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South Asia








Pakistan was divided off from British India at Independence (14 August 1947) in order to be a homeland for the Muslims. The name means Land of the Pure.

Pakistan occupies the north west of the Indian sub-continent. It is based on the Indus Valley where many groups of invaders entered India from the north. The earliest we are sure of were the Aryans - the cattle herders who were ancestors of the Hindus. These may have been the builders of Mohenjo Daro, one of the earliest city sites in the world and located in the Indus Valley of Pakistan. (Or the builders may have been people related to the southern Indians, speaking Dravidian languages, overwhelmed by the Aryan invaders). Later invaders included: Alexander the Great whose armies reached the Indus, and the later waves of Muslims who came over the Himalayas from Central Asia. Their legacy is the religion and culture derived from the Persian version of Islam (though Sunnis are the majority), and the language, arts and literature, heavily influenced by Persian language (Farsi).

The history of Pakistan is the history of these.

The first was Mahmud of Ghazna (in Afghanistan). The last were the Moguls, also from Afghanistan. But this means that the history of what is now Pakistan is intertwined with Afghanistan. The Northwest Frontier province could easily be part of Afghanistan, as could Baluchistan which have at times in the past been parts of a state ruled from Afghanistan.

The area was conquered by the British in the 19th century, spreading the rule of the East India Company into Punjab, Sindh and Baluchistan and the Northwest Frontier - the Pashtun area. (Famously, General Napier who conquered Sindh contrary to his orders, cabled London with a telegram "Peccavi" - Latin for I have sinned). Until 1947 Pakistan shared the same history as India, being part of the British Indian Empire.

Should the British have conquered the Pashtun area? They did it to protect the lower area from attacks from the Afghan area - a direction from which India has been invaded many times in the past. The officially recognised border with Afghanistan is the Durand line, the Afghanistan-India border fixed by Sir Mortimer Durand in 1893. However, the British never controlled the Pashtun-speaking tribes directly. The most they could claim was local agreements with the various rulers of this area. British troops did not occupy the zone and the tribes were hardly subject to British law. (The Afghan government never controlled their side of the border either, so the Durand line was a fiction composed by both the British and the Afghans.)

The modern Pakistan government does not control the area either. For some time there was a campaign to set up a state to be called Pakhtoonistan. The United States urges Pakistan to control the area, where Osama bin Laden and his group is believed to be residing, but military operations by the Pakistani army are very costly and as ineffective as those of the British before them. The Border - the Durand Line - has little reality as the two countries still do not control it. The idea of "sealing it off" remains a fantasy.

The British controlled the British Indian Army, a far bigger resource than Pakistan can. It is not therefore surprising that Pakistan doesn't really control this area.

If the state were to collapse it is at least imaginable that Punjab and Sindh could be reunited with India, along with Kashmir, while the rest became part of an enlarged Afghan state. Is the state likely to collapse? It is imaginable but not likely in the near future. It is more likely to stagger on in its present broken-backed condition.

British rule over the whole area lasted from the late 18th century until 1947. Before Independence the leaders of India were Mohandas Gandhi and Jarwarhalal Nehru for the majority community (via the Indian National Congress Party), and Mohammed Ali Jinnah for the Muslims (via the Muslim league which had once worked together with the Congress). Jinnah refused to support a united, secular India covering the whole of the British administered area. He demanded areas to be set aside for Muslims - even though these areas were also mixed in population, with many Hindus and Sikhs. Because the British had lost control in 1947 they wanted to leave urgently. The final conference on setting up successor states could not get agreement from Jinnah and so the two states were created. British India split into: India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Burma. When the two states of India and Pakistan came into being almost all Hindus and Sikhs moved out of Pakistan and many Muslims moved out of India. During this movement of peoples over a million are believed to have died in massacres. Few Hindus remain in Pakistan and Bangladesh but many Muslims remain in India.

There is a dispute with India over Kashmir, a territory whose population is predominantly Muslim but whose Hindu king decided to join India in 1947 without any kind of election. The fact that Nehru's family came from Kashmir may have been one factor in this decision.

On independence Pakistan was formed with two wings. West Pakistan was the present state and East Pakistan was the present Bangladesh which split away in 1971.

