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The Life and Times of General Sir James Browne
Chapter XIX - Beloochistan: 1888-94


THE various successive episodes in Sandeman’s rule of Beloochistan have been described from time to time1 as Browne came in contact with the province; but it still remains to deal with those of the last few years during which Browne was not directly connected with it, though keenly taken up with the question of its frontier defences. From Lord Lytton’s time till these last four years, Sandeman had kept a steady pressure on the Khan, a man of a naturally brutal and untamed disposition, as has been described, and all had gone well in the direction of British Beloochistan. But there had ever been feuds and petty wars with the great tribes stretching away westwards along the coast of the Arabian Sea to the borders of Persia, and the occurrences there, as well as in British territory, must be briefly described. It will be remembered that Sandeman’s was a double charge—the actual rule of British Beloochistan on the one hand, and on the other the political management of the territory of which the Khan of Khelat was the recognised head, as primus inter pares.

There had first of all been some difficulty at Lus Beyla in Khelat territory in consequence of quarrels between the members of the family of the Jam (as its chief is called); but these had been soon settled, after a short interregnum under an outsider, Rae Hitta Ram. Then the organisation of the administration of British Beloochistan had been vigorously taken up. An exceptionally able officer, Mr. Hugh Barnes, had been posted to the organisation of the revenue and police arrangements, and following on this a code of laws and regulations was framed, police and tribal levies were raised, public works and railways were expanded, as well as irrigation, water supply, and forestry; and, lastly, education was taken in hand. With this progress the province had naturally begun to attract much attention. First Lord DufFerin and afterwards Lord Lansdowne visited it; also .'Lord Roberts frequently, as well as the rulers of Madras, Bombay, and the Punjab, and the Afghan Governor of Candahar. But, both now and later on, in Browne’s time one of the most important and the most studious inquirers among all the visitors was the present Viceroy (then Mr. Curzon), who delighted Browne by the thoroughness of his inquisition. This, no doubt, led to the drastic changes which he introduced when his time came, as will be afterwards shown. A great durbar was eventually held in November, 1889, at which both the Khan of Khelat and the Jam of Lus Beyla were present, besides a posse of minor chiefs.

After this came the measures, already referred to, which were taken, when Browne was Quartermaster-General, for the opening out of the Zhob and the general routes from the Wuzeeree country towards Khelat-i-Ghilzie and Ghuznee respectively. A durbar was also now held which, so to speak, gave the signal for the unanimous laudation from the Press of India of the model which Sandeman had now given of border administration. As it was, he had, in addition, taken the opportunity to impress on those with him his view that Wana was the site from which to have full control over the Wuzeerees and their passes; but fear of the susceptibilities of the Ameer seems, at that time, to have stood in the way. Other expeditions followed, notably against the Sheranee and Khidderzye tribes, and then he turned his attention to the western, the Mekran, country. There considerable turmoil had arisen. The several clans of Mekran and Panjgur, of Kej and Gickki, and the Naushirwanees, were engaged in internecine strife, with the result of much anarchy, in the course of which Major Muir was attacked and wounded. Sandeman received full powers from the Khan and made a temporary settlement; and then, not before he needed it,- took a trip to England, in which he endeavoured, but without success, to obtain sanction for the measures which he desired to bring about. When he left India on his short visit to England Sir Oliver St. John at first acted for him; but suddenly fell ill and died, and the confusion in the khanate increased greatly.

Hence on his return, Sandeman found that the settlements he had made had not lasted, and that the muddle was at least as great as ever. The clan feuds had been renewed and were in full progress, while the Khan himself, whom he had been controlling and guiding for some seventeen years, was apparently relapsing into his old savage temper and barbarous ways. In fact, though keeping quiet while under steady pressure, he was always at heart a genuine savage. There was bitter quarrel and strife in his palace, and Zenana murders were talked of. The greatest anxieties, however, seemed to be again about Lus Beyla, so thither Sandeman went, partly by sea, and met the Mekran and other chiefs. But while there he suddenly contracted an illness by which he was carried off, after only a few days, towards the end of January, 1892, leaving the-local turmoil and difficulties in full swing.

