Pakistan: A Brief, Brief Summary

History

The Islamic Republic of Pakistan, as it is officially known, was once a part of India along with Bangladesh. As such there is much shared ancient history with its neighbour. Including its colonial past which, arguably, eventually leads to the partition and formation of Pakistan as an independent state. It began in the 17th century when European traders first started to settle on the Indian Subcontinent. The most significant of them was the British who gained control and influence, initially through the East India Company.

Although some of the Indian aristocracy were convinced that alliances with the Company would be fruitful partnerships the process of colonialisation and loss of control did not occur without complaint from the populace. A number of attempts were made to wrest some power back, including the violent and ultimately unsuccessful 1857 ‘Mutiny’ by Indian soldiers. The campaign to fight for Indian independence was beginning to grow. However, before this could be possible, lines were demarcated dividing the territory into majority Muslim ruled and Hindu ruled parts. Britain was not so willing to fully relinquish control over such a large territory and so following the strategy of ‘divide and conquer’ it started to implement various policies and tactics to form different identities and consciousnesses among the Indian people, furthering the divides that may have existed. They wished to avoid further uprisings where multiple religious communities combined forces to revolt against colonial rule as they had in the 1857 ‘Mutiny’.

The All India Muslim League formed in 1907 and began a more organised movement to establish an independent Muslim led state. Under Mohammad Iqbal and Mohammad Ali Jinnah (also known as Quaid e Azam) this goal was finally achieved on the 14th of August 1947. But this also ultimately led to a particularly tumultuous and painful time known as ‘Partition’, one of the largest examples of human exodus and relocation in history, with most Hindus and Sikhs moving to the Indian side of the border and most Muslims moving to the Pakistani side.  There was great loss of life, destruction and violence from many parties involved. It should be noted that at this point there were two Pakistan’s; an East and West divided by about 1000 miles.

There were some initial efforts to create a more secular constitution by the likes of Jinnah as well as his sister, Fatima Jinnah. However there was also some push from more conservative and religious factions to have a government and constitution empowering more specifically the Muslim population and following Islamic principles more strictly. Soon after the formation of Pakistan Jinnah died, leaving the newly formed state without their leader. Pakistan finally became a federal republic in 1956 however issues such as rampant corruption, terrorism and occasional martial law has meant the path to democracy, equality and peace has been somewhat fraught.

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Images of the Pakistan flag, the All India Muslim League respectively© Wiikipedia Commons

Demographic

With a current population of 221, 713, 300, Pakistan is the 5th most populous country. Within this population are a mixture of ethnic groups, the largest of which is Punjabi followed by Pashtun and Sindhi. As well as ethnic groups indigenous to the Indian Subcontinent there are also minorities from Central Asian nations such as Uzbekistan and naturalised refugees from Afghanistan. It should be noted that many of these statistics are estimations because a thorough nationwide census has not been conducted in recent years.

The majority of these peoples are Muslim in faith (approximately 96.4% as of 2017) with the minorities being made up of a relatively small amount of Christians, Sikhs, Hindus and others. Within the majority of Muslims about 90-95% is Sunni Muslims and the remaining 10-15% tends to be Shi’ite Muslims. Unfortunately numbers of these minorities have wavered and declined over years due to religious persecution and sectarian violence which is furthered by discriminatory laws and inaction by the authorities. This is especially true for the Ahmadis, who make up around 0.3- 2.2% of the population in Pakistan, and for many decades they have been denied the right to call themselves Muslims and a minority with major consequences.

In general, there is an even split in the male and female population numbers, although there may be some minor variations in some provinces. The mean life expectancy is around 68 years with women having a slightly higher mean life expectancy at around 70 years.  However there is also a large disparity between the literacy levels between men and women with 69.5% of the male population being able to read and write and only 45.8% of the female population able to do the same. At the same time only 57.9% of the overall population is literate so this is a nationwide problem. The average age of the population is relatively young at around 24 years and this is hoped to have a positive impact on the economic and social growth of the country.

The populations of the cities, in particular, have been growing rapidly over the past few decades with around 34-36% of the total population now residing in urban areas. Karachi (over 15 million) and Lahore (12 million) are by far the most populous and rapidly growing cities and this has had a major impact on the infrastructure and heritage in these cities in particular, although these issues will no doubt become more and more prevalent throughout Pakistan.

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* Disputed territory

** National capital

Geography

Pakistan’s diverse landscape has shaped the country in ways beyond simple topography. They have impacted the movement and migration of people from the beginning of humanity and created physical territories dividing the region and defining boundaries, both ancient and modern. The modern country shares borders (some disputed) with India to the East, Afghanistan to the North-East, Iran to the West and China to the North-East. There are three major geographical areas; the mountainous Northern Highlands, the fertile Indus River plain and the Baloch and submontane plateaus. 

The Indian and Eurasian tectonic plates converge here, the movements of which have led to the creation of some of the largest mountain ranges in the world converging in the North of the country as well as interesting landforms such as mud volcanoes. The Himalayan and Karakoram ranges have 4 peaks that exceed 8,000 metres (26, 000 ft) and many that exceed 4,500 metres (15,000 ft). This includes the likes of K2 and Nanga Parbat, not only some of the tallest mountains in the world but also some of the world’s most notoriously difficult to climb. The Hindu Kush can be found in farthest north of Pakistan and also has peaks that range between 4,400 metres to over 7, 000 metres. These mountain ranges are also physical boundaries with some of Pakistan’s neighbours e.g. China and Afghanistan. Therefore passes, such as the Khyber and Khunjerab Passes, are geographically, politically and historically very important. The valleys of the north are both stunning and vitally important for the people who reside there as they form habitable areas in an otherwise harsh environment. The origins of major rivers, such as the Swat, can be found in the north and as such form vital lifelines for the rest of the land.

Another river, the Indus, originates in the Tibetan Plateau and has become the artery of the Indian Subcontinent from which other significant tributaries flow, namely the Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas and Sutlej. This has created an expanse of fertile land suitable for agriculture. In fact only a fifth of land in Pakistan is suitable in this way and most of it is in the Indus plain. The most significant ancient civilisation in this region, the Indus Valley civilisation was even named after it. The river basin areas, or doabs, are prone to flooding during the monsoon season to the point of destruction of property and loss of life. Modern water management practices have meant some of this water can be redirected but in some cases it has had disastrous impact on the environment. Not all of the plain is rich and fertile, however, as to the south east are the Thar or Rohi desert of Bahawalpur and the Thar Desert of Sindh.

The Baloch plateau is actually the eastern edge of the Iranian plateau and also contains a varied topography from the Makran coastal mud flats to the hilly terrains of the Suleiman Range and the sandy landscapes of the Kharan Desert. In general this region is scarcer in water availability and has an extremely dry climate, with dry hot summers and cold winters, especially in the highlands.  The Arabian Sea lies to the south and its proximity to the Strait of Hormuz as well as the Bolan Pass has made the area an important for east-west migration by both land and sea. This is as much true in the present day as it is for past. Much of this area forms the area of the modern province of Balochistan, the least populated of the provinces but one with its own distinct culture.