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LOCATION: Pakistan
POPULATION: 169.3 million (mid-2007 est.)
LANGUAGE: Urdu (official national language); English; Punjabi (60%); Sindhi (13%); Pushto (8%); Baluchi (2%); more than 20 total
RELIGION: Islam (majority); Hinduism; Christianity; Buddhism; Baha'i; Parsi (Zoroastrian)
RELATED ARTICLES: Vol. 3: Brahui; Vol. 4: Pathans; Sindhis


Pakistanis are citizens of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan (Islam-i Jamhuriya-e Pakistan). This political identity is relatively recent, because the state of Pakistan only came into existence in 1947. Prior to that time, the region formed part of the British Indian Empire. It has a complex history that extends back nearly 5,000 years to one of the world's first urban civilizations that grew up along the Indus River. Pakistan is settled by peoples of varied ethnic and cultural backgrounds who today find a common sense of unity in their commitment to the Islamic faith. In the Urdu language, the name "Pakistan" translates as "Land of the Pure."

Modern Pakistanis are heirs to a cultural tradition going back to the Harappan (or Indus Valley) civilization, which emerged on the plains of Indus River around 3000 BC. From about 1700 bc onwards, however, nomadic invaders from Central Asia settled on the plains of the Punjab, displacing the Harappans. These peoples introduced the Aryan languages into northern India and eventually developed Hindu civilization. Subsequent history is one of wave after wave of invaders sweeping through the passes of the northwest into the plains of the Punjab. This region saw a succession of peoples come and go, including the Persians, Greeks, Parthians, Kushans, and the White Huns. The Mauryas, Hindu (and later Buddhist) kings whose capital lay far to the east near the city of Patna in India, extended their empire (321-181 BC) to include virtually all of what is now Pakistan. By the end of the 9th century ad, most of the northern region was ruled by the Hindu Shahis.

Islam first reached Pakistan by sea from the south in ad 711, but the more significant introductions occurred in the north. At the beginning of the 11th century, Turkish rulers from Afghanistan (the Ghaznavids and later the Ghurids) mounted military campaigns over the mountain passes into the Indian subcontinent. In 1193 Afghan forces captured Delhi. For over 650 years from this time, a regional or imperial Muslim power based in Delhi ruled much of the area that makes up modern Pakistan. The Mughal emperor Akbar even made Lahore his capital for a short while towards the end of the 16th century.

The early 19th century saw the rise of a powerful Sikh state in the Punjab under Ranjit Singh. Sikhism is a religion combining elements of Islam and Hinduism that originated in the Punjab in the 15th century. However, conflict with the British resulted in wars that eventually led to the annexation of the Punjab by the British in 1849. The British had already conquered Sind in the south. Over the next 100 years, the British government in India gained control over virtually all the lands and peoples that were to make up Pakistan.

The modern state of Pakistan was created in 1947 when the British colonial possessions on the Indian subcontinent were divided between Pakistan and India. Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder and leader of the Muslim League, became Governor-General of Pakistan, and to all intents and purposes, the new country's political ruler. But Jinnah, who came to be known as Quaid-e-Azam ("Great Leader") and Baba-e-Qaum ("Father of the Nation"), died in September 1948. Liaquat Ali Khan, also a leader of the Muslim League, became Pakistan's first prime minister in 1947, but he was assassinated, allegedly by an Afghan, in 1952. The first constitution of Pakistan was adopted in 1956 but was suspended in 1958 by General Ayub Khan, marking the first of several takeovers of the government by the military. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, founder and leader of the Pakistan People's Party, became the president of Pakistan from 1971 to 1973 and was elected prime minister from 1973 to 1977. However, he was ousted by the military in 1977 and was later executed (1979), despite international protests, by General Zia-ul Huq. Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, who suspended Pakistan's constitution and declared martial law in 1977, became the president and military ruler of Pakistan from July 1977 to his death in August 1988 in a mysterious plane crash. Benazir Bhutto, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's daughter and leader of his Pakistan People's Party, was elected prime minster in 1988 and again in 1993, but on both occasions was removed from office for alleged corruption. The only other civilian leader of this time was Nawaz Sharif of the Muslim League, who served two non-consecutive terms as prime minister (1990-1993 and 1997-1999). In 2000, Sharif, also, was convicted of corruption and banned from participating in politics for life.

