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Pakistan, officially Islamic Republic of Pakistan, republic in south Asia, bordered on the north and north-west by Afghanistan, on the north-east by Jammu and Kashmir, on the east and south-east by India, on the south by the Arabian Sea, and on the west by Iran. The status of Jammu and Kashmir is a matter of dispute between India and Pakistan. Pakistan became an independent state in 1947. Until December 1971 it included the province of East Pakistan (previously East Bengal), which, after its secession from Pakistan, assumed the name Bangladesh. The area of Pakistan is 796,095 sq km (307,293 sq mi), excluding the section of Jammu and Kashmir under its control. The capital of Pakistan is Islamabad; Karachi is the largest city.

Land and Resources

Pakistan is mostly a dry country characterized by extremes of altitude and temperature. It is divided by the River Indus, which enters the country in the north-east and flows south into the Arabian Sea. The Indus forms the demarcation line between two of Pakistan’s main topographic areas—the Indus Plain, which extends principally along the eastern side of the river, and the Balochistan Plateau, which lies to the south-west. Four other topographic areas are the coastal plain, a narrow strip of land bordering the Arabian Sea; the Kharan Basin, to the west of the Balochistan Plateau; and the Thar Desert (or Great Indian Desert), which straddles the border with India in the south-east; and the mountains of the north and north-west, including the Hindu Kush.

The Indus Plain in Pakistan varies in width from about 80 to 320 km (50 to 200 mi) and covers an area of about 518,000 sq km (200,000 sq mi). From north to south it includes portions of two main regions, namely, the Punjab Plain and the Sind Plain. The Punjab region is drained by the Sutlej, Ravi, Chenab, and Jhelum rivers, which are tributaries of the Indus; and supply the irrigation system that waters the Indus Plain.

The upland Balochistan Plateau is bordered by a series of mountain ranges; among these are the Tobakakar Range, the Siahan Range, the Sulaiman Range, and the Kirthar Range. The highest peak in the northern mountains is Tirich Mir (7,690 m/25,230 ft) in the Hindu Kush. The Sefěd Koh Range is pierced by the Khyber Pass on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

The highest peak in Pakistan is K2 (also known as Mount Godwin-Austen). Rising 8,611 m (28,250 ft) above sea level in the Karakorum Range, the peak is located in the region of Jammu and Kashmir controlled by Pakistan. K2 is the second-highest mountain in the world, after Mount Everest.

A range of natural hazards disrupt or claim life: these include frequent earthquakes, which may be severe especially in the north and west, and flooding along the Indus after heavy rains in July and August. The country overall has limited natural fresh water resources and many people do not have access to clean drinking water. As in many developing countries, deforestation, soil erosion, and desertification are also major problems.



The climate of Pakistan varies widely with topography, but is generally continental in type. In the mountain regions of the north and west, temperatures fall below freezing during the winter. In the Indus Plain area, temperatures range between about 32° and 49° C (90° and 120° F) in summer; the winter average is about 13° C (55° F). Throughout most of Pakistan rainfall is scarce. The Punjab region receives the most precipitation—more than 508 mm (20 in) per year. The arid regions of the south-east and south-west receive less than 127 mm (5 in) annually. Most rain falls between July and September.

Natural Resources

Pakistan’s resources are primarily agricultural. Mineral resources include salt, chromite, coal, gypsum, limestone, iron ore, sulphur, clay, graphite, manganese, copper, oil, and natural gas, but many known mineral deposits, particularly iron ore and coal, are low grade. Oil was first discovered in small quantities in 1915; intensive exploration during the 1980s revealed several new fields, notably in Sindh Province. Large natural gas fields were discovered in the 1950s on the border between Balochistan and Punjab provinces.

Plants and Animals

The vegetation of Pakistan varies according to elevation and rainfall. In much of the country the natural vegetation is limited to drought-resistant grasses and stunted trees. Alpine flora grows on the higher mountain slopes. The wetter slopes are wooded; species include spruce, evergreen oak, chir or cheer pine, and a cedar known as the deodar.

Pakistan has a varied animal life. Species include deer, boar, bear, crocodile, and waterfowl. In the freshwater and salt-water areas, fish of many varieties are found. Marine species include herring, mackerel and sharks, as well as shellfish.


