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The Life and Times of General Sir James Browne
Chapter IX - The Belooch 1st A N Appointment: 1876


WHILE Browne was engaged on the designs for the Sukkur Bridge, Lord Northbrook’s rule was approaching its end in ordinary course, but it stopped short before that course was over, in consequence of the change of ministry in England, and the resulting change in the policy of England in India and elsewhere, in regard to the Eastern Question—a change in which Lord Northbrook could not acquiesce.

To carry out these changes, Lord Lytton was selected for the viceroyalty, and he at once proceeded vigorously to acquire the special knowledge desirable for the post, and to make the needful arrangements and master the questions that seemed likely to be involved.

In proposing now to describe his preparations, an unusual step in this memoir, it seems necessary to explain that this departure from the ordinary course of the narrative is advisable in consequence primarily of Lord Lytton’s exceptional characteristics, as a man of genius, and as an autocratic administrator and statesman determined to disregard conventional usages.

It will be seen that he was unique in setting aside the ordinary course for the selection and employment of officers for the several Government posts, and that one of his first special selections was that of Browne; starting him on quite a new career and in a new line, by which he was forthwith, and permanently, brought into direct contact with the Supreme Government and its highest officers.

Three months elapsed between Lord Lytton’s acceptance of the viceroyalty and his arrival in India to take up its duties—and this interval was fully occupied in study and preparation for them, including prolonged conversations with men of mark, and of experience cognate to his future work. John Lawrence and John Forster, Fitzjames Stephen and Bartle Frere, were among those whom he thus consulted ; and not the least important of his discussions were those he held with the Russian Ambassador, Shouvaloff. For the chief and most pressing of the matters to be dealt with on his arrival in India was the situation in regard to the Eastern Question, as it involved a new departure in the attitude of England and Russia and in the external and frontier policy of the Indian Government. For while the frontier relations, i.e. with Afghanistan, had been easy and the dangers from Russian intrigues far distant when Lord Northbrook had entered on his career, the great change already mentioned had arisen, the Ameer had by this time become alienated, and the plots and schemes of the Russian frontier politicals were clouding the near horizon and assuming a threatening aspect. Kaufmann was corresponding directly and entering into close relations with the Ameer, as if with an independent foreign Power, free of any connection with England or the Indian Government. The Ameer, on the other hand, while seeking vehemently the support and help of India, had been frightened and alienated by Lord Northbrook’s coldness and harshness and his absolute disregard of his (the Ameer’s) positive assertions of the rooted objection of the Afghans to the presence of Englishmen in their country. He would not tolerate this apathetic attitude, and feeling himself unable either to get from England the support he needed, or on the other hand to stand alone, he was gradually throwing himself into the arms of Russia for alliance and help.

Lord Lytton, though learning that all this had been going on, did not feel so fully as he might otherwise have done, and as others had felt, the insidious ways in force with Russia in Asia—one policy between the courts of Russia and England, and a perfectly different one between the subordinate rulers of Turkestan and India—for he had been more concerned with the Russian proceedings with Turkey and in England. By the end of 1875, while preparing for his new charge, Lytton had before him the fact that Russia was pushing forward in Central Asia, and was now supporting Bosnia and other states in hostility to Turkey; but it was not till he had reached India that the actively hostile measures of Russia against Turkey itself began. Meanwhile he had come to one important conclusion, in concert with Sir Bartle Frere, with whose views he found himself entirely in unison, that (1) an alliance with Cabul was the most important and effective arrangement to be aimed at; but (2) if that was found impossible, then it should be sought for at Khelat, Candahar, and Herat, and in Persia.

Eventually Lord Lytton left England on March ist, 1876; and after meeting Frere and others en route, reached Bombay on April 7th, and Calcutta on the 12th, when he took the oaths and charge of the viceroyalty—then towards the end of the month he proceeded to Simla.

Now, not only was Lord Lytton himself a genius, as has been noted, but he was careful to be accompanied by another exceptional genius in Colonel Colley, nominally his Military Secretary, but in point of fact so exceptionally his close adviser in all matters that he superseded almost all other officials, and was veritably his alter ego. Was this likely to be a safe combination, added as it was to a disregard amounting almost to contempt, save in a few instances, of established capacity and repute?

