German and International Research on Oman 1998

International trade networks: The Omani Enclave of Gwadar
by Dott. Beatrice Nicolini [abstract]

The proposed paper is the result of much historical research conducted in the British Archives and in the Quetta Archives ( Baluchistan ), combined with several seasons of field work carried out in Makran, in Oman and in Zanzibar.

The role played by Gwadar within the framework of the slave, ivory and spive trade coming from the Arabian peninsula and from East Africa directed to Central Asia had been crucial since time immemorial. Gwadar includes not only the town and port but the whole sandy peninsula of that name covering an area of about 307 square miles. Lying about 290 miles west of Karachi and 160 miles south-west from Turbat - the capital of Makran -, this coastal base has been through the ages one of the main routes of communication between the Middle East and the Indo-Pakistani sub-continent. Towards the end of the eighteenth century Nasir Khan I, of the Ahmadzai family of the Brahui ethnic group of Kalat "granted" the port of Gwadar to Sultan bin Ahmad (ruled 1792-1804) of the Al Bu Sa'id tribe of Oman, who escaped from Maskat (Muscat ) around 1784. Sultan bin Ahmad of the Al Bu Sa'id maintained this possession also after his accession to the throne of Maskat. One of the first steps taken by Sultan bin Ahmad of the Al Bu Sa'id was the nomination of a wali, an Arab deputy (or governor) at Gwadar, who received the order to build a fort in the best safeguarded side of Gwadar Bay. The wali also received the order from the Omani ruler to conquer Chah Bahar, which was captured by surprise and annexed to the Maskati dominions. The complex question of the origins and of the juridical value of the "grant" of the port of Gwadar and its surroundings from Nasir Khan I, Khan of Kalat, to the Al Bu Sa'id of Maskat as a refuge, but also as a strategic base for the struggles of power within the Omani tribes, was a significant subject matter which caused innumerable political conflicts.
During the second half of the nineteenth century, because of the construction of the Indo-European Telegraph Line, Sir Frederick Goldsmid - Head of the [Anglo-Persian] Boundary Commission - made investigations in the Makran area in order to determine the boundaries between Makran, Sistan and Persia. Territorial and juridical claims were advanced from all sides directly involved in this serious matter. These claims gave rise to tensions and struggles, for a long time unresolved. Nevertheless, Gwadar remained an Omani possession as part of the sultanate until September 1958. Gwadar today belongs to the jurisdiction of the Government of Baluchistan - Home and Tribal Affairs Department - within the Makran Division. The African element is still very evident in this ex-Omani enclave. Within the old Arab-Indian-African bazaar, there is the ancient Ismaili (Khojas) community centre, as the Ismailis played a crucial role in the history of the town and still detain a determined power in the local society.

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Last updated on 25 May 1998.