Balochistan, a land of pure and hospitable people, mountainous geography and entailing significant geostrategic importance, is a place full of historical anecdotes and vibrant culture.
Balochistan holds significant geopolitical and geostrategic importance. The geographical location makes Balocistan even more significant. It covers an area of 347,190 sq km, which is 44 percent of the total area of Pakistan, with a population exceeding 6.5 million people. 77 percent of the population is rural and 23 percent urban. It has a population density of 21 people per square kilometers. There are more than 5,700 villages and towns. Its coastal line is more than 700 kilometers long. There are more than 4,000 underground water canals. The province is mineral-rich, having more than eighty mineral deposits. Balochistan’s capital, Quetta, is situated at a height of more than 5,000 ft from the sea level. There are seven rivers and many lakes in the province. This is the land of four seasons. It has around 18,000 hectares of cultivatable area. The total length of the railway track in the province is around 1,508 kms. In the West, it has 832 kms long border with Iran and 1,165 kms border with Afghanistan.
Balochistan gets special importance because it is the eastern limit of the Middle East. It is due to the vital geographical location that Balochistan has always got special attention from the global powers. It was chosen to set up monitoring stations for Afghanistan. Balochistan is closest to the Central Asian Republics (CARs), which have the largest reserves of oil and gas. Since the reserves of oil have been depleting in the Middle East, the next source of energy for the world will be CARs. Pipelines from CARs through Afghanistan to Gwadar Port will provide the shortest path for the transportation of oil and gas to the world. But to do so, there is a need of a peaceful Afghanistan. If this is done, Pakistan may get billions of dollars by providing its land for the transportation of oil and gas. International powers are trying to build infrastructure on the coastline of Balochistan. China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has the potential of making Pakistan one of the most strategically important countries in the region. As a Baloch saying goes,
(The price of a bowl of water on my land is a hundred years of faithfulness.)
Balochs are renowned for their loyalty, hospitality and bravery. Balochistan has a rich culture with multiple segments of the society. It is a multicultural province that comprises different sub-cultures. The province is a pluralistic and multicultural society in terms of languages spoken and ethnicities. The pluralistic character of the province resides on three main historical ethno-linguistic communities: Baloch, Pashtun and Brahvi, while the small ethnic groups include Hazaras in Quetta city, Sindhi and Siraiki speaking Jat or Jadgals in the plains of Kachhi, Naseerabad and Lasbela areas, and Persian speaking Dehwars in Mastung and Kalat. A reasonable number of Urdu, Punjabi and Hindko speakers also reside in Quetta city.
The ethnic composition of Balochistan reveals three main groups with distinct languages and cultural backgrounds: the Baloch, the Brahvi and the Pashtun. It is difficult to document the origins and the movement of the population during the past centuries, because the earlier period is wrapped in legends and mysteries. However, an attempt will be made to show the general trends about ethnic and linguistic diversity of Balochistan. An effort will also be made to delineate the interaction of three main components of the population.
Linguistically, Balochi is an Indo-Iranian language having three major dialects, known as Western or Makrani, Eastern or Sulaimani and in the Chagai, Kharan, and Panjgur district known as Rakhshani Balochi. Brahvi, a north Dravidian language that bifurcates the Balochi language, is spoken in the Central Balochistan from Quetta valley to Gizri, Karachi. Pashto, an Indo-Aryan language is spoken in the northern areas of the province. Other minority languages are Hazargi, a kind of Persian, spoken in Quetta city by the Hazara community, while Sindhi and Siraiki in the plain areas adjoining Sindh province.
The thickly populated Asia, having major proportion of population of the world, consisting of variety of religions, human races and languages, has played an important role in the history of man and civilizations. The rich Asian culture distinguishes Asia as a bouquet of civilizations in the world. The dominating Arab, Iranian, Mongolian, Central Asian, Chinese, Russian, Far East Asian, Aryan, Turkic and Dravidian cultures are the main components of the Asian culture. Five main religions of the world, i.e., Islam, Jewish, Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism are also in vogue in different parts of the continent. With reference to archaeology, Asia has played a leading role in the world’s glorious past. Central Asian, Mesopotamian, Indus and Chinese civilizations have played a significant role in the history of man and civilization, while the land where Balochistan is situated had also been a cradle of world’s leading civilizations. Sufficient evidence from the pre-historic and historic period supports this argument.
