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Asia's great underachiever. Democracy has yet to take hold and now the country is under attack from terrorists.

Pakistan has four main geographical regions. First, in the far north is the Hindu Kush and Pakistan's section of the Himalayas, including K2, the world's second highest mountain. Second, in the west and south-west, are a number of other mountain ranges and the Baluchistan plateau. Third, to the east are the desert areas which join with the Thar Desert across the border in India. Fourth, in the centre of the country is the rich agricultural plain of the Indus River, which traverses the entire length of Pakistan, emerging from the foothills of the Himalayas and flowing down to the Arabian Sea.

Pakistan is also divided politically into four provinces: Baluchistan in the west; North-West Frontier Province, on the border with Afghanistan; Sindh in the south; and Punjab in the heartland of the Indus Valley.

The population of Pakistan has been formed by waves of migration from many different directions and is a mixture of many influences with relatively few ethnic divisions. The Punjabis account for around two-thirds of the population, and the Sindhi for 13%. The other main groups are the Baluchs and the Pathans in North-West Frontier. Added to these are the Muhajir (‘refugees’), descendants of the eight million Muslims who fled from India in 1947 at the time of partition—most of whom are in the urban areas of Sindh and particularly Karachi.

Faced with limited opportunities at home, millions of Pakistanis have headed overseas, chiefly to the Gulf states. They send home remittances worth around $7 billion per year.

Almost all Pakistanis are Muslims. Pakistan was created out of the partition of British India specifically to provide a state for the Muslim community. Even so, it was not initially envisaged as an Islamic state. Only in recent years has Islam become a dominant political force, having frequently been exploited by authoritarian governments seeking to rally support. There have been frequent clashes between Sunni and Shia Muslims.

Economically, Pakistan appears at times to have been fairly successful But it has failed to translate economic growth into real improvements in human well-being. Around one-third of the population live below the poverty line. Education levels are low: one-third of children do not enrol for primary education and over half of the adult population are illiterate. There are similar problems in health. Health services are poor and one-third of the population do not have safe sanitation.

Pakistani women have been making very slow progress

Particularly disturbing is the slow advance of women. Thus while boys on average have 2.9 years of schooling, girls have only 0.7 years, and the literacy rate for women is only half that of men. Women also have fewer employment opportunities—particularly in the socially more conservative provinces of Baluchistan and North-West Frontier.

Women's generally low status is also reflected in poor standards of reproductive health: a consequence of official neglect, religious intransigence and considerable violence against women. Contraceptive use is low, so the birth rate is high and thousands of women die each year in childbirth. This also contributes to Pakistan's high annual population growth rate of 2%. By 2050 this will be the world's third most populous nation—after China and India.


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