Summary The highlands of the semi-arid province of Balochistan, Pakistan, are in the midst of a transition from traditional karez based irrigation to pumping of groundwater by tubewells. The transition besides affecting environmental quality is also leading to erosion of karez centered social capital in the province. The rural populace is quite concerned about the erosion of social capital and the loss of equity as a result of increasing groundwater pumping. It is argued that protection of karez irrigation is practical, and an environmental, economic, and social necessity. Future rural development policies in arid and semi-arid regions like Balochistan must replace accumulation with resilience as the core development objective for a sustainable future.