Balochistan, the British and the Great Game

The Struggle for the Bolan Pass, Gateway to India

January 2016 9781849044790 288pp


The Great Game for Central Asia led to British involvement in Balochistan, a sparsely-populated area in Pakistan, mostly desert and mountain, and containing the Bolan Pass, the southern counterpart of the more famous Khyber. It occupies a position of great strategic importance between Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and the Arabian Sea.

Heathcote’s book is a history of the Khanate of Kalat and of British operations against the Baloch hill tribes who raided frontier settlements and the Bolan caravans. Its themes include rivalry between British officials in Sind and the Punjab, high profile disputes between British politicians over frontier policy and organisation, and the British occupation of Quetta, guardian city of the Bolan, in the run-up to the Second Afghan War. Among the many strong characters in this story is Sir Robert Sandeman, hitherto hailed as ‘the peaceful conqueror of Balochistan’, now revealed as a ruthless careerist, whose personal ambitions led to the fragmentation of the country under British domination. The closing chapter summarises subsequent events up to modern times, in which the Baloch have maintained a long-running struggle for greater autonomy within Pakistan.

Table of contents

1. Balochistan Background: The Country, the People and the
2. The Opening of the Great Game: British India, Russia, Iran
and Afghanistan, 1798–1838
3. The British Army in Kalat, 1839
4. The Threat from the Baloch Hills, 1839–40
5. Insurgency in Kalat, 1840–41
6. The First North-West Frontier, 1842–46
7. The Paladins of the Upper Sind Border, 1847–54
8. The Great Game Renewed: India, Iran and Balochistan, 1854–58
9. Civil Wars, 1858–72
10. The Kafilas and the Collapse of British Control, 1872–76
11. Quetta and the Settlement of Kalat, 1876–78
12. The Completion of British Control, 1877–1893

Appendices A–D: The Four British Treaties With Kalat, 1839–76
List of International Treaties


‘This book comprehensively details the greater Balochistan area, its place in the strategic Great Game, and the interesting role played by British officials there. It enhances our understanding of this still volatile and important region and is a “must read” for those wanting to know about Balochistan’s history in depth.’ — Christopher Snedden, Professor at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, Honolulu, and author of Understanding Kashmir and Kashmiris

‘Tony Heathcote, the author of several distinguished works on the British military in India, brings a wealth of expertise to this study of the “Great Game”. He tells a fascinating story that needs to be read by anyone who seeks to understand an area that remains, to this day, strategically vital.’ — Gary Sheffield, Professor of War Studies, University of Wolverhampton

‘Heathcote’s impressive archival research and encyclopaedic understanding of this complex region yields a fascinating narrative from a long-ignored chapter of Britain’s colonial enterprise in South Asia. For scholars, students and general readers alike, the story of Balochistan’s role in the game of Empire and its colourful central characters proves engaging, enlightening and — above all — entertaining.’ — Willem Marx, journalist and author of Balochistan at a Crossroads


T. A. Heathcote studied history at SOAS, London, from where he joined the National Army Museum. He later transferred to the RMA Sandhurst, where he was for many years the Curator.

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