The city of Quetta gained notoriety on the world stage as ‘shura city’ or the gathering place of the Taliban leadership. Those of us who left in the 80s find the city drastically changed and having regressed. Quetta has always been religiously and culturally conservative, socio-economically backward, and yet strategically important. The geo-strategic location of Quetta was important for the British Raj and it is now important for the United States and NATO forces as well. Due to its strategic importance, the British turned it into a garrison city, and until today, the only developed part of the city is the military cantonment where infrastructure is still functioning, while security is stepped up in the neighboring areas of one of Pakistan army’s most prestigious and oldest institutions, the Command and Staff College.
Quetta is the provincial capital of Baluchistan, geographically Pakistan’s largest province, with a population of 2.5 million, comprising three major ethnic groups, Baluch, Pashtuns, Hazaras, along with a small number of Tajiks and Uzbeks. At its doorstep are the borders of Afghanistan and Iran. Quetta lies 5,000 feet above sea level and is encircled by arid mountains. Historically, the city of Quetta was gifted to the Khan of Kalat by the conqueror Ahmed Shah Durrani. During the colonial period, the British occupied Quetta as well as extended roads and railway networks to Afghanistan and Iran.
During the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Quetta bore the burden of refugee inflow from Afghanistan, which would change the landscape of the city for years to come. No preventive measures were taken to deal with the refugee crisis. The Afghan border is approximately eighty miles away, and more recently, there has been tighter control over the Chaman border crossing point, a historically porous border with people crossing on either side without official notification.
Most residents of Quetta are either unaware of the status of their city as the ‘shura city’ or those who have heard of the name simply laugh at it as a Western construction. However, the Quetta Shura is the Taliban powerhouse – Mullah Mohammad Omar’s hub – whose operations have methodically spread from the southern end of Afghanistan to the west and north, and hence it is by far considered the most active Taliban group in Afghanistan.
Internally there are two struggles going on within the city as well as the larger province of Baluchistan: sectarian violence and the Baloch separatist movements. These violent movements have left Quetta battered and bleeding. Travelling to Quetta from Karachi used to be an 8 hour drive (400 miles) with no security threats, but more recently that journey is perilous – one takes it at his own risk of being kidnapped, killed or robbed, and behind this are the fractured Baloch separatist groups. Sectarianism is carried out mostly by the militant groups, Sipah-e-Sahaba and Lashkar-e-Janghvi, who are also responsible for sectarian violence in the rest of the country.
The residents of Quetta may be unaware of the existence of the ‘Taliban shura’ but to the Western world, the Quetta shura has been, in the words of Gen. McChrystal, one of the most “prominent” Afghan Taliban groups and it represents the “biggest threat.” 
– Essay and captions: Farah Jan, Photography: Mohd Muhsin
Farah Jan is a PhD Candidate at Rutgers University-New Brunswick. Specializing in International Relations and Comparative Politics. A similar article was written for Foreign Policy entitled Welcome to Shura City.