It must be explained that, though a crisis was at hand, the whole of the proceedings of Russia in the course of this narrative of the events with which Browne was concerned on the north-west frontier of India were in strict conformity with her habitual policy and practice as specially described by Lord Palmerston, and expressed in the Memoirs1 of Lord Lytton’s administration as follows:

“The Russians have always pushed forward their policy of encroachments as fast and as far as the apathy and want of firmness of other Governments would allow it to go, but have always stopped and retired when it was met with decided resistance, and then waited for the next favourable opportunity to make another spring on its intended victim. In furtherance of this policy they have always had two strings to their bow—moderate language and disinterested professions at Petersburg and London, active aggressions by their agents on the scene of operations. If the aggressions succeed locally, the Petersburg Government adopt them as a fait accompli, which it had not intended, but cannot in honour recede from. If the local agents fail, they are disarmed and recalled, and the language previously held is appealed to as a proof that the agents have overstepped their instructions.

“This was exemplified m the treaty of Unkiar-Skelessi and in the exploits of Simonivitch and Vikovitch in Persia. Orion succeeded in extorting the treaty of Unkiar-Skelessi from the Turks, and it was represented as a sudden thought suggested by the circumstances of the time and place, and not the result of any previous instructions; but having been done, it could not be undone.

“On the other hand Simonivitch and Vikovitch failed in getting possession of Herat in consequence of our vigorous measures of resistance; and, as they failed ana when they had failed, they were disavowed and recalled, and the language held at Petersburg was appealed to as a proof of the sincerity of the disavowal, although no human being with two ideas in his head could for a moment doubt that they had acted under specific instructions."

With Lord Lytton’s arrival in India as a new Viceroy we come, as has been said, to the turning-point in Browne’s career. Heretofore he had been more or less on his trial in many varieties of employment, and successful in all, with corresponding repute, though practically as yet only local. But, as has been described, Lord Lytton was inclined to look about and choose and decide for himself. So no sooner did he get to Simla, than he took notice of Browne, found that his present work was, temporarily at any rate, at an end or at a definitive stage, and selected him forthwith for a special temporary task— the survey of the country between Sukkur (to which he still belonged) and Sibi at the foot of the Bolan Pass. It may be pointed out that the country lying between Sukkur and Sibi is part of the Beloochistan territory, and his work in it would throw him into close relations with its people, the Beloochees, just as his old work near Attock and Peshawur had done in regard to the Pathans of that more northern district.

Further, all his future work was to lie in this direction, excepting in the instance of the Egyptian war, and of his tenure of the post of Quartermaster-General of the army; and here too, eventually, he was to end his days while still in harness. It may be safely added that with its prosperity his name will ever be identified, and also that his views and proposals clinched its importance and value to the empire by constituting in it the site of the principal defensive position against hostile aggression on our north-west frontier.

Before entering on the story of his personal work and operations, it may be as well to describe the lie of the principal places. About fifty miles northwest of Sukkur is Jacobabad, where the British ruler of old used to reside. Khelat, the capital of the province and the fortress of the Khan, lies about a hundred miles to the west, and Sibi, at the foot of the Quetta Hills, the same distance to the northwest of Jacobabad, with Dadur, an important city, a few miles off. At Kusmore, some way up the river, is a huge embankment, at the site where the old course of the Indus bent in from its present channel.

With these preliminary remarks on the scene of Browne’s future work, we turn to the description and recent history of the province and its people.

Until the period which our story has now reached, Beloochistan was an almost unknown region, and had not been dealt with by the British Government or its officers, except in connection with the old Afghan war, and as a district to be severely checked and kept in order.

Our agency for this purpose used to lie in (1) our wardens of the Marches of Scinde, where Beloochistan and Scinde were conterminous, and (2) in the Punjab Government stretching northwards from Scinde. The first step of this story of Beloochistan is naturally that of the state of matters described by the last of those famous rulers—the wardens of those marches—Sir Henry Green, the representative of such predecessors and administrators as Sir Charles Napier, Sir James Outram, Sir Bartle Frere, John Jacob, Malcolm Green, Merewether, and others. The description now given is based on information kindly given by Sir Henry Green.

Scinde is divided from Beloochistan by the Brahui range of mountains, which rise near the sea to the west of Kurrachee and run north to the west of Shikarpore, and then trend north-west to Quetta, forming the southern side of the Bolan Pass—of which the northern side forms part of the Suliman Range, and joins the Himalayas north of Peshawur.

