final major ethnic group in Pakistan is the Baloch.
A comparatively small group, the Baloch, like the Pakhtuns,
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.
Baloch speak Balochi,
part of the Iranian group of Indo- European languages.
Linguistic evidence indicates the origin of Balochi
to be in the pre-Christian Medean or Parthian civilizations.
The modern form has incorporated elements from Persian,
Sindhi, Arabic, and a number of other languages. Beginning
in the early nineteenth century, Baloch intellectuals
used Persian and Urdu scripts to transcribe Balochi
into written form. Since Pakistan's independence and
with the rise of Baloch nationalism, Baloch have favored
the Nastaliq script, an adaptation of Arabic script.
The land of Balochistan
is exceedingly inhospitable; geologists have even compared
the landscape with Mars. A Pakhtu expression, reflecting
on ethnic relations as well as on 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.
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.
Sheep and goats are the
main herd animals. The herder 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.
Kinship and social relations
reflect the exigencies of dealing with the harsh physical
environment. Like other Pakistanis, Baloch reckon descent
patrilineally. Lineages, however, play a minimal role
in the lives of most Baloch. They are notably flexible
in arrangements with both family and friends. Ideally,
a man should maintain close ties with relatives in his
father's line, but in practice most relations are left
to the discretion of the individual, and there is wide
variation. It is typical for lineages to split and fragment,
often because of disputes with close kin over matters
such as inheritance and bad relations within marriages.
Most Baloch treat both mother's and father's kin as
a pool of potential assistance to be called on as the
occasion demands. Again, the precariousness of subsistence
favors having the widest possible circle of friends
Marriage patterns embody
this kind of flexibility. As in many parts of West Asia,
Baloch say that they prefer to marry their cousins.
Actually, however, marriage choices are dictated by
pragmatic considerations. Residence, the complex means
of access to agricultural land, and the centrality of
water rights, coupled with uncertain water supply, all
favor flexibility in the choice of in-laws. The plethora
of land tenure arrangements tends to limit the value
of marrying one's cousin, a marriage pattern that functions
to keep land in the family in other parts of Pakistan.
The majority of Baloch
are Hanafi Sunnis, but there is a community of an estimated
500,000 to 700,000 Zikri Baloch, who live in the coastal
Makran area and in Karachi. The Zikris believe in the
Messiah Nur Pak, whose teaching supersede those of the
Prophet Muhammad. Their beliefs, considered heretical,
have led to intermittent Sunni repression of their community
since its founding in the fifteenth century.
Only among the coastal
Baloch is marriage between cousins common; there, nearly
two-thirds of married couples are first cousins. The
coastal Baloch are in greater contact with non- Baloch
and manifest a concomitantly greater sense of group
solidarity. For them, being "unified amongst ourselves"
is a particularly potent cultural ideal. Because they
are Zikris, they have a limited pool of eligible mates
and do not generally marry outside of the group of Zikri
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.
In common with the neighboring
Pakhtuns, Baloch are deeply committed to maintaining
their personal honor, showing generous hospitality to
guests, and giving protection to those who seek it of
them. However, the prototypical relationship is that
between the leader and his minions. A Baloch suffers
no loss of status in submitting to another. Although
competition for scarce water and land resources characterizes
social relations between minor leaders and hizmatkar,
competition coexists with a deeply held belief in the
virtues of sharing and cooperation. Sharing creates
networks of obligation among herders, mutual aid being
an insurance policy in the face of a precarious livelihood.
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 Pakhtun
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.
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 (see Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and A New Constitutional
System , ch. 1). 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,
Zia ul-Haq's overthrow
of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in 1977 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.
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
Pakhtuns--many refugees from Afghanistan--came to settle
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.
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.