Such were the circumstances in which Browne, on landing from Burma, found himself to his intense surprise summoned to Quetta to take charge of the Agency in succession to Sandeman, whom he had known throughout the whole period of his sway in Beloochistan, with whose views he had ever been in entire unison, and for whom he had always held and avowed a hearty liking and admiration. But the times were changing. Sandeman had done splendid work and guided the new state and province through its infancy to healthy manhood, but it was now about to be left to Browne to continue that work and guidance through the struggles of manhood

Irrespective, however, of his being in agreement with Sandeman’s usual policy, it must be here observed that Browne’s appointment to Beloochistan was not in agreement with his own aims and wishes at that juncture. His career had heretofore been full of changes, not only in the sites of his work, but in the professional character and in the administrative departments to which his posts had appertained. This had, therefore, affected him as if he were a rolling stone, gathering no moss ; and had forced on him the sense that these constant changes tended to militate against his advancement to those still higher posts to which he was entitled to aspire; the more so if he were debarred from direct contact with the Government, even though no other obstacles or impediments or personal difficulties came in the way.

His inclination, therefore, was to say “no” to the offer—the rather that he had been more and more bent latterly on a military career and on high command with its opportunity for military distinction. He explained accordingly that such were his feelings and views; but Lord Lansdowne, to whom the existing difficulties and complications of the case were best known, urged the point so strongly that Browne accepted the charge, though he did not definitely take up its duties till the following April (1892).

Before entering on Browne’s assumption of the succession to Sandeman, it must be explained that the administration included (1) the Khelat state, and (2) British Beloochistan. The former was of chief importance—at first at any rate—and the deeper points involved, and the difficulties met with, will be dealt with presently. But the administration of British Beloochistan, which was being practically worked upon the lines prevalent in the Punjab, was quite a distinct matter.

Still in both of them Browne eventually found himself seriously thwarted; and it will be expedient, for the sake of clearness, to deal separately with these two charges, and to notice two other points: first, that Browne was appointed to the post by Lord Lansdowne, whose further stay in India was comparatively short, and to whom, therefore, he could not refer for support and for the continuance of the policy started; and, secondly, that an assimilation of British Beloochistan, in administrative arrangements, to the Punjab and to the "regulation” system had already begun, which was wholly opposed to Browne’s own views and to general frontier opinion, and was eventually cancelled, but not till after his death. While it lasted, it caused an infinity of trouble The native state of Khelat first claims our attention. The preceding pages show that Sir Robert Sandeman died in January, 1892, but that Browne did not take up the charge of the post till the following April. In the interval, Mr. Barnes, who has been already mentioned, had been officiating, and it may be reasonably assumed that, as he had been already several years in the service, was known to possess great ability, and had acquired eleven years of cognate and local experience, he was regarded, in many quarters, as the most probable and suitable successor to Sandeman. But it is clear that, in Lord Lansdowne’s view, the circumstances that prevailed, including specially the Khan’s attitude, the state of the Mekran tribes, and the several frontier questions, made it necessary to appoint to the post some officer of Browne’s antecedents and special qualifications. This is all the more obvious when it is considered how unwilling Browne was to take the post, how he personally recognised Mr. Barnes’s position and claims, and how seriously he differed from Lord Lansdowne as to the attitude and policy advisable towards the frontier tribes. But, as it was, he loyally carried out Lord Lansdowne’s plans, and then, when the crisis arose suddenly, he acted without orders on his own judgment, asserted British supremacy, and crushed the Khan. He met with his reward in the hearty jubilation of the Mekran tribes, and their quiescent and immediate acceptance of British control. All this will be presently described at greater length.

