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Balochistan

Balochistan is one of the four provinces of Pakistan. It is the largest province in terms of land area, forming the southwestern region of the country. Its provincial capital and largest city is Quetta.

Balochistan shares borders with Punjab and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to the northeast, Sindh to the east and southeast, the Arabian Sea to the south, Iran to the west and Afghanistan to the north and northwest.

The main ethnic groups in the province are the Baloch people and the Pashtuns, who constitute 52% and 36% of the population respectively (according to the preliminary 2011 census). The remaining 12% comprises smaller communities of Brahuis, Hazaras along with other settlers such as Sindhis, Punjabis, Uzbeks and Turkmens. The name “Balochistan” means “the land of the Baloch”. Largely underdeveloped, its provincial economy is dominated by natural resources, especially its natural gas fields, estimated to have sufficient capacity to supply Pakistan’s demands over the medium to long term. Aside from Quetta, the second-largest city of the province is Turbat in the south, while another area of major economic importance is Gwadar Port on the Arabian Sea.

Balochistan is noted for its unique culture and extremely dry desert climate.

History

Early history

Balochistan occupies the very southeastern-most portion of the Iranian Plateau, the setting for the earliest known farming settlements in the pre-Indus Valley Civilisation era, the earliest of which was Mehrgarh, dated at 7000 BC, within the province. Balochistan marked the westernmost extent of the Civilisation. Centuries before the arrival of Islam in the 7th Century, parts of Balochistan was ruled by the Paratarajas, an Indo-Scythian dynasty. At certain times, the Kushans also held political sway in parts of Balochistan.

A theory of the origin of the Baloch people, the largest ethnic group in the region, is that they are of Median descent.

Arrival of Islam

In 654, Abdulrehman ibn Samrah, governor of Sistan and the newly emerged Rashidun caliphate at the expense of Sassanid Persia and the Byzantine Empire, sent an Islamic army to crush a revolt in Zaranj, which is now in southern Afghanistan. After conquering Zaranj, a column of the army pushed north, conquering Kabul and Ghazni, in the Hindu Kush mountain range, while another column moved through Quetta District in north-western Balochistan and conquered the area up to the ancient cities of Dawar and Qandabil (Bolan). It is documented that the major settlements, falling within today’s province, became in 654 controlled by the Rashidun caliphate, except for the well-defended mountain town of QaiQan which is now Kalat.

During the caliphate of Ali, revolt broke out in southern Balochistan’s Makran region. In 663, during the reign of Umayyad Caliph Muawiyah I his Muslim rule lost control of north-eastern Balochistan and Kalat when Haris ibn Marah and a large part of his army died in battle against a revolt in Kalat.

Pre-modern era

In the 15th century, Mir Chakar Khan Rind became the first Sirdar of Afghani, Irani and Pakistani Balochistan. He was a close aide of the Timurid ruler Humayun, and was succeeded by the Khanate of Kalat, which owed allegiance to the Mughal Empire. Later Nader Shah won the allegiance of the rulers of eastern Balochistan. He ceded Kalhora, one of the Sindh territories of Sibi-Kachi, to the Khanate of Kalat. Ahmad Shah Durrani, founder of the Afghan Empire, also won the allegiance of that area’s rulers, and many Baloch fought under him during the Third Battle of Panipat. Most of the area would eventually revert to local Baloch control after Afghan rule.

British era

During the period of the British Raj from the fall of the Durrani Empire in 1823, four princely states were recognised and reinforced in Balochistan: Makran, Kharan, Las Bela and Kalat. In 1876, Robert Sandeman negotiated the Treaty of Kalat, which brought the Khan’s territories, including Kharan, Makran, and Las Bela, under British protection even though they remained independent princely states. After the Second Afghan War was ended by the Treaty of Gandamak in May 1879, the Afghan Emir ceded the districts of Quetta, Pishin, Harnai, Sibi and Thal Chotiali to British control. On 1 April 1883, the British took control of the Bolan Pass, south-east of Quetta, from the Khan of Kalat. In 1887, small additional areas of Balochistan were declared British territory. In 1893, Sir Mortimer Durand negotiated an agreement with the Amir of Afghanistan, Abdur Rahman Khan, to fix the Durand Line running from Chitral to Balochistan as the boundary between the Emirate of Afghanistan and British-controlled areas. Two devastating earthquakes occurred in Balochistan during British colonial rule: the 1935 Quetta earthquake, which devastated Quetta, and the 1945 Balochistan earthquake with its epicentre in the Makran region.

