Balochistan is a land of beauty. From its perfectly textured mountains to its dreamy beaches, the sublimity it offers through nature never fails to leave one in awestruck wonder. A complement to its natural beauty is its rich history. Balochistan is home to many archaeological sites, which over the year have been the center of attention of tourists and historical researchers. Zhob town in the northwest of Balochistan is among its most celebrated historical towns. The town, situated on the banks of Zhob River, was initially named Apozai which was given to Zhob after a nearby village. While the locals still use Apozai to address Zhob, the town is most famous among researchers by the name Fort Sandeman. The name Fort Sandeman originally comes from Sir Robert Sandeman’s name, which initially was given to the fort he resided in during his tenure as a district officer in Balochistan. During the Afghan war in the 19th century, the British put its military on duty in the north-western districts of Balochistan. The Fort Sandeman was one of the headquarters of the Zhob Levy Corps led by British officers.
The Europeans discovered the town during their expedition of 1884 and took the area under their control after they found out about it. The population of the town at that time was 3552. It served as a strategic location for the British as Zhob and the neighbouring towns shielded British India from Russian invasion. Not only had the British taken over the lands in the town, but Zhob valley and Gomal as well. Areas including Zhob, Killa Saifullah, and Pishin were also brought under the regime of British India after the Durand line was formed in 1893. During the colonial time, the political agents took shelter in the fort that was to the north of the town and 150 feet above the surface of the plain while the military lines, bazaar, dispensaries, and schools lay below. It was at this time that the railway system in the town was built. The fort was built as a cantonment to defend the area. Some Historians also suggest that the British build this fort to watch over the local population.
The ship-shaped fort still attracts thousands of people and is one of Balochistan’s most famous buildings. The fort now is being used as the residence and the office of the deputy commissioner of Zhob. The government is making efforts to repair the monument to make it safer and has also promised to restore two other buildings around the fort. As old as the fort may be, but the colonial artefacts including the furniture and Sandeman’s piano are still safely preserved in the building.
After the independence of Pakistan, the colonial history of the town still echoed from the British assigned name of the monuments in the town. It was only on July 30, 1976 that Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto decided to change the name of the town from Fort Sandeman to Zhob to remove the remnant of the colonial history of the place. Bhutto believed the British was the oppressor of Baloch and Pashtuns, and the name Fort Sandeman symbolized the celebration of the British rule in the area. The district now is the tenth largest district in the province of Balochistan.
In addition to its colonial history, the town is also very well known for its history as home to Afghans. Qais Abdul Rashid, one of the progenitors of Afghans, lived in Sulaiman Mountains on the periphery of Zhob. Qais Abdul Rashid was born in 575AD and died in 661AD. The natives call his grave “Dar Kase Ghar” (the mountains of Qais). Before the British intervention, the areas was ruled by Nadir Shah from 1736 to 1747, and then by Ahmed Shah Abdali from 1747 to 1773.
Zhob is an example of one of the many historical places in Balochistan. The history of the town is an epitome of diversity. Through its diverse history, we can learn to accept and value the people who have been living in the town since the beginning. The province has a lot more to offer; from centuries-old forts to its natural resources, everything comprises a story that wants to be found and explored. We as a nation can sustain history by engaging with it either by making visits or doing research on these historical monuments.