The Baloch, also know the Balochi, Baluch or Baluchi, are an ethnic group that live primarily in the sandy plains, deserts and barren mountains of southeast Iran, southwest Pakistan and southern Afghanistan. Their province in Pakistan is called Balochistan (Baluchistan). Some Baloch men move freely between Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan and have wives and children in all three places.

The Baloch, like the Pashtuns, are a tribal population whose original territory extends beyond the national borders. Over 70 percent of the Baloch live in Pakistan, with the remainder in Iran and Afghanistan. The Baloch trace their roots to tribes migrating eastward from around Aleppo, in Syria, before the Christian era. Sometime between the sixth century and the fourteenth century, they migrated to the region of present-day Balochistan. [Source: Peter Blood, Library of Congress, 1994]

The Baloch are predominantly Sunni Muslim, seminomadic pastoralists, They have traditionally travelled with their herds on a seasonal basis but also have a home area where they grow some food crops). Though united by a common language and culture, they have suffered the fate of many groups in the region in that their traditional homeland is divided between several political units — namely Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan. [Source: D. O. Lodrick, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009 *]

The Baloch (pronunciation: bal-OOCH) have traditionally been nomads who have roamed across desolate Balochistan with long camel trains piled with belonging and children, surrounded by flocks or goats and sheep, ignoring borders drawn by British mapmakers to find the best seasonal grazing areas for their animals. The province of Balochistan was drawn more to meet the needs of the British administrators than the Baloch people. The traditional territory of the Baloch extends across a small section of Afghanistan, from the southeast portion of the Iranian Plateau across the Kerman (Kirman) Desert to the Punjab and the Sindh (provinces of Pakistan in the valley of the Indus River), from the Gumal River in the northeast and to the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman in the south.

There are believed to be around 10 million Baloch but accurate numbers of them are difficult to ascertain because of the unreliability of census-taking methods in Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan and the fact that some culturally distinct groups speak Baloch. There are also a large number of Baloch that live in the Sindh and Punjab and the emirates of the Persian Gulf.


Balochistan is a vast desert region of boulders and barren mountains where tourists rarely venture. The people are related to Arabs and Persians and the region itself would like more autonomy from the Pakistani governments. Most of the people live in the cities but there are still some nomads that wander the deserts with their camels and other animals.

Balochistan is the name of the westernmost province of Pakistan, as well as of the transnational territory of Baloch homeland. Vast and sparsely-populated but rich in resources, Balochistan province is Pakistan's largest and western-most province. A land of grand sweeping landscapes of mountains, plains and plateaus, it also has a magnificent coastline. The Bolan Pass was the entrance point for invaders before the Khyber Pass was discovered. Near the pass lies Mehrgarh, precursor of the Indus Valley Civilization. The Trans-Balochistan Quetta-Zahidan Railway, built by the British in the early years of the twentieth century to link India with Persia, is a marvel of engineering running through spectacular mountainous desert. [Source: Nancy E. Gratton,“Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]

Balochistan lies outside the monsoon belt. Temperatures reach 120̊F in the summer, cold winds whip up in the winter and years pass between rains. On average there are only 15 centimeters of rain a year. In the mountains the rains come in October and March. In the lowlands they come in July and August. The armies of Alexander the Great crossed the Baloch desert and suffered greatly and lost many men.

The harsh land has also created harsh people. A Baloch war song does a pretty good job summing up their homeland: "the mountains are Balochi's forts; the peaks are better than any army; the lofty heights are our comrades; the pathless gorges our friends. Our drink is made from flowing springs; our bed the thorny bush; the ground we make our pillow." The people also have a reputation for being hostile to outsiders.

The inhabitants of Balochistan are mainly Pashtun (Pathan), Baloch and Brahui. You can also find some Uzbeks, Tajiks and Turkomen. Nomadic tribesmen pass through Quetta Valley during spring and autumn with their herds of sheep and camels and their assorted wares for sale. This seasonal movement adds color to the life of the city. The rugged terrain has made the people of the area hardy and resilient. They are known for their friendly and hospitable nature. [Source: Ministry of Culture, Pakistan ]

Balochistan in Pakistan covers 343,000 square kilometers (132,433 square miles). It is the largest province in Pakistan, accounting for 44 percent of its land area. Balochistan in Iran covers an equally large area. Balochistan is one of the least developed parts of Pakistan and leds the country in things like illiteracy, infant mortality and short life spans.It has some large deposits of natural gas, coal, iron and other resources. There is iron and coal mining, and oil and gas exploration. The country's largest natural gas reservoir, discovered in 1952, is located at Sui. Inhabitants say they receive little benefit from these resources: most of the money goes to the central government and the Pakistani elite.

