Balochistan , Pakistan

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Balochistan, Pakistan

Balochistan is a historically significant region located in the far southeast of the Iranian plateau, in Western and South Asia. This region is characterized by its arid landscapes, featuring deserts and mountains, and is primarily inhabited by the ethnic Baloch people.

The name “Balochistan” is widely believed to have originated from the Baloch people themselves. It is worth noting that historical records before the advent of Islam do not mention the Baloch people. It is presumed that they might have been known by a different name in their place of origin, adopting the name “Baloch” after settling in Balochistan, which is estimated to have occurred around the 10th century.

Balochistan is geographically divided among three different countries: Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. From an administrative perspective, it encompasses the Pakistani province of Balochistan, the Iranian province of Sistan and Baluchestan, and southern regions of Afghanistan, including provinces like Nimruz, Helmand, and Kandahar. It shares borders with the Khyber Paktunkhwa region to the north, while its eastern boundaries adjoin the regions of Sindh and Punjab in Pakistan. To the west, Balochistan shares its borders with Iranian territories. The southern coastline of Balochistan, which includes the Makran Coast, meets the waters of the Arabian Sea, particularly the western part known as the Gulf of Oman.

Balochistan (بلۏچستان)

Country

Province

Population (2013)

Coordinates

Countries

Pakistan

 Balochistan

18–19 million

27° 25′ 0″ N, 64° 30′ 0″ E

  • Afghanistan
  • Iran
  • Pakistan

Demographics


Baloch, Pashtuns, Gurjar, Hazara, Sindhi, Saraiki

Languages


Brahui, Dehwari, Pashto, Lasi, Sindhi, Saraiki, Dari, Persian, Hazaragi, Khetrani, Urdu , Balochi

Largest Cities


Quetta , Kharan , Turbat, Zahedan, Khuzdar, Zaranj, Uthal, Iranshahr, Dera Allah Yar Sibi, Kalat, D.M. Jamali, Dera Bugti, Gwadar, Zhob, Chabahar, Nushki

Etymology

The origin of the name “Balochistan” is a subject of historical conjecture. It is widely believed that the name is derived from the Baloch people themselves. However, since there are no mentions of the Baloch people in pre-Islamic historical sources, it is probable that they were known by a different name in their place of origin. The adoption of the name “Baloch” likely occurred after their arrival in Balochistan, which is estimated to have taken place in the 10th century.

Some scholars have made intriguing connections between the name “Baloch” and ancient terms from various cultures. Johan Hansman, for instance, links “Baloch” to “Meluḫḫa,” the name believed to have been used by the Sumerians and Akkadians in Mesopotamia to refer to the Indus Valley civilization (circa 2900–2350 BC). While “Meluḫḫa” disappears from Mesopotamian records around the start of the second millennium BC, Hansman suggests that a modified form, “Baluḫḫu,” persisted in the names of products imported by the Neo-Assyrian Empire (911–605 BC). Additionally, al-Muqaddasī, who visited the Makran region’s capital, Bannajbur, around 985 AD, noted that it was inhabited by people known as “Balūṣī” or Baluchi. This observation led Hansman to propose that “Baluch” could be an evolution of “Meluḫḫa” and “Baluḫḫu.”

Asko Parpola offers an alternative interpretation by relating “Meluḫḫa” to Indo-Aryan words like “mleccha” (in Sanskrit) and “milakkha/milakkhu” (in Pali), which were used to refer to non-Aryan populations. Although these words lack an Indo-European etymology, Parpola suggests their proto-Dravidian origin. He interprets “Meluḫḫa” as either a proper name, “milu-akam,” which gave rise to “tamilakam” after the migration of the Indus people southward, or “melu-akam,” signifying “high country,” possibly referring to the highlands of Balochistan. Historian Romila Thapar shares a similar view, suggesting that “Meluḫḫa” may have proto-Dravidian roots, such as “mēlukku,” with the possible meaning of “western extremity” in reference to the western regions of Dravidian-speaking areas on the Indian subcontinent. The Sanskrit term “aparānta,” meaning “western frontier,” was later used to describe the region by Indo-Aryans.

