Quetta (kwĕˈtə) [key], city (1998 pop. 560,307), capital of Baluchistan prov., W central Pakistan, at an altitude of c.5,500 ft (1,675 m), ringed by mountains. Deriving its name from the Pashto word kawkot [fort], it commands the entrance through the strategic Bolan Pass into Afghanistan and is a trade center for Afghanistan, Iran, and much of central Asia. The city's cottage industries produce textiles, foodstuffs, and carpets. Quetta has a military staff college (est. 1907) and a geophysical observatory.
The city was occupied (1876) by the British following the Second Afghan War, and it gained prominence as the seat of British resident Sir Robert Sandeman. It became a strongly garrisoned British military station. Much of the present city was rebuilt after a disastrous earthquake in 1935. Like many major Pakistani border cities, Quetta was a magnet for some of the millions of Afghan refugees who fled after the 1979 Soviet invasion; the refugees who remain have swelled the local population to an estimated 2 million people. As a result of war and ongoing fighting in Afghanistan, Quetta has become a center for arms and drug smuggling and a base for ousted Taliban leaders. In the 21st cent. Sunni extremist have increasingly attacked Shiites Hazaras living in Quetta.