Balochistan is highly prone to earthquakes. In 1935 the city of Quetta was demolished by a temblor that killed 24,000 people. When journalist Bern Keating visited the city in 1967 there were five earthquakes in three days. Generally few people are killed because so few people live there. The Zhob Valley, irrigated by an underground irrigation system, is known for its apple, peach and apricot orchards. The provincial capital is Quetta. Set in a valley with apple orchards, the city was rebuilt after the devastating earthquake of 1935. The large population of Afghan refugees has given the crafts, available in the bazaars, a Central Asian flavor, along with the more traditional Baloch crafts such as mirror-work. [Source: Ministry of Culture, Pakistan ]

Few travelers set foot in Balochistan. Most that see it view from it from planes and experience the came sense of vastness and emptiness that one feels when flying over the Sahara. Banditry still occurs and travelers need a permit to travel outside of Quetta, a rule set up mainly for their own protection.

Balochistan Landscape and Geography

The geography of Balochistan is more reminiscent of the Middle East and Iran than South Asia. A team of U.S. geologist once said it was close to the environment on Mars. Most of the landscape is occupied by barren mountains and rocky deserts. In the north are some mountains that reach a height of 3,500 meters. The routes to reach Afghanistan cross the legendary Khojack and Bolan passes. Nomads have traditionally lived in the highlands because usually they contained the only places where they could find vegetation for their animals to eat.

The land of Balochistan is exceedingly inhospitable. A Pashto expression, reflecting on ethnic relations between the Pashtun and Baloch as well as geography, describes Balochistan as "the dump where Allah shot the rubbish of creation."Subsistence is hard in this environment and is achieved by pastoral nomadism, dryland and irrigated agriculture, and fishing. Dryland farming is marginal, although it is a mainstay for many seminomadic herders. The Baloch plant drought-resistant grains in earthen embankments where scanty rainfall has accumulated. [Source: Peter Blood, Library of Congress, 1994]

Rugged mountain and ranges include the Chiltan, Takatu, Sulaiman and Sultan. Plains stretch for hundreds of kilometers. Among the most fertile areas are in Nasirabad. There are vast empty tracts with virtually no water in the Pat section of Sibi district and the Makran desert zone. The hottest places in Pakistan are in Sibi. Towns like Quetta, Ziarat, Kan Mehtarzai and Kalat are still very hot but are regarded as and relatively cool. In the winter, temperature often drop below freezing point and some places receive significant snowfall. [Source: Ministry of Culture, Pakistan ]

According to the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”: “Apart from the fringing coastal lowlands in the south and the arm of the Indus flood plain that extends towards Sibi in Pakistan, the entire region is characterized by harsh, inaccessible terrain. Rugged mountain ranges are interspersed with upland plateaus and desert basins. In Pakistan, the eastern margins of Balochistan are defined by the north–south-running Kirthar Hills and the Sulaiman Ranges. The latter average 1,800–2,100 meters (6,000–7,000 feet) in elevation, but in places mountain peaks exceed 3,000 meters (10,000 feet). Zargun, near Quetta, reaches a height of 3,591 meters (11,738 feet). In southern Balochistan Province, the mountain ranges swing westward to parallel the Makran coast. The northwest of the province is made up of the desert basin of the Hamun-i-Mashkel, a region of bare sun-cracked clay, sand dunes, and marshes. The entire region experiences an arid climate, with the hot summers and cold winters typical of desert regions. [Source: D. O. Lodrick, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009 *]

Baloch and Balochistan Population

The population of Balochistan province is 12.4 million people of which about 52 percent are Baloch and 36 percent Pashtun. About 80 percent of the Baloch population in Pakistan lives Balochistan province in Pakistan. The remaining 12 percent is made of significant communities of Brahuis and Hazaras as well Sindhi, Punjabi, Uzbek and Turkmen settlers. [Source: Wikipedia +].

There are believed to be around 10 million Baloch, with 6.8 million of them in Pakistan, but accurate numbers of them are difficult to ascertain because of the unreliability of census-taking methods in Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan and the fact that some culturally distinct groups speak Baloch. There are also a large number of Baloch that live in the Sindh and Punjab and the emirates of the Persian Gulf. [Source: Nancy E. Gratton,“Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]

There are 1.5 million to 2 million Baloch within the borders of Iran, and 500,000 to 2 million more in Afghanistan. The populations of Baloch in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran can change due to climate, season, politics, warfare, and separatist activity. There are also around 100,000 Baloch in Turkmenistan and between 500,000 and 1 million in the Persian Gulf states, mainly the United Arab Emirates. +

According to the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “Population Baloch are somewhat suspect partly because the criteria Baloch identity are not tightly defined. On the strength of linguistic criteria, there are an estimated Baloch speakers living in eastern Iran, southern Afghanistan, and in Pakistan. Baloch have in some areas become linguistically assimilated to neighboring peoples while retaining a Baloch cultural identity; this means that if sociocultural rather than purely linguistic criteria were used, the population count could easily be higher. Baloch have migrated to Pakistan's Sindh and Punjab provinces, and to the emirates of the Persian Gulf. “ |~|

Early Baloch History

According to legend the Baloch are descendants of Amir Hamza, one of Mohammed’s uncles, and the migrated to Balochistan from the area around Aleppo in Syria. The Baloch are probably Persian in origin. Their language is related to Persian. Their origin and terms of their arrival in Balochistan is still a matter of debate. Linguistic information indicates they originated in the Caspian Sea region, where the Persians and Kurds also emerged from, and they migrated eastward, arriving in Balochistan as early as the A.D.5th century and had established themselves there by the 7th century.