In 1999, General Pervez Musharraf, chief of staff of the Pakistani army, seized power as president of Pakistan and remains in that office, though his power was much curtailed following elections held in Pakistan in 2007. In an attempt to retain power, on 3 November 2007 Musharraf, who was supported both financially and materially by the United States and the West in the War on Terror, fired the chief justice of the Pakistan Supreme Court, the popular Iftikar Chaudhury—who was about to declare the 2007 reelection of Musharraf as president unconstitutional—suspended the constitution, and declared a state of emergency. Chaudhury was reinstated and Mush—arraf—who survived several assassination attempts-stepped down as army chief on 28 November 2007 (appointing General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani as a replacement), hoping his political party would win the general elections to be held in 2008.

Both Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, who had fled Pakistan to exile in Saudi Arabia, returned to Pakistan to contest the elections to be held early in 2008, but Benazir Bhutto was assassinated—Al Qaeda claimed responsibility—on 27 December 2007, causing the elections to be postponed from January to February. In the 8 February 2008 general elections, the PPP (now led by the late Bhutto's husband, Asif Ali Zardari) gained the majority of the popular vote and along with the Muslim League-N [ML (N)], Nawaz Sharif's faction of the Muslim League, formed a coalition civilian government with Yousaf Raza Gilani as prime minister. In June 2008 a Pakistani High Court disqualified Sharif and his younger brother Shahbaz from contesting by-elections, but allowed the latter to continue to hold his office as chief minister of Punjab Province.

In April 2008, much against the wishes of the United States, the Pakistani government signed an agreement with the proTaliban Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) in the Northwest Frontier Province, which has long been regarded as a Taliban safe haven and allows the imposition of Shariah law in Swat and Malakand districts. Similar agreements for South Waziristan and other areas of the border region were being negotiated as of mid-2008.

The Muslim League-N faction of the ruling coalition said in May 2008 that it would quit the government in a dispute over when and how to reinstate judges fired by Pervez Mush-arraf. The leader of the PPP, Zardari, expressed a willingness to work with Musharraf as president, though with considerably reduced powers, while Sharif wanted Musharraf's ouster. The announcement by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif raised the prospect of the splintering of the alliance that defeated the U.S.-backed Musharraf and his pro-Musharraf political party, the PML (Q) party (Pakistan Muslim League [Quaid]), though Sharif said his party would continue to support the government for the time being. If the PML (N) party were to quit the government, the only way the coalition could survive is with the support of opposition parties, such as the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and PML(Q). As of July 2008 it remained to be seen how this political crisis in Pakistan would play out.


Pakistan lies in the northwest of the Indian subcontinent. It has an area of 796,095 sq km (307,304 sq mi), excluding the territory of Jammu and Kashmir that it occupies. In size, Pakistan is slightly larger than Texas, or roughly half the area of Alaska. Its southern border is formed by a 1,046-km (650-mi) stretch of coastline along the Arabian Sea. From there, the country extends northwards for 1,600 km (1,000 mi) to the mountains that lie along its northern border with China. To the west, Pakistan shares borders with Iran and Afghanistan. India lies to the east, and in the northeast is the disputed territory of Kashmir.

The political outlines of Pakistan are the result of two historical forces. The western boundaries coincide with those fixed between 1875 and 1900 as the British stabilized the western frontier of their Indian Empire. The eastern boundary, however, reflects events that occurred in the mid-20th century. Muslims in the Indian subcontinent were concerned that they would be a minority in a Hindu-dominated state when the region became independent, and they demanded their own country. Efforts at compromise failed. When the British left India, Muslim majority areas in the northwest and the northeast of the subcontinent were separated to form Pakistan.