As Pakistan was formed to be a homeland for the Muslims of India there is constant pressure for it to become a purely Islamic state -whatever that actually means. Some fundamentalists look to Iran for a model; others to the Taliban of Afghanistan - themselves largely the result of influence from extremist religious preachers in Pakistan. During the military regime of Zia ul Haq (assassinated 1988) the legal system was changed to becoming more Islamic including the use of Islamic punishments and the prohibition of alcohol. The April 1991 government announced further development in this direction.

Reporters have claimed that the Islamic fundamentalism comes mainly from the military rulers who so often take over the government. However, the fundamentalist mosques and institutions do seem to have lots of noisy popular support.

At least as important an influence on Pakistani culture and society is the feudal rural area, where the big landowners continue to control everything.

There have been several million Afghan refugees camped near the frontier with Afghanistan. Pakistan was the base for American and other assistance to the Afghan guerrillas fighting the Soviet forces. This has released many modern weapons into Pakistan and increased the amount of political violence including urban terrorism. Pakistani volunteers in Afghanistan may have come home and caused trouble.

Pakistan is known to have built nuclear weapons possibly paid for by either Saudi Arabia or Libya, or perhaps both. India had already exploded at least one device. Both states have now tested devices and are said to have the means of delivery.

If massacres of Muslims in India increase there is a danger of Pakistan's intervening to help them, and also of mass migration of Muslims from India of the kind which marked the original separation in 1947.

In 2004 the Pakistan leader and the Indian prime minister were making progress towards normalising relations. In March 2004 an India cricket team toured Pakistan, and rail and bus links were reopened. There were grounds for cautious optimism until the recent collapse of the Pakistan political system.

There is now a weak civilian regime headed by Asif Zardari, Benazir Bhutto's widower. It is hard to say how much it really controls the country as in much of the "tribal" area the dominant force is probably the traditional leaders and Muslim fanatics of the same type as the former Taliban Afghan government.
Guardian article on Pakistan sharia law in Swat.


Urdu - closely related to Hindi, but with more Persian vocabulary.
English - a legacy of the British Empire








Unlike India Pakistan has not had a tradition of elected governments. Since independence there have been more and longer military governments than constitutional.

In the period from Independence (1947) until the secession of Bangladesh there were usually military governments, the longest being headed by General Ayub Khan. It was the ending of his regime in an election in 1970 that precipitated the split when the leader of East Pakistan Mujib ur Rahman won the election and should have become Prime Minister of the whole of Pakistan. The leaders of West Pakistan refused to let him take office and the last vestige of common feeling between the two parts evaporated.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was first PM of the rump Pakistan, after the secession of Bangladesh in 1971. He was executed after the military takeover by Zia ul Haq who was military ruler until 1988 when he was blown up in his plane. Then there were elections. A government was formed by Benazir Bhutto, daughter of the murdered Z.A.Bhutto. She was dismissed in August 1990 after charges of corruption.

There was then another elected government. The Pakistan People's Party which lost the election accused the military of having persuaded the president to dismiss the PPP Prime Minister and rigging the election. It is hard to know whether there is truth in these accusations. The PPP government was ineffective, perhaps because the army obstructed their intentions, but also perhaps the Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto was inexperienced and incompetent. She had inherited the leadership from her father and thus is an example of the dynastic principle which is so common in apparently democratic systems.

The President and PM both resigned in August 1993, leaving the military again as the main power.

In October 1993, after a brief but effective caretaker government by Moeeni Qureshi (former World Bank official), elections resulted in the Bhutto party regaining the largest block of seats.

The PPP was originally a socialist party and claimed to represent the interest of the poorest. It is now composed of landowners and industrialists, and is probably best considered as a dynastic vehicle of the Bhuttos. However, the Bhutto family has been split into several factions. Benazir's brother was apparently being groomed by other members of the family (before he was assassinated) as the authentic follower of her father. She was, after all, a woman in a male dominated society and culture. She seemed unable to resist the influence of fundamentalists who controlled the court system.

In November 1996 the President dissolved parliament without warning and dismissed the government, apparently with military support.

Subsequent elections produced a majority for the Muslim parties, with Nawaz Sharif as Prime Minister.

After criticism of corruption in his government he was dismissed by the military again in October 1999. The commander of the army, General Pervaiz Musharraf, took power with very little opposition.

Opposition to Musharraf seemed to be growing, especially as he was closely involved with the US government and its activities in Afghanistan.

