Quetta (kwĕˈtə) [key], city (1998 pop. 560,307), capital of Baluchistan prov., W central Pakistan, at an altitude of c.5,500 ft (1,675 m), ringed by mountains. Deriving its name from the Pashto word kawkot [fort], it commands the entrance through the strategic Bolan Pass into Afghanistan and is a trade center for Afghanistan, Iran, and much of central Asia. The city's cottage industries produce textiles, foodstuffs, and carpets.
The city was occupied (1876) by the British following the Second Afghan War, and it gained prominence as the seat of British resident Sir Robert Sandeman. It became a strongly garrisoned British military station. Much of the present city was rebuilt after a disastrous earthquake in 1935. Quetta has a military staff college (est. 1907) and a geophysical observatory. Like many major Pakistani border cities, Quetta was a magnet for some of the millions of Afghan refugees who fled after the 1979 Soviet invasion; the refugees who remain have swelled the local population to an estimated 2 million people. As a result of war and ongoing fighting in Afghanistan, Quetta has become a center for arms and drug smuggling and a base for ousted Taliban leaders.
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