This created several problems. Pakistan comprised two "Wings" separated by 1,600 km (1,000 mi) of Indian territory. East Pakistan, even though it had a Muslim majority, was culturally different from the western Wing. Eventually, civil war erupted and East Pakistan broke away (with Indian help) as the independent nation of Bangladesh in 1971. In the west, the new boundary between India and Pakistan divided the historical and cultural region of the Punjab in two. Partition in 1947 was accompanied by the mass migration of Sikhs and Hindus into India, and Muslims into Pakistan, with an estimated 1 million lives lost in the process. Muslims from India who crossed into Pakistan at this time are known, along with their descendants, as muhajirs. They form a distinct element in Pakistan's population, and tensions between muhajirs and other ethnic groups have contributed to recent social instability in the country.

The Kashmir problem also has its origins at this time. Even at the height of the British Empire, there were several hundred princely states in the Indian subcontinent that were governed by their own rulers under overall British control. Th ese states were required to "accede" to either Pakistan or India when the countries became independent. Naturally, Muslim states that were located in territory assigned to Pakistan merged with Pakistan, and Hindu states joined India. One of the largest and most important of the princely states was Jammu and Kashmir, located in the strategic northern mountains and having a common border with China. Kashmir had a Muslim majority population but a Hindu ruler, who was reluctant to accede to either Pakistan or India. After Muslim tribes from Pakistan entered Kashmir in October 1947, the Hindu Maharaja of Kashmir appealed to India for help. The Indian government sent military aid, which was in turn countered by Pakistan. A cease-fire was negotiated by the United Nations in 1949, but Kashmir remains divided with Pakistani and Indian troops facing each other across the cease-fire line.

Despite the unifying influence of the Islamic religion, the 169.3 million (2007 estimate) people of Pakistan encompass a range of distinct ethnic groups, each with its own language, customs, and cultural traditions. Baluchis are found in the southwest, and Sindhis in the south. The Punjabis of the northern plains of the Indus are the most numerous, and politically influential, group in the country. In the northwest, the old North West Frontier of British days, Pathans (also called Push-tuns or Pakhtuns) dominate. The largest among the numerous Pathan tribes are the Afridis, Waziris, and Yusufzais. Further north, in the mountains that stretch to the Chinese border, are a bewildering array of tribal groups that include the Khowar, Kohistani, and Shina. Tribal areas are administered federally rather than by provincial governments. Areas of Kashmir occupied by Pakistan include Baltis and Kashmiris. The ethnic mix of Pakistan is further modified by the muhajirs, who represent perhaps 10% of Pakistan's population. During the recent Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, there were an estimated 3 million Afghani refugees (mainly Pathans) in northwestern areas of Pakistan.

Pakistan falls into three broad geographical regions: the Indus plains, the northern mountains, and the hills and plateaus that extend from the Khyber Pass to Baluchistan. The Indus plains, and especially the northern region of the Punjab, form the heart of the country. Despite an arid climate (Karachi receives 20.4 cm or 8 inches of rain a year) and maximum temperatures that may hover above 40°c (104°f) for months at a time, the plains support the bulk of Pakistan's population. Agriculture, of course, is heavily dependent on irrigation and the waters of the Indus River system. The northern mountain zone has some of the most rugged and difficult terrain found anywhere in the world. Nearly all the region lies above 2,400 m (approximately 7,800 ft) and the Karakoram Mountains contain some of the highest peaks in the world. More than 50 peaks are above 6,500 m (21,000 ft) in elevation, and even the passes into China lie above 4,900 m (16,000 ft). The area is a difficult one to cross, especially in the winter months, and is sparsely populated with tribespeople who display a fierce sense of independence from the government in Islamabad. The northwestern hills and western plateaus, too, are barren, rugged regions sparsely populated by tribal groups.


The linguistic patterns of Pakistan reflect the ethnic diversity of the Pakistanis, with over 20 languages spoken in the country. The majority of the languages belong to the Aryan branch of the Indo-European language family. Punjabi (including Siraiki, a Punjabi variant) is spoken by almost two-thirds (58%) of the population. Other languages include Sindhi (13%); Pushto, the language of the Pathans (8%); and Baluchi (4%). Kashmiri is the language of the disputed areas of the former Jammu and Kashmir State. In terms of numbers of speakers, the languages in the tribal areas in the north (e.g., Kafiri, Kohistani, Khowar, Wakhi, and Shina) are relatively minor, although they do have political significance. Balti, spoken in the extreme northeast, belongs to the Sino-Tibetan rather than the Indo-European language family. The origins of the Burushaski language that is spoken in the Hunza region is as yet unknown. Brahui, spoken by some 2.5 million people in Baluchistan Province, is of interest. Unlike most languages of Pakistan, it belongs to the Dravidian language family. It is linguistically related to the languages of southern India. Brahui may be the last survivor of the languages spoken in the region before the Aryan invasions following 1700 BC.