Before the 12th century the Baloch were made up of autonomous seminomadic groups organized around clan affiliation rather than by region. As these groups became large, access to water and valued land grew in importance a system of tribes, with associations with certain areas, developed. Baloch tribes were united under Mir Jalal Han in the 12th century. In the 15th century, there was a great deal of inter-tribe warfare. By the 16th century the Baloch were more or less divided into three separate political entities: the Makran state, the Dodai Confederacy and the khanate of Balochistan.

In the 18th century, Mir Abdullah Khan of the Kalat Confederacy established a centralized government based on the “rawaj”, the custom Baloch people.

Balochistan History

Balochistan has a long history before the arrival of the Baloch. By 50,000 B.C., tools found in the region were mass produced using organized labor and well-established communications routes were used to distribute them. Evidence of domestication of animals, the adoption of agriculture, permanent village settlements, and wheel-turned pottery dating from the middle of the sixth millennium B.C. has been found in the foothills of Sindh and Baluchistan, both in present-day Pakistan. By around 10,000 years ago, as the last Ice Age ended and the climate became warmer, nomads began settling and living in larger and larger settlements. These settlers grew into the Indus Valley civilization. [Source: Library of Congress]

Balochistan is the home of the ruins of Mehrgarth, a neolithic, pre-Indus-Valley site dated to 7000 B.C. The ancient Persians referred to the area as Makka. According to French Archaeologist Professor Jean Francois Jarrige, by 6,000 B.C. farmers on the Bolan River were cultivating barley, wheat and dates using floodwater and storing their surplus in large mud bins. The people here were growing cotton and making pottery.. [Source: Ministry of Culture, Pakistan ]

Persians, Arabs, Hindus, and others have laid claim to parts of Balochistan at various times. Conflict within tribes and rivalries between tribes were frequent throughout the region. Competition for land, money, and resources was usually the cause. Before the birth of Christ, what is now Balochistan it had commerce and trade links with the ancient civilization of Babylon through Iran and into the valleys of Tigris and Euphrates. Alexander the Great (326 B.C.) had an encounter with the Sibia tribe of Balochistan. Muhammad Bin Qasim (A.D. 711) and Mehmood Ghaznavi (11th century) invaded Balochistan resulting in the introduction of Islam to the region. Even today many tribal people in Balochistan look more like Arabs than South Asians.

During 15th century, the Great Baloch Sardar Mir Chakkar Rind united the main Baloch tribes and also ruled over southern Afghanistan and parts of Punjab and Sindh. After this, Balochistan was governed by Safvids, Mughals and Ghilzais for three centuries. The Khans of Kalat united the Brahui tribes and rose to power with support of Nadir Shah of Iran. The British first came to Balochistan during the first Afghan War (1939-42), on their way to Kandhar. In 1876, Robert Sandeman was appointed as the British Agent in Balochistan and by 1887 most of the area was in British hands. Ultimately, in 1947, Balochistan became part of Pakistan..


In neolithic times, Indians raised cattle, sheep, goats, wheat, millet and barley. Mehrgarh is a Neolithic (7000-3200 B.C.) site on the Kachi plain of Baluchistan, Pakistan, and one of the earliest sites with evidence of farming (wheat and barley) and herding (cattle, sheep and goats) in south Asia. The site is located on the principal route between what is now Afghanistan and the Indus Valley. The habitation of the site has been divided into seven periods, the first being the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period that dates to circa 7000 B.C. or even earlier. The site was abandoned between 2000 and 2500 B.C. during a period of contact with the Indus Civilization and then reused as a burial ground for some time after 2000 B.C. [Source: Glorious India ]

Mehrgarh has been nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The archaeological site of Mehrgarh consist of a number of low archaeological mounds in the Kachi plain, close to the mouth of the Bolan Pass. Located next to the west bank of the Bolan river, they are some 30 kilometres from the town of Sibi. Covering an area of some 250 hectares, most of the archaeological deposits are buried deep beneath accumulations of alluvium although in other areas ‘in situ’ structures can be seen eroding on the surface. Currently exposed excavated remains at the site comprise a complex of large compartmental mud-brick structures. Built of hand-formed plano-convex mud bricks, the function of these sub-divided units is still uncertain but it is thought that many were for storage rather than residential. Mounds, MR3 & MR1 also contain formal cemeteries, parts of which have been excavated. [Source: Department of Archaeology and Museums of India]

Perhaps the most important feature of Mehrgarh is the fact that one can witness its gradual development from an early village society to a regional center that covered an area of 200 hectares. Mehrgarh was also a center of manufacture for various figurines and pottery that were distributed to surrounding regions. Research shows that people here lived in houses and were involved in hunting, domesticating of animals and farming grains such as rice, barley and wheat. This hunting-farming society developed gradually and their pursuits were creative. During the early period these people used stone and bone tools such as polished stone-axes, flint blades and bone-pointers. By 6000 B.C. the hand-made pottery appeared and in the 5th millenium B.C. Metallurgy and potter-wheel were introduced later. The people pf Mehgarh produced fine terra-cotta figurine and pottery with exotic geometric designs and produced and wore ornaments of beads, seashells and semi-precious stones like lapis lazuli.