The ethnic background of Pakistan’s population is extremely varied, largely because the country lies in an area that has been repeatedly invaded since earliest times. The people come from such ethnic stocks as Dravidian, Indo-Aryan, Greek, Scythian, Hun, Arab, Mongol, Persian, Turkish, and Afghan.

Population Characteristics


Pakistan, a highly populated country, has a population (1995 estimate) of about 129,808,000 (not including the disputed territories of Jammu and Kashmir), yielding an average population density of about 163.1 people per sq km (422 per sq mi). The birth rate in Pakistan in 1995 was 38.4 births for every 1,000 people. Average life expectancy is 62 years for men and 64 years for women. About 32 per cent of the people live in urban areas. There were an estimated 1.5 million refugees from Afghanistan in the country in 1994.

Principal Cities


Pakistan’s largest city and commercial and industrial centre is Karachi, with a population (1981 census) of about 5.1 million. Other significant urban centres are Lahore (2.92 million), an industrial centre; Faisalabad (1.1 million), a centre of the cotton industry; Rawalpindi (928,000), an industrial and military centre; Hyderabad (795,000), an agricultural and manufacturing centre; Multan (730,000); and Peshawar (555,000), the hub of trade with Afghanistan. Islamabad (201,000) is the federal capital of Pakistan. Pakistan has four provinces—North-West Frontier, Balochistan, Punjab, and Sindh—plus the Federal Capital Territory of Islamabad and federally administered tribal areas.



Islam is the faith of about 97 per cent of the people. Some 77 per cent of Muslims are Sunni; 20 per cent are Shiite. Hinduism and Christianity form the leading minority religions; other religious groups include Sikhs, Parsees, and a small number of Buddhists. The constitution defines Pakistan as an Islamic nation and, as amended in 1986 and 1991, makes Islamic Shari‘ah law the supreme law of Pakistan. Freedom of religion is guaranteed, however, by the constitution.


The national language of Pakistan is Urdu, but comparatively few people use it as their mother tongue. Punjabi is probably the most widely spoken language, followed by Sindhi, Pashto, Saraiki, and Baloch respectively. English is extensively used by educated people and is the official language of Pakistan.


About 34 per cent of adult Pakistanis are literate. Although the constitution prescribes free and compulsory primary education, this remains a goal to be achieved; only about 40 per cent of five- to nine-year-olds are enrolled in school. Five years has been established as the period of primary school attendance. Adult literacy programmes play an important role in boosting literacy levels. Pakistan spends an estimated 2.7 per cent of its gross national product (GNP) on education.

In the mid-1990s about 16.7 million pupils were enrolled in primary and pre-primary schools, and about 5.7 million students attended the various forms of secondary school including vocational schools. In addition, about 794,000 students attended institutions of higher education. Pakistan has 24 universities, mostly established in the late 19th century. Among the leading universities are the University of Karachi (founded 1951), the University of the Punjab (1882), in Lahore; the University of Peshawar (1950); the University of Sind (1947), in Dadu; and the University of Agriculture (1909), in Faisalabad.




As a Muslim nation, Pakistan is strongly influenced by the culture and traditions of Islam. Hindu and British influences, however, are widespread in the country.

Karachi is the seat of some of the most important libraries in Pakistan; these include the Liaquat Memorial Library, the Central Secretariat Library, and the University of Karachi library. Also of note are the National Archives of Pakistan, in Islamabad, and the Punjab Public Library, in Lahore. The National Museum of Pakistan, in Karachi, contains important materials from the Indus Valley civilizations, as well as Buddhist and Islamic artefacts. Cultural materials are also displayed in the Lahore Museum and in the Peshawar Museum. There is an Industrial and Commercial Museum in Lahore.



The economy of Pakistan grew by an average 5.1 per cent annually during the period from 1965 to 1980, despite setbacks in the early 1970s caused by the secession of East Pakistan in 1971. During the 1980s and early 1990s, following the introduction of economic liberalization policies, the rate increased, and gross domestic product (GDP) growth remains strong, running at roughly 5 per cent per annum. The current growth target for GDP is 7 per cent. The budget deficit was reduced to 5.6 per cent of GDP at the end of 1994-1995, having been 8 per cent two years earlier. Pakistan attracted US$2,600 million in foreign investment in 1996 from bilateral and multilateral sources. Despite these improvements, the economy remains vulnerable to crisis and the majority of the nation’s citizens remain poor and heavily dependent on the agricultural sector for their livelihoods. This is largely a result of the country’s high rate of population increase, but political factors, in particular heavy military spending and continuing sectarian and political violence, have also slowed economic growth and modernization.

