From Pakistan to Cardiff: The King of Kalat

A royal asylum-seeker wants to stop the Taliban and win independence for his Baluch people ... if only he could escape from South Wales. Jerome Taylor reports

Monday 16 March 2009 01:00 GMT

In an anonymous pebble-dashed semi-detached house on the outskirts of Cardiff, a powerfully built, bearded man with a green prayer cap looks through a folio of 19th-century letters sent by the British Government to his kingdom.

Stashed in overflowing plastic bags and a tattered brown suitcase, some are even written on pieces of animal skin. Rummaging through the case, he pulls out a large piece of parchment, stained yellow with time and covered with lines of elegant Persian script.

"This is the first treaty that was signed between my people and the British in 1841," he says. "It was the first piece of paper signed by the British that recognised the state of Kalat."

Welcome to the humble Welsh abode of His Royal Highness Khan Suleman Daud, the 35th Khan of Kalat.

Until three years ago, Khan Suleman's house was a sumptuous desert palace on a windswept ridge in Baluchistan – the mountainous and mineral-rich Pakistani province where separatists have waged an insurgency to carve out their own independent state for much of the past 60 years.

Whenever the Khan left his palace in his two armour-plated, gold Humvees, he would be accompanied by dozens of armed bodyguards. One of western Pakistan's most influential tribal leaders, he commanded the loyalty and respect of thousands of Baluch tribesmen and had long angered Pakistan's military establishment by campaigning for independence, though he opposes armed resistance.

The Khan was forced to flee after being targeted for speaking out against the Pakistani military's well-documented human rights abuses. He now whiles away his days as an anonymous asylum-seeker in south Wales, separated from his people by 4,000 miles and trapped in the seemingly everlasting limbo of Britain's immigration system.

He left Pakistan after the military assassination of Akbar Khan Bugti, 79, the soft-spoken, Oxford-educated, separatist leader accused by the Pakistanis of co-ordinating the shadowy Baluchistan Liberation Army (BLA).

"I want more than anything to return to my homeland, but I cannot at the moment," said the Khan. "If I returned to Pakistan, my life would be in danger because the military regard me as a threat. And yet, everything I have is back in Kalat. Back home, I have palaces, vast amounts of land, the respect and love of my people. Here I am in limbo, living in a three bedroom house in Cardiff."

That someone as influential as the Khan has ended up as an asylum-seeker in Britain – a country that he says "betrayed" the Baluch people – offers a 21st-century snapshot of colonial fall-out.

Locating Khan Suleman's kingdom on a map of the world is difficult but, less than a century ago, the Khanate of Kalat was a thriving confederacy of tribes spread across much of what is now western Pakistan, southern Afghanistan and south-eastern Iran.

Populated by fiercely independent Baluch warriors, Kalat retained much of its independence from the British as the Raj's political agents spread throughout the sub-continent, toppling, bribing and replacing its regional leaders as they went.

Regarded as too wild to tame but a useful buffer against Russians, the Baluch were allowed to keep their sovereignty. Although successive treaties chipped away at their territory, the Khans of Kalat remained the region's most powerful independent rulers.

As the Partition of India loomed, Khan Suleman's grandfather, Ahmad Yar Khan, was assured that the Baluch would be allowed to keep their independence. A deal was struck whereby Kalat and the new state of Pakistan would be independent of each other but would share currency, foreign policy and defence equally.

Yet, after just six months of independence, the Pakistani military stormed in and forced Ahmed Yar Khan to cede his khanate to Pakistan. Forgotten by the West, Baluchi separatists have since fought five insurgencies to try to claw back their independence from Pakistan's central government, which has responded with massacres, large scale disappearances and torture.

"The British treated us treacherously and pushed us into a union with Pakistan," said the Khan as he prepared a traditional Baluchi dish of roast chicken and spicy meat cutlets. "We had no desire to be part of Pakistan but we were ignored and the agreement was eventually forced down our throats. Till the very last moment, they kept us in the dark. All the time we were assured that the Baluch would keep their independent state but instead we were sold down the river."

Yet Britain's historical behaviour in his homeland is not the only thing bothering this tribal leader.

"I applied for asylum on 14 July 2007," he said. "I even put myself forward for the fast-track scheme, yet here we are, nearly two years later, still waiting for a response. I have been stonewalled by virtually every official we have come across." When the Khan went to register as an asylum-seeker in Croydon, he was surrounded by buzzing immigration officials, keen to see his passport which says "His Highness". "It is very different to how other Pakistani leaders have been treated."

The Government welcomed other exiled Pakistani politicians such as Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto during their own spells in the wilderness. Both former prime ministers spent years in London during their spats with the then-military dictator, Pervez Musharraf, but never had to apply for asylum.

The Khan had never intended to remain in Britain. At a loya jirga (tribal gathering) called after Bugti's assassination, he vowed to take the plight of his people to the International Court of Justice in The Hague in a bid to apply international pressure on the Pakistanis over their treatment of the Baluch.

He was placed on a watch list by Mr Musharraf but managed to fly out undetected from Karachi to perform the Hajj. When his British visa was rejected, he applied for asylum fearing deportation back to Pakistan. As a prospective asylum-seeker, he is unable to travel to The Hague and campaign for his people.

The Khan believes the British have agreed to remain silent over Baluchistan and keep him in limbo in return for Pakistan's co-operation in hunting down UK-born Islamic radicals.

Britain is the only country other than Pakistan to have proscribed the main Baluchi separatist movements as terror groups. They only did so in 2005, after Mr Musharraf threatened to withdraw from talks aimed at securing the extradition of Birmingham-born Rashid Rauf, the suspected ringleader of the transatlantic airliner bomb plot who was eventually killed by an unmanned US drone last year.

The only Baluch nationals living in the UK to be charged under terror legislation were acquitted last month. Faiz Baluch, 27, and Hyrbyair Marri, 40, stood accused of being members of the BLA and encouraging terrorism overseas but the jury found them not guilty. Their supporters claim the prosecution aimed to curry favour with the Pakistanis.

A devout Muslim, the Khan is critical of Islamic radicalism. But he worries that the continued repression of the Baluch, coupled with the de facto silencing of their tribal leaders, is forcing many formerly secular separatists into the arms of the Taliban instead.

The Taliban have held little sway over the Baluchi tribes other than in and around the provincial capital, Quetta. But Islamic radicalism appears to be spreading through the region. Two weeks ago, the Pakistani Taliban leaders announced the creation of a new group, "Tehreek-e-Taliban Baluchistan".

Marooned in his Cardiff semi, The Khan says he desperately wants to halt the radicalisation of the Baluch but no-one, it seems, is willing to listen to a king with no kingdom.

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