With this diversity, and especially given the role of language in cultural identity, it is perhaps fortunate that Urdu has been adopted as Pakistan's national language. Urdu, written in the Perso-Arabic script, evolved during the 16th and 17th centuries from the mix of languages spoken by Muslim soldiers (Persian, Turk, Arab, and Afghan) and the local speech. It is thus not identified with any particular ethnic group and avoids the issue of the cultural supremacy of a specific segment of the population. On the other hand, this national language is the native tongue of only the muhajirs and is spoken by only about 10% of the population. It has been adopted by the intelligentsia and the educated, urban elite, but in terms of numbers of speakers, it can by no means be viewed as "national." Urdu and English—the latter a legacy of the colonial era—are official languages in which government and business affairs are conducted.


Given that the "Pakistani" was created by a political decision only half a century ago, it is not surprising that the peoples of Pakistan tend to identify with their communities before their nation. One is a Punjabi, Baluchi, Sindhi, or Pathan before one is a Pakistani, and individuals follow the folk traditions and folk heroes of their own community. However, Muhammad Ali Jinnah (1875−1948) has achieved the status of a national hero among many Pakistanis. It was Jinnah, Pakistan's first leader, who demanded a separate Muslim state in India and was ultimately responsible for the existence of Pakistan


Pakistan is an Islamic state, and Pakistanis are overwhelmingly Muslim in religion. There are, however, small religious minorities in the country. These include Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, and Baha'is of Iranian descent. There is a small Parsi (Zoroastrian) community, concentrated in Karachi. Minority religions account for only 3.3% of the population.

Within the Muslim community, there are also minority groups. For instance, some 25% of the population are Shia (or Shiite) Muslims, who are often at odds with the Sunni majority. The Shia community is splintered into numerous sects. The Ismailis, a Shia sect that recognizes the Aga Khan as its leader, have a strong presence in the northern mountain region. The Ahmadiyas are a modern Islamic sect whose beliefs are so unorthodox that many Muslims view them as non-Muslim. Numbering over 2 million people, they face considerable discrimination and anti-Ahmadiya sentiment from other Pakistanis.


The two great religious festivals celebrated by the Pakistanis are Id-ul-Fitr, celebrating the end of Ramadan, and Bakr-Id, the feast of sacrifice. Ramadan, the month of fasting, is observed by all Muslims, and Muharram is a major day of remembrance among the Shias. The Urs festivals, commemorating the death-anniversary of Sufisaints, are important festivals celebrated at the saints' shrines. The calendar dates of Muslim religious holidays change because of differences between the Islamic and Western calendars.

In addition to religious holidays, Pakistanis observe certain national holidays. These include Independence Day (August 14), Pakistan Day (March 23), Defense of Pakistan Day (September 6), and the birth- and death-anniversaries of M. A. Jinnah, the Quaid-e-Azam (December 25 and September 11, respectively).


As Muslims, Pakistanis follow the rites of passage associated with the Islamic faith. The newborn child is sanctified by prayer and undergoes the head-shaving and naming ceremonies. All males undergo the ritual of circumcision (sunnat). Among some Muslims, a ceremony known as Bismillah marks the beginning of a child's education in religious matters.

Ceremonies associated with death and burial combine practices laid down in the Shariah, the body of Islamic law, with local customs and traditions. The shrouded body is then ritually bathed and wrapped in a white shroud in preparation for burial. The body is brought out of the house, and the face of the deceased is shown to relatives and neighbors. Mourners, led by a priest, say prayers over the corpse, which is then taken in procession to the graveyard. There are certain customs observed by the family during the days and weeks following burial.


