Although its precise boundaries are still undetermined, it is generally thought to stretch from the edge of the Iranian plateau (the Dasht-e Lut), including parts of the Kirman desert east of Bam and the Bashagird mountains, to the coastal lowlands of the Gulf of Oman, up to the rugged Sulaiman range in the East, at the edge of the western boundaries of the Pakistani provinces of Sind and Punjab. The volcano of Kuh-i Taftan (13,500 ft. [4,104 m]) located on the Iranian side is considered Baluchistan's most spectacular peak. Its most important cities are Iranshahr (formerly Fahraj), the capital of Iranian Baluchistan and Quetta, the capital of Pakistani Baluchistan.
Due to the nature of its divergent topography, Baluchistan appears to have been divided throughout its history between Iranian "highland" and Indian subcontinent "lowland" spheres of influence. Indeed, its hybrid population, comprising Baluch, Brahuis, Djats, and other South Asian elements, thought to amount to a little more than two million, reflects this. In particular, the region has been influenced greatly by the politics of the neighboring areas of Kerman, Sistan, Kandahar, Punjab, Sind, and Oman.
The Baluch are generally divided into two groups, the Sarawan and the Jahlawan, separated from each other by the Brahuis of the Kalat region. The exact origins of the Baluch are unclear. It is generally thought that they migrated to the region either from the east, beyond Makran, or from north of Kerman sometime in the late medieval period. The earliest mention of them occurs in an eighth-century Pahlavi text, while a number of the medieval Muslim geographers mention a group called the "Balus," in the area between Kerman, Khorasan, Sistan, and Makran.
When they actually began to see themselves as a distinct cultural unit is another matter of debate. The idea of a single, politically unified Baluchistan seems to date back to the eighteenth century and the time of their only successful indigenous leader, the Brahui Nasir Khan, who attempted to consolidate all the Baluch into one unified nation. This idea of a single Baluchistan was further fueled by the British—who began to take a great interest in the area in the nineteenth century and formally incorporated large sections of it into their subcontinental empire as part of their divide-and-rule policy. Indeed, it was the British who first began extensive mapping of the area, promoted scholarship on the Baluchi tribes, and negotiated the formal international boundaries with Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan in 1947, ultimately spurring Iranian and Russian interests in the area.
Regardless of the debates, it can be said with certainty that a distinct ethnic and social entity, complete with an independent language, Baluchi, and a distinctive social and political structure based on a primarily nomadic way of life, emerged in the region known as Baluchistan.
Baloch, Mir Khudabux Bijarani Marri. The Balochis through the Centuries: History versus Legend. Quetta, Pakistan, 1965.
Embree, Ainslee T., ed. Pakistan's Western Borderlands: The Transformation of a Political Order. Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press, 1977.
Baluchistan (bəlōō´chĬstăn), 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 BC) 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 Baluchis are members of Baluchi-speaking tribes inhabiting the Pakistani provinces of Baluchistan and coastal Makran, adjoining southwestern Afghanistan, and southeastern Iran. Detribalized Baluchis have been migrating to the United Arab Emirates and Oman since at least the 1950s. Baluchi, an Indo-Iranian language, has five million speakers; the majority live in Pakistan. Traditionally Baluchis were nomadic sheep and goat herders and camel breeders; during the nineteenth century some became sedentary farmers (growing dates, almonds, apricots, and wheat) or fishers. The Baluchi tribal organization is hierarchical, with four social classes (aristocracy, nomads, farmers, and slaves); most tribes are led by a tribal chief (sardar) but sociopolitical organization is variable. Most Baluchis are Sunni Muslim. The area known as Pakistani Baluchistan was conquered by the British in 1887. In Iran and Pakistan, Baluchis have been migrating to nonBaluchi urban areas in search of employment since the 1950s. Most of the small Baluchi population of Afghanistan fled to Iran and Pakistan as refugees during the 1980s.
see also baluchistan.
Salzman, Philip Carl. Black Tents of Baluchistan. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2000.
Charles C. Kolb