Benazir Bhutto claimed (15/8/07) to be about to return to run for Prime Minister. Nawaz Sharif claimed the same. He returned on 10/9/07 and was at once deported to Saudi Arabia. She returned in mid-October 2007, and on her journey from the airport to the city a suicide car bomb killed over 100 people, severely damaged her vehicle but did not kill her. The Taliban supporters in Pakistan clearly did not wish to see her in power, no doubt from her alliance with America, and probably merely because she was a woman. Bhutto seemed to have had some kind of agreement with Musharraf.

4 November 2007 saw Musharraf stage an autogolpe when he suspended the constitution, possibly because the Supreme Court was about to rule he was not eligible to be president while still head of the army.

His "new" Supreme Court then (26/11/07) endorsed Musharraf's "election". Nawaz Sharif also returned. Musharraf resigned from the army at the end of November 2007 and was sworn in as president. Under most of Pakistan's constitutions the post of president is supposed to be similar to India's - mainly ceremonial, like a Constitutional Monarch. Musharraf made it an executive post. But the method of election - by the elected assemblies - was suitable more for a ceremonial post than for an executive.

27/12/07 Benazir Bhutto was assassinated probably by a suicide bomber at an election rally. The elections were held and her widower became president.

Benazir's will was read. Bizarrely, the central committee of the PPP at once appointed Benazir's 19 year old student son as joint leader with his father. This would seem to show that the PPP is not a democratic party but a kind of royal family. No vote of the members was held.

Elections resulted in a defeat for Musharref and a coalition of the PPP and the Muslim party. Benazir's widower and Nawaz Sharif the leader of her enemy's party cooperated together to marginalise Musharref. But does the government control the country? As assassinations and atrocities by the Taliban continue it looks as though it doesn't.

The release of US military documents about the war in Afghanistan shows that the Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) pursues a different policy from what the official government claims - assistance to the Taliban factions in Afghanistan. Thus the question arises as to whether the ISI is the real government (just as the KGB was in the Soviet Union).

This question was raised more urgently when it was discovered that the late Osama bin Laden had been living for several years at Abbottabad one of the main military cities. Many assume that part of the "security forces" knew he was there and was protecting him.

Interesting reading

The Great Partition

Anatol Lieven - Pakistan A Hard country

Pakistan: A Hard Country

Mohsin Hamid - the Reluctant Fundamentalist

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Der Fundamentalist, der keiner sein wollte: Roman
Ahmed Rashid - Pakistan on the Brink

Pakistan on the Brink: The future of Pakistan, Afghanistan and the West







A mainly agricultural economy with a growing industrial sector. Similar in origin to India. A large work force was sending remittances from the Gulf until the Kuwait war. But standards of illiteracy are high and many of the population seem stuck in poverty with no chance of getting out, perhaps because the government is controlled by traditional landowners. The main hindrance to economic development is probably the collapse of the modern educational system and its replacement by ineffective Quran schools. Only the children of the elite have access to modern education. This contrasts with secular India.

How can they afford nuclear weapons? (Answer: Saudi Arabia is paying.)

Perhaps what is needed is free trade across the frontier with India to regain the trade conditions during the British period. Without the trade with India Pakistan shows no sign of becoming a modern economy and in fact is doing badly.







Pakistan exploded a nuclear device (possibly more) in May 1998, following the Indian testing of 7 devices.

The biggest threat to people's future is climate change which is melting the glaciers which supply most of Pakistan's water outside the Monsoon period.

Serious monsoon floods in 2010 appear to have been made worse by the failure to maintain forests on the mountain slopes. If the forests had been intact some of the water would have soaked in and not have flooded the river valleys.






Human Rights

There are reports of police violence to prisoners. Islamic law punishes offenses which are not considered crimes in western countries - death for "blasphemy" . Flogging and amputation would be considered "cruel and unusual" punishments under American or British law. Torture of political dissidents has been reported.

The position of women remains bad, despite two incumbencies by a woman prime minister. Two Christians were sentenced to death for alleged blasphemy (though eventually reprieved after outrage from overseas).

Quasi-slavery (20 million) "bonded labor" trying to pay off debts.

Climate effects

One degree
Water from the Himalayas in the great rivers may be affected by the loss of glaciers, causing droughts and lack of irrigation water. There is a scientists' disagreement about how soon the glaciers are likely to disappear. Changes of this kind tend to take place faster than many predict.

Two degrees
Serious problems supporting the agricultural population, lack of water in major rivers. Population may want to migrate to India (which itself will have serious problems).

Last revised 30/03/12

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