The presence of human race in this region is traceable from the Paleolithic period. Many stone tools of the Paleolithic era of the primitive human race have been discovered from Soan Valley of Punjab and different parts of Balochistan. There are thousands of years old caves and rock shelters having paintings and engravings of the stone age man, have also been found at Suleman range and other mountainous Balochistan regions. All these facts indicate the progress and achievements of stone-age man towards civilization in Pakistan.
In due course of time, these communities were established in Balochistan at the site of Mehrgarh near Bolan by 7,000 BC, some 9,000 years ago. This ancient settlement is known for cultivation and domestication of animals in South Asia; the results of excavations at the site of Mehrgarh, at the foot of the Bolan Pass, in Balochistan indicate that large settlements may have existed as early as the 7th millennium BC in this part of Asia.
The Indus Valley Civilization is one of the ancient civilizations in South Asia, some 4,500 years old. This is also known as the Harappan civilization, one of the most ancient cities found in Punjab. Mohenjo Daro, an ancient city near Larkana along the west bank of famous Indus River, like other cities of the Indus civilization, was a well managed and planned urban town. The scriptures used in Indus Valley still remain undeciphered. The Indus civilization is known only from its archaeological evidence. Its origins were traditionally viewed as a result of the diffusion of farming and technology from other advanced cultures in Mesopotamia and on the Iranian plateau to Balochistan and ultimately to the Indus Valley.
Most of the archaeologists are of the opinion that Indus Valley Civilization is related to Dravidians. In South India, Malayalam, Telugu and Tamil languages are the remnants of Dravidian, while Brahvi, the old Dravidian language in Balochistan belonging to this ancient language group is a living evidence of Dravidian existence in the region.
After the Dravidians, Aryans came from Central Asia and occupied the Indus plains. Aryans were militant, aggressive and physically strong. They were nomads and had their own traditions and folklore. They were a part of great Aryan people, some of whom went to Europe, some to Persia and some came to Sindh from where they migrated to India. Mostly, they pushed Dravidians from the plains of Sindh and Punjab and continued to stay in the mountains, seashores, deserts and forests only. They left their influence and language in Sindh and other parts of the country.
Islam came in this part of the world as early as 40 A.D. when the Arabs captured Iran and entered Makran, the present day administrative zone of Balochistan. Later on, they established their principalities as Daulat Mehdania Makran in Makran and Daulat Mutaghaliba Tooran (present-day Kalat zone of Balochistan). The second push of Arabs was made in 712 A.D. from the west under the command of an Arab General, Muhammad bin Qasim, while during the 10th century A.D. from the north, with the Turk Sultan, Mahmud of Ghazni (known as Mahmud Ghaznavi). Later on, Mughals ruled over this part of Asia for more than 200 years. Islam replaced the early way of life in the region of worshipping idols and introduced the new philosophy of faith in one God.
In Balochistan, social life is very simple. Baloch people are much conscious about their social traditions and they feel pride in following those values and norms. Cultural norms, values, customs and traditions reflect Islamic values as well. The Baloch, Pashtun and Brahvi people wear simple dresses according to the climatic conditions. In the plain areas of Kacchi, Naseerabad and Lasbela, people wear dhoti, while in the mountainous areas, people tie turban. Wearing shawl is a common practice among women.
The Baloch culture is rich, varied and deep-rooted. There is plenty of evidence and artifacts concerning the richness of Baloch culture throughout centuries. The cultural heritage of Baloch is very rich. They have a very successful methodology in irrigation, known as Karez, scattered throughout Balochistan, as well as in cultivation and husbandry. Balochi poetry is one of the most beautiful and oldest in the region. In the Baloch culture, poetry has always been combined with music. Balochi and Brahvi music and folklore have been passed from generation to generation as a valuable art. Baloch handicraft is world-renowned. The Baloch are very hospitable, nice and friendly. They are generally intelligent, learned, cultivated and socially accomplished. Culturally, they are rich and self-dependent.