In 1994 Pakistan’s GNP was about US$60,000 million, giving an average per capita income of US$460. The trade deficit rose to US$22,200 million in 1995, over three times that of 1994. As a result, a number of stabilization reforms were introduced in 1995, which included a 7 per cent devaluation of the Pakistani rupee.

The government of Pakistan has been deeply involved in directing the country’s economy; most major industries were nationalized during the 1970s. Pakistan receives considerable economic assistance from foreign countries and from international organizations. The government has been under pressure from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other donors to continue the economic reforms and austerity measures begun in 1993. In mid-December 1995 the IMF approved a US$600 million standby loan and urged Pakistan to move forward with economic liberalization.

Since the 1980s, as part of efforts to increase growth and employment private companies have been allowed into previously state-controlled sectors, such as banking, water, and other utilities. Public-debt servicing accounts for 35 per cent of budget expenditure, military spending accounts for about 26 per cent, and development, 23 per cent. The 1988-1993 seventh five-year plan allowed private investors to set up businesses without having to seek government permission—as previously—in all economic sectors except arms and alcohol production. Many people go abroad to work. The eighth five-year plan is running from 1993-1998; there is also a perspective plan for 1993-2008. The annual budget in the mid-1990s included an estimated US$12,500 million in revenue and US$14,000 million in expenditure.

Agriculture, Forestry, and Fishing

About 27 per cent of Pakistan’s total land area, predominantly in the Indus Valley, is considered arable; most cultivated land is irrigated. Agriculture and related activities involve almost half the work force and provide over one quarter of GDP. By the late 1970s an intensive land-reform effort had resulted in the expropriation of some 1.2 million hectares (3 million acres) from landlords, the distribution of almost half of this to tenants, and the limitation of individual holdings to 40 hectares (100 acres) of irrigated, or 81 hectares (200 acres) of non-irrigated land.

Formerly an importer of wheat, Pakistan achieved self-sufficiency in grain by the mid-1970s, and is now also a major exporter of rice. Principal crops in 1995 (with output in tonnes) included sugar cane, 47.2 million; wheat, 17.0 million; rice, 5.7 million; cotton, 1.8 million; and maize, 1.3 million. Most people living in rural areas keep some animals; those living in the arid upland areas, such as the Balochistan Plateau, are generally pastoralists, living nomadic or semi-nomadic lives. The livestock population in the mid-1990s included an estimated 19 million cattle, 29 million sheep, 44 million goats, 20 million buffalo, 4 million donkeys, 1.1 million camels, and 135 million chickens.

About 5 per cent of Pakistan is forested. Most of the 29 million cu m (1,024 million cu ft) of roundwood harvested in 1994 was used as fuel.

Fishing resources are extensive. In 1994 the total catch was about 552,000 tonnes, most of it obtained from the Indian Ocean. The fish caught include sardines, sharks, and anchovies; the shrimp catch is also important.


In 1995 the most important minerals (with annual production in tonnes) included gypsum (620,000), rock salt (890,000), limestone (9.7 million), bauxite (4,400), chromite (13,000), and coal and lignite (3 million). Crude oil production was about 19.9 million barrels, and production of natural gas was about 17.7 million cu m (625 million cu ft).



Pakistan’s manufacturing capacity is increasing and production has been steadily expanding. In the mid-1990s manufacturing accounted for about 18 per cent of GDP, as compared with 14 per cent in 1965; the service sector, including the state bureaucracy, accounted for 31 per cent. Important products include processed foods; leather; clothing and footwear; cotton and jute textiles; cotton, silk, and rayon cloth; refined petroleum; cement; fertilizers; sugar; cigarettes; soda ash; bicycles; steel billets and sheets; and chemicals. Handicraft products, such as pottery and carpets, are also important. Government policy since the late 1970s has been to encourage private-sector investment in industry. However, the largest plants are still mainly state owned, including those producing cement, fertilizer, steel, and ghee (clarified butter) for cooking.