We have first to return to the crisis. While Sandeman was still alive and specially anxious about the western clans, the Khan himself had, without apparently any suspicion in higher quarters, become excited, and had begun inquiries and investigations into palace robberies and intrigues and quarrels. He had come to the conclusion that the scandals had been serious; and therefore, taking the law into his own hands, he had later on committed several murders and carried out some brutal and ferocious punishments, while the public view in general was that nothing seriously wrong had occurred to occasion them beyond mere robberies. Gradually his conduct grew worse and worse, till finally, taking advantage of the disturbed state of the country and the withdrawal of the British troops in 1893, and apparently losing his head, he rejected the remonstrances of Government, and defied it! Browne’s action was prompt: the Khan was forthwith deposed and kept under surveillance. This deposition was soon confirmed by the Government. The withdrawal of the troops, which had been settled before Browne's arrival, but was not carried out till after it, had led the Khan to assume that he was without weight and power, and hence he had tried to brave him—with the result that has been shown.

The Khan’s eldest son not being satisfactory, he was, with the approval of the other Khans or chiefs of the Beloochee tribes, set aside from the succession, and Khodadad Khan’s second son, as already noted, was nominated instead. He, Mir Mahmud Khan, was accordingly installed as Khan of Khelat, with the hearty approval of all the other Khans assembled at a great durbar at Quetta on November 10th, 1893. The ex-Khan is said to have acquiesced. His own fierce nature, after finding a vent in his outburst, had probably by this time subsided, and he had begun to feel the qualms of conscience under the unavoidable recognition of his savage return for Sandeman’s patient and prolonged guidance.

Now the Beloochees, as has been already shown very explicitly, though a brave race and always ready for a fight or a scrimmage, are not evil-tempered or ill-natured; the quarrels amongst the tribes were not so bitter as among the Pathans, and were generally side issues from their quarrels with the Khan owing to his despotic aims. So now, when Browne had got the new Khan under full control, he easily managed to stop the feuds among the tribes, and to bring the khanate into a state of peace and tranquillity without firing a shot; and this characteristic of his rule lasted from its earliest to its latest days.

The old Khan, now brought to his bearings, and convinced of the fact that there would be no turning back or wavering, but that with troubles there might be a lowering of the position of his family and of his son the new Khan, accepted the position contentedly —almost cordially—and seems to have become an altered man. The whole khanate appeared to rejoice, and when, next year, the new Khan was installed at Quetta, the capital of the province, with much pomp and ceremony, the scene was a jubilee.

This matter of the Khan’s misconduct and his consequent removal from the throne in favour of his second son involved the first important measure Browne had to carry out in his new charge, and a very serious business it was; but fortunately his conduct was heartily approved by Lord Lansdowne, and there was not a dissentient voice in his Council.

Then came the question of the westerly tribes, the Mekranees and others who had been under the Khan’s sway, and with whom there had been a perpetual state of internecine warfare. To a great extent the difficulty, that at first loomed very darkly, was reduced so greatly and so quickly as at once to reach practicable proportions. Browne's vigour, on the one hand, had quelled the original tendency to opposition; and, on the other, it soon became evident that the internecine feeling among those tribes was not an innate reality, but an outcome of the heated atmosphere brought about by the Khan’s savage habits ♦and unrestrained aspirations. On the cessation of his power no serious grounds of quarrel between the clans remained, and these tribes consequently lapsed into comparative quiescence, and heartily took part in the durbar. But their position was not at once definitely settled, and it became apparent presently that those western tribes were not to be brought, like their neighbours, under Browne’s sway. For, however effective, his policy with the Khelat states was not in favour with the Government, nor supported by it.