During Alexander the Great’s era (356–323 BC), the Greeks referred to the land as “Gedrosia” and its inhabitants as “Gedrosoi,” although the origin of these terms remains uncertain. H. W. Bailey speculates that a potential Iranian name, “uadravati,” meaning “the land of underground channels,” may have transformed into “badlaut” in the 9th century and further evolved into “balōč” in later periods. It’s important to note that these etymological explanations remain speculative and the true origin of the name “Balochistan” remains a matter of historical inquiry.

History

The earliest traces of human habitation in the area now recognized as Balochistan can be traced back to the Paleolithic era. Archaeological evidence includes remnants of hunting camps, scattered lithic artifacts, and tools made from chipped and flaked stones. The region’s first established villages emerged during the ceramic Neolithic period, approximately around 7000–6000 BCE. Notably, Mehrgarh, situated in the Kachi Plain, was among these early settlements. As time progressed into the Chalcolithic era, these villages grew in both size and complexity. During this phase, there was increased interaction, marked by the exchange of finished goods and raw materials, including valuable items like chank shell, lapis lazuli, turquoise, and ceramics.

By the Bronze Age, around 2500 BCE, the area that now constitutes Pakistani Balochistan had become an integral part of the cultural sphere of the Indus Valley civilization. It played a crucial role in providing essential resources to support the burgeoning settlements located in the Indus river basin to the east. This era witnessed the expansion of trade networks and cultural exchange, further solidifying the region’s significance within the broader historical context.

Classical Period

From the 1st century CE to the 3rd century CE, the region came under the dominion of the Pāratarājas, a lineage of Indo-Parthian rulers. Historical accounts suggest that the Pāratas are likely to be identified with the Pāradas mentioned in ancient texts such as the Mahabharata, Puranas, and other Vedic and Iranian sources. The Pārata kings are primarily known through their coinage, which typically features the profile of the ruler, often depicted with long hair held in place by a headband, on the front side. On the reverse side of these coins, there is a swastika enclosed within a circular inscription, typically inscribed in Brahmi script for silver coins or Kharoshthi script for copper coins. These coins have been primarily discovered in the Loralai region, which is situated in the western part of present-day Pakistan.

During the conflicts between Alexander the Great (356-323 BC) and Emperor Darius III (336-330 BC), the Baloch people were allied with the final Achaemenid emperor. As recorded by Shustheri (1925), Darius III, after much deliberation, assembled an army at Arbela to confront the invading Greek forces. Among the commanders, Berzanthis led the Baloch forces, Okeshthra commanded the troops from Khuzistan, and various other leaders commanded forces from different regions. While they were on the side that ultimately faced defeat, the Baloch people endured their share of hardships at the hands of the victorious Macedonian army.

In 450 BCE, Herodotus described the Paraitakenoi as a tribe governed by Deiokes, a Persian monarch, in the northwestern reaches of Persia (as documented in History I.101). Arrian’s accounts recount how Alexander the Great encountered the Pareitakai in Bactria and Sogdiana, ultimately subjugating them with the aid of Craterus (as narrated in Anabasis Alexandrou IV). The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, compiled in the 1st century CE, outlines the territory of the Paradon, situated beyond the Ommanitic region and along the coast of what is now Balochistan.

Medieval Period

During the era of Arab dynasties, medieval Iran endured a series of challenges, including the Ghaznavid incursions, Mongol invasions, Timurid conquests, and the periodic onslaughts of the Guzz Turks. The Baloch people, residing in this region during these tumultuous times, often found themselves in hostile relations with these external powers, resulting in significant suffering. Encounters with these powers and the ensuing hardships prompted Baloch tribes to relocate from conflict-ridden areas to remote and inaccessible regions. Violent clashes with the Buyids and Seljuqs played a pivotal role in driving waves of Baloch migration eastward from Kerman.

In the region of Balochistan, the Hindu Sewa Dynasty held sway, particularly in Kalat. The establishment of the Sibi Division in 1974, which was carved out of the Quetta Division and Kalat Division, owes its name to Rani Sewi, the queen of the Sewa dynasty.

By the 9th century, the region had been fully Islamized and became part of the territories ruled by the Saffarids of Zaranj, followed by the Ghaznavids and later the Ghorids. Relations between the Ghaznavids and the Baloch were marked by hostility. Turan and Makuran came under the suzerainty of the Ghaznavids’ founder, Sebuktegin, as early as AD 976-977 (Bosworth, 1963). The Baloch tribes resisted Sebuktegin when he launched an attack on Khuzdar in AD 994. The Baloch, under the leadership of Saffarids Amir Khalaf, opposed Mahmud’s Ghaznavid forces during their invasion of Sistan in AD 1013 (Muir, 1924). Historians from the Ghaznavid era have recorded several instances of confrontations between the Baloch and the Ghaznavid forces (Nizam al-Mulk, 1960).