After independence

Balochistan contained a Chief Commissioner’s province and four princely states under the British Raj. The province’s Shahi Jirga and the non-official members of the Quetta Municipality opted for Pakistan unanimously on 29 June 1947. Three of the princely states, Makran, Las Bela and Kharan, acceded to Pakistan in 1947 after independence. But the ruler of the fourth princely state, the Khan of Kalat, Ahmad Yar Khan, who used to call Jinnah his ‘father’, declared Kalat’s independence as this was one of the options given to all of the 565 princely states by British Prime Minister Clement Attlee.

Kalat finally acceded to Pakistan on March 27, 1948 after the ‘strange help’ of All India Radio and a period of negotiations and bureaucratic tactics used by Pakistan. The signing of the Instrument of Accession by Ahmad Yar Khan, led his brother, Prince Abdul Karim, to revolt against his brother’s decision in July 1948. Princes Agha Abdul Karim Baloch and Muhammad Rahim, refused to lay down arms, leading the Dosht-e Jhalawan in unconventional attacks on the army until 1950. The Princes fought a lone battle without support from the rest of Balochistan. Jinnah and his successors allowed Yar Khan to retain his title until the province’s dissolution in 1955.

Insurgencies by Baloch nationalists took place in 1948, 1958–59, 1962–63 and 1973–77 – with a new ongoing insurgency by autonomy-seeking Baloch groups since 2003. While a few Baloch support the demand for autonomy, the majority are not interested in seceding from Pakistan.

At a press conference on 8 June 2015 in Quetta, Home Minister Sarfraz Bugti accused India’s prime minister Narendra Modi of openly supporting terrorism. Bugti implicated India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) of being responsible for recent attacks at military bases in Smangli and Khalid, and for subverting the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) agreement.

Geography

Balochistan is situated in the southwest of Pakistan and covers an area of 347,190 square kilometres (134,050 sq mi). It is Pakistan’s largest province by area, constituting 44% of Pakistan’s total land mass. The province is bordered by Afghanistan to the north and north-west, Iran to the south-west, Punjab and Sindh, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas to the north-east. To the south lies the Arabian Sea. Balochistan is located on the south-eastern part of the Iranian plateau. It borders the geopolitical regions of the Middle East and Southwest Asia, Central Asia and South Asia. Balochistan lies at the mouth of the Strait of Hormuz and provides the shortest route from seaports to Central Asia. Its geographical location has placed the otherwise desolate region in the scope of competing global interests for all of recorded history.

The capital city Quetta is located in a densely populated portion of the Sulaiman Mountains in the north-east of the province. It is situated in a river valley near the Bolan Pass, which has been used as the route of choice from the coast to Central Asia, entering through Afghanistan’s Kandahar region. The British and other historic empires have crossed the region to invade Afghanistan by this route.

Balochistan is rich in exhaustible and renewable resources; it is the second major supplier of natural gas in Pakistan. The province’s renewable and human resource potential has not been systematically measured or exploited due to pressures from within and without Pakistan. Local inhabitants have chosen to live in towns and have relied on sustainable water sources for thousands of years.

Climate

The climate of the upper highlands is characterised by very cold winters and hot summers. In the lower highlands, winters vary from extremely cold in northern districts Ziarat, Quetta, Kalat, Muslim Baagh and Khanozai to milder conditions closer to the Makran coast. Winters are mild on the plains, with temperature never falling below freezing point. Summers are hot and dry, especially in the arid zones of Chagai and Kharan districts. The plains are also very hot in summer, with temperatures reaching 50 °C (122 °F).The record highest temperature, 53 °C (127 °F), was recorded in Sibi on 26 May 2010, exceeding the previous record, 52 °C (126 °F). Other hot areas include Turbat and Dalbandin. The desert climate is characterised by hot and very arid conditions. Occasionally, strong windstorms make these areas very inhospitable.

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