Balochistan (//; Balochi: بلوچستان; also Baluchistan or Baluchestan, often interpreted as the "Land of the Baloch") is an arid desert and mountainous region in south-western Asia. It comprises the Pakistani province of Balochistan, the Iranian province of Sistan and Baluchestan, and the southern areas of Afghanistan, including Nimruz, Helmand and Kandahar provinces. Balochistan borders the Pashtunistan region to the north, Sindh and Punjab to the east, and Persian regions to the west. South of its southern coastline, including the Makran Coast, are the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman.
Balochistan region in pink
|• Total||c. 18–19 million|
|• Ethnic groups||Baloch|
Minor: Brahui, Pashto, Persian, Urdu
The name "Balochistan" is generally believed to derive from the name of the Baloch people. The Baloch people are not mentioned in pre-Islamic sources. It is likely that the Baloch were known by some other name in their place of origin and that they acquired the name "Baloch" after arriving in Balochistan sometime in the 10th century.
Johan Hansman relates the term "Baloch" to Meluḫḫa, the name by which the Indus Valley Civilisation is believed to have been known to the Sumerians (2900–2350 BC) and Akkadians (2334–2154 BC) in Mesopotamia. Meluḫḫa disappears from the Mesopotamian records at the beginning of the second millennium BC. However, Hansman states that a trace of it in a modified form, as Baluḫḫu, was retained in the names of products imported by the Neo-Assyrian Empire (911–605 BC). Al-Muqaddasī, who visited the capital of Makran - Bannajbur, wrote c. 985 AD that it was populated by people called Balūṣī (Baluchi), leading Hansman to postulate "Baluch" as a modification of Meluḫḫa and Baluḫḫu.
Asko Parpola relates the name Meluḫḫa to Indo-Aryan words mleccha (Sanskrit) and milakkha/milakkhu (Pali) etc., which do not have an Indo-European etymology even though they were used to refer to non-Aryan people. Taking them to be proto-Dravidian in origin, he interprets the term as meaning either a proper name milu-akam (from which tamilakam was derived when the Indus people migrated south) or melu-akam, meaning "high country", a possible reference to Balochistani high lands. Historian Romila Thapar also interprets Meluḫḫa as a proto-Dravidian term, possibly mēlukku, and suggests the meaning "western extremity" (of the Dravidian-speaking regions in the Indian subcontinent). A literal translation into Sanskrit, aparānta, was later used to describe the region by the Indo-Aryans.
During the time of Alexander the Great (356–323 BC), the Greeks called the land Gedrosia and its people Gedrosoi, terms of unknown origin. Using etymological reasoning, H. W. Bailey reconstructs a possible Iranian name, uadravati, meaning "the land of underground channels", which could have been transformed to badlaut in the 9th century and further to balōč in later times. This reasoning remains speculative.
The earliest evidence of human occupation in what is now Balochistan is dated to the Paleolithic era, represented by hunting camps and lithic scatters, chipped and flaked stone tools. The earliest settled villages in the region date to the ceramic Neolithic (c. 7000–6000 BCE) and included the site of Mehrgarh in the Kachi Plain. These villages expanded in size during the subsequent Chalcolithic, when interaction was amplified. This involved the movement of finished goods and raw materials, including chank shell, lapis lazuli, turquoise, and ceramics. By 2500 BCE (the Bronze Age), the region now known as Pakistani Balochistan had become part of the Harappan cultural orbit, providing key resources to the expansive settlements of the Indus river basin to the east.
From the 1st century to the 3rd century CE, the region was ruled by the Pāratarājas (lit. "Pārata Kings"), a dynasty of Indo-Scythian or Indo-Parthian kings. The dynasty of the Pāratas is thought to be identical with the Pāradas of the Mahabharata, the Puranas and other Vedic and Iranian sources. The Parata kings are primarily known through their coins, which typically exhibit the bust of the ruler (with long hair in a headband) on the obverse, and a swastika within a circular legend on the reverse, written in Brahmi (usually silver coins) or Kharoshthi (copper coins). These coins are mainly found in Loralai in today's western Pakistan.
Herodotus in 450 BCE described the Paraitakenoi as a tribe ruled by Deiokes, a Persian king, in northwestern Persia (History I.101). Arrian describes how Alexander the Great encountered the Pareitakai in Bactria and Sogdiana, and had them conquered by Craterus (Anabasis Alexandrou IV). The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea (1st century CE) describes the territory of the Paradon beyond the Ommanitic region, on the coast of modern Balochistan.
The region was fully Islamized by the 9th century and became part of the territory of the Saffarids of Zaranj, followed by the Ghaznavids, then the Ghorids. Ahmad Shah Durrani made it part of the Afghan Empire in 1749. In 1758 the Khan of Kalat, Mir Noori Naseer Khan Baloch, revolted against Ahmed Shah Durrani, defeated him, and freed Balochistan, winning complete independence.
Governance and political disputes
The Balochistan region is administratively divided among three countries, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran. The largest portion in area and population is in Pakistan, whose largest province (in land area) is Balochistan. An estimated 6.9 million of Pakistan's population is Baloch. In Iran there are about two million ethnic Baloch and a majority of the population of the eastern Sistan and Baluchestan Province is of Baloch ethnicity. The Afghan portion of Balochistan includes the Chahar Burjak District of Nimruz Province, and the Registan Desert in southern Helmand and Kandahar provinces. The governors of Nimruz province in Afghanistan belong to the Baloch ethnic group.
In Pakistan, insurgencies by Baloch nationalists in Balochistan province have been fought in 1948, 1958–59, 1962–63 and 1973–1977 – with a new ongoing and reportedly stronger, broader insurgency beginning in 2003. Historically, drivers of the conflict are reported to include "tribal divisions", the Baloch-Pashtun ethnic divisions, "marginalization by Punjabi interests", and "economic oppression".
In Iran, separatist fighting has reportedly not gained as much ground as the conflict in Pakistan, but has grown and become more sectarian since 2012, with the majority-Sunni Baloch showing a greater degree of Salafist and anti-Shia ideology in their fight against the Shia-Islamist Iranian government.
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