About 60 per cent of Pakistan’s electricity is produced in thermal installations, and most of the rest is generated in hydroelectric facilities, including the large Tarbela project on the River Indus. Pakistan also has a small nuclear sector; a nuclear power plant situated near Karachi contributes under 1 per cent of total output. Pakistan’s output of electricity in 1995 was 53.3 billion kWh, based on an installed generating capacity of 8,430 MW.

Currency and Banking

The monetary unit of Pakistan is the Pakistani rupee of 100 paisa (44 rupees equal US$1; 1998). The State Bank of Pakistan, established in 1948, is the central bank. It issues banknotes; manages currency, credit, the public debt, and exchange controls; and supervises the commercial banks. Pakistani banks were nationalized in 1974. A number of major foreign banks (21) maintain offices in the country. The practices of banks and other financial institutions are regulated, in part, by Islamic law. They are not permitted, under 1985 legislation, to pay interest on domestic transactions, or—under a 1991 Federal Shari‘ah (Islamic) Court ruling—to charge interest. Instead banks operate a system of investment partnerships with customers.

Commerce and Trade

Pakistan’s foreign trade consists largely of exports of raw materials and basic products such as cotton yarn, and imports of manufactured products. In 1996 exports earned about US$8,300 million and imports cost US$12,000 million. The chief exports were textiles and fabrics; clothing; rice; carpets and rugs; leather; fish; and cotton. The main imports were machinery; electrical equipment; petroleum products; transport equipment; oils and fats; metal and metal products; and organic chemicals. Pakistan’s leading trade partners included Japan, the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Saudi Arabia, and France. Tourism is of increasing importance in Pakistan’s foreign currency earnings. In 1994 there were around 454,353 tourist arrivals; the foreign exchange receipts from tourism in 1994 were US$126.2 million.


Lack of a modern transport network has been a major hindrance to Pakistan’s development. Its terrain, laced with rivers and mountains, presents formidable obstacles to internal land transport.

The country has about 216,564 km (134,572 mi) of roads, of which 53 per cent are all-weather roads. In 1996 there were 732,100 motor vehicles in Pakistan, with a ratio of 135 people per car. The railway network operated by Pakistan Railways totals about 8,160 km (5,070 mi) of track. Karachi is the principal port; a second major port, Muhammad bin Qasim, was opened in the early 1980s.

Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), 56 per cent government owned, provides domestic as well as overseas service to about 30 countries. The main international airports serve Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Peshawar, and Quetta.


In the mid-1990s Pakistan had more than 2.5 million telephones, 12 million radios, and 2.5 million television sets. The Pakistan Television Corporation transmits eight channels. Transmissions first began in Lahore in 1964, followed by Karachi in 1966. Newspapers are mainly printed in Urdu and English. In 1994 Pakistan had 130 dailies and 269 weeklies, most with small circulations. The major dailies are concentrated in Lahore and Karachi. The average circulation of all dailies in the mid-1990s was just over 1 million.


Pakistan is an Islamic republic with a federal system of government. Following the secession of East Pakistan in 1971, Pakistan adopted a new constitution in 1973 to replace the one in operation since 1956. Following the military coup d’état of 1977, however, a system of martial law was put into effect, and most aspects of the 1973 constitution were suspended. In 1985 parliamentary government was re-established, martial law was ended, and the constitution restored, after amendments extending the powers of the president, including those of appointing and dismissing ministers and vetoing new legislation. Legislation enacted in 1991 made Shari‘ah, or Islamic law, the supreme law of the land. A constitutional court rules on matters relating to the constitution, and can overrule presidential decisions. On April 1, 1997, the federal legislature revoked sections of the constitution’s eighth amendment, in effect reducing the powers of the president in order to restore power to the elected government. The legislation, known as the 13th amendment, has brought the presidency back under the control of the prime minister; the president may not dismiss parliament without the prime minister’s permission.

Executive and Legislature


According to the 1973 constitution, as amended in 1985, the head of state of Pakistan is a president, elected to a five-year term by a college of deputies from the federal and provincial assemblies. The chief executive is the prime minister, who is responsible to the legislature.

