1Crisis States Working Paper
Buffer Zone, Colonial Enclave or Urban Hub?Quetta: Between Four Regions and Two Wars
Haris Gazdar, Sobia Ahmad Kaker and Irfan KhanCollective for Social Science Research, Karachi, PakistanQuetta is a city with many identities. It is the provincial capital and the main urban centre of Balochistan, the largest but least populous of Pakistan’s four provinces. Since around 2003,Balochistan’s uneasy relationship with the federal state has been manifested in the form of aninsurgency in the ethnic Baloch areas of the province. Within Balochistan, Quetta is the mainshared space as well as a point of rivalry between the two dominant ethnic groups of the province: the Baloch and the Pashtun.
Quite separately from the internal politics of Balochistan, Quetta has acquired global significance as an alleged logistic base for both sidesin the war in Afghanistan. This paper seeks to examine different facets of Quetta – buffer zone, colonial enclave and urban hub
in order to understand the city’s significance for state building in Pakistan.State-building policy literature defines well functioning states as those that provide securityfor their citizens, protect property rights and provide public goods. States are alsoinstruments of repression and the state-building process is often wrought with conflict and theviolent suppression of rival ethnic and religious identities, and the imposition of extractiveeconomic arrangements (Jones and Chandaran 2008). Quetta provides both a vantage pointas well as a possible explanatory variable for the metric of state building not only in Pakistan but also, potentially, across the border in Afghanistan.State building was a matter of low priority during the period of colonial rule in Quetta’shinterland compared with strategic, military and political concerns. This imbalance continuedin the post-colonial period. Besides all of its other identities, Quetta represents an urbanenclave in a predominantly tribal terrain. It provides a historical-institutional vantage pointinto the role of the city in state building, with implications for current and future projects of the various emerging stakeholders and elites – the Pakistani central state, provincial patrons,ethnic nationalists, Islamic clerics and international players in the region.This paper argues that the multiple facets of urbanism in Quetta – as border city, as hub of provincial/ethnic political mobilisation, and as a site and source of inter-group rivalry – areclosely interconnected, and that the main unifying theme between these three facets of Quettais the history of institutional development in predominantly Baloch and Pashtun ‘tribal’territories to the west of the river Indus. It is shown here that the ‘contribution’ of a city tostate-building depends quite largely on which aspect of a city’s identity became salient, giventhe interests and balance of power between various identifiable elites. The first section locatesQuetta as a city between two wars – the Baloch nationalist insurgency in Pakistan and theconflict in Afghanistan. Quetta’s own experience of political violence is analysed using the
Baloch and Brahui ethno-linguistic groups have politically united for the cause of Baloch nationalism. Besidesexceptional mention of Brahuis and Baloch as distinct categories, the term ‘Baloch’ is used in this paper to refer to the collective Brahui-Baloch proto-national identity.