Baloch people

Baloch Khans.png
Sardar Ibrahim Khan Sanjrani, Iranian Baloch Khans in Qajar era, c. 1884
Total population
Approx. 10 million (2017)
Regions with significant populations
 Pakistan 6,800,000 (2016)[1]
 Iran 2,000,000 (2016)[2]
 Oman 513,000 (2018)[citation needed]
 UAE 468,000 (2014)[3]
 Afghanistan 100,000[4]
 Turkmenistan 100,000 [5]
 Saudi Arabia 16,000 [citation needed]
Balochi, Brahui, Jadgali
Persian, Arabic (spoken by locality)
Sunni Islam[6]

The Baloch or Baluch (Balochi: بلوچ) are an Iranian people[7] who live mainly in the Balochistan region of the southeastern-most edge of the Iranian plateau in Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan, as well as neighboring regions, including those in India;[8] and having a significant diaspora in the Arabian Peninsula.

They mainly speak Balochi, a Northwestern Iranian language, in contrast to their location on the Southeast of the Persosphere. About 50% of the total Baloch population live in Balochistan, a western province of Pakistan;[9] 40% of the Baloch population are settled in Sindh; and a significant number of Baloch people in Punjab in Pakistan. They make up nearly 3.6% of Pakistan's population, about 2% of Iran's (1.5 million), and about 2% of Afghanistan's.[10]


The exact origin of the word 'Baloch' is unclear. Rawlinson (1873) believed that it is derived from the name of the Babylonian king and god Belus. Dames (1904) believed that it is derived from the Persian term for cockscomb, said to have been used as a crest on the helmets of Baloch troops in 6th century BCE. Herzfeld (1968) proposed that it is derived from the Median term brza-vaciya, which describes a loud or aggressive way of speaking. Naseer Dashti (2012) presents another possibility, that of being derived from the name of the ethnic group 'Balaschik' living in Balashagan, between the Caspian Sea and Lake Van in present-day Turkey and Azerbaijan, who are believed to have migrated to Balochistan during the Sassanid times.[11] The remnants of the original name such as 'Balochuk' and 'Balochiki' are said to be still used as ethnic names in Balochistan.[12]

Some writers suggest a derivation from Sanskrit words bal, meaning strength, and och meaning high or magnificent.[12] An earliest Sanskrit reference to the Baloch might be the Gwalior inscription of the Gurjara-Pratihara ruler Mihira Bhoja (r. 836–885), which says that the dynasty's founder Nagabhata I repelled a powerful army of Valacha Mlecchas, translated as "Baluch foreigners" by D. R. Bhandarkar. The army in question is that of the Umayyad Caliphate after the conquest of Sindh.[13]


According to Baloch lore, their ancestors hail from Aleppo in what is now Syria.[14] They claim to be descendants of Ameer Hamza, uncle of the prophet Muhammad, who settled in Halab (present-day Aleppo). They fled to the Sistan region,[15] remaining there for nearly 500 years until they fled to the Makran region following a deception against the Sistan leader Badr-ud-Din.

However, this origin story is not borne out by historical evidence. Based on an analysis of the linguistic connections of the Balochi language, which is one of the Western Iranian languages, the original homeland of the Balochi tribes was likely to the east or southeast of the central Caspian region. The Baloch began migrating towards the east in the late Sasanian period. The cause of the migration is unknown but may have been as a result of the generally unstable conditions in the Caspian area. The migrations occurred over several centuries.[16]

By the 9th century, Arab writers refer to the Baloch as living in the area between Kerman, Khorasan, Sistan, and Makran in what is now eastern Iran.[17] Although they kept flocks of sheep, the Baloches also engaged in plundering travellers on the desert routes. This brought them into conflict with the Buyids, and later the Ghaznavids and the Seljuqs. Adud al-Dawla of the Buyid dynasty launched a punitive campaign against them and defeated them in 971–972. After this, the Baloch continued their eastward migration towards what is now Balochistan province of Pakistan, although some remained behind and there are still Baloch in eastern part of the Iranian Sistan-Baluchestan and Kerman provinces. By the 13th–14th centuries waves of Baloch were moving into Sindh, and by the 15th century into the Punjab.[17] According to Dr. Akhtar Baloch, Professor at University of Karachi, the Balochis migrated from Balochistan during the Little Ice Age and settled in Sindh and Punjab. The Little Ice Age is conventionally defined as a period extending from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries,[18][19][20] or alternatively, from about 1300[21] to about 1850.[22][23][24] Although climatologists and historians working with local records no longer expect to agree on either the start or end dates of this period, which varied according to local conditions. According to Professor Baloch, the climate of Balochistan was very cold and the region was inhabitable during the winter so the Baloch people migrated in waves and settled in Sindh and Punjab.[25]