Alexander's Arduous Journey Across the Baluchistan Desert

Alexander led the largest contingent on a march 1,750 kilometers across the Baluchistan desert, a wasteland more forbidding than the Sahara, and southern Iran. They traveled almost exclusively at night because it was simply too hot during the day. Even at night it travel was difficult as temperatures rarely dropped below 35 degrees C (95 degrees F). Because the supply ships never showed the marchers were forced to subsist on the limited food they brought with them.

The temperatures were blistering and what little water there was largely undrinkable. The trip was so arduous pack animals were butchered and eaten, booty was left behind and more than once the royal stores were broken into. Even then many men died of starvation, thirst and heat.

Alexander suffered along with everyone else. Once he was offered a helmet full of water but he poured it into the sand as a sign that he was willing to share the misery of his troops. Even when there water that could spell trouble too. A large number of his retinue drowned when a flash flood caught them in a canyon.

Alexander's journey across the deserts of Baluchistan has been compared to Napoleon's retreat from Moscow. The journey took 60 days. About 15,000 of Alexander's men, or nearly half the fighting force that accompanied him, perished — more than all the men killed in battle. By contrast, the fleets reached the Iranian coast, delayed but almost intact.

Alexander the Great in Gedrosia (coastal Balochistan)

On Alexander the Great journey through Gedrosia (Hellenized name of the part of coastal Baluchistan that roughly corresponds to today's Makran), Arrian wrote: “Thence Alexander marched through the land of the Gedrosians, by a difficult route, which was also destitute of all the necessaries of life; and in many places there was no water for the army. Moreover they were compelled to march most of the way by night, and a great distance from the sea. However he was very desirous of coming to the part of the country along the sea, both to see what harbours were there, and to make what preparations he could on his march for the fleet, either by employing his men in digging wells, or by making arrangements somewhere for a market and anchorage. But the part of the country of the Gedrosians near the sea was entirely desert. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884,]

“He therefore sent Thoas, son of Mandrodorus, with a few horsemen down to the sea, to reconnoitre and see if there happened to be any haven anywhere near, or whether there was water or any other of the necessaries of life not far from the sea. This man returned and reported that he found some fishermen upon the shore living in stifling huts, which were made by putting together mussel-shells, and the back-bones of fishes were used to form the roofs. He also said that these fishermen used little water, obtaining it with difficulty by scraping away the gravel, and that what they got was not at all fresh.

“When Alexander reached a certain place in Gedrosia, where corn was more abundant, he seized it and placed it upon the beasts of burden; and marking it with his own seal, he ordered it to be conveyed down to the sea. But while he was marching to the halting stage nearest to the sea, the soldiers paying little regard to the seal, the guards made use of the corn themselves, and gave a share of it to those who were especially pinched with hunger. To such a degree were they overcome by their misery that after mature deliberation they resolved to take account of the visible and already impending destruction rather than the danger of incurring the king's wrath, which was not before their eyes and still remote. When Alexander ascertained the necessity which constrained them so to act, he pardoned those who had done the deed. He himself hastened forward to collect from the land all he could for victualling the army which was sailing round with the fleet; and sent Cretheus the Callatian to convey the supplies to the coast. He also ordered the natives to grind as much corn as they could and convey it down from the interior of the country, together with dates and sheep for sale to the soldiers. Moreover he sent Telephus, one of the confidential Companions, down to another place on the coast with a small quantity of ground corn."

Baloch in the British Period

The Baloch have a long history of warfare. They fought with the various groups that occupied the Balochistan at the time of their arrival and expanded earthward, making it as far as Delhi in the early Mughal era. In the 18th century, the Baloch tribes were only loosely united. The British officer Sir Charles Napier, who fought the Baloch in the 1840s, wrote: “The brave Baloch. first discharging their matchlocks and pistols dashed over the bank with desperate resolution; but down went these bold and skillful swordsmen under the superior power of the musket and bayonet.”