Legislative power is vested in the bicameral federal legislature (Majilis-e-Shoora). The National Assembly has 217 seats, including 10 reserved for religious minority representatives. Members are directly elected by universal suffrage for terms of up to five years. The Senate has 87 seats (two for women). Members are indirectly elected by the provincial legislatures; senators serve six-year terms.

Political Parties

During the period of martial law (1977-1985) political parties were first severely limited in their activities and then, in October 1979, banned outright. They were allowed to resume their activities in December 1985. The first proper elections after the ending of military rule were won by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), founded in the 1960s by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, and the dominant party in the country in the period before martial law. Bhutto’s daughter, Benazir, became Prime Minister, but was dismissed by the president in August 1990. After a short period of emergency rule, new elections in October 1990 were won by the Islamic Democratic Alliance. The PPP became the main opposition party until 1993 when a new crisis led to the dismissal of the prime minister and a general election, which returned the PPP and Benazir Bhutto to power. The Pakistan Muslim League (PML) emerged as the main opposition party, and won the 1997 elections with a huge majority.


The highest court in Pakistan is the Supreme Court. The judicial system in each province is headed by a High Court. A Federal Shari‘ah Court has been established to determine whether any law is wholly or partially un-Islamic. In 1991 parliament passed a law obliging the criminal code to conform to Islamic law. In 1992 the death penalty, in abeyance since 1986, was reintroduced.

Local Government

Pakistan is divided into four provinces—Balochistan, North-West Frontier Province, Punjab, and Sindh—the Federal Capital Territory of Islamabad, and the federally administered tribal areas along the north-west border with Afghanistan. Provincial governors, appointed by the president of Pakistan, are assisted by elected provincial legislative assemblies. For local government purposes, the provinces are subdivided into divisions, districts, and agencies. The tribal areas—Khyber, Kurram, Malakand, Mohmand, North Waziristan, and South Waziristan—are officially administered by political agents responsible to the federal government. The laws of Pakistan do not operate in these areas, and they are administered according to the traditional customs of their people.

Azad Kashmir, the western part of the area of Jammu and Kashmir controlled by Pakistan, has its own government, president, prime minister, and courts. The northern portion—Gilgit, Diamir, and Baltistan—is directly administered by the federal government.

Health and Welfare

Health services in Pakistan are limited by a lack of finance and facilities. In 1994 the country had about 66,200 doctors (1 per 2,064 people) and some 80,900 beds in hospitals and clinics. In 1976 an old-age pension system was inaugurated, but it covers relatively few Pakistanis. In 1996 the infant mortality rate was 79 deaths for every 1,000 live births. Pakistan spends an estimated 3.5 per cent of GDP on health care.


Military service in Pakistan is voluntary. In 1995 the country’s armed forces had about 587,000 members, with 520,000 in the army, 45,000 in the air force, and 22,000 in the navy. Pakistan is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and officially became a nuclear power when it conducted underground tests in May 1998. As a proportion of GDP, Pakistan’s spending on defence is around three times that of its main rival nation, India; arms imports in 1993 amounted to US$430 million.

International Organizations

Pakistan is a member of the UN, the Commonwealth of Nations, and the Colombo Plan.



For the early history of the region now known as Pakistan, see Indus Valley Civilization; see India: History.

British Rule and Muslim League

The British ruled the Indian subcontinent for nearly 200 years—from 1756 to 1947. After the Indian Mutiny of 1857, the British government abolished the powers of the British East India Company, which had ruled the sub-continent on behalf of the British Crown, and took on direct powers of governance. Political reforms were initiated, allowing the formation of political parties. The Indian National Congress, representing the overwhelming majority of Hindus, was created in 1885. The Muslim League was formed in 1906 to represent and protect the position of the Muslim minority. When the British introduced constitutional reforms in 1909, the Muslims demanded and acquired separate electoral rolls. This guaranteed Muslims representation in the provincial as well as national legislatures until the dawn of independence in 1947.

The idea of a separate Muslim state in south Asia was raised in 1930 by the poet and philosopher Sir Muhammad Iqbal. He suggested that the north-western provinces of British India and the native state of Jammu and Kashmir should be joined into such a state. The name "Pakistan", which came to be used to describe this grouping, is thought to have originated as a compound abbreviation made up of letters of the names of the provinces involved, as follows: Punjab, Afghania (North West Frontier Province), Kashmir, Indus-Sindh, and Balochistan. An alternative explanation says the name means "Land of the Pure".

