Bahawalpur was once the capital of the former princely state of Bahawalpur ruled by Nawabs. The Nawabs of Bahawalpur were regarded as part of the Rajputana States, the majority of which now form the bulk of the neighbouring Indian state of Rajasthan.
Bahawalpur was founded in 1748, in a region near the historical city of Uch, which was once a stronghold of the Delhi Sultanate. 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. 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 city and princely state acceded to Pakistan on 7 October 1947 when Nawab Sadiq Muhammad Khan Abbasi V Bahadur joined Pakistan at the time of the independence of Pakistan in 1947. Following independence, the city's minority Hindu and Sikh communities largely migrated to India en masse, while Muslim refugees from India settled in the city and surrounding region.
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.
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 is the multipurpose stadium, home to Bahawalpur Stags. It hosted a sole international match, a test match between Pakistan and India in 1955.
Deobandi Islamism was established in the Bahawalpur area during colonial times in an effort to counter the strong Sufi influence in the area. After Partition, a number of Deobandi institutions from Jalandhar and Ludhiana areas relocated to Pakistani Punjab, including to the cities of Multan and Bahawalpur. In recent years, there have been a growing number of Deobandi institutions, from which jihadis recruit a considerable number of militants to fight in Afghanistan and Kashmir. There are 500 to 1000 madrassas in Bahawalpur belonging to Deobandi and Ahl-e-Hadith orientations, many of which teach a violent version of Islam to children.
Maulana Masood Azhar, founder of Jaish-e-Mohammad, was born in Bahawalpur in 1968. He established a 4.5 acre walled complex outside the city that serves as a headquarters for JeM.