Baluchistan, the forgotten province of Pakistan



This article is dedicated to Nawab Akbar Bugti, one of the few sane man; a Oxonian who we could have talked to before we killed him in cold blood just to satisfy our highly inflated ego. No less. No more.


We will indeed be questioned on the ‘Day of Judgment’ for this extra judicial murder of one of the finest gentleman that Baluchistan could ever produce.


Bugti Sahib; I have sharp memoirs of our first and only meeting in 1972 in the house of Qamar-Uz-Zaman Shah sahib in Latifabad # 2, Hyderabad, Sindh along with my father. This article is dedicated to you, Sir!

Map of Baluchistan

No sooner did my management decided to send a project team to Quetta, Baluchistan, and butterflies went on a rampage in my stomach. In spite of the current political upheaval in the Baluchistan province in general and Quetta city in particular with bombs almost ticking off on a daily basis, I was still game for going to Quetta where I first landed in 1972 at the tender age of seven.


A little bit of background:


The province of Baluchistan (or Balochistan) is the remote south-west region of Pakistan enclosed by Afghanistan, Iran and the Arabian Sea. It’s a dry, dusty, barren area with the lowest population density in the country. Outside Quetta, the provincial capital and the main way out of the province, Baluchistan is only for the hardiest and most adventurous of travelers. Apart from Quetta, Baluchistan’s settlements are mainly hamlets, villages or small towns built around oases and separated by vast stretches of sand or mountain.


History of Baluchistan:


Baluchistan’s inhospitable terrain and war-like inhabitants have made it easy to defend, perilous to invade and unrewarding to rule. It has never come close to being subdued by outsiders, and its ruggedness has made its inhabitants some of the toughest, bravest and most fiercely independent people on earth.


Evidence from Mehergarh – the oldest known archeological site in the subcontinent — and elsewhere indicates that Baluchistan was in-habited as early as the Stone Age and was part of an ancient line of communication between the Indus Valley and Persia, and thence to Mesopotamia.1


The British became interested in Baluchistan as a corridor into Afghanistan during the first Anglo-Afghan war. Political officers were sent to Kalat and elsewhere. In 1839, the British were persuaded by conniving courtiers of Mir Mehrab Khan, to attack Kalat on a baseless allegation that the Khan had been disloyal to the British. 2


The Khan was killed, and the British appointed Mir Nawaz Khan to rule Kalat, and Lieutenant Loveday as assistant political officer. Following an attack in 1840 on the British garrison at Quetta by local tribes and supporters of the subsequent Khan Nasir Khan II, Lieutenant Loveday was assassinated. With the British defeat at Kabul and withdrawal from Afghanistan, Quetta was evacuated in 1842 by the British. 3


Between 1842 till 1947, Baluchistan was ruled by different Khans of Kalat. At partition in 1947, most tribal chiefs agreed to give up their powers but Mir Ahmad Yar Khan of Kalat refused to join the club.


The 1952 discovery of natural gas at Sui in Baluchistan saw a rise in immigration to the province, largely by Pashtuns and subsequent Baluch resentment. Attempts in 1976 to enforce a law abolishing the rights of feudal chiefs led to considerable tribal violence against the Federal government and clashes have continued to the present day.


Geography & Climate:


With an area of some 343,000 sq km, Baluchistan covers 43% of Pakistan and is larger than the British Isles, but has an estimated population of only around seven million. Unquestionably a land of contrasts, Baluchistan contains some of the bleakest and some of the most beautiful landscapes in the country. It has some of the most fertile land and much of the most barren, some of Pakistan’s coldest spots and some of its hottest.


The region lies in a major earthquake zone. In 1935, a huge tremor leveled much of Quetta. In February 1997 two quakes measuring 6.3 and 7.3 on the Richter scale devastated the region around Harnai, killing 80 people.


Koh-e-Murdar, Quetta


Baluchistan has several important rivers, including the Zhob, Porali, Hingol and Dasht.  Around Quetta, the high peaks are Zarghun (3578 m), Tukatu (about 3400 m), Chiltan (about 3000 m), and Khilafat (about 3500 m).