Nearly all the Belooch tribes reside in the plains, including Cutchee. All the Brahui tribes reside in the mountains of Beloochistan. They are quite distinct from each other in every way, as will be more fully shown later on. Sir Henry Green is of opinion that the tribes inhabiting Beloochistan originally consisted of Hindoos who had fled from Rajpootana, and India generally, owing to political convulsions— and that in the mountains of Beloochistan, west of the Indus, they were practically safe. When Alexander the Great passed through Scinde, the Punjab, and Beloochistan, en route to Bagdad, he dropped numbers of people in the country that had followed his army from Scythia, etc., as there are many tribes with Scythian names among those that inhabit Mekran. There are also some who still retain in their marriages many of the old Greek rites.

Then about 700 a.d. came the Mahomedan invasions when all were turned to that faith, including the people of Scinde. Many of the Belooch—not Scinde— tribes have all the appearance of both Grecian and Arab descent. And in travelling in Syria and Palestine Sir Henry found tribes bearing the same names as those on the Scinde frontiers. All Beloochees wear the turban, the Scindees a cap of one shape, the Brahuis one of another shape.

The whole Beloochee question is a very extraordinary one; but too long to allow of more than a short outline. The Scindee, the Belooch, and the Brahui are all distinct from each other. The men who fought Sir C. Napier at Meeanee were mainly Scindees, but some Belooch tribes joined them. Sir C. Napier, however, not knowing better, called them all Belooch. It may be parenthetically mentioned, as a first step in civilisation, that since General Jacob’s days there has ever been this feature in common—that there has been no forced labour in any part of the district.

The first officer who had direct influence and control over these Beloochees in the days of this story was Captain, afterwards Sir Robert, Sandeman. When he first went to Beloochistan, it was as one of the civil frontier officers of the Punjab, and at that time the principal looting tribes along its frontier, of which he was cognisant, were the Murrees and Bhoogtees. These, being Belooch, were nominally under the control of the Khan of Khelat; but he, in fact, had no real control over them, for unfortunately half their country lay on the frontier of Scinde and the other half on that of the Punjab—so that they came under two opposite systems of management.

On the Scinde frontier the outpost officers were held responsible for maintaining the frontier intact from raids, and they did not care under whose supposed control the raiders were. Any armedman crossing our frontier was killed. All natives inside the Scinde frontier were disarmed, so as to prevent their making raids into the mountains and causing the inhabitants there to retaliate; for this would have kept up a constant state of irritation and bloodshed.

In the Punjab, however, all within the border were allowed to carry arms and do what they liked, and the military were under the political agents, and could not move without their authority. Now the Murrees and the Bhoogtees were the tribes that lay on the frontier of the Punjab (as distinguished from Scinde), and they used to loot in the Punjab in retaliation for the men from inside the Punjab frontier looting them; and the moment a looting party of Murrees or Bhoogtees perpetrated a raid in the Punjab, Sandeman, the Punjab officer, would write to the Scinde officers to call upon the Khan of Khelat to control his subjects. They were not, however, his subjects; but the Khan, it may be explained, received a yearly subsidy of 50,000 rupees, not for any general control, but specifically for keeping open the Bolan Pass for the free travelling of kajilas. Sir Henry, as an expert, knew that the Khan had no real or practical control over these tribes; and his reply used to be, “If they attempt to loot me, I hold my outpost officers responsible, and the looters get killed. I do not run howling to the Khan of Khelat.”

His hint obviously was that Sandeman should do likewise.

Sir Henry knew that as matters stood the Khan could not control the Beloochees, and that what was needed and what he strongly recommended was that the Scinde frontier should be extended so as to take in the whole of the country inhabited by the Murree and Bhoogtee tribes; and had he been able to remain, this would probably have been done. All would then have been under one system—and no more would have been heard from Sandeman about raids.

But when Sir Henry Green gave up the command of the frontier of Scinde, it was placed under the late Sir R. Phayre, who knew nothing of frontier matters; and a change came over the scene. Merewether was then Commissioner of Scinde. Sandeman saw his chance, came to Jacobabad, and soon got Phayre under his influence; and then they both set to work to oppose Merewether and to upset Jacob’s system. The question really developed into a special phase of the chronic coolness or variance between Bombay, and the Government of India with the Punjab as its local representative.