In the British period tribal chiefs served as intermediaries between the local people and the British. In the process the Baloch lost much of their autonomy but through the British title and political system were able to accumulate more political power, wealth and land. According to the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: Uninterested in the Region economically, the British were solely concerned with establishing a buffer zone that could forestall the encroachment of the Russians upon the rich prize of India. To further this end, the British relied on the Baloch tribal leaders, cash handouts, and the establishment of garrisons, but they paid no attention to the economic development of the region itself. [Source: Nancy E. Gratton,“Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992]

D. O. Lodrick wrote in the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life” Concerned with a possible Russian threat to their Indian Empire, and also with gaining access to the strategic Afghanistan frontier, the British sought to extend their influence into Balochistan. They achieved this by playing local leaders against each other and through a policy of divide and conquer. Tribal chiefs were guaranteed local autonomy and cash payments in return for allowing British garrisons in their territory. Some areas along the Afghanistan border were brought under direct British administration. By the early 20th century, British control over the region extended to the borders of Afghanistan and Iran. [Source:D. O. Lodrick, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009]

The British annexation of Sindh in 1843 pushed the frontier of British India to the borders of Balochistan. By the early twentieth century, the British had control over much of the region. The Baloch were largely pacified in the late 1870s through the efforts of one Sir Robert Sandeman. Some of the Khan that ruled Balochistan at that time were just as eccentric as some nawabs and maharajas in India. One Baloch khan developed a passion for collecting shoes. To make sure that no one stole them, he kept the left shoe of each pair locked in a dungeon. The last Khan of Kalat designed his palace to look like the Queen Mary cruise ship. His quarters were in the ‘Captain’s Cabin’ on the top deck.

Baloch in Pakistan

The British Province of Balochistan passed to Pakistan when that country came into being in 1947. Pakistan also inherited the problems of the region. Opposition to the central government led to brutal battles with the Pakistani military in the mid-1970s. The military bombed villages and civilians in an effort to defeat Baloch rebels.

The Baloch initially resisted joining Pakistan, preferring independence. In 1948, Kalat became part of Pakistan after the Khan was finally forced to sign merger documents. Mir Ahmad Yar Khan was removed from power and was part of brief, unsuccessful rebellion in 1958. As he barricaded himself in his palace, according to National Geographic, “One shell from the encamped Pakistanis took off the top story of the minaret attached to his private mosque by the side of the palace, A second shattered a corner of his living room.

The Baloch see themselves as a neglected minority in a country whose government is controlled by ethnic groups such as the Punjabis. The Baloch have suffered as tribal land that was traditionally theirs has been taken over by other groups. The war period in Afghanistan caused numerous refugees to camp out on Baloch land.

Balochistan Crisis

The Baloch revolted 1973 because they felt they didn’t get their fair share. Some 50,000 tribesmen faced off against 70,000 government troops. Massive ariel bombing helped with the war but not before 10,000 tribesmen were killed. A long-dormant crisis erupted in Balochistan in 1973 into an insurgency that lasted four years and became increasingly bitter. The insurgency was put down by the Pakistan Army, which employed brutal methods and equipment, including Huey-Cobra helicopter gunships, provided by Iran and flown by Iranian pilots. The deep-seated Baloch nationalism based on tribal identity had international as well as domestic aspects. Divided in the nineteenth century among Iran, Afghanistan, and British India, the Baloch found their aspirations and traditional nomadic life frustrated by the presence of national boundaries and the extension of central administration over their lands. Moreover, many of the most militant Baloch nationalists were also vaguely Marxist-Leninist and willing to risk Soviet protection for an autonomous Balochistan. As the insurgency wore on, the influence of a relatively small but disciplined liberation front seemed to increase. [Source: Peter Blood, Library of Congress, 1994 *]

Bhutto was able to mobilize domestic support for his drive against the Baloch. Punjab's support was most tangibly represented in the use of the army to put down the insurgency. One of the main Baloch grievances was the influx of Punjabi settlers, miners, and traders into their resource-rich but sparsely populated lands. Bhutto could also invoke the idea of national integration with effect in the aftermath of Bengali secession. External assistance to Bhutto was generously given by the shah of Iran, who feared a spread of the insurrection among the Iranian Baloch. Some foreign governments feared that an independent or autonomous Balochistan might allow the Soviet Union to develop and use the port at Gwadar, and no outside power was willing to assist the Baloch openly or to sponsor the cause of Baloch autonomy.

During the Bhutto regime hostilities in Balochistan were protracted. The succeeding Zia ul-Haq government took a more moderate approach, relying more on economic development to placate the Baloch. Zia overthrew Bhutto in 1977 and was welcomed by many in Balochistan, in contrast to popular sentiment in the rest of the country, which was appalled by the extraconstitutional act. As relations with the central government began to smooth out, however, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in December 1979, placing nearly the entire northern border of Balochistan on alert as a frontline area. [Source: Peter Blood, Library of Congress, 1994 *]

Provincialism increased during Zia's tenure. He handled the problem of unrest in Balochistan more successfully than had Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Zia used various schemes of economic development to assuage the Baloch and was successful to a high degree. Balochistan's landscape in the 1980s changed markedly as Afghan refugee camps were established throughout the northern parts of the province. In many instances, temporary mud housing eventually became transformed into concrete structures. The refugees also caused the demographic balance to change as ethnic Pashtuns — many refugees from Afghanistan — came to settle in Balochistan.

Baloch Tribes

The Baloch are divided into various eastern and western tribes such as the Marri, Bugti, Brahui and Hur. Sometimes these tribes are regarded as distinct groups. The Brahuis have their own language and history. Baloch people are divided into two groups, the Sulaimani and the Makrani, separated from each other by a compact block of Brahui tribes.