Accounts of Baloch encounters with the Mongol hordes are scarce. One Balochi ballad, however, briefly mentions a Baloch chieftain, Shah Baloch, who valiantly resisted a Mongol advance, presumably in the region of Sistan.

During their prolonged period of mass migrations, the Baloch traversed settled territories, making it impossible to sustain themselves solely as nomads. The combination of continual migrations, strained relations with other tribes and rulers, and unfavorable climatic conditions took a toll on their cattle breeding. To ensure the survival of their herds and an increasingly growing population, the Baloch began integrating settled agriculture with animal husbandry. Consequently, Baloch tribes evolved into a mix of sedentary and nomadic populations, a demographic composition that remained a distinctive characteristic of Baloch tribes until relatively recently.

The Khanate of Kalat stands out as the first unified polity in the history of Balochistan. It emerged from the confederacy of nomadic Brahui tribes native to central Balochistan in 1666. Under the leadership of Mir Ahmad Khan I, it declared independence from Mughal suzerainty and gradually absorbed various Baloch principalities in the region. In 1749, Ahmad Shah Durrani made it a vassal of the Afghan Durrani Empire. However, in 1758, Mir Naseer Khan I, the Khan of Kalat, revolted against Ahmad Shah Durrani, defeated him, and declared his Khanate’s independence from the Durrani Empire.

Tribalism & Nomadism

In medieval times, Baloch tribalism was closely associated with pastoral nomadism, a lifestyle that instilled a sense of superiority among nomadic people, as noted by Heape (1931). This perceived superiority likely stemmed from the fact that the nomadic way of life made individuals physically robust, agile, and resilient, preparing them to face the hardships and perils inherent in a mobile existence.

As the Baloch tribes migrated to regions of Balochistan, they often encountered sedentary populations and had to establish interactions with their settled neighbors. Finding themselves in a relatively weaker position, the Baloch tribes needed to remain vigilant to ensure their survival in these new territories. In response to this challenge, they began forming alliances and adopted a more structured approach to their organization. The practical solution to address these issues involved the creation of tribal confederacies or unions.

In situations characterized by insecurity, disorder, threats from regional authorities, or hostile central governments, multiple tribal communities would come together and rally around a chief who had proven his capability to provide protection and security. This approach allowed them to enhance their collective strength and resilience in the face of external challenges.

British Occupation

In 1839, the British assumed control over the region .By the 1870s, Baluchistan had fallen under the dominion of the British Indian Empire during the colonial period in India. The primary aim of the British in negotiating a treaty with the Khanate of Kalat was to secure a passage and logistical support for the “Army of Indus” en route to Kandahar. This route encompassed Shikarpur, Jacobabad (Khangadh), Dhadar, Bolan Pass, Quetta, and Khojak Pass. Notably, the British imperialist interests in Balochistan were not predominantly economic, as was the case in other Indian regions. Instead, their motives were primarily military and geopolitical in nature. Their fundamental objective upon entering Balochistan was to establish garrisons to safeguard British India’s frontiers from potential threats originating in Iran and Afghanistan.

Starting in 1840, a widespread uprising against British rule erupted across Balochistan. The Baloch people were resolute in their refusal to accept their homeland as part of an occupied Afghanistan and to be governed by a puppet Khan. The influential Mari tribe spearheaded a comprehensive revolt. In response, the British employed overwhelming force, with a British contingent led by Major Brown launching an assault on the Mari stronghold of Kahan on May 11, 1840, capturing Kahan Fort and its environs (Masson, 1974). Subsequently, the Mari forces regrouped and ambushed a British troop convoy near Filiji, resulting in the demise of over one hundred British soldiers.

During the Indian independence movement, Balochistan witnessed the activity of “three pro-Congress parties” in its political landscape, such as the Anjuman-i-Watan Baluchistan, which advocated for a united India and opposed its partition.