By the end of the 1930s, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, leader of the Muslim League and considered the founding father of Pakistan, had also decided that the only way to preserve Indian Muslims from Hindu domination was to establish a separate Muslim state.

Creation of Pakistan


In 1940 the Muslim League formally endorsed the partitioning of British India and the creation of Pakistan as a separate Muslim state. During pre-independence talks in 1946, therefore, the British government found that the stand of the Muslim League on separation and that of the Congress on the territorial unity of India were irreconcilable. The British then decided on partition and on August 15, 1947, transferred power dividedly to India and Pakistan. The latter, however, came into existence in two parts: West Pakistan, as Pakistan stands today, and East Pakistan, now known as Bangladesh. The two were separated by 1,600 km (1,000 mi) of Indian territory.

Problems of Partition

The division of the subcontinent caused tremendous dislocations of populations. Some 6 million Hindus and Sikhs moved from Pakistan into India, and about 8 million Muslims migrated from India to Pakistan. The demographic shift was accompanied by considerable inter-ethnic violence, including massacres, that reinforced bitterness between the two countries. This bitterness was further intensified by disputes over the accession of the former native states of India to either country. Nearly all of these 562 widely scattered polities had joined either India or Pakistan; the princes of Hyderabad, Junagadh, and Kashmir, however, had chosen to join neither country.

On August 15, 1947, these three states became technically independent, but when the Muslim ruler of Junagadh, with its predominantly Hindu population, joined Pakistan a month later, India annexed his territory. Hyderabad’s Muslim prince, ruling over a mostly Hindu population, tried to postpone any decision indefinitely, but in September 1948 India also settled that issue by pre-emptive annexation. The Hindu ruler of Jammu and Kashmir, whose subjects were 85 per cent Muslim, decided to join India. Pakistan, however, questioned his right to do so, and a war broke out between India and Pakistan. Although the UN subsequently resolved that a plebiscite be held under UN auspices to determine the future of Kashmir, India continued to occupy about two thirds of the state and refused to hold a plebiscite. This deadlock, which still persists, has intensified suspicion and antagonism between the two countries.

Pre-Republican Era

The first independent government of Pakistan was headed by Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan. Muhammad Ali Jinnah was Governor-General until his death in 1948. From 1947 to 1951 the country functioned under unstable conditions. The government endeavoured to create a new national capital to replace Karachi, organize the bureaucracy and the armed forces, resettle refugees, and contend with provincial politicians who often defied its authority. Failing to offer any programme of economic and social reform, however, it did not capture the popular imagination.

In his foreign policy Liaquat established friendly relations with the United States, when he visited President Harry S. Truman in 1950. Liaquat’s United States visit injected bitterness into Pakistan’s relations with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) because Liaquat had previously accepted an invitation from Moscow that never materialized in a visit. The United States gave no substantial aid to Pakistan until three years later, but the USSR, Pakistan’s close neighbour, had been alienated.

After Liaquat was assassinated in 1951, Khwaja Nazimuddin, an East Pakistani who had been Governor-General since Jinnah’s death, became Prime Minister. Unable to prevent the erosion of the Muslim League’s popularity in East Pakistan, however, he was forced to yield to another East Pakistani, Muhammad Ali Bogra, in 1953. When the Muslim League was routed in East Pakistani elections in 1954, the Governor-General dissolved the constituent assembly as no longer representative. The new assembly that met in 1955 was no longer dominated by the Muslim League. Muhammad Ali Bogra was then replaced by Chaudhuri Muhammad Ali, a West Pakistani. At the same time, Iskander Mirza became the Governor-General of the country.

The new constituent assembly enacted a bill, which became effective in October 1955, integrating the four West Pakistani provinces into one political and administrative unit. The assembly also produced a new constitution, which was adopted on March 2, 1956. It declared Pakistan an Islamic republic. Mirza was elected Provisional President.

Cabinet Shifts

The new constitution notwithstanding, political instability continued because no stable majority party emerged in the National Assembly. Prime Minister Ali remained in office only until September 1956, when he was succeeded by Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, leader of the Awami League of East Pakistan. His tenure lasted for slightly more than a year. When President Mirza discovered that Suhrawardy was planning an alliance between East and West Pakistani political forces by supporting the presidential aspirations of Firoz Khan Noon, leader of the Republican Party, he forced the prime minister to resign.