Sandeman was backed up by the Foreign Secretary in Calcutta; and the end was that Merewether was appointed to the Indian Council to get him out of the way, and the Murrees and Bhoogtees were placed under Sandeman’s political rule.

Afterwards, when Lord Lytton went out as Governor-General, he sent for Green and asked him to go to India with him to advise him in regard to the frontier, giving him an account of the conversation he had held with the Russian Ambassador. Green declined, but wrote him a long memorandum on the subject of Beloochistan and the frontier. In this memorandum he said that the political officer, whoever he might select, in charge of Beloochistan should be raised to the position of a Commissioner, be placed direct under the Governor-General, and have his status greatly improved.

So much for the history of the pre-Lytton days; but eventually—that is, in the period with which the story is now about to deal, when Lord Lytton arrived on the frontier—Sandeman was there to meet him, and got him under his influence. The whole of Green’s programme was then carried out, for Sandeman was put in charge backed by the Governor-General, when of course all official difficulty was at an end.

The preceding remarks contain a genuine account of the past of the people of the Belooch tract, as shown by Sir Henry Green, but further details will be given later on. Meanwhile it may be readily seen what difficulties the real administration of the tract, eventually vested in Sir R. Sandeman, had to deal with and surmount. The immediate successor to Green had been Merewether, and he had adopted the principles of his predecessors—Frere, Jacob, and the Greens; but he was an obstruction to those in power, and met with divided counsels and with more or less of opposition instead of support; and whatever the personal results, a wavering and uncertain policy arose and naturally brought about a want of confidence in British consistency and sincerity.

Having dealt with the previous story of the Beloochees before they really came under our cognisance except as a race outside our control, and requiring to be watched and coerced, we have now to describe more fully their habits and characteristics. For their relations with us during the twenty-eight years from 1875, when they first came into closer contact with us, till they had turned into cheery and hearty subjects of Browne’s genial sway, have shown them to be one of the finest and most promising races that have been brought within the ring fence of British Rule.

Their country varies in character, being mountainous along its northern half and a plain elsewhere; so that the men are partly horsemen and partly footmen or camel-drivers. As a whole Beloochistan is an oblong tract of country running from north-east to south-west between the Punjab and Persia, and bordered by Afghanistan and Scinde on the north-west and south-east respectively, with the River Indus flowing close along the border in Scinde. The Beloochees are a feudal race, divided into clans and owing vassalage and obedience to their chiefs like the Highlanders of Scotland and the Rajpoots of Rajpootana and Oude. But they had no monarch, and were not under any other sway.

They are a wild and warlike people, and by religion are Mahomedans, but they differ from nearly all other Mahomedans in the liberty they allow to the women of the race, who are left quite free and are not kept under any seclusion or surveillance. But the strictest conduct and decorum are required from them, and ferocious and unchecked punishment is meted out to them for any misconduct. When their own relations do not admit the truth of the suspicion and the justice of the consequent punishments or murders, family feuds are apt to ensue, merging, it may be, into tribal, racial, and international wars.

The result was the prevalence of anarchy throughout the whole province and on its Afghan and Persian borders, taking the form of raids in the case of the British frontiers—i.e. of the Punjab and Scinde. It is with the result of these raids that we have to deal. Until 1876 the Commissioner of Scinde used to take cognisance of the raids into Scinde, and a Punjab frontier political officer of those across the Punjab frontier; but the Scinde administration having raised the question of the management of all Belooch raids being left in their hands, it was eventually settled, in 1876, by the Government of India that there should be an entire change, and that all the Belooch tribes of Beloochistan should be recognised as a Belooch confederacy, with the Khan of Khelat as its chief; and that the management of their affairs should not be left to Scinde, but entrusted to one selected officer dealing direct with the Government of India, to be called the Governor-General’s Agent (G.G.A.) for Beloochistan. The officer then appointed to the post, who therefore was the first to take full charge of Beloochistan affairs, was Colonel Robert Sandeman; who, as the Punjab political officer on the spot, had managed the discussion on the Punjab side. He retained the post for sixteen years, from 1876 till his death in 1892. This arrangement settled two matters: (1) the charge of the relations between Government and the people of Beloochistan; and (2) the constitution of the confederate Beloochee tribes.