It is not proposed to enter extensively into frontier politics, but it is permissible to say that when, in direct opposition to Browne’s views, the withdrawal from Mekran was insisted on and carried out, a wave of depression was seen to pass over the political officers of the Agency. It was the first step backward from the successful forward policy of the late Sir R. Sandeman, and it shook the confidence of the politicals in themselves, and of the natives in the promises of their officers. Although subsequently Sir James Browne re-established our prestige, and won over the chiefs of the district to loyalty and peaceful behaviour, without recourse to bloodshed, this was entirely attributable to his personality, and to his power over the natives of that frontier. For Lord Lansdowne, now taking more personal part in these affairs and desirous of completing a full understanding with Browne, again appeared on the scene in connection especially with the question that had arisen of the degree of Browne’s control of the Mekranees and more westerly tribes. This had become to some extent a military question, and it had been decided to withdraw all troops from those districts, as had been proposed in Sandeman’s time. He had fought hard against it, and the execution of the measure had been therefore temporarily deferred. Now, however, it was to be carried out, much to Browne’s chagrin; and Lord Lansdowne appeared on the scene, chiefly, it is thought, to soften Browne’s opposition and his feelings on the point. It did not lessen his objection, but it removed any feelings of opposition or chagrin in the matter; and Lord Lansdowne inspired in Browne the warmest and most cordial feelings. He felt assured of the Viceroy’s confidence, and entertained the most entire faith and trust in his lordship’s judgment and especially in his readiness and openness of mind in subjects of dispute or doubt As an instance of his personal dealings with these wild races it may be noted that he sent the most influential chief of the Mekran district with a letter to Lahore, to obtain for him a good place at the grand review of the troops assembled in connection with the Viceroy’s grand durbar. This Khan had been the bitterest opponent of the Khan of Khelat, and not even Sir R. Sandeman had been able to reduce him to submission. Yet Sir James had succeeded with this wild mountaineer, who in his own country would stop at nothing to gain his own ends. As he sat in the Lahore office soliciting a ticket for a front seat at a review, tamed by the magic touch of Sir James Browne, he looked the personification of mildness 1 At the close of the review he was asked how he had got on. His whole face was alight with pleasure and wonder at the magnificent troops he had seen. He realised, perhaps for the first time, what the Government had behind their political officers, and was not likely to forget it. This was one lesson in the education of these wild Khans.

Another case was that of old Bungul, the chief of the Zhob Valley, with his little band of marauding followers, who were gradually reduced to submission and brought under control by Browne’s influence and methods.

What has been above written refers specially to the matters connected with the control of the khanate of Khelat, and its settlement into quiet and order on the instalment of the new Khan. Then came the two great durbars in 1893 and 1894, after which nothing special occurred about the state itself. But its rule went on quietly and successfully; and the people became more and more hearty and contented under the close personal relations they had fallen into with their ruler, and the ceaseless and unwearied advice and guidance they received from him on all the subjects they desired to discuss. It was just what had been done with such good effect on the Punjab frontier in the pre-Mutiny days of Henry Lawrence, Edwardes, and John Nicholson. The result was the same: a people who heartily approved of British rule, and supported it—in spite too of the introduction of many methods and measures of which they disapproved, but about which they yielded to Browne’s guidance. Still later on they felt themselves oppressed and worried, as the Punjabees had been, with civil courts, pleaders, costly court proceedings, cruel litigation, and other weapons of oppression open to the lowest stratum of the race of half-educated native tyrants.

Even at the time of Browne’s suppression of the old Khan—a matter of political justice and imperative necessity—the whole weight of the official headquarters of Government at Simla was felt to be against him. It was a very trying and anxious time for him, heightened if not caused by a mistaken view on the part of those officials as to his action. It seems ludicrous to say so, but, in fact, owing to interested stories against him, Sir James seems to have been considered a fire-brand, anxious, in order to gratify his ambitious ends, to stir up a big row which he over and over again did his best to avoid. One feature, one proof of this fact, was that for all the rest of his rule there was no bloodletting between the British and the Beloochees; and he strove hard always, and with success, to keep and extend the peace. His methods were his own. On his own responsibility he moved troops from Jacobabad to the Beloochee frontier to show the supporters of the wild old Khan that he, Browne, had force at hand to back up his orders if he found himself compelled to use it. This demonstration had the desired effect, and prevented the necessity for extreme measures. In the end the change was effected without bloodshed; and in place of the old barbarian, his son, with more civilised ideas, but not so advanced as to be out of touch with his people, ruled in his stead, with judgment and consideration. Browne, in fact, acted on the wise policy of displaying his strength, in order to avoid having to use it

