Alternative names: Brahuis (in Kahat plateau)
Location: western Pakistan, eastern Iran, south-western Afghanistan
Population: Total about 5 million
% of population: Pakistan 4.2%; Iran 2%; Afghanistan 1%
Religion: Sunni Muslim
Language: Baluchi, Brahui, also Punjabi, Urdu, Farsi, Dari, Pashto

The Baluchis are tribal pastoralists inhabiting the remote and inhospitable mountain and desert region of the border areas of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran. The majority are found in the Baluchistan province of Pakistan, with smaller numbers in Iran and Afghanistan. There are significant numbers of Baluchis who live outside their traditional homelands in the three countries and also in the Gulf States. The Baluchis are not a homogenous group and are divided between the Sulemani or Eastern Baluchis in Iran, the Makrani or Western Baluchis in Pakistan and south-western Afghanistan, and the Brahuis of the central Kalat plateau of Pakistani Baluchistan, who speak the Brahui language which is not related to Baluchi, but which often has a heavy Baluchi admixture.

Baluchis are Sunni Muslims of the Hanafi school. They share elements of a cultural and linguistic heritage despite variations in lifestyle and environment. Originally a warrior people, they are divided into tribes, clans and sub-clans which fall under the authority of powerful chiefs, but no leader has been able to create a lasting political framework encompassing all of Baluchistan. Cultivable land is very limited, and most families live by combining subsistence farming with semi-nomadic pastoralism.

Background and history

The Baluchis are a racial amalgam of peoples whose language belongs to the Iranian branch of the Indo-European language family and they claim descent from ancestors who left Aleppo in modern Syria at the time of the ninth century Arab conquests. Linguists believe them to be descended from Indo-Europeans settled around the southern coast of the Caspian Sea in northwest Iran; by the thirteenth or fourteenth century they are believed to have settled in their present homeland. Persian, Sindhi, Afghan, Sikh and other conquering armies repeatedly overran Baluchistan in the following centuries but neither they nor Baluchi chiefs were able to establish permanent control.

The British gained control of most of the region in the nineteenth century, at first through political agreements and subsidies negotiated with tribal leaders and, by the 1870s, by direct control over Baluchi territory or through four princely states. Customary tribal law was retained and enforced by tribal councils under the authority of the Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR). In 1893 the Durand Line — an official boundary between Afghan and British territory — was created. In the Baluchi areas of Persia, between 1928 and 1930, Reza Khan launched a series of pacification campaigns with the aim of ending tribal raiding of settled villages and controlling general lawlessness. The campaign was successful and after 1935 Iranian Baluchis had lost much of their power to defy the state.


There are an estimated 2.5 million Baluchis and about one million Brahuis in Pakistan, together accounting for less than 5% of the total population. Approximately 56% live in the province of Baluchistan, about 40% of the total area of Pakistan, where there are also increasing numbers of Sindhi, Pashtu and Punjabi speakers, and Baluchis are often in a minority; a further 43% have settled outside their tribal homeland in Sind and Punjab provinces, where they have adopted the local vernacular and sedentarized way of life. As with most of the Pakistani population, they are Sunni Muslims, following the Hanafi school.

In Pakistan, as also in Afghanistan and Iran, the Baluchis are being gradually integrated into the market-oriented economy. Communications were improved, land reform programmes instituted and modern technology introduced. More and more Baluchis are moving to the cities to find work as their economic autonomy has diminished. Tribal chiefs are now acting as middlemen and brokers, dealing with both government and tribespeople. Although the aim of governments is to integrate the Baluchis and other tribes into the mainstream of economic life, there are very few Pakistani Baluchis working in the small manufacturing sector of Baluchistan which is based in Quetta, the regional capital, and largely owned and controlled by non-Baluchis. The province of Baluchistan produces most of Pakistan’s natural gas and coal but the Baluchis themselves have little control over these industries. They are also poorly represented in the armed forces, government and bureaucracy. Many tribal leaders have welcomed modernization and have rapidly adapted to the accompanying change in lifestyle, but others have felt their authority being eroded and have resisted change.

At independence in 1947, British Baluchistan and the four Baluchi princely states were merged with Pakistan. But this arrangement ended in 1955 when West Pakistan was amalgamated in one province. In July 1970 Baluchistan was restored to separate provincial status, its boundaries incorporating the former British Baluchistan and the Baluchistan States, a union of four princely states given semi-autonomous status between 1952 and 1955. After East Pakistan (Bangladesh) gained its independence, a new Pakistani constitution, drafted in 1973, contained numerous guarantees of the rights of ethnic minorities, reaffirming their separate legal status and right to their own language and culture; however there was no devolution of power under the leadership of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and the provinces became increasingly subordinate to central authority despite their lack of support for Bhutto’s People’s Party of Pakistan (PPP).

