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Pakistan: Country Profile

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Basics:

Official country name: Islamic Republic of Pakistan
Area: 310,403 sq miles (803,940 sq km)
Population: 160.9 million (2006 est.)
Median age: 20.9
Ethnic Groups: Punjabi, Sindhi, Pashtun, Baloch and Muhajir
GDP and GDP per capita: $126.8 billion and $788 (2006 estimates)

Government and Politics:

Pakistan was carved out of India in 1947. Ostensibly a democracy, Pakistan has mostly been ruled by military regimes or single-party autocracies. The president can dismiss the prime minister and the parliament. The 100-seat Senate is indirectly elected to six-year terms by provincial assemblies. The 342-seat National Assembly is mostly elected to five-year terms by popular vote. Sixty seats are reserved for women and 10 for non-Muslims.

Religion:

Pakistan is 97 percent Muslim. Among Muslims, it is 77 percent Sunni and 20 percent Shiite, making Pakistan the country with the second-largest Shiite population in the world after Iran. The Taliban, a Sunni-led Islamist militancy created by the Pakistani government in the 1980s to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan, is a debilitating problem. Pakistan also sent its jihadists to fight against Indian-held Kashmir, which Pakistan contests. The Taliban and al-Qaeda thrive in the tribal areas in Northwest Pakistan.

Economy:

Not long ago the sick man of the subcontinent, Pakistan’s economy is thriving. It grew by 8.6 percent between 2004 and 2005, a 20-year high, and 6.6 percent in 2006. Pakistan’s stock market is up 1000 percent since 1999. Its foreign reserves are up to $13 billion (from $1.7 billion in 1999), its public debt is down, and poverty, while still gripping a third of the population, hasn’t increased. But the credit doesn’t go to Musharraf as much as to Pakistan’s alliance with the United States following 9/11. That alliance led to a $2 billion-a-year aid package, forgiveness of debts, and renewed investment in Pakistan.

Military:

Pakistan’s military is an all-voluntary force of nearly 1 million men and women, when its paramilitary and national guard corps are included. The army provides Pakistan with a sense of national unity and pride, projecting an aura of independence from usually corrupt governments. The military has staged repeated coups, ostensibly to restore order to government. It fought three devastating wars with India and a losing, nine-month war against Bangladesh, formerly East Pakistan. The military won prestige by acquiring nuclear weapons. It conducted five nuclear tests in May 1998.

Human Rights, Civil Rights and Media:

Violence against women, “honor killings” and rampant discrimination are serious problems. The National Assembly improved matters somewhat in 2006 by passing the Women’s Protection Bill, enabling judges to try rape cases under civil, rather than Islamic, law. Women who’ve been raped no longer have to make their case by proving it with the aid of four male witnesses. Other problems include arbitrary detentions and shoddy due process under the dictatorial military regime of Pervez Musharraf, and the 2007 suspension of the Constitution, mass arrests of opposition figures, and the silencing of independent media.

Early History:

Pakistani history goes back 5,000 years. It was part of the Indus Valley civilization, where large and complex cities flourished between 4,000 B.C. and 2,500 B.C. Aryan and other invaders from the north and west developed the Vedic civilization that dominated the region for a millennium between 1,500 and 500 B.C. Arab invaders introduced Islam in the 8th century. From the 16th to the 19th century, present-day Pakistan was part of the Mogul empire, most notably under the enlightened Akbar the Great from 1556 to 1605. Pakistan, like India, fell under the control of British colonialism for a century after the 1840s.

Modern History:

Modern Pakistan was born Aug. 14, 1947, carved out of British India to give India’s Muslims a homeland. It originally included East Pakistan, which in 1971 declared independence as Bangladesh. Three wars with India have punctuated its short history as a nation state. Reportedly, India and Pakistan narrowly averted nuclear wars in 1990 and 1998 as the two battle over Kashmir. In 2001, Pakistan abandoned its support of the Taliban in Afghanistan and joined the American-led “war on terror,” receiving in exchange upwards of $12 billion in U.S. aid, most of it military.

Current Issues:

Tensions with India have abated somewhat, but Pakistan is fighting a low-grade civil war in its northwestern, tribal provinces, where Taliban-backed Islamic militants and al-Qaeda elements operate with near impunity. Osama bin Laden is believed to be hiding in that region. Meanwhile, President Pervez Musharraf’s dictatorial rule has been discredited by his “second coup”. He suspended the Constitution, imprisoned opposition figures and postponed elections, supposedly because of the rise in militancy, but more likely because the Supreme Court was about to rule his election as president illegal.

Facing growing rejection, Musharraf resigned in August 2008 to avoid impeachment. Pakistan's future, however, is as uncertain as ever.

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