Culture

The foundational cultural values that underpin the Baloch individual and collective identity took root between the twelfth and sixteenth centuries. This period, marked by hardships and large-scale migrations, not only forged the Baloch identity but also ushered in significant sociocultural changes within Baloch society. The interplay between pastoral ecology and tribal structures played a pivotal role in shaping contemporary Baloch social values. The nomadic pastoralist lifestyle, coupled with a determination to resist assimilation by more powerful ethnic groups, contributed to the distinct Baloch ethnic identity. Over the last two millennia, persecution by organized religions has also influenced their secular approach to religion in social and communal matters. Their independent and tenacious nature, a hallmark of Baloch identity, is rooted in their nomadic and agro-pastoral history.

The tradition of Med o Maraka holds a place of great honor among the Baloch for resolving disputes. In essence, it entails the acknowledgment of guilt by the accused or offender and a heartfelt request for forgiveness from the aggrieved party. Typically, the offender personally visits the home of the affected individual to seek forgiveness.

The Baloch distinguish themselves through their dress code and personal grooming practices. Baloch attire and grooming bear a striking resemblance to the customs of the Median and Parthian cultures. Remarkably, the traditional Balochi dress has undergone minimal changes since ancient times. A typical Balochi ensemble includes loose-fitting, multi-folded trousers secured with garters, bobbed hair, a shirt (qamis), and a head turban. Both hair and beards are often meticulously curled, although long, straight locks are sometimes preferred. Baloch women typically wear a long frock and trousers (shalwaar) along with a headscarf as part of their customary attire.

Religion

Historically, there exists no documented evidence of religious practices among the ancient Baloch. Many Baloch writers have suggested that the persecutions inflicted upon the Baloch by Sassanid emperors Shapur II and Khosrow II bore a distinct religious or sectarian aspect. They propose that there are compelling indications pointing to the Baloch’s adherence to the Mazdakian and Manichean sects of Zoroastrianism during their fateful encounters with Sassanid forces. Throughout the Middle Ages, the Baloch society did not display an elaborate structure of religious institutions. Originally, the Baloch followed the Zoroastrian religion and its various sects, but they converted to Islam (with the majority adhering to the Sunni sect) following the Arab conquest of Balochistan in the seventh century.

Governance and Political Conflicts

The Balochistan region is divided among three countries: Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran. The largest portion, both in terms of area and population, is within Pakistan, where the largest province by land area is Balochistan. Approximately 6.9 million people in Pakistan identify as Baloch. In Iran, there are approximately two million ethnic Baloch, and a majority of the population in Iran’s eastern Sistan and Baluchestan Province belongs to the Baloch ethnicity. In Afghanistan, the Baloch presence includes the Chahar Burjak District of Nimruz Province, as well as the Registan Desert in the southern regions of Helmand and Kandahar provinces. The governors of Nimruz province in Afghanistan are from the Baloch ethnic group. President Pervez Musharraf and the military have been held responsible for exacerbating the conflict in Balochistan.

The Balochistan region has witnessed several insurgencies involving separatist militants who seek independence for Baloch regions in the three countries to establish “Greater Balochistan.” In Pakistan, insurgencies by separatist militants in Balochistan province occurred in 1948, 1958–59, 1962–63, and 1973–1977, with a new ongoing low-intensity insurgency since 2003. Historically, factors contributing to the conflict include “tribal divisions,” Baloch-Pashtun ethnic divisions, “marginalization by Punjabi interests,” and “economic oppression.” Over the years, the insurgency by separatist militants has waned due to crackdowns by Pakistani security forces, infighting among the separatist militants, and the assassinations of Baloch politicians willing to participate in Pakistan’s democratic processes by separatist militants. In Pakistan, separatist militants demand greater autonomy and a larger share of the region’s natural resources. The Baloch population in Pakistan has endured serious human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and torture, reportedly perpetrated by state security forces and their affiliates. In 2019, the United States designated the Baloch Liberation Army, one of the separatist militant groups fighting the Pakistani government, as a global terrorist organization.

In Iran, separatist activities have reportedly not gained as much momentum as in Pakistan, but they have grown and taken on a more sectarian nature since 2012, with the predominantly Sunni Baloch exhibiting increased Salafist and anti-Shia ideology in their struggle against Iran’s Shia-Islamist government. Separatist militants in Iran demand greater rights for ethnic Baloch residing in Iran’s Sistan and Baluchestan Province.

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