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Atlas Pakistan

Country (long form)
Islamic Republic of Pakistan
Total Area
310,402.97 sq mi
803,940.00 sq km
141,553,775 (July 2000 est.)
Estimated Population in 2050
Punjabi 48%, Sindhi 12%, Siraiki (a Punjabi variant) 10%, Pashtu 8%, Urdu (official) 8%, Balochi 3%, Hindko 2%, Brahui 1%, English (official and lingua franca of Pakistani elite and most government ministries), Burushaski, and other 8%
37.8% total, 50.0% male, 24.4% female (1995 est.)
Muslim 97% (Sunni 77%, Shi'a 20%), Christian, Hindu, and other 3%
Life Expectancy
60.27 male, 61.91 female (2000 est.)
Government Type
federal republic
1 Pakistani rupee (PRe) = 100 paisa
GDP (per capita)
$2,000 (1999 est.)
Labor Force (by occupation)
agriculture 44%, industry 17%, services 39% (1999 est.)
textiles, food processing, beverages, construction materials, clothing, paper products, shrimp
cotton, wheat, rice, sugarcane, fruits, vegetables; milk, beef, mutton, eggs
Arable Land
cotton, fabrics, and yarn, rice, other agricultural products
machinery, petroleum, petroleum products, chemicals, transportation equipment, edible oils, grains, pulses, flour
Natural Resources
land, extensive natural gas reserves, limited petroleum, poor quality coal, iron ore, copper, salt, limestone
Current Environmental Issues
water pollution from raw sewage, industrial wastes, and agricultural runoff; limited natural fresh water resources; a majority of the population does not have access to potable water; deforestation; soil erosion; desertification
Telephones (main lines in use)
2.861 million (March 1999)
Telephones (mobile cellular)
158,000 (1998)
Internet Service Providers (ISPs)
26 (1999)

The first inhabitants of Pakistan were Stone Age peoples in the Potwar Plateau (northwest Punjab). They were followed by the sophisticated Indus Valley (or Harappan) civilisation which flourished between the 23rd to 18th centuries BC. Semi-nomadic peoples then arrived, and by the 9th century BC they had spread across northern Pakistan-India. Their Vedic religion was the precursor of Hinduism, and their rigid division of labour an early caste system.

In 327 BC Alexander the Great came over the Hindu Kush to finish off the remnants of the defeated Persian empire. Although his visit was short, some tribes tell picturesque legends in which they claim to be descended from Alexander and his troops. Later came the heyday of the Silk Route, a period of lucrative trade between China, India and the Roman empire. The Kushans were at the centre of the silk trade and established the capital of their Gandhara kingdom at Peshawar. By the 2nd century AD they had reached the height of their power, with an empire that stretched from eastern Iran to the Chinese frontier and south to the Ganges River. The Kushans were Buddhist and under King Kanishka built thousands of monasteries and stupas. Soon Gandhara became both a place of trade and of religious study and pilgrimage - the Buddhist 'holy' land.

The Kushan empire had unravelled by the 4th century and was subsequently absorbed by the Persian Sassanians, the Gupta dynasty, Hephthalites from Central Asia, and Turkic and Hindu Shahi dynasties. The next strong central power was the Moghuls who reigned during the 16th and 17th centuries. A succession of rulers introduced sweeping reforms, ending Islam's supremacy as a state religion, encourging the arts, building fanciful houses and, in a complete volte-face, returning the state to Islam once again.

In 1799 a young and crafty Sikh named Ranjit Singh was granted governorship of Lahore. Over the next few decades he proceeded to parlay this entity into a small empire, fashioning a religious brotherhood of 'holy brothers' into the most formidable army on the subcontinent. In the course of his rule, Ranjit had agreed to stay out of British territory - roughly southeast of the Sutlej River - if they in turn left him alone. But his death in 1839 and his successor's violation of the treaty plunged the Sikhs into war. The British duly triumphed, annexing Kashmir, Ladakh, Baltistan and Gilgit and renaming them the State of Jammu and Kashmir. Thus they created a buffer state to Russian expansionism in the northwest and, unwittingly, introduced what would transpire to be the subcontinent's most unmanageable curse. A second war against the British in 1849 brought the empire to an end, and the annexation of the Punjab and the Sindh in the 1850s; these were ceded to the British Raj in 1857.