The Pashtun culture is the second major component of Balochistan’s cultural landscape. They speak Pashto, which belongs to Indo-Aryan civilization. The ancient songs, religious traditions, and ancient goods are all preserved. Their culture contains various important elements of the ancient Aryan civilization. Pashtunwali is the major code of life of the Pashtuns which confers on them certain rights and requires of them certain duties. They are bound to honor, respect and abide by it. If someone found contempt of this code, he brings disgrace to himself and to his family members and he is also likely to be banished or excommunicated. The main sections of this honorable code are bravery, hospitality, patriotism, love of independence, to protect the neighbors, and to cooperate with each other. The jirga or tribal assembly is a very useful and ancient institution in the Pashtun society.
After the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, a large number of Pashtun refugees came to Balochistan. They brought many new cultural values and traditions which were not in practice among the Pashtuns living in Balochistan, some of which were easily accepted and are still in vogue in the Pashtun society.
The other important group of people is Brahvi. They speak a language from the Dravidian group. Being ancient inhabitants of the area, the Brahvi culture having its own individual identity is also a very ancient and rich culture. Besides their own identity, many cultural values of these people are most common and similar to Balochi culture. Their day-to-day life and all cultural norms and values are the same. Brahvi is the oldest language of the province. There are different opinions about the origin of this language, but most of the linguists consider it a Dravidian language. The other famous Dravidian languages are Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kurukh and Malto, etc. in India. The folk literature of Brahvi is also very rich.
Culturally, Brahvi people are very similar to their closest neighbors, Baloch, due to close cultural, historical, geopolitical and economical relationship. Most of the Brahvis in the modern time consider themselves as Baloch. While generally following Islamic tenets, there are many variations in the life cycle rites and customs of Brahvis which differentiate them from their neighbors.
The Dehwars living in Mastung and Kalat are also ancient inhabitants of the region. They claim to be of Tajik origin and speak a language close to Persian known as Dewari. The Hazara community from Mongol origin mainly lives in Quetta city and has their distinct culture and language known as Hazargi. The Lasis and Jams in Lesbela district and people living close to the Sindh border in Naseerabad and Jaffarabad also speak Sindhi and Siraiki languages. Each small community has its distinct culture.
In this context, in the story of man and civilization, Balochistan has an important role and unique status in the world in general and in South Asia in particular. It has an evidence of early age man, his gradual development and his struggle for existence. The antiquity of the cultural heritage of the province is the oldest one. This area had remained a crossroad of civilizations between Central Asia, Mesopotamia and Indus region in Asia. Balochistan can take pride in its role of safeguarding the remnants of early cultures that had left their abiding marks and the circumstances which, as per their wake, have left Balochistan rich in ethnic, linguistic and cultural variety.
When we thoroughly study the social life in Balochistan, we find it very simple. The people of Balochistan are very much conscious about their social traditions and feel proud of it. Shalwar-Kameez is the popular dress among all tribes in Balochistan. In the rural areas, people also tie turban. Different tribes have their own turban tying styles. A Khetran from Duki District can easily be distinguished from a Rind of Suni and Soran; also a Bungulzai of Ispilinji is different from a Sanjrani of Chagai area. Wearing of shawl is a common practice among Baloch, Brahvi and Pashtun women. The Baloch tribes, mainly Makrani people living at the coastal line near Arabian Sea, have their own customs and traditions, dances, and ceremonies. Fishing is their main occupation and source of livelihood.
People of Balochistan, whether they are Baloch or non-Baloch, besides spending a luxurious life in the cities and towns, a reasonable number of them are still living a nomadic life in different parts of the province, which they have inherited from their ancestors.
The writer is a former MPA from Balochistan and currently serving as the spokesperson for Government of Balochistan, member PEMRA, Chairperson of Emaan Pakistan Trust, founder of Institute of Global Peace and Global Peace Magazine.
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