Baloch homeland probably lay on the Irani Baloch were mentioned in Arabic chronicles of the 10th century AD. The old tribal organization is best preserved among those inhabiting the Sulaiman Mountains. Each tribe (tuman) consists of several clans and acknowledges one chief, even though in some tuman there are clans in habitual opposition to the chief.

According to the Government of Balochistan: A number of tribes constitute to make people of Balochistan. Three major tribes are Baloch (Baloch & Brahvi) and Pashtun. The Balochi speaking tribes include Rind, Lashar, Marri, Jamot, Ahmedzai, Bugti Domki, Magsi, Kenazai, Khosa, Rakhashani, Dashti, Umrani, Nosherwani, Gichki, Buledi, Notazai, Sanjarani, Meerwani, Zahrozai, Langove, Kenazai and Khidai. Each tribe is further sub-divided into various branches. The tribal chief is called Sardar while head of sub-tribe is known as Malik, Takari or Mir. Sardars and Maliks are members of district and other local Jirgas according to their status. [Source: Government Of Balochistan,]

“The Baloch can be divided in to two branches: the Sulemani and Mekrani as distinct from the Brahvis who mostly concentrate in central Balochistan. Among the eighteen major Baloch tribes, Bugtis and Marris are the principal ones who are settled in the buttresses of the Sulemania. The Talpur of Sind aIso claim their Baloch origin.

Baloch Government

Baloch tribal structure concentrates power in the hands of local tribal leaders. The British played local rivals against each other in a policy of indirect rule, as they did with the Pashtun tribes to the north — and virtually throughout the subcontinent. In essence, the British offered local autonomy and subsidies to rulers in exchange for access to the border with Afghanistan. In the early 1990s, local leaders maintained this policy to a large extent, continuing to exploit the endemic anarchy, whether local, provincial, or national. [Source: Peter Blood, Library of Congress, 1994 *]

Baloch society is stratified and has been characterized as "feudal militarism." The significant social tie is that between a leader, the hakim, and his retinue, consisting of pastoralists, agriculturists, lower-level leaders, and lower- level tenant farmers and descendants of former slaves (hizmatkar). Suprafamily groups formed through patrilineal descent are significant mostly for the elite hakim, whose concern for rivalry and politics is not shared by other groups. The basic exchange traditionally underlying this elaborate system was the hakim's offer of booty or property rights in return for support in battle. In more modern times, various favors are generally traded for votes, but the structure of the system — the participation of the lower-level leaders and the hizmatkar through patron-client ties — remains much the same. *

Chiefs in Bugti tribe are called “nawab-sardar”. The Bugti tribe is not very fond of the Pakistani government. During the Afghanistan War one tribesman said, "If were heard the Russians were going to invade Pakistan tomorrow, we would send them a cable saying please do not wait that long. Come today."*

Baloch Justice

The Baloch have their own justice system. known as ““riwaj” (or “rawaj”), which has traditionally had precedence over Islamic law and is based on the “mayar,” the Baloch code of honor and presided over by sadars. The British tried to introduce the Pashtun “jirga,” or tribal council, as a way of settling disputes but with limited success.

Deaths sentence can be imposed in cases of adultery and theft of clan property. Failure to comply with customs of hospitality can be result in fines. Pardons are often worked out through the work of female representatives. Perpetrators often seek refuge in the household of a non-related clan. The code still involves trial by fire ordeal.

Most disputes have traditionally been over grazing rights and groups often carefully define their territories with serious punishments for trespassers. Murderers often were punished only with small fines imposed by tribal councils. When this happened the victim's family often killed the murderer in reprisal which led to eternal eye-for-an-eye blood feuds. [Source: “Pakistan, Problems of a Two Part Land", National Geographic by Bern Keating, January 1967]

Wrongful deaths have traditionally been settled with blood feuds. One clan feud involving the Bugti tribe involved the use of rockets and automatic weapons and left 13 people dead. Once a hundred members of a Baloch clan were arrested.

Baloch Economics

Balochistan has some large deposits of natural gas, coal, iron and other resources. There is iron and coal mining, and oil and gas exploration. The country's largest natural gas reservoir, discovered in 1952, is located at Sui. Inhabitants say they receive little benefit from these resources: most of the money goes to the central government and the Pakistani elite. The fact that Baloch have seen relatively few benefits from Balochistan’s natural gas and resources has bred resentment and anger. They are also angry that some of their traditional grazing land has been given to other groups, namely Pashtuns.

Baloch have traditionally been a very self-sufficient people, generally producing most of what they need for themselves. They have traditionally made their own homes, make many of the tools and household items they need themselves Women are skilled rug weavers and embroiderers. They have traditionally made rugs for household use and for sale.

Subsistence is hard in this environment and is achieved by pastoral nomadism, dryland and irrigated agriculture, and fishing. Raiding used to be profitable trade but is not practiced as much as it once was due to modern laws. Baloch sometimes earn extra cash smuggling opium and other goods. Opium and heroin addiction is a problem because so much opium and heroin is smuggled through the region.