Traditional Pakistanis use the formal greeting of Muslims the world over, "Salaam alaikum" ("Peace be with you"). The correct reply to this is the sentence, "Wa alaikum as Salaam" ("And also unto you"). Less formally, men shake hands and friends embrace each other. Pathans embrace twice, once from the left side and once from the right. Men are addressed as "Sahib" (Mr.), though when used with a name, the word "Sahib" comes last (as in "Johnson Sahib"). The equivalent form of address for a woman is "Begum." Khan, although a name, is also a title of respect.


Despite improvements in the nation's health standards since independence, many Pakistanis continue to face major health hazards. Leading causes of death include malaria, childhood diseases (measles, diphtheria, whooping cough), typhoid, gastrointestinal problems, and respiratory infections. Inadequate sewage disposal, lack of safe drinking water, and malnutrition contribute to health problems. Infant mortality rates are high, with 66.9 deaths per 1,000 live births. Fertility rates are also high, with 3.6 average births per childbearing woman. The natural increase of population is 2.3% per year, the highest rate in South Asia.

Many Pakistanis live in cities. Karachi has a population approaching 16 million inhabitants, and Lahore exceeds 10 million people. The modern city of Islamabad was built specifically to be the nation's capital. Yet, Pakistanis are essentially rural, living in villages scattered from the high mountain valleys in the north to the desert areas in the southeast. Rural house types, construction materials, furnishings, and creature comforts vary according to region. Standards of living in Pakistan vary considerably. The prosperous urban elites live in large, air-conditioned houses with the latest modern conveniences, whereas the rural poor live very much in the manner of under-privileged classes the world over. Per capita income stands at $2,600per year (2005 estimate).

Pakistan has 259,758 km (c. 160,000 mi) of road, of which some 65% is paved. State-run bus services and private mini-buses are available to the traveling public. Pakistan inherited a substantial railroad network from colonial days, and the train still remains the most common means of long-distance travel for Pakistanis today. Pakistan also has a state-run airline that operates scheduled domestic and international flights.

Of special note is the Karakoram Highway. Completed in 1978, this paved road connects Islamabad with Kashgar, in China. For much of its 1,200-km (800-mile) length, it follows the ancient Silk Route along which trade passed between India and China. It crosses some of the highest and most rugged mountain terrain in the world.


Despite the principles of equality embedded in Islam and its specific rejection of caste in South Asia, social relations among Pakistanis are very much influenced by caste. This is less true of urban Pakistanis and the tribal groups of the north and west, but it is quite evident in the main agricultural regions. The system, based on the jati (or zat) and the biradari (patrilineage), does not have the religious dimensions of the true Hindu caste system. But it does define the occupational roles of specific groups in the village economy. It is also important in terms of selecting a marriage partner.

Pakistanis follow the general customs of Islam in marriage (nikah), but details vary according to community and region. Parents take great care in arranging marriages for their children. Pakistani society is patrilocal, with the daughter-in-law entering the household of her husband. In the early years of marriage a woman has very little status, but this soon changes with the arrival of children, especially sons. The role of women in traditional Pakistani society is clearly defined. It is to bear sons, to manage the affairs of the household, and to see to the needs of the male members of the family. However, behind the scenes, women do have considerable say in family matters.

Purdah is the Islamic custom of keeping women in seclusion. When practiced to its fullest extent, it prohibits all social contact between women above the age of puberty and men outside the immediate family. Women in purdah who go out of the house wear the burqa, the long garment that covers them from head to toe.


The standard dress of men all over Pakistan is the salwar, loose baggy trousers, and kurta, a long tunic-like shirt. This is worn with a variety of headgear, from turbans to caps. On formal occasions, the kurta is replaced by an achkan or serwani, a long tunic-like coat that buttons up to the neck. Women commonly wear the salwar, kamiz, and dupatta (scarf), or the sari. Orthodox women cover themselves from head to foot in the tent-like burqa.

