Baluchistan

Baluchistan (bəlōˈchĭstăn) [key], province (1998 pop. 6,511,358), c.134,000 sq mi (347,000 sq km), Pakistan. The country's largest and least populous province, it is bounded by Iran on the west, by Afghanistan on the north, and by the Makran coast of the Arabian Sea on the south. The larger historical region of Baluchistan includes neighboring areas of SE Iran and SW Afghanistan. Quetta is the province's capital; it is connected by railway to the main Indus plains corridor of Pakistan. Lying outside the monsoon zone and with few rivers usable for irrigation, Baluchistan is largely desert basins with inarable hills and mountains. Outside of urban areas, tribes who speak languages related to Persian constitute most of the sparse population; the Baluch are dominant except in the northeast, where the people are largely Pathans (Pashtuns).

Some cotton is raised and processed; grains are grown in some valleys, and fruits in the highlands. Sheep and goats also are raised. Extensive mineral resources include coal and lignite, gypsum, chromite, limestone, sulphur, and lead. Natural gas and oil discoveries are being developed and exploited. On the coast there is trade in fish and salt; a modern deepwater port has been created at Gwadar.

Many invaders going India have crossed Baluchistan; the return route of Alexander the Great (325 B.C.) from India to Persia was through S coastal Baluchistan. During 7th–10th cent., Arabs held most of area; in early 17th-cent., the region was under Mughal control. Baluchistan was later ruled by tribal chiefs, the most important of whom was khan of Kalat. During the Afghan Wars (see Afghanistan) the British began to establish control over the area. By the treaties of 1876, 1879, and 1891 the northern sections (later known as British Baluchistan) were placed under British control and a military base was established at Quetta.

The area was incorporated (1947–48) into Pakistan and then (1955) into West Pakistan prov. It was returned to full provincial status in 1970. In 1976 the Pakistani central government revoked the authority of local chiefs to administer their own peoples, touching off a significant popular revolt against the government; there had been several more minor tribal uprisings in the previous decades. Guerrilla fighting between local groups and government forces re-erupted sporadically, resuming in 2004 over proposed economic and military development that seemed likely to bring large numbers of Punjabis into the province. A truce from Sept., 2008, to Jan., 2009, ended when it failed to lead to meaningful negotiations. There also has been feuding between local Baluch tribes and killings by Sunni extremists (directed mainly at Shiite Hazaras) and progovernment paramilitary death squads.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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