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Resenting the yoke

Surprisingly, and unfortunately, all those confronted with national struggles like those of the Baloch, Kurds, Palestinians, Kashmiris, Chechens, etc, impute that foreign powers fan the insurgency and fail to comprehend that injustices and a colonial yoke provoke insurgencies and not RAW

The year is 1838. Lord Auckland decides to invade Afghanistan to replace Dost Mohammad with Shah Shuja, thus initiating the first Afghan war, dubbed ‘Auckland’s Folly’ (1838-1842). The British troops pass through the Bolan Pass to reach Kandahar and are harassed to such a degree by the Baloch tribes that they decide to make Mehrab Khan, Khan of Kalat, pay for their losses.

Sir John Keane orders Major-General Wilshire to capture Kalat with an army comprising British officers and Indian-origin sepoys. The Battle of Kalat takes place on November 13, 1839 and in the battle Mehrab Khan and many Baloch elders, including Mengal, Raisani and Shahwani sardars were killed; 107 Baloch and 31 of their enemies die. Shahnawaz is installed as the Khan. Interestingly, in 1857, of the total 350,358 men, the British officers numbered 37,719, and Indian soldiers 311,038. Mercenaries helped the British conquer India.

In 1840, Sir John Keane decides to punish the Marris too for harassing British forces. A detachment led by Captain Lewis sets out from Sukkur with Lieutenant Clarke of the 2nd Grenadiers to occupy Kahan Fort in the Marri Hills. They reach Sartaaf Pass on May 8 without resistance; they crest the Naffusk Pass on May 10, where there is some resistance from the Marris, but succeed in occupying Kahan Fort on May 11.

Eastwick in his worth reading book Sindh before Napier says, before departing Clarke had said, “If Doda Khan Marri, the sardar of Marris, wished to encounter him, he may.” Clarke had signed his own death warrant with those words. On May 16, Clarke left Kahan with an escort of 80 infantry and 50 cavalry. Lewis added a party of five havaldars and 80 sepoys under a subedar. They were sent back after Clarke crossed the Naffusk Pass.

Only one of those escorts survived an ambush by 2,000 Marris. When Clarke’s party reached the Sartaaf Mountain, they were attacked and after a two hour battle Clarke along with 30 infantrymen was killed. Of the cavalry and convoy only a few made good their escape. Doda Khan fulfilled Clarke’s wish.

Kahan’s apparently easy capture had backfired. Now Captain Lewis and his men were besieged. Major Clibborn, with 650-man cavalry, infantry and pieces of artillery, started from Sukkur to relieve him. Eastwick suggested that he take two companies of Europeans and a whole wing of 2nd Grenadiers, but Clibborn said, “I shan’t want them, the Biluchis [Baloch] will never stand.” He had not yet either tested the mettle or tasted the wrath of ‘the Biluchis’ but would soon do.

On the evening of August 31, Eastwick’s munshi mentioned reports of Clibborn’s force’s rout and a Marri victory. Eastwick ridiculed him, disbelieving that news from the Marri Hills could reach Janiderah so soon. Two days later it was confirmed that Clibborn’s force had been thoroughly routed by the Marris at Naffusk Pass with 179 killed and 92 wounded. A third of their officers had died and the rest were wounded. ‘The Biluchis’ stood and fought.

For a few marches, Clibborn met no resistance but then the Marri forays intensified; heat too played havoc and killed a few. A detachment was trying to fight its way up Naffusk Pass but as Eastwick says, “The Marris rushed down with the fury of a mountain torrent and swept away all before them.” He says that the Baloch charged the remaining groups with sword in one hand and a large stone in the other; hurling stones into the faces of soldiers while attacking them with their swords. He adds one Marri chief thrust his shield against a ready to be fired cannon and was blown up. The Marri lore says that Tota, a shepherd, overcame a gunner and it was after that the shepherds were entitled to a meat share equal to others.

The defeated and discomfited Clibborn forces returned in disarray and Captain Lewis, with no other option, negotiated a safe passage, to which Sardar Doda Marri generously consented and on September 28, Lewis left with 20 sick men on camels and a field gun. At the Naffusk Pass they saw the bodies of Clarke’s massacred detachment but had to leave them unburied and hurry to safety.

Also, in August 1840, Kalat was retaken by Mir Nasir Khan II who ousted Shahnawaz. Lieutenant Loveday surrendered but later someone killed him. Mir Nasir Khan II ruled till 1857.

We come to February 17, 1843, the day the people of Sindh fought the British under the Talpurs at Miani. The British, after their discomfiture at the hands of the Marris in the Marri Hills, of Brauhi forces in Kalat and a humiliating defeat in Afghanistan, wanted to re-establish some pride and unjustly invaded Sindh.

Charles Napier violated all previous treaties to annex Sindh. He illegally demanded more concessions and eventually the Talpurs, seeing no way out, gathered at Miani to oppose his advancing army. Disparity in numbers favoured the Talpurs but the British army was better armed. The casualties too were disproportionate, with the Talpurs’ army suffering some 6,000, i.e. nearly 75 percent losses; Napier’s army’s losses were 62 killed and 194 wounded including 19 officers (six killed and 13 wounded), which too were proportionally very high for his 2,800-strong army.

The higher losses in the Talpurs’ army resulted from frontal attacks on enemy formations. Mir Jan Mohammad Talpur charged into the British formation and attacked Major Outram who saved himself by slipping off the horse as the sword cut through the saddle and a better part of the horse’s back. Mir sahib was so grievously wounded in the fight that he had to be buried on the spot where he fell. This is not far from the obelisk that later Napier built for his dead. During the hand-to-hand combat, Napier’s forces had the advantage of the bayonet. A soldier gored a Baloch with his bayonet, who now could not reach the enemy, so he pushed the bayonet and the rifle through his wound and struck the enemy soldier dead. The battle was lost but Sindh had redeemed itself with a high price in blood.

The East India Company was baffled at the Baloch hatred against their yoke and the Baloch intensity of and valour in fighting. Subsequently, its Board of Control thoroughly investigated and analysed these events. They unanimously concluded that there was incontrovertible proof that the Baloch were financed and influenced by RAW. Evidence had proved beyond reasonable doubt that RAW had orchestrated, planned and executed all this by providing training, arms and financial support to these fighters from the string of consulates that dotted Afghanistan.

Whoa! Whoa! Hold your horses! RAW did not exist then, so how could it have influenced the Baloch and planned these battles? Dear readers, that is precisely what I wish to emphasise. Surprisingly, and unfortunately, all those confronted with national struggles like those of the Baloch, Kurds, Palestinians, Kashmiris, Chechens, etc, impute that foreign powers fan the insurgency and fail to comprehend that injustices and colonial yoke provoke insurgencies and not RAW and their ilk and, moreover, people have aspirations which are independent of external influence. The Baloch have, throughout history, resented yokes; they fiercely fought Nausherwan’s (531-578 AD) attempts to suppress them. Firdausi in Shahnama unreservedly praised Baloch valour, independence of spirit and love of freedom. Could it be that he too was paid by RAW to instigate them with eulogies?

Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur has an association with the Baloch rights movement going back to the early 1970s. He can be contacted at