There is, however, a bewildering variety of local dress that identifies a person as coming from a particular region or ethnic group in Pakistan. For example, the Pathan man wears a velvet jacket, trimmed with gold braid, over a homespun salwar-kurta. His cap, the kulah, is made of finely woven straw and gold thread. Over the cap is wrapped a turban or pagri, and the distinctive way in which the turban is tied will identify his tribe. It is not unusual for this outfit to be completed with an assortment of weapons. Men from Hunza and the northern mountains favor the pakol, the flat, round woolen cap worn by the Afghan freedom-fighters so often shown on American television during the Soviet-Afghan war. Sindhi men wear a round, embroidered cap with a section cut out in the front, while fabrics sewn with tiny mirrors are popular with Sindhi women. The kurta of Baluchistan has a unique underarm gusset that gives it extra fullness, while the front, cuffs, and pocket are elaborately embroidered. The Jinnah cap, headgear favored by M.A. Jinnah, is popular among politicians, bureaucrats, and other urban groups in Pakistan.


It is difficult to identify food that is specifically Pakistani because the region shares in broader subcontinental dietary traditions. Perhaps the only broad distinction between Pakistani and Indian food is that the former tends to be less spicy. Pakistani dishes are often made with yogurt, which reduces the effect of the hot spices commonly used in cooking.

Wheat is the staple food for most of the population. It is eaten in the form of flat, unleavened bread called chapatis or rotī, along with spiced pulses (dāl), and seasonal vegetables. Sweetened tea, buttermilk, or lassi, a drink made from yogurt, rounds out the meal. Those who can afford it eat meat or poultry, although in rural areas this is usually a festival food. Goat meat is a favorite. No Pakistani, of course, will eat pork, which is regarded as unclean by Muslims.

Within Pakistan, there are also numerous regional specialties and dietary preferences. Thus, Sindhis are known for their seafood dishes, Punjabis for their bread and dals, and the northern areas for their fruits. The long life-expectancy of people in the Hunza Valley is ascribed to the importance of apricots in their diet. A favorite of Pathans is nan-kebab, a thick bread baked in an oven, eaten with cubes of meat, fish, or poultry. All Pakistanis enjoy sweets, and a wide variety of milk-based sweets are consumed. The giving of sweets to celebrate happy events is very common.

No mention of Pakistani cooking would be complete without mention of "Mughal" dishes. This style of cooking was developed in the Muslim courts of India. It uses a blend of herbs and spices rather than chilis and offers a selection of meats and poultry served in sauces; tandoori dishes baked in a hot, clay oven; breads such as nan, and various rice dishes.


Despite the expansion of educational facilities since independence, just over one half of all Pakistanis over 15 years of age are literate (49.9% in 2005). This breaks down to 63% for males and 36% for females. The variation in literacy between urban and rural populations is also quite considerable. Attendance at school remains low in rural areas because many children must work in the fields, and the dropout rate is high. Over two-thirds of the adult population have no formal schooling. Only 2.34% of the population between 16 and 23 years of age are enrolled at university campuses (2004). The corresponding figure for the United States is around 75%, although this figure includes two-year colleges, part-time students, and on-line enrollments. The Pakistani figure is quite low, despite a 1999 higher education initiative that provided for scholarships for Ph.D. students studying both at home and abroad.


Pakistanis' can trace their cultural heritage back 5,000 years to the Harappan civilization. This urban society, with its planned cities, irrigation systems, script, system of weights and measures, complex social and religious organization, and advanced material culture, rivals the civilizations of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. Most scholars believe the Harappans were Dravidian peoples, and that Harappan elements survive mainly in the Dravidian cultures of South India. However, similarities in toys, musical instruments, and pottery suggest that, at least in folk culture, some elements of Harappan traditions may be seen in modern Pakistan.

Buddhism, too, has left its mark on Pakistan. The ancient kingdom of Gandhara, in northern Pakistan, was a major center of Buddhist learning and artistic endeavor from the 1st to the 5th century ad. Exposed to influences from the West, Buddhists developed a tradition of Gandhara art that combined motifs from Persia, Greece, and Rome with Buddhist forms. Early Gandharan sculptures of Buddha had Greek faces and pleated robes patterned after the Roman-style toga.