Many Baloch that live along the coast are fishermen. Some Baloch have gotten jobs on ships that travel in the Arabian Sea. Young men have migrated to the cities and the oil fields of the Persian Gulf. Some work as cooks and crew members on ship, The large population of Afghan refugees has affected the Balochistan economy. Their goods, which have a Central Asian flavor, are widely available in bazaars.

Baloch Agriculture and Animal Herding

Baloch have traditionally herded camels, sheep and goats and practiced subsistence agriculture. Although the area where they live is quite harsh, they are able coax a surprisingly amount of food from the land, namely wheat, dates, wild fruits and vegetables. Baloch also raise dates for consumption and sale. Some of the world’s largest crop of dates are produced around Mand in Iran and along the southern Makran coast. The Zhob Valley, irrigated by an underground irrigation system, is known for its apple, peach and apricot orchards. The provincial capital of Quetta is set in a valley with apple orchards.

Land traditionally has not been owned by individuals but rather by subsections of tribes. The British introduced a system of land titles which was only used to title land in the names of tribal chiefs. In some places the karez system of irrigation is used. Cultivation is sometimes performed by special ethnic groups and castes such as the Persian-speaking Dehwards of Kalat. [Source: Nancy E. Gratton,“Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]

Dryland farming is marginal, although it is a mainstay for many seminomadic herders. The Baloch plant drought-resistant grains in earthen embankments where scanty rainfall has accumulated. Irrigated farming is concentrated near oases in two kinds of systems: open channels that bring water from a few riverbeds, and subsurface drains (karez) that channel groundwater downward to planted fields. However, such irrigation and cultivation are extremely limited, forcing most Baloch to eke out a living by herding or farming in the marginal hinterland. [Source: Peter Blood, Library of Congress, 1994]

Sheep and goats are the main herd animals. Some herders raise cattle. Chickens may be raised as well. The herders typically consumes the dairy products these animals produce and sells the meat and wool. Pastoralists organize themselves around water sources; wells are the property of specific camps. The entire household participates in the work of tending the family's herd, but in other aspects of the economy there is a division of labor by sex: women work in groups to thresh and winnow the grain harvest, while plowing and planting are men's work. The gathering of wild foods, water, and firewood is done by groups of women. |~|

Baloch Social Problems and Development

The Baloch have not fared well in modern Pakistan. According to the “Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “ They are viewed as virtual "savages" by the ruling majority in the country. It is little wonder that the Baloch do not have a very strong sense of identity with Pakistani nationalism. This situation is not helped by the government. It has failed to promote economic development in Balochistan, one of the most underdeveloped areas of the country. [Source: “Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures,” The Gale Group, 1999 /=]

Baloch have little opportunity for formal education. Only an estimated 10 percent to 15 percent of Baloch children attend school, mainly in the more settled areas of the country. For this reason, illiteracy among the Baloch is high. Even in major cities such as Karachi, Baloch children are at a disadvantage. Although they speak Balochi at home, at school they have to struggle with Urdu, Sindhi, English (the language of business and university education), and Arabic or Persian. Few Baloch advance beyond high school or low-status jobs. /=\

Although social conditions in rural areas have changed little for most Baloch, two scandals in the early 1990s caused the region to receive much attention. The first grew out of reports that some owners of brick kilns in remote parts of the province had labor practices that resembled slavery, complete with indenturing workers to loans that were passed down through generations. The second was the charge that young boys were being recruited from the most remote parts of the province to be "camel boys" in races in the Persian Gulf states. The screaming of the young boys, who are tied to the backs of racing camels, supposedly scares the animals into running faster. The young boys often are maimed or killed in the process. Impoverished parents unwittingly accepted payment on the promise that their son would be employed as an apprentice. [Source: Peter Blood, Library of Congress, 1994 *]

Because of the area's limited population and its low population density levels, there has been little development in Balochistan except in Quetta, the capital of the province. The rural programs that exist stem mostly from the efforts of the Agha Khan Rural Support Development Project, an NGO that has expanded into rural Balochistan on the basis of its successes in the mountains around Gilgit, in the far north of the country. This project works on organizing disparate communities into local support groups and has had particular success in reaching women in remote areas of Balochistan.

