, as in the case of the 1973-7 insurgency. Similarly, the Iranian revolution of 1979 inflicted the most significant bow to the influence of Sardars in Western Balochistan.

However, in a traditional, tribal society a political ideology such as Baloch nationalism would be unable to gain support, because loyalties of tribal members do not extend to entities rather than individual tribes. The failure of the tribes to unite in the cause of Baloch nationalism is a replay of tribal behavior in both the Pakistani and Iranian Baloch revolts. Within the tribes, an individual’s identity is based on his belonging to larger group. This larger group is not the nation but the tribe. However, the importance of the rise of a non-tribal movement over more tribal structures should not be underestimated. In this respect the Baloch movements of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s provide us a good example.

In the post-colonial period a visible change in the Baloch society, as discussed in this chapter, was the rise of the urban population mainly due to detribalization and to some extent land reforms under Ayub Khan and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. The differentiation and specialization in urban economies formed in the mine industry, construction, and a few factories. Small workshops required auto mechanics, electricians, mechanics, plumbers, and painters, while services and transport employed many others. A modern bourgeoisie emerged, comprising mainly professionals rather than entrepreneurs, doctors, nurses, engineers, teachers, bank managers, lawyers and journalists. Migrant labour travelled as gar as Gulf States.

Thus, with the appearance of the Baloch middle class, even though small, and the decrease of the traditional role of the Sardars, the modern Baloch intelligentsia seems to be more eager to assume a political role of its won. Highlighting the new changes in Baloch society, in 1993, Mohammad Ali, and specialist on South Asian politics, wrote, “In the absence of traditional leaders, the dynamic of socio-economic change has precipitated a new kind of – younger men of ‘common’, i.e., non-sardari, descent”. The Baloch have remains a crucial ingredient to any potential success of a national movement. By accepting the support of the tribes, the nationalists fall vulnerable to tribal rivalries.



Posted on January 18, 2013, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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