It is Islam, however, that dominates the cultural landscape of Pakistan. The Indo-Islamic style of architecture, the numerous shrines of the pirs (Sufisaints), and mosques such as the Badshahi Mosque in Lahore are visual evidence of the presence of Islam in the land. Literature is perhaps the most important of the art forms. The poetry and music of the Sufis are known in every household in the land. The singing of qawwalis, devotional songs, is extremely popular, and some qawwali singers enjoy the fame reserved for pop stars in the West. There is a rich tradition of poetry in Urdu and other regional languages.


Pakistan is primarily an agricultural nation, with 68% of its peoples living in rural areas. Government efforts at economic development saw a rapid expansion in the industrial sector and a rise in output in the decades following independence. However, several factors have acted to slow economic expansion. Pakistan's population has experienced relatively high growth rates, placing a heavy burden on food resources and slowing economic expansion. It has, however, meant a surplus of labor. This has given rise to such unique ventures as the world's largest ship-breaking operation on the beaches of the Arabian Sea coast that is done virtually entirely by hand. The traditional hostility with India has resulted in several military confrontations, with wars being fought in 1947, 1965, and 1971 and 1999. One consequence of this is seen in Pakistan's expenditure on its armed forces which, as a percentage of its GNP, is more than twice the world average.

Growing numbers of Pakistanis work in the labor-short, oil-exporting countries of the Middle East, earning much higher incomes than is possible in Pakistan. This forms an important source of outside currency for the country.


Sports enjoyed by children in rural areas include hide-and-seek, marbles, kite-flying, gulli-danda (a stick game played by boys), and kabaddi, a wrestling game. For men, cock-fighting, partridge-fighting, and pigeon-flying (and betting on the outcome) are favorite pastimes. Polo, of a much less restrained form than that found in the West, is popular in northern areas such as Gilgit.

Pakistanis also play modern sports. The entire country is addicted to the game of cricket, a relic of British colonial days. In recent years, the Pakistani national (Test) cricket team has regularly defeated the England team, as well as those of other cricketing nations. The Pakistani national field hockey team is also one of the best in the world, a frequent winner of the Olympic Gold Medal in the sport. Games such as soccer, tennis, badminton, and table tennis are also played. Pakistanis have regularly won the world championship in squash, a court game similar to racquetball.


Radio and television are available in Pakistan, although these forms of communication are controlled by the government. Television broadcasts during limited hours, and the programming is often uninspiring. The standard fare includes popular quiz programs, dramas highlighting the country's social problems, soap operas, and reruns of old sitcoms from the West. Urdu- and English-language films are popular and attract large audiences. Many well-to-do households have VCRs, and video rentals are readily available in the bazaars.

Movie houses abound in Pakistani cities and towns, showing Punjabi and Urdu films. The films, starring well-known actors and actresses, tend to be melodramas, with much action, singing, dancing, and predictable plots. Film music is popular and can be heard on the radio, in buses, and in the bazaars at all hours of the day.


Every region in Pakistan specializes in local arts and crafts too numerous to discuss in detail here. These include rugs and carpets, embroidered and appliquéd bedspreads and table linen, colorful fabrics and mirror work, leather goods, copper and brassware, onyx ornaments, woodwork and inlaid furniture, lacquerware, and gold and silver jewelry.


Pakistanis face many of the social and economic problems typical of developing nations. Poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, inflation, and a widening gap between rich and poor are but a few of the country's ills. These problems have been intensified by wars with India, high expenditures on the military, the continuing conflict in Kashmir, and the current War on Terror. The frequency with which the Pakistani Army has displaced democratically elected governments has added to political instability in the country. There has been some sentiment for the creation of an independent Pashto-speaking state ("Pakhtunistan") on Pakistan's northwest frontier. In recent years, the presence of 3 million Afghan refugees has placed an added burden on the country. Punjabis are viewed as wielding too much power and influence, and discord between muhajirs and Sindhis has led to communal unrest in the south, especially in Karachi. In addition, the government's policy of Islamization, combined with the outspoken fundamentalism of many religious leaders, has resulted in conflict between segments of the Muslim community.

