The Frontiers of Baluchistan


George Passman Tate was an assistant superintendent employed by the Survey of India who headed the surveys undertaken by two missions that determined large parts of the borders of Afghanistan, the Baluch-Afghan Boundary Commission of 1895‒96 and the Seistan Arbitration Mission of 1903‒5. The first of these surveys was carried out to delimit the so-called Durand Line, the border between Afghanistan and British India (present-day Pakistan) that was negotiated during the 1893 mission to Kabul by Sir Mortimer Durand of the Indian government and codified in an agreement signed by Durand and the ruler of Afghanistan, Amir ‘Abd al-Rahman Khan. The second survey was to Seistan, or Sistan, a region that straddles eastern Iran and southern Afghanistan (and parts of Pakistan). It was undertaken after the governments in Kabul and Tehran asked Great Britain to arbitrate the border between the two countries in this region. The book contains an introduction by Colonel Sir Henry McMahon, the British commissioner on both missions. Most of the book is taken up by Tate’s account of the Seistan Mission. He describes the journey overland from Quetta (in present-day Pakistan) to eastern Iran and the region of the marshy Hamun-e Helmand (present-day Daryacheh-ye Hamun) fed by the Helmand River. Tate offers vivid descriptions of the harsh and forbidding climate, the famous “Wind of 120 Days,” and the people, economy, and social conditions of the region. The final chapter is devoted to the Helmand River. The book includes illustrations and two fold-out maps, one showing the route of Tate’s travels, and another the region of the Daryacheh-ye Hamun. Tate describes the work of the surveying parties, but he offers little insight into the politics surrounding the determination of the borders, a topic which, as Sir Henry McMahon phrased it in his introduction, he “felt himself debarred from touching.” Tate filed a number of official reports in which these topics were discussed.

Last updated: August 25, 2016