The years 1973 to 1977 were marked by a major Baluchi and Brahui tribal rebellion against the Pakistani government, backed by the opposition National Awami Party (NAP). The crisis developed when Bhutto dismissed the NAP coalition government in 1973 on the grounds that they had patronized and encouraged violence and smuggling and had opposed modernization efforts. NAP and other opposition leaders were arrested and jailed and the NAP banned in 1975. In 1976 the sardari (tribal chief) system was abolished. Meanwhile the war had escalated; by 1974 there were reported to be as many as 55,000 tribesmen fighting some 70,000 government troops armed with sophisticated weaponry. It is estimated that over 5,000 insurgents and 3,000 government troops were killed, large quantities of livestock destroyed and the interruption of food supplies to civilians in insurgent-controlled areas caused great suffering. Some tribal rebels surrendered under a general amnesty and others fled to Afghanistan where they were housed in government camps. The insurgency continued fitfully until the fall of Bhutto’s government in 1977 and the subsequent release of the imprisoned NAP leaders.

After the declaration of martial law by General Zia ul-Haq there was relative peace in Baluchistan. The government posted military and para-military forces throughout the region and greatly increased government expenditure on communications and economic and social programmes. In 1979 Baluchi and Pathan leaders formed the Pakistan National Party (PNP) as a successor to the NAP, and in 1982 this joined with the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD). Violence which erupted in Sind province in late 1984 led to the meeting in London of leaders of the three minority provinces and the formation of the Sindhi-Baluch-Pashtun Front, aimed at achieving a confederal form of government. Martial law, which was not lifted until 1985, had dampened much autonomous political activity within Baluchistan. In 1986 riots broke out in many cities throughout Pakistan with ethnic groups demanding decentralization and ethnic autonomy.

The political situation changed radically with the election of the PPP under Benazir Bhutto to central government in November 1988. In Baluchistan the PPP formed a coalition government but had a majority of only one seat and soon after its election the Assembly was dissolved by the state governor, allegedly to prevent a vote of no confidence in the state government. There were strikes and protests in the province but in January 1989 the Baluchistan High Court declared the dissolution to be unconstitutional and later the Baluch Nationalist Alliance (BNA) took power with Akbar Bugti as Chief Minister. By August 1989 the central and provincial governments continued to oppose each other with the BNA halting central government development programmes.

Baluchistan and the NWFP have been greatly affected by the movement of over three million refugees from Afghanistan to Pakistan, 20% of them to Baluchistan. Resistance groups moved freely across the border, their successful attacks on Afghan forces frequently provoking retaliatory action. The spillover of the war into Baluchi territory has caused many Baluchis to call for the return of the refugees to Afghanistan and they express fears that the refugees, together with the non-Baluchi immigrants from other areas of Pakistan, have made the Baluchis into a minority within their homeland.


There are between 500,000 and 750,000 Baluchis in Iran, comprising less than 2% of the population. The majority live in the province of Baluchistan and Seistan with considerable numbers also in neighbouring Kerman and Khorasan provinces. The Sunni Baluchis are set apart not only linguistically and culturally but also by religion from the majority Shia Iranians. The situation of the Baluchis since the declaration of the Islamic Republic in 1979 has been one of uneasy passivity. Under Pahlavi rule the loyalty of the tribal minorities had been assured by government patronage even though Baluchi identity had been suppressed; under Ayatollah Khomeini, an anti-reformist policy was pursued and many of the Baluchis’ economic advantages were removed. Federalism seemed as remote as ever under Khomeini, and religious differences were more important in a fundamentalist Islamic Republic. In 1980 a non-Baluchi Shi’ite Muslim Governor was appointed to the province of Baluchistan and Seistan.


There are about 100,000 Baluchis in Afghanistan, less than 1% of the population, occupying a sparsely-settled and little developed desert area on the southern frontier. The 1980s saw changes for the Baluchis following the pro-Soviet coup of 1978. A minorities programme pledged itself to raising the status of minority groups (including the Baluchis) by improving educational standards and increasing tribal participation in government. A Baluchi-language weekly paper began publication in 1978 and there were plans to open Baluchi-language schools in some areas. Baluchi was one of the four languages newly recognized as official languages of Afghanistan. This emphasis on tribal matters continued with the increased Soviet involvement in Afghan affairs and direct Soviet intervention in December 1979. On paper therefore the Baluchis had become one of the most protected minorities in Afghanistan.

(See also Pathans)