Quetta, capital of volatile Balochistan province, is considered a censored city, around 1,300 kilometers southwest of Islamabad, Pakistan. The alleged presence of the Afghan Taliban Shura, or advisory council, and a simmering Baloch insurgency shrouds the city of 2 million people in mystery.
The death of the Afghan Taliban's reclusive leader Mullah Omar brought Quetta again into the media limelight. Afghan government officials, some Taliban communiques and media reports have claimed that Taliban leaders were holding a series of strategy meetings in Quetta.
Local reporters can hardly report on Taliban activities in Quetta. Foreign journalists are not welcome. A foreign correspondent would need a No Objection Certificate (NOC), bureaucratic jargon for permission, from Pakistan’s security agencies to visit Quetta. The latest recorded visit to Quetta by foreign journalists took place in 2013.
“That was an embedded trip arranged by the government for 16 foreign journalists,” a local reporter said.
The guarded secrecy of the city is so tough that Pakistani plainclothes intelligence agents beat up New York Times reporter and author Carlotta Gall in 2006. The Times' Sunday Book Review recounted her story in April 2014.
It said: “The officer in charge accused her of trying to interview Taliban members, which he said was forbidden. She learned later that her rough treatment had been ordered by the head of the ISI press department to discourage her from reporting ISI-Taliban links.”
The strategic southwestern city of Quetta is home to Pashtuns, Baloch and Hazaras, as well as Urdu- and Punjabi-speaking ethnic groups. The Pashtuns in Quetta and nearby border towns share a cultural and linguistic identity with Pashtuns in southern Afghanistan, a stronghold of the Taliban.
“The locale fits in the Afghan Taliban without raising a suspicion,” a local journalist said. The Sharqi [eastern] bypass and Gharbi [western] bypass areas of Quetta are established Afghan Taliban residential locations. Afghan officials have said on record that Taliban fighters were regularly treated in hospitals in border towns and Afghan refugee camps in Balochistan.
Kabul believed Mullah Omar was living in Quetta. Islamabad has denied the reports, but questions were raised about where Taliban leaders came from to attend the Pakistan-facilitated peace talks with the Afghan government representatives at Pakistan’s hill resort of Murree last month.
A full military corps of Pakistan is in charge of Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province, with headquarters in Quetta. The corps oversees security on the border with Afghanistan, Iran and the Arabian Sea. It also has led the 10-year military operation against the Baloch insurgency. Baloch rebels fight there for a greater share in the region's natural resources.