The succeeding coalition government, headed by Ismail Ibrahim Chundrigar, lasted only two months before it was replaced by a Republican Party Cabinet under Noon. President Mirza, however, found that his influence among the Republicans was diminishing and that the new prime minister had come to an understanding with Suhrawardy. Against such a coalition Mirza had no chance of being re-elected president. He proclaimed martial law on October 7, 1958, dismissed Noon’s government, and dissolved the national assembly.

The president was supported by General Muhammad Ayub Khan, Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, who was named chief martial-law administrator. Twenty days later Ayub forced the president to resign and assumed the presidency himself.

Ayub Years

Ayub ruled Pakistan almost absolutely for more than ten years, and his regime made some notable achievements, although it did not eliminate the basic problems of Pakistani society. A land reforms commission appointed by Ayub distributed some 900,000 hectares (2.2 million acres) of land among 150,000 tenants. The reforms, however, did not erase feudal relationships in the countryside; about 6,000 landlords still retained an area three times larger than that given to the 150,000 tenants. During Ayub’s regime developmental funds to East Pakistan increased more than threefold. This had a noticeable effect on the economy of the eastern part, but the disparity between the two sectors of Pakistan was not eliminated.

Perhaps the most pervasive of Ayub’s changes was his system of Basic Democracies. It created 80,000 basic democrats, or union councillors, who were leaders of rural or urban areas around the country. They constituted the electoral college for presidential elections and for elections to the national and provincial legislatures created under the constitution promulgated by Ayub in 1962. The Basic Democratic System had four tiers of government from the national to the local level. Each tier was assigned certain responsibilities in administering the rural and urban areas, such as maintenance of primary schools, public roads, and bridges.

Ayub also promulgated an Islamic marriage and family laws ordinance in 1961, imposing restrictions on polygamy and divorce, and reinforcing the inheritance rights of women and minors.

For a long time Ayub maintained cordial relations with the United States, stimulating substantial economic and military aid to Pakistan. This relationship, however, deteriorated in 1965, when another war with India over Kashmir broke out. The United States then suspended military and economic aid to both countries, thus denying Pakistan badly needed weapons. The USSR then intervened to mediate the conflict, inviting Ayub and Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri of India to Toshkent. By the terms of the so-called Tashkent Agreement of January 1966, the two countries withdrew their forces to pre-war positions and restored diplomatic, economic, and trade relations. Exchange programmes were initiated, and the flow of capital goods to Pakistan increased greatly.

The Tashkent Agreement and the Kashmir war, however, generated frustration among the people of Pakistan and resentment against President Ayub. Foreign Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto resigned his position and agitated against Ayub’s dictatorship and the "loss" of Kashmir. In March 1969 Ayub resigned. Instead of transferring power to the speaker of the National Assembly, as the constitution dictated, he handed it over to the commander-in-chief of the army, General Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan. Yahya became President and declared martial law.

Civil War

In an attempt to make his regime more acceptable, Yahya dismissed almost 300 senior civil servants and identified 30 families that were said to control about half of Pakistan’s gross national product. To curb their power Yahya in 1970 issued an ordinance against monopolies and restrictive trade practices. He also made commitments to transfer power to civilian authorities, but in the process of making this shift, his intended reforms broke down.

The greatest challenge to Pakistan’s unity, however, was presented by East Pakistan, led by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, leader of the Awami League, who insisted on a federation under which East Pakistan would be virtually independent. He envisaged a federal government that would deal with defence and foreign affairs only; even the currencies would be different, although freely convertible. His programme had great emotional appeal for East Pakistanis. In the election of December 1970 called by Yahya, Sheikh Mujib—as Mujibur Rahman was generally called—won by a landslide in East Pakistan, capturing a clear majority in the National Assembly. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) formed by Bhutto in 1967 emerged as the largest party in West Pakistan.

