The area known as Bahawalpur State was home to various ancient societies. The Bahawalpur region contains ruins from the Indus Valley Civilisation, as well as ancient Buddhist sites such as the nearby Patan minara. British archaeologist Sir Alexander Cunningham identified the Bahawalpur region as home of the Yaudheya kingdoms of the Mahābhārata.
Prior to the establishment of Bahawalpur, the region's major city was the holy city of Uch Sharif - a regional metropolitan centre between the 12th and 17th centuries that it is renowned for its collection of historic shrines dedicated to Muslim mystics from the 12-15th centuries built in the region's vernacular style.
Bahawalpur was founded in 1748 by Nawab Bahawal Khan I, after migrating to the region around Uch from Shikarpur,Sindh. Bahawalpur replaced Derawar as the clan's capital city. The city had initially flourished as a trading post on trade routes between Afghanistan and central India.
In 1785, the Durrani commander Sirdar Khan attacked Bahawalpur city and destroyed many of its buildings on behalf of Mian Abdul Nabi Kalhora of Sindh. Bahawalpur's ruling family, along with nobles from nearby Uch, were forced to take refuge in the Derawar Fort, where they successfully repulsed attacks. The attacking Durrani force accepted 60,000 rupees as nazrana tribute, though Bahawal Khan later had to seek refuge in the Rajput states as the Afghan Durranis occupied Derawar Fort. Bahawal Khan returned to conquer the fort by way of Uch, and re-established control of Bahawalpur.
The ruling Abbasi family regarded the nearby Derawar Fort as a traditional bastion of their power.
Bahawalpur's central library dates from the princely state period.
The princely state of Bahawalpur was founded in 1802 by Nawab Mohammad Bahawal Khan II after the break-up of the Durrani Empire, and was based in the city. In 1807, Ranjit Singh of the Sikh Empire laid siege to the fort in Multan, prompting refugees to seek safety in Bahawalpur in the wake of his marauding forces that began to attack the countryside around Multan. Ranjit Singh eventually withdrew the siege, and gifted the Nawab of Bahawalpur some gifts as the Sikh forces retreated.
Fawara Chowk roundabout
Bahalwapur offered an outpost of stability in the wake of crumbling Mughal rule and declining power of Khorasan's monarchy. The city became a refuge for prominent families from affected regions, and also saw an influx of religious scholars escaping the consolidation of Sikh power in Punjab.
Fearing an invasion from the Sikh Empire, Nawab Mohammad Bahawal Khan III signed a treaty with the British on 22 February 1833, guaranteeing the independence of the Nawab and the autonomy of Bahawalpur as a princely state. The treaty guaranteed the British a friendly southern frontier during their invasion of the Sikh Empire.
Trade routes had shifted away from Bahawalpur by the 1830s, and British visitors to the city noted several empty shops in the city's bazaar. The population at this time was estimated to be 20,000, and was noted to be made up primarily of low-caste Hindus. Also in 1833, the Sutlej and Indus Rivers were opened to navigation, allowing goods to reach Bahawalpur.
By 1845, newly opened trade routes to Delhi re-established Bahawalpur as a commercial centre. The city was known in the late 19th century as a centre for the production of silk goods, lungis, and cotton goods. The city's silk was noted to be of higher quality than silk works from Benares or Amritsar.
An 1866 crisis over succession to the Bahawalpur throne markedly increased British influence in the princely state. Bahawalpur was constituted as a municipality in 1874. The city's Noor Mahal palace was completed in 1875. In 1878, Bahawalpur's 4,285 foot long Empress Bridge was opened as the only rail crossing over the Sutlej River. Bahawalpur's Sadiq Egerton College was founded in 1886. Bahalwapur's Nawabs celebrated the Golden Jubillee of Queen Victoria in 1887 in a state function at the Noor Mahal palace. Two hospitals were established in the city in 1898. In 1901, the population of the city was 18,546.
Bahawalpur's Islamia University was founded as Jamia Abbasia in 1925. At the outbreak of World War II in 1939, Bahawalpur's Nawab was the first ruler of a princely state to offer his full support and resources of the state towards the crown's war efforts.
The main crops for which Bahawalpur is recognised are cotton, sugarcane, wheat, sunflower seeds, rape/mustard seed and rice. Bahawalpur mangoes, citrus, dates and guavas are some of the fruits exported out of the country. Vegetables include onions, tomatoes, cauliflower, potatoes and carrots. Being an expanding industrial city, the government has revolutionised and libertised various markets allowing the caustic soda, cotton ginning and pressing, flour mills, fruit juices, general engineering, iron and steel re-rolling mills, looms, oil mills, poultry feed, sugar, textile spinning, textile weaving, vegetable ghee and cooking oil industries to flourish.
In 2007, the city's population was estimated to have risen to 798,509 from 403,408 in 1998. No census has been conducted in Pakistan since 1998, although one will be completed in 2017. The Bakhri are a clan found in the Shabr Farid ilaqa of Bahawalpur claiming Rajput origin. They were previously converted to Islam but fearing to return to their Hindu roots they settled down in Multan as weavers.
The Darbar Mahal mosque was built in an exuberant style.
Bahawalpur emerged as a centre of Chisti Sufism following the establishment of a khanqa by Noor Muhammad Muharvi in the mid 18th century.
Bahawalpur was announced as one of six cities in Punjab whose security would be improved by the Punjab Safe Cities Authority. 5.6 billion Rupees have been allocated for the project, which will be modeled along the lines of the Lahore Safe City project in which 8,000 CCTV cameras were installed throughout the city at a cost of 12 billion rupees to record and send images to Integrated Command and Control Centres.
Bahawal Stadium or The Bahawalpur Dring Stadium is a multipurpose stadium, home to Bahawalpur Stags. It hosted a sole international match, a test match between Pakistan and India in 1955.Motiullah hockey stadium is in Bahawal Stadium which is used for various national and international hockey tournaments in country. Aside from the cricket ground, it has a gym and a pool facility for the citizens. There are also great tennis courts which are under administration of bahawalpur tennis club. There is also a 2 kilometer jogging track around the football ground.
Deobandi Islamism got established in the Bahawalpur area during colonial times in an effort to counter the strong Sufi influence in the area. After the Partition, a number of Deobandi institutions from Jalandhar and Ludhiana areas relocated to Multan and Bahawalpur in South Punjab. In recent years, there has been a proliferation of Deobandi religoius institutions and considerable recruitment for jihad in Afghanistan and Kashmir. There are at least 500–1000 madrassas in Bahawalpur belonging to Deobandi and Ahl-e-Hadith orientations, most of which teach a violent version of Islam to children.
Maulana Masood Azhar, born in Bahawalpur in 1968, went to study at a religious seminary in Karachi and became a militant of Harkat-ul-Ansar (HuA, also called Harkat-ul-Mujahideen). Under his influence several militant madrassas got started in Bahawalpur and other areas of South Punjab. Azhar went to fight jihad in Afghanistan as a militant of HuA, and is said to have become an associate of Osama Bin Laden. After many stints as a militant in several countries and imprisonment in Indian-administered Kashmir, he returned to found Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), considered the deadliest terrorist organisation that fights in Kashmir. He established the headquarters of JeM in Bahawalpur with a 6.5 acre walled complex that serves as a training facility and a madrasa in the centre of the city. The JeM has been designated as a terrorist organisation by various countries as well the United Nations. The United States specially designated Masood Azhar as a global terrorist.
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