Baloch Separatists

Abdul Sattar of Associated Press wrote: “Baluchistan has for years been the scene of a low-level insurgency by small separatist groups and nationalists who complain of discrimination and demand a fairer share of their province’s resources and wealth. Although there are also militant groups in Baluchistan that stage attacks on soldiers, separatists also often attack troops in the province, prompting authorities to detain suspects. Human rights activists often blame security forces of illegally holding people. Such detainees are usually not charged and do not appear in court, which draws protests from their families and rights activists. [Source: Abdul Sattar, Associated Press, January 25, 2021]

There have been sporadic separatist movements in Balochistan since independence. Baloch have long been accustomed to indirect rule, a policy that leaves local elites with a substantial measure of autonomy. The 1970s saw a precipitous deterioration in relations between Balochistan and the central government, however. The violent confrontation between Baloch insurgents and the Pakistani military in the mid-1970s was particularly brutal. The conflict touched the lives of most Baloch and politicized those long accustomed to accepting the status quo. Original demands for greater regional autonomy escalated into a full-scale movement aimed at restructuring the government along confederal lines. By the mid-1980s, traditional cleavages among hakim, minor leaders, and hizmatkar had declined in importance as the Baloch increasingly thought of themselves as a unified group in opposition to Pakistani, or Punjabi, hegemony. [Source: Peter Blood, Library of Congress, 1994]

Nancy E. Gratton wrote in the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “As a "stateless" people, the Baloch political presence is today somewhat attenuated. In the 1970s and 1980s, a number of groups sprang up in the name of Baloch nationalism, but their activities have been largely of a guerrilla nature and, as yet, they have been unable to secure international support for their cause. [Source: Nancy E. Gratton,“Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992]

According to AFP: Balochistan has long been racked by a separatist insurgency that has staunch leftist secular elements — including strong participation by women — and which reveres Communist icons like Argentine revolutionary Ernesto 'Che' Guevara. Separatists and rebels are fighting for a greater share of the region's mineral and gas wealth.” They are opposed , by “state-backed Islamist proxies who want to terrorize the population into acquiescence.” On their campaigns against in Balochistan, Jahanzaib Jamaldini, vice president of the Baloch National Party, which is fighting for greater autonomy told AFP: “The aim of these inhuman acts is to prevent women from participating in education, as well as social, political and economic aspects of life by creating a climate of terror,” [Source: AFP, July 31, 2014]

D. O. Lodrick wrote in “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”: Baloch nationalism remains a sensitive issue, especially given the strategic location of Balochistan on the shores of the Arabian Sea and the political dynamics of the region. A proposed pipeline will carry natural gas from Turkmenistan to India through Balochistan, although the security of the pipeline remains an issue for the Pakistani government” and “the continuing low level insurgency in Balochistan. [Source: D. O. Lodrick, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009 *]

Baloch separatist groups have not gained much international attention. The Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) has been involved in bombings, blown up railways and telecom facilities, and cut gas lines and electricity. They want more autonomy have and opposed to the pipeline mentioned above and Chinese projects in Baloch territory. The say they have targeted military not civilian targets.

Baloch Separatist Activity

In January 2005 they was a large offensive involving hundreds of tribesmen after doctor was raped in her home in an installation guarded by Pakistan security forces in the natural gas fields of Sui. Thousands of troops were sent there. Fifteen people died. Natural gas supples were cut off for 10 days,

D. O. Lodrick wrote in “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”: In October 1992, ethnic tempers ran high and clashes took place between the Baloch and second largest ethnic group, the Pashtuns in Balochistan. After the Chagai nuclear tests by Pakistan in 1998, some Baloch students hijacked a PIA (Pakistan International Airways) plane to register their disapproval and draw international attention to the prevailing sense of discrimination in Pakistan against Baloch people and Balochistan. [Source: D. O. Lodrick, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009 *]

“Increasing levels of violence in southern Afghanistan since 2005 have been attributed to Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters finding safe haven in the border areas of Balochistan along with support from local Baloch, with whom the Islamic extremists have cultural affinities. Indeed, from this time, extremists involved in the anti-U.S. conflict in Afghanistan have converted areas of Balochistan into an operational rather than a logistical base. Quetta is a hotbed of extremist activities and, though the Pakistani Army is fully aware of this, the Islamabad government under President Musharraf did little to bring the area under government control. It remains to be seen whether the newly elected government will tackle the situation. *\

“In August 2006 Pakistani security forces killed Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, the 79-year-old chief of the Bugti tribe and former Chief Minister of the province, an incident which was followed by widespread unrest in eastern Balochistan. Since early 2005, Bugti, who was seen by locals as a leader, had been fighting the Pakistani Army with a private force of 5,000 loyal tribesmen in the mountains of eastern Balochistan. Bugti claimed only to be seeking provincial autonomy for Balochistan, a view which, naturally, was not shared by the Pakistani Army and security forces, who saw him as "anti-Pakistani."

There have also been clashes between Baloch separatist and Pakistani-government-backed Islamists. The Sariab district of Quetta was the scene of Islamist activity in 2014. According to AFP: “Islamist groups like the Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal-Jammat (ASWJ), are increasingly coming to the fore. Dressed in Arab garb, they are able to roam the area armed with automatic weapons without fear of molestation — leading many to believe they are given tacit state backing. “ASWJ controls the area with dozens of armed men,” said one young resident, standing under the group's flag as it fluttered in the breeze, adding that their presence scared families into preventing women from being out in public. he group said the accusations were “without any basis”. “We condemn these attacks,” Ramzan Mengal, the group's leader in Balochistan said. [Source: AFP, July 31, 2014]

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (, Official Gateway to the Government of Pakistan (, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated February 2022

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