Suspecting Sheikh Mujib of secessionist politics, Yahya in March 1971 postponed indefinitely the convening of the National Assembly. Mujib in return accused Yahya of collusion with Bhutto and established a virtually independent government in East Pakistan. Yahya opened negotiations with Mujib in Dhaka in mid-March, but the effort soon failed. Mujib was arrested and brought to West Pakistan to be tried for treason. Meanwhile Pakistan’s army went into action against Mujib’s civilian followers, who demanded freedom and independence for East Pakistan, or Bangladesh ("Bengali Nation") as it was to be called.

There were a great many casualties during the ensuing military operations in East Pakistan, during which the Pakistani army attacked the poorly armed population. India claimed that nearly 10 million Bengali refugees crossed its borders, and stories of West Pakistani atrocities abounded. The Awami League leaders took refuge in Calcutta and established a government-in-exile. India finally intervened on December 3, 1971, and the Pakistani army surrendered 13 days later. On December 20 Yahya relinquished power to Bhutto, and in January 1972 the independent state of Bangladesh came into existence. When the Commonwealth of Nations admitted Bangladesh later that year, Pakistan withdrew from membership, not to return until 1989. However, the Bhutto government gave diplomatic recognition to Bangladesh in 1974.

Bhutto Government


Under Bhutto’s leadership a diminished Pakistan began to rearrange its national life. Bhutto nationalized basic industries, insurance companies, domestically owned banks, and schools and colleges. He also instituted modest land reforms that benefited tenants and middle-class farmers. He removed the armed forces from the process of decision-making, but to placate the generals he allocated about 6 per cent of the gross national product to defence. In 1973 the National Assembly adopted the country’s fifth constitution. Bhutto became Prime Minister, and Fazal Elahi Chaudhry replaced him as President.

Although discontented, the military remained silent for some time. Bhutto’s nationalization programme and land reforms further earned him the enmity of the entrepreneurial and capitalist class, while religious leaders saw in his socialism an enemy of Islam. His decisive flaw, however, was his inability to deal constructively with the opposition. His rule grew heavy-handed. In general elections in March 1977 nine opposition parties united in the Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) to run against Bhutto’s PPP. Losing in three of the four provinces, the PNA alleged that Bhutto had rigged the vote. It boycotted the provincial elections a few days later and organized demonstrations throughout the country that lasted for six weeks.

Zia Regime

When the situation seemed to be deadlocked, the army Chief of Staff, General Muhammad Zia Ul-Haq, staged a coup on July 5, 1977, and imposed another military regime. Bhutto was tried for political murder and found guilty; he was hanged on April 4, 1979.

Zia formally assumed the presidency in 1978 and established Shari‘ah (Islamic law) as the law of the land. The constitution of 1973 was initially amended, then suspended in 1979, and benches were constituted at the courts to exercise Islamic judicial review. Interest-free banking was initiated, and maximum penalties were provided for adultery, defamation, theft, and the consumption of alcohol.

On March 24, 1981, Zia issued a provisional constitutional order, operative until the lifting of martial law. It envisaged the appointment of two vice-presidents and allowed political parties that had been approved by the election commission before September 30, 1979, to function. All other parties, including the PPP, now led by Bhutto’s widow and by his daughter, Benazir, were dissolved.

Pakistan was greatly affected by the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan in December 1979; by 1984 some 3 million Afghan refugees were living along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, supported by the government and by international relief agencies. In September 1981 Zia accepted a six-year economic and military aid package (worth US$3.2 billion) from the United States. After a referendum in December 1984 endorsed Zia’s Islamic-law policies and the extension of his presidency until 1990, Zia permitted elections for parliament in February 1985. A civilian Cabinet took office in April, and martial law ended in December. Zia, however, was dissatisfied and, in May 1988, he dissolved the government and ordered new elections. Three months later he was killed in an aeroplane crash, and a caretaker military regime took power.

Benazir Bhutto

A civil servant, Ghulam Ishaq Khan, was appointed President, and Benazir Bhutto became Prime Minister after the PPP won the general elections held in November 1988. She was the first female political leader of a modern Islamic state. In August 1990 President Ishaq Khan dismissed her government, charging misconduct, and declared a state of emergency. Bhutto and the PPP lost the October elections after she was arrested for corruption and abuse of power. The new prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, head of the Islamic Democratic Alliance, continued the programme of privatizing state enterprises and encouraging foreign investment begun in the 1980s. He also promised to bring the country back to Islamic law and to ease continuing tensions