Of Baluchistan’s seven million or so people, almost half live within 80 km of Quetta. Most are semi nomadic pastoralists and shepherds. There are three main indigenous groups – ethnic Baluch, Brahui and Pashtuns (Pathans) – plus settlers from other parts of Pakistan, many of whom have arrived since Partition. The Baluch speak a derivation of Persian. The Brahui, found largely in central Baluchistan may be the last major descendants of the Indus Valley civilizations, although little is known of their origins. Pashtuns form the majority in North-West Baluchistan and an important minority in the rest of the province. 4


The Sui district has one of the largest gas deposits in the world. Agriculture has always been a mainstay; there are many fruit farms in the north, especially in the valleys around Quetta and Ziarat and date farms in the South. The Makran boasts many coconut palms. The coastline measures more than 750 km and has over 200 species of fish, most of them edible. 5

Background of Quetta:

Baluchistan’s capital and only town of any size, Quetta is a fertile oasis surrounded by bleak, dry mountains. Quetta has very much the air of a frontier town. It has none of the Mughal features of other sub-continental cities, no ancient bazaars, no splendid mosques or beautiful palaces, nor any monumental structures of the British era. 6

Serena Hotel, Quetta

History of Quetta:

Although there has been a settlement here for many centuries, the town takes its name from the ancient fort (kwatta in Pushto) which protected the roads to Afghanistan, Persia and India. In 1730, it came under the Khan of Kalat, who made it his northern capital. In 1876, the British administrator Sir Robert Sandeman signed a treaty with the Khan of Kalat which handed over the administration of the strategic Quetta region to the British. What Quetta does have in good measure is the intrigue you might expect of a frontier town and capital of an untamed province. 7

Back to the main story:

My first landing in Quetta was along with my family when we took a train from Karachi to Quetta, I guess a 25 hour-long, arduous journey at the tender age of seven in 1972 right after the 2nd war with India. Since this was my first travel outside Karachi, I still carry strong memoirs of this wonderful journey; a few details of which are described below.

The first thing I remember was the un-ending train journey which included long spells of passing through tunnels, the longest in Pakistan, one lasting for almost 15 minutes and all three of us kids got scared since we had never experienced such a long blackout in that particular journey. Also, at one stage two engines were used at a particular station to pull the train up on a hill.

Hanna Lake was a popular weekend destination with Quetta locals. Ten kilometers east of that city, on a good road skirting foothills and scrubland, this small natural lake is surrounded by khaki hills (khaki means dust in Pushto) in stark contrast to its glassy blue-green waters.

Hanna Lake, Quetta

After a few days stay in Quetta, we moved on to Ziarat. A tourist office cliché is that no visit to Quetta is complete without a trip to Ziarat. The main hill station of Baluchistan set among ancient Juniper forests. Ziarat is 120 km north-east of Quetta at an altitude of 2600 m.

Juniper Trees in Ziarat, Baluchistan

We stayed in the ‘Sanobar’ hotel at Ziarat. This sleepy little town was also much appreciated by Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the Quaid-e-Azam; Founder of Pakistan, who spent his final days here at the former residency of the agent to the governor-general. The residence of the Quaid survives with furniture left as it was when he died.

Quaid’s winter residency in Ziarat

Unfortunately, I fell sick in Ziarat and thus we had to rush back to Karachi and that was all that I remember of this trip.

Last trip to Quetta:

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, my last escapade to Quetta was related to work when I accompanied a colleague to Quetta in the last leg of August 2008 only for two days to discuss and finalize the dynamics of a scholarship program for the young and aspiring scholars of the Baluchistan province.

We stayed at the ‘Lourdes hotel’ on the Staff College road. A Quetta institution, seemingly unscathed by the 1935 earthquake, it combines old-style British charm, satellite TV and enough heating in winter to boil eggs.

After the scheduled meeting on the first day of the trip with the project staff, I was invited to deliver a lecture on ‘Human Resource Development’ at the Baluchistan University of Information Technology, Engineering & Management Sciences; a close distance from the airport.


(The writer in Green suit with Ahmed Shah Durrani, Chairman, Dept. of Social Sciences, BUITEMS, Quetta)

Although this was my second trip to Quetta after 36 long years but it almost felt like coming back home again, a strange feeling since Baluchistan indeed is a long forgotten province of Pakistan with political upheavals every now & then. I wish the largest province of Pakistan is given the share and credit it deserves by the Federal government and peace is brought to this area so that I can revisit this mostly untouched, barren land with one of the most beautiful landscapes in Pakistan.


1.         The lonely planet, Pakistan, John King, Bradley Mayhew, David St. Vincent, 5th edition, July 1998.

2.         The British Rule in Baluchistan, London Times, April 1976.

3.         Ibid.

4.         The lonely planet, Pakistan, John King, Bradley Mayhew, David St. Vincent, 5th edition, July 1998.

5.         Mineral & Gas Deposits of Baluchistan, Baluchistan Times, May 1987

6.         The lonely planet, Pakistan, John King, Bradley Mayhew, David St. Vincent, 5th edition, July 1998.

7.         Ibid.


Shaikh Muhammed Ali

‘The Wandering Dervish’

Cell: +00-92-321-5072996



Note: This article was first published on the Internet in October 2008.

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