The area where the Baloch tribes settled was disputed between the Persian Safavids and the Mughal emperors. Although the Mughals managed to establish some control over the eastern parts of the area, by the 17th century, a tribal leader named Mir Hasan established himself as the first "Khan of the Baloch". In 1666, he was succeeded by Mir Aḥmad Khan Qambarani who established the Balochi Khanate of Kalat under the Ahmadzai dynasty.[note 1] Originally in alliance with the Mughals, the Khanate lost its autonomy in 1839 with the signing of a treaty with the British colonial government and the region effectively became part of British Raj.[17]

Balochi culture

Gold ornaments such as necklaces and bracelets are an important aspect of Baloch women's traditions and among their most favoured items of jewellery are dorr, heavy earrings that are fastened to the head with gold chains so that the heavy weight will not cause harm to the ears. They usually wear a gold brooch (tasni) that is made by local jewellers in different shapes and sizes and is used to fasten the two parts of the dress together over the chest. In ancient times, especially during the pre-Islamic era, it was common for Baloch women to perform dances and sing folk songs at different events. The tradition of a Baloch mother singing lullabies to her children has played an important role in the transfer of knowledge from generation to generation since ancient times. Apart from the dressing style of the Baloch, indigenous and local traditions and customs are also of great importance to the Baloch.[31]

Baloch Culture Day is celebrated by the Balochi people annually on 2 March with festivities to celebrate their rich culture and history.[32]

Baloch tribes

Afghan Baloch men in Zaranj, Nimruz Province


Traditionally, Jalal Khan was the ruler and founder of the first Balochi confederacy in 12th century. (He may be the same as Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu the last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire.[33]) Jalal Khan left four sons - Rind Khan, Lashar Khan, Hoth Khan, Kora Khan and a daughter, Bibi Jato, who married his nephew Murad.[34] Traditionally, these five are claimed as the founders of the five great divisions of the Baloch: the Rind, the Lashari (Laashaar), the Hoth, the Korai and the Jatoi.


As of 2008 it was estimated that there were between eight and nine million Baloch people living in Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan. They were subdivided between over 130 tribes.[35] Some estimates put the figure at over 150 tribes, though estimates vary depending on how subtribes are counted.[36] The tribes, known as taman, are led by a tribal chief, the tumandar. Subtribes, known as paras, are led by a muquaddam.[37]

Five Baloch tribes derive their eponymous names from Khan's children. Many, if not all, Baloch tribes can be categorized as either Rind or Lashari based on their actual descent or historical tribal allegiances that developed into cross-generational relationships.[citation needed] This basic division was accentuated by a war lasting 30 years between the Rind and Lashari tribes in the 15th century.[38]


There are 180,000 Bugti based in Dera Bugti District. They are divided between the Rahija Bugti, Masori Bugti, Kalpar Bugti, and Daiga sub-tribes.[35][39][full citation needed] Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti led the Bugti as Tumandar until his death in 2006. Talal Akbar Bugti was the tribal leader and President of the Jamhoori Watan Party from 2006 until his death in 2015.[40]

There are 98,000 Marri based in Kohlo district,[35] who further divide themselves into Gazni Marri, Bejarani Marri, and Zarkon Marri.[35] Hyrbyair Marri has led the Balochistan Liberation Army since his brother's death in 2007.

The Zehri are based in Zawa, Jhalawan where they are the largest tribe.[41] Sanaullah Zehri, the Chief Minister of Balochistan, is the Zehri's tribal chief. The Zehri have Sasoli and Zarakzai subtribes.


Iranian Baloch man

Violent intertribal competition has prevented any credible attempt at creating a nation-state. A myriad of militant secessionist movements, each loyal to their own tribal leader, threatens regional security and political stability. Nationalist groups like the Baloch Students Organization, composed of armed rebels, and the Baloch Council of North America, made up of educated expatriates living in the United States, have simultaneously denounced Balochistan's traditional rulers and Pakistan's national government.[42][43][44] Baloch tribes are markedly less egalitarian than Pashtun tribes.[45]

Notable Baloch people from Pakistan

See also