But the real work had now to begin—t.e. the suppression of the chronic anarchy; for whatever the causes of that anarchy, it had to be suppressed and law and order introduced. Now besides the one great cause already explained, another had been at work for some time. The greatest of the tribes was that of which the Khan of Khelat was the head—and his position was that of the feudal leader of all the confederate tribes of Beloochistan. It was owing to this that in the first war with Afghanistan the British had attacked him and stormed his fort, in the defence of which he had been killed.

But the present Khan, Khodadad Khan, had been aiming at the suppression of the confederacy by the crushing of the other tribes—and at thus securing for himself the monarchy of the country. This the other Khans universally and strenuously resisted. Hence the second great cause of anarchy.

In fact the great disturbing element in Beloochistan, throughout Sandeman’s incumbency of the post, lay in the unsettled relations that had arisen between the Khan and the other chiefs of the clans. For against this personal aim of the one man, Khodadad Khan, and his own tribal following was arrayed the whole force of the other Belooch tribes, and also of the British Power, to enforce peace and tranquillity. But apparently Sandeman was not disposed to utilise these influences so much as the power of personal persuasion and friendliness. He made great strides in this direction during his sixteen years of rule, and would probably have effected it thoroughly but for the fact that his own health was failing, and he had to take leave to England repeatedly during his agency. This unavoidably prevented his doing justice to his own intense desire for peaceful and persuasive methods of settling the country.

His first and immediate task, then, was to try to reconcile the several tribes with the Khan of Khelat and with each other. He met the Khan at Khelat in 1876, and the incidents on that occasion showed the Khan’s objection to any interference with his right to take the law into his own hands. His agents attacked and slaughtered first some of the followers of the Brahui chiefs coming by order to the Khelat durbar, and then Noor Deen, one of those chiefs himself. But this untoward behaviour did not deter the holding of another meeting shortly afterwards at Mastung, in which the Khan and the Sirdars came to a formal agreement and pledge, signing an instrument to forget the-past and cease all hostilities. This forthwith led, after reference to England, to a formal treaty, which, as will be seen later on, was concluded at a meeting of Lord Lytton with the Khan and the whole body of Beloochee Sirdars; at which the independence of the Khan and the Sirdars was recognised, but the British Government was constituted the final referee in cases of dispute, and obtained the supreme control over Beloochistan affairs, with the right of locating troops in the territory.

Sandeman had now got the Beloochees in hand, to a certain extent, and had been endeavouring—and after a while with success, but only to a partial extent and unstable degree—to induce the chiefs to come to terms with each other and with the Khan. But it was uphill and very anxious work for some time to come. Browne, who had arrived on the scene, felt that he carried his life in his hand. The country was quite new to the English. The inhabitants had heretofore been kept at arm’s length by those who resided outside their frontier. Not only did feuds prevail among the Beloochees themselves, but practically the state of the country was one of utter lawlessness; and bad and wild characters, fanatics and would-be assassins, prowled about all over these districts unchecked.

Sandeman, as yet, had only personal influence—no real power or authority with the people. It was, for all practical purposes, a foreign state, where no man acknowledged any authority save that of his feudal superior, and where pure anarchy prevailed.

The first sign of an approaching change, of a chance of peacefulness, began at the time of Lord Lytton’s assumption of the viceroyalty; and as it was probable that highly placed representatives, if not Lord Lytton himself, might visit the provinces ere long, the most persistent and strenuous efforts were being made during 1876 to improve the state of matters, and with this much success, that the Khan had allowed communications to be held with England, in hopes of raising his own status. But until settled Government, settled habits, and formal agreements came on the scene, strife, murder, and chaos were bound to prevail; not that the people were naturally ferocious, but that the Khan himself was specially so, and gave the murky taint to the social atmosphere.

Much, however, was done during 1876, that first year of the Lytton rule. Quetta was quietly occupied first by local troops, and then by a Sikh regiment; and roads and improvements were begun, with some necessary military and police arrangements, and the occupation of important points in the roads and passes. So that, except in his outrages against those clans and clansmen whom he deemed hostile to himself, the Khan of Khelat did not actually check the advance of the improvements in his state, though he kept Sandeman and the British in a fever of anxiety as to the increased anarchy, if not actual warfare, that might ensue if a formal treaty were not soon ratified, giving the British Government the powers necessary to ensure the proper tranquillity of the state.

For meanwhile the aspect of affairs in the Afghanistan direction and beyond it was threatening—and important measures were being adopted, though very quietly, by the British Government.

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