Having said all that is necessary about the Khelat state, we turn now to the province of British Beloochistan—i.e. the territory organised and ruled like the Punjab and the older districts of India. Its circumstances were then singular, and have remained so till quite a recent date. Till shortly before Browne’s arrival, the system of administration in force had remained very much the same as of old, the only special or regulation methods brought into play affecting the troops and cantonments, but not meddling with the local tribes or the bulk of the native population; but latterly the thiri end of the wedge of regulations had been introduced, greatly to the discomfiture of the natives.

Browne felt this at once, and forthwith essayed to bring the arrangements more into the old groove. Already the introduction had been made of regulations and courts and methods which had been so long felt to be unsuitable and mischievous in the more northerly borders of the Punjab. In the few months during which Lord Lansdowne still remained in India, and while Browne’s attention was primarily occupied with the Khelat business, this matter did not trouble him much; but on his looking into these questions after a time, and especially into the position and procedure of the chief court, he felt almost aghast at the innovation; and this feeling grew and became intensified on Lord Elgin taking over the seals of office and continuing and supporting the processes which the Simla Secretariat had been introducing. The newly organised chief court to which Browne at once so strongly objected, as unsuited to the population to be dealt with, was presided over by Mr. Barnes, who has been already mentioned as a man of undoubted ability. Browne soon found that Mr. Barnes’s views and his own in the matter of the courts and of the legal polity for the Beloochees were antagonistic and practically irreconcilable. There were two high courts established in Beloochistan so far back as 1890—one for British Beloochistan, the other for the Agency territories. The former was absolutely necessary, for when people think fit to annex a tract to British India, they must set up some sort of high court Whether it was necessary to legislate in this formal way for the Agency territories may be a question. It did not seem necessary when we established ourselves in the Kurrum, and everything there was made as informal as possible.

What took place in Browne’s time was this—that whereas up to 1893 the Govemor-General’s Agent had to perform the duties of both the high courts, regulations were then passed empowering him to transfer such portions of the work as he thought fit to his Revenue Commissioner. Then, shortly before Browne died, the idea seems to have been started that it would be better to transfer the whole work of the high courts bodily to a Commissioner, who would instead be called Judicial Commissioner. But this was not done till after Browne’s death in 1896. The idea of transferring all the high court work en masse, and also giving the Governor-General’s Agent power to transfer such portion of it as he thought fit, had been put forward by Sandeman as early as 1891, and he preferred the former course. So that what was done in 1893 and in 1896 was in accordance with his views : whether it was in accordance with Browne’s is not recorded, and may be doubted. But what Browne disliked was not the exercise of the powers, but the accompanying formalities and elaborate procedure, which were a sheer mystery to the simple-minded Beloochees.

This matter, it may be at once said, embittered the whole further career of Browne in Beloochistan, especially as the new Governor-General, Lord Elgin, supported the elaborate policy of the Secretariat and opposed Browne on most of the serious questions of the province. Especially annoying was the interference with the jurisdiction of Mekran and the western clans of Beloochistan, who had accepted his sway so heartily, and with whose military status in respect of the defence of the frontier he had been so closely concerned when Quartermaster-General.

Browne, however, was allowed to set to work vigorously at the material development of the provinces, and before the end railways had been advanced, roads traversed the province, and its two capitals, Quetta and Ziarat in the mountains, were filled with suitable public offices and private buildings. Unfortunately a period of much sickness ensued in Browne’s later years; but in spite of this, visitors from all parts of the world, including the present Viceroy, visited Beloochistan, and testified to its progress.

