Quetta

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Quetta is the capital of the Balochistan Province of Pakistan. Population estimates for the district range from 0.5 to 1 million; refugees make it hard to count. Its history goes back well into the 11th century, when it was described as a city of lush fruits when captured by Mahmud of Ghazni. British troops occupied it briefly during First Afghan War in 1839, but it did not come under control until 1876.

Since the partition of India and Pakistan, Quetta has grown significantly. It is a military base (the name derives from kwatta, Pashtun for "fort" [1], a transportation hub, and a center of fruit farming.

Until recently, it had escaped the fighting in Afghanistan, and in the Federally Administered Tribal Area farther north in Pakistan.

Geography

It is near the borders of Afghanistan and Iran By railroad, it is 727 miles to Lahore, 986 miles to Peshawar, and 536 miles to Karachi. The Bolan Pass provides access to the rest of Pakistan.

Through the Khojak Pass are the southern Afghan provinces of Helmand, Kandahar, Oruzgan, and Zabul, where the Taliban is strongest. [2]

It is 1,680 meters (5,500 feet) above sea level.

History

In the 16th century, it was well-known to the Moghul Empire, until it was taken by the Persians in 1556 but retaken in 1595. The Khans of Kalat held the fort from 1730. In 1828 the first westerner to visit Quetta described it as a mud-walled fort surrounded by 300 mud houses. [3]

Politicomilitary

It is believed to be the headquarters of the Taliban Quetta shura governing body under Mullah Muhammad Omar. While the official Pakistani policy is that no Taliban are in Quetta, on March 18, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said "I think we all have a concern about the Quetta Shura [Taliban leadership council] and the activities of the Taliban in that area," he said. "But I think this is principally a problem and a challenge for the Pakistanis to take on. And as we have indicated we are prepared to do anything to help them do that."[2]

Aurangzeb Kasi, of the Pashtun people Awami National Party does not want U.S. airstrikes in Quetta, but wants the Islamists to keep their wars away.[2]

In 2003, a bombing of a Shi'ite mosque brought particular shock. [4] There has been increasing numbers of bombings in civilian areas, with several incidents a week in 2006.[5] Recently, incidents have included a car bomb in October 2008 [6] and a cafe in March 2009 [7]

Earthquakes and politics

Like Peshawar, it is in an active seismic zone. A great earthquake struck om 31 May, 1935, killing an estimated 40,000 people. Since then, multi-story buildings are rare, and houses tend to be single-story, quake resistant, and built of brick and concrete. The brick is of a distinctive yellowish tinge unlike the red variety of Sindh and the Punjab.

In 2008, Quetta suffered a severe earthquake. Relief services, in significant part, came from jihadist organizations, which gained local loyalty. The recent hotel bombing affected international relief personnel dealing with the damage and refugees.[8]

References

  1. Quetta, It's Pakistan
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Abubakar Siddique (March 19, 2009), "Risks Of Expanding Scope Of U.S. Strikes Within Pakistan Debated", Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
  3. Mustafa Shairani, Quetta, Home of the Legends, Quetta Life
  4. "Army Troops Patrol Streets of Quetta, Southwestern Pakistan, After Mosque Bombing", Voice of America, 4 July 2003
  5. Terrorism-related Incidents in Quetta - 2006, South Asian Terrorist Portal
  6. Bari Baloch (October 28, 2008), "Car bombing rocks Quetta; two killed", The Nation (Pakistan)
  7. "Four injured in Quetta bomb explosion", The Nation (Pakistan), March 24, 2009
  8. Samina Ahmed (June 2009), "The Peshawar Problem", Foreign Policy