Under Musharraf, Pakistan supported President George W. Bush's War on Terror following 11 September 2001. In return, the United States supported President Musharraf and channeled some $10 billion in civilian and military aid to help fight Muslim radicals. However, a problem facing Musharraf was that many Pakistanis, especially those along the border with Afghanistan, tended to support the Muslim radicals and the Taliban because they are Muslim and culturally and perhaps even ethnically related to them. The result has been a virtual civil war pitting the Pakistani government and its security forces against the Pakistani population. In addition, there are those in the United States who claim that Musharraf did not do all he could to aid the United States and who argue that U.S. aid to Pakistan be stopped. It is not unlikely that U.S. support for Musharraf, who as of July 2008 was under pressure from the civilian government to resign as president, led indirectly to the defeat of his political party in the 2008 elections held in Pakistan.

Sectarian conflict is common in Pakistan. Karachi, for instance, has a history of religious and ethnic violence between the minority Shia and majority Sunni communities. The press periodically reports bomb blasts at mosques belonging to one sect or the other.

The most difficult task facing Pakistanis today seems to be creating a sense of "nation" among the diverse communities and ethnic groups that make up the country's population, a task that is complicated by political events in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan itself. On 6 July 2008, a suicide bomber killed at least 11 policemen near the Red Mosque in Islamabad in apparent retaliation for the government's security forces' attack on the mosque in 2007, which was aimed at driving out hard-line Muslim clerics and their supporters.


Pakistani women, because they live in a country that is offi-cially Muslim, suffer from the restrictions of a Muslim society. Some writers argue that the South Asian subcontinent is the most gender insensitive region in the world. Th us, women in Pakistan are not only subject to the norms of Muslim society (purdah, the wearing of the burqa, arranged marriages and child marriage [called "vani" in Pakistan]), they are also discriminated against financially and by being the victims of inhuman customs and laws such as karo-kari ("honor killings") and the 1979 Hudud Ordinance (which designated punishment such as stoning for adultery) [this Ordinance has since been amended by the National Assembly of Pakistan in 2006 and replaced by the Women's Protection Bill, which eliminates some of the apparent inequities of the Hudud Ordinance]. Needless to say, the Women's Protection Bill was applauded by women's organizations but strongly opposed by traditional Islamists.

Women are often treated like slaves subject to drudgery, performing chores such as looking after the children, cleaning the house, cooking, washing and many other forms of domestic labor. They are there just to obey their fathers, brothers and husbands. They do not have the right to decide about themselves because women are considered as foolish creatures according to the dominant social and cultural norms. Likewise, marriage is also a sort of trade between different families both in the rural and urban areas.

Women are also subject to domestic violence (one report states that 82% of women in the Punjab are subject to some kind of domestic violence), rape, and trafficking. The legal code discriminates against women and girls (according to law, a female witness in the courts is only worth half a male witness) and creates major obstacles in seeking redress for acts of violence. Proof of rape generally requires the confession of the accused or the testimony of four adult Muslim men who witnessed the assault. If a woman cannot prove her rape allegation she runs a very high risk of being charged with fornication or adultery, the criminal penalty for which is either a long prison sentence and public whipping, or, though rare, death by stoning.

In general, with obvious exceptions such as Benazir Bhutto who rose to become Pakistan's prime minister before her assassination, women—especially poor women-in Pakistani society are treated (according to Western standards) like second-class citizens.


Aziz, Khursheed Kamal. The Making of Pakistan: A Study in Nationalism. Lahore: Sang-e-Meel Publications, 2002.

Blood, Peter R., ed. Pakistan, a Country Study. 6th ed. Washington, D.C.: Federal Research Division, Library of Congress, 1995.

Burki, Shahid Javed. Pakistan: The Continuing Search for Nationhood. Boulder, CO.: Westview Press, 1991.

Eglar, Zekiye. A Punjabi Village in Pakistan. New York: Columbia University Press, 1960

National Institute of Folk Heritage. Folk Heritage of Pakistan. Islamabad: National Institute of Folk Heritage, 1977

Quddus, Syed Abdul. The Cultural Patterns of Pakistan. Lahore: Ferozsons, 1989.

—by D. O. Lodrick