National self-awareness began growing in British India in the latter stages of the 19th century. In 1906 the Muslim League was founded to demand an independent Muslim state, but it wasn't until 24 years later that a totally separate Muslim homeland was proposed. Around the same time, a group of England-based Muslim exiles coined the name Pakistan, meaning 'Land of the Pure'. After violence between Hindus and Muslims escalated in the mid-1940s, the British were forced to admit that a separate Muslim state was unavoidable. The new viceroy, Lord Louis Mountbatten, announced that independence would come by June 1948.

British India was dutifully carved up into a central, largely Hindu region retaining the name India, and a Muslim East (present-day Bangladesh) and West Pakistan. The announcement of the boundaries sparked widespread carnage and one of the largest migrations of people in history. Kashmir (properly The State of Jammu and Kashmir), though, wanted no part of India or Pakistan. When India and Pakistan sent troops into the recalcitrant state, war erupted between the two countries. In 1949 a UN-brokered cease-fire gave each country a piece of Kashmir to administer, but ultimate control still remains unclear.

Mohammed Ali Jinnah, a prime mover of Muslim independence, became Pakistan's first governor general but died barely a year into his new country's independence. His deputy and friend Liaqat Ali Khan replaced him but was assassinated three years later. What followed was a muddle of quarelling governors general and prime ministers and a severe economic slump. In 1956 Pakistan finally produced a constitution and became an Islamic republic. West Pakistan's provinces were amalgamated into a single entity similar to that in East Pakistan. Two years later President Iskander Mirza - fed up with the bickering and opportunism that pervaded Pakistani politics - abrogated the constitution, banned political parties and declared martial law. Pakistan has remained in this prolonged state of emergency, in one form or another, ever since.

The next two decades saw Pakistan racked by further war with India over Kashmir, civil war between the east and west, the declaration of Bangladeshi independence, another war with India and the execution of one of its most charismatic prime ministers, Z A Bhutto. In 1977 Bhutto's chief of staff, General Muhammad Zia ul-Haq, took control, insinuating himself successfully with the USA (thereby gaining valuable foreign aid) and being widely feted as a hero of the free world. His death in an air crash in 1988 opened the way for Bhutto's daughter, Benazir, to claim victory in the next election, the first elected woman to head a Muslim country. She was toppled soon after but was voted back into power in 1993.

Benazir Bhutto travelled widely, trumpeting Pakistan's investment potential and casting herself, and her country, as role models for the modern Muslim state. Her place in the hearts of her own people though was endangered by a culture of official corruption. She was dismissed as prime minister in November 1996 by President Farooq Leghari. Elections held in early 1997 returned her opponent Nawaz Sharif. After India conducted nuclear tests in May 1998, Pakistan responded in kind two weeks later, detonating five nuclear devices in southwestern Baluchistan. International condemnation was widespread, and sanctions placed intense strain on the country's economy.

It was the 'ruined economy' that General Pervez Musharraf cited as the main reason for his bloodless coup that took place in October 1999. The military stepped in, deposed Nawaz Sharif and then took control of most of Pakistan's institutions. Musharraf issued a thinly veiled warning to India not to meddle in their internal affairs, with the result that tension over nuclear capabilities between the two countries (and the continuing dispute over Kashmir) was screwed up a notch.

Musharraf named himself president in June 2001, just in time to oversee the regional consequences of September's terrorist attacks against the USA, assumed to have been carried out by neighbouring Afghanistan's long-term visitor Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda outfit. In an ironic twist, Afghanistan's Taliban was a creation of Pakistan's military intelligence, and until September 2001 was nominally backed by Musharraf's government. Musharraf - in the unenviable position of having to choose sides - took the controversial decision to back the USA. The alternative was to lose vital military and economic assistance. Meanwhile, embassies and consulates stationed in the country are emptying as calls opposing the government's cooperation with the USA's 'war against terrorism' grow louder.