Both at Quetta and at Ziarat, and also at Zibi and wherever suitable opportunity occurred, Browne made great efforts to improve the amenities of the station. Roads, gardens, plantations, and water courses changed them from deserts into pleasure grounds. Handsome but suitable public buildings were erected—churches, residencies, public courts and offices; private houses with some efforts at taste were encouraged. The bazaars were much improved, and the natives of wealth and position were encouraged to erect better dwellings, durbar halls, and similar buildings for their public meetings. In the course of time the whole aspect of the place was changed; and, identified as Browne was with all these improvements as well as with the entire change in the welfare of the people, known personally as he was to the whole populace, and specially to the chiefs, Sardars, and men of mark, adored by the Ghilzyes, and regarded by so many as a Mullah and a saint—he held a position in Beloochistan which no one else could possibly attain.

As with the Khelat state, so with British Beloochistan and its frontiers: Browne worked indefatigably for its improvements in all respects. For the British stations, there was, and there could be, no sort of question; but after Lord Lansdowne’s departure and the visit and durbar of the new Viceroy, other influences disturbed the policy and characteristics of the rule, and pressed greatly on Browne’s mind. But more need not be said on this matter—except that the legal arrangements and the methods of the regulation provinces affected the equanimity of the Beloochee population very seriously, and doubled the task that necessarily devolved on Browne of assuaging their irritation and keeping them quiet.

Much was going on in the more rural parts of the province; and he had to keep a very watchful eye on the borders and especially on the Wuzeerees. And at length they made an incursion. They were promptly met and defeated, and heavily punished. But, in point of fact, the overt action of the tribes was not the matter that was troubling Browne With his sensitive instincts, and his true insight into the character and feelings of the hill tribes, and especially with his intimate relations with the Ghilzyes, he was alive to the existence of a very widespread wave of native hostility, which in the year after his death broke over the whole northern border. Anarchy had already broken out in Chitral, Swat, and Bajour, and the British representative and the troops with him were being besieged in Gilgit. But in that year (1897) the Beloochee border itself suffered from a murderous attack by the tribesmen of the Tochi Valley, when Mr. Gee, the political officer, was killed along with some of his subordinates and escort. This led to the country of the tribesmen being traversed by our troops, some 7,000 men and their fortified positions being destroyed and levelled, the tribesmen fined, and their chiefs imprisoned.

In 1897, as alluded to, an exceptionally large series of frontier expeditions and wars had to be undertaken. There were at least six—against respectively (1) Malakand, in Swat and Bajour, (2) the Mohmunds, (3) the Utman Kheyls, (4) the Bonairs (Browne’s friends of 1863), (5) the Kurum Valley, and (6) the Afreedees and Orakzyes of the Khyber and Tirah. In this latter campaign some 44,000 troops, were employed, in all six about 90,000, involving an outlay of about forty-five lakhs of rupees.

Considering the previous history of those northern frontier hostilities, and the long interval of the comparative quiescence since the Umbeyla war, it can hardly be doubted that a change had come over both the political management of the tribes and the military methods for coercing them; and it may be mentioned as a singular, but in no way a significant, fact that those two great struggles occurred in the times of the two Lords Elgin, father and son.

It was unfortunate, for many reasons, that the start of the new policy—regulations and high courts—for the administration of Beloochistan was contemporaneous with the beginning of Browne’s comparative failure in health. He had long been subject to gout, but had never allowed himself to let it master him or interfere with his work. But he was now beginning to think, especially under his altered relations with Government, that it was time for him to be preparing for a change—a permanent change—to England and for employment there. In due course he sent Lady Browne and his family home, although he continued very fully the hospitalities and amenities of the ruler of the province; the more so that it was the site of absorbing interest with a series of travellers of note and position—an interest much beyond what was at that time excited by any other part of India. With this remark the general story of Browne’s rule of Beloochistan may fairly close.

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