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Brief History of the Relationship between Oman and Baluchistan

Atheer – Omani History

At the height of its strength during the Yaruba and Al Said Dynasties, the Omani Empire encompassed significant areas in both Asia and Africa. In Asia the empire extended as far as the region of Baluchistan, which is lodged between Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan.

Since ancient times Oman has had relations with Baluchistan, which is only natural given its close proximity to Makran, the coastal strip of Baluchistan that runs along the Persian Gulf. At around the end of the fourth millennium BC, Oman was part of a maritime trade range that included the coast of the Arabian Peninsula, Iran, Makran, Mesopotamia and India. Archeological proof exists that points to such a relationship with Baluchistan. Remnants such as ceramic dishes engraved with Harappan writing were found in Ras Al Hadd and Ras Al Jinz in Oman back in 1981. The Harappan writing system belonged to an ancient civilization endemic to the Indus Valley.

It has been suggested by historians that people from Baluchistan emigrated to Oman during the early days of Islam around 1,400 years ago. European travelers who visited during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries noted the presence of communities of Baluch who are believed to have settled in Oman centuries before.

Despite the existence of relationships between the two communities over the course of early history, there was no political association between Oman and Baluchistan until the era of the Yaruba and Al Busaid Dynasties. The Yaruba Dynasty ruled Oman from 1624 to 1744 and the Al Busaid Dysnasty has ruled from 1744 to the present.

The Yaruba established a naval force with which they defeated and expelled the Portuguese from Oman, India and East Africa. The city of Muscat subsequently became an active commercial centre as well as the main seaport of the Indian Ocean. This lead to Oman assuming control of a region stretching from the Arabian Gulf to the East African coast. As a result, under the Yaruba Dynasty Oman became a significant commercial influence over an area stretching from the Persian Gulf to the Ganges River in India, with Baluchistan as its centre of politics and business.

As a result of the political and commercial relationship that linked Oman and Baluchistan, a large number of Baluch joined the special forces branch of the Omani military. They were used to protect and defend Omani ports and cities, and were instrumental in fighting the Portuguese alongside the Omanis. The Baluch also played a significant role in laying down the foundation of Omani rule in eastern Africa during the era of Imam Saif bin Sultan Al Yarubi. The city of Mombasa was invaded by Omani army chief Aljamadar Shah Dad Baloch, who hailed from Baluchistan. Imam Saif went on to declare Aljamadar Shah Dad Baloch ruler of Mombasa, in honour of his efforts in the conquest.

The Baluch also participated in a number of civil wars that took place in Oman as a result of disputes among the sons of Imam Sultan bin Saif. Of the Baluch who weren’t killed during these conflicts, many remained and settled in Oman.

At the beginning of the rule of the Al Said Dynasty, Sayyid Ahmed bin Said (1744-1775) faced internal rebellions such as that of the conflict with Mohammed Bin Sulaiman Al Yarubi. Sayyid Ahmed requested that the princes of Baluchistan and Sindh send support to help him quash such rebellions. However, the Imam’s army was defeated in Saih Al Tayeb by the rebels.

In 1792 governor of Baluchistan, Mir Naseer Khan, awarded Sayyid Sultan bin Ahmed, the ruler of Oman, the port city of Gwadar on the Makran coast in 1792. Gwadar became part of Oman, and during the same year, Saif bin Ali was appointed by Sayyid Sultan bin Ahmed to govern Gwadar and Chahpar. Saif bin Ali constructed a castle and expanded Omani influence within Baluchistan. Under the Omani government, Gwadar became a force that competed with other ports in Makran such as those of Pasni and Gioni.

European travelers who visited Muscat during this period noted that the military presence of Baluch in Oman was very much prominent in the era of Sayyed Said bin Sultan. The population of Baluch in Muscat during this time was around 2,000.

Sayyid Said bin Sultan relied on veterans from Baluchistan to strengthen his power and eliminate some of the internal rebellions that he came up against. He thus appointed Dura Bin Juma Al Balushi and Ismail Al Balushi as Custodian of Muscat and Custodian of Samail Castle respectively.

After Sayyid Said bin Sultan passed away in 1858 and the Omani Empire started to dissolve, revolutions and rebellions began to affect the relationship between Oman and Baluchistan. As a result, Oman’s influence over the latter began to dwindle, particularly during the rule of Imam Azzan bin Qais (1868-1871). Sayyed Nasser bin Thuwaini Al Busaidi, an opponent of Imam Azzan who had strong relations with Makran, went to Gwadar and expelled Imam Azzan’s Wali, declaring himself ruler of Gwadar.

When Sayyid Turki bin Said dethroned Imam Azzan bin Qais from Muscat in 1871, he was able to assume Gwadar under his direct control. He took the responsibility of maintaining security and stability, collecting and disbursing funds, and employing soldiers from Gwadar and Makran alongside soldiers brought from the regions of Oman, Najd, Al-Ahsa and Hadramout in the Arabian Peninsula, as well as from East Africa, in order to help him fend off repeated attacks on Muscat by his opponents in the years 1874, 1877 and 1883.

When Sultan Taimur bin Faisal (1913- 1932) ruled Oman, he continued with such a policy as Sayyid Turki bin Said, as a means of combating the internal revolts that continually plagued the country. He hired soldiers from Baluchistan and formed the first military detachment of 300 soldiers from Makran, which came to be known as the Muscat Battalion.

During the rule of Sultan Said bin Taimur (1932-1970), Makran continued to provide soldiers loyal to the Sultan for the Omani Army, many of whom served as his bodyguards. Eventually the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Liaquat Ali Khan, began to protest, claiming that Gwadar was a part of Pakistan and hence should be returned following Pakistan’s establishment in 1957. As a result, Britain suggested that the Pakistani government pay Oman four million pounds as a compensation fee for Gwadar to be handed back to Pakistan. An agreement was ultimately reached between the two countries in 1957, which saw Oman lose part of its property that it had governed since the eighteenth century.

Reference: Omani Studies Journal – Issue 16. Ministry of Heritage and Culture, Oman – 2010

 

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