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Balochistan

Balochistan [aka Baluchistan] is the largest of all provinces of modern-day Pakistan, making up nearly two-fifths of the entire country. The enormity of its size, contrasts strikingly with its low percentage of population and its economic destitution, particularly in comparison to Punjabis, Sindhis and Pathans.

The province of Balochistan accounts for 43 per cent of Pakistan's territory but is the smallest in terms of population. Around 7 million inhabitants live in Balochistan, divided into various Baloch and Pushtun tribes. Quetta is both a Baloch and Pushtun city with a sizeable number of Punjabis and Urdu-speakers. By once account, there are more Baloch in Karachi than in the entire province of Balochistan. By another account, the majority of the Baluch people reside in the Balochistan province of Pakistan.

The Province of Balochistan, which borders both Iran and Afghanistan, is notorious for narcotics and other forms of cross-border smuggling. Members of the Taliban and Al-Qaida are also believed to be present there. Tribal unrest sometimes turns violent. Because provincial police presence is limited, travelers wishing to visit the interior of Balochistan should consult with the province's Home Secretary. Advance permission from provincial authorities is required for travel into many areas. Local authorities have detained travelers who lacked proper permission. Quetta, the provincial capital, has experienced an increase in bombings, occasional gun battles in the streets, and the imposition of curfews. Terrorist attacks against Pakistani government installations and infrastructure have been reported since 2005.

There had been a discernible change in the demography, economic conditions and life styles of the people in Balochistan. The Hindus and Sikhs, who earlier formed a sizeable section of the population and dominated in the provincial headquarters in Quetta, migrated to India after partition, leaving a big gap of personnel in public and private sectors, trade, commerce and education. Their shops, houses and jobs were filled, in almost equal numbers, by refugees from the Indian (East) Punjab, Delhi and U.P.

The newcomers, together with the Christian and Parsi minorities, and settlers from the neighbouring NWFP and Punjab, were comparatively more advanced and better educated than the locals ['mulki' Pathans, Baluchis and Brahuis]. The 'bazar' was dominated by the Punjabis, Mohajirs and Pathans from NWFP. Even so was the mineral coal industry. The advent of Independence, therefore, did not eliminate the 'in-group' and 'out-group' feelings that had previously existed in Balochistan between the Locals and the Non-Locals. In fact the competition between these groups and subgroups, soon seemed to have further accentuated these feelings.

Baloch discontent and the province's mineral wealth are inextricably entwined. The Baloch perceive that the province's natural resources have been exploited for the benefit of the people and industries of Punjab. They also complain that the distribution of federal resources, which is based on population, puts Balochistan--a thinly populated province--at a disadvantage. Because of the underdevelopment of the province, especially in comparison to Punjab, Baloch argue that the province should receive a greater share of funds to allow the province to catch up with the rest of the country.

Baloch disgruntlement also stems from what they see as a lack of adequate representation in the federal bureaucracy, as well as the military, thus they are demanding the enforcement of quotas already in federal law. These calls have strengthened as the Baloch have grown fearful that they will become second-class citizens in their own province because of the influx of skilled Punjabis and Sindhis seeking employment in the province's infrastructure projects such as Gwadar and the copper-gold mines in Saindak and Rekodiq. A political settlement that addresses these grievances would require substantial revisions to Pakistani law and distribution of royalties, which would depend on high level backing in Islamabad.

Afghan Taliban leaders -- virtually all ethnic Pashtun -- are widely suspected of hiding in the Pashtun areas of Balochistan, including Quetta, according to the local contacts and journalists. There has been minimal spillover in Balochistan of the "Talibanization" phenomena present in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), despite allegations of the Taliban's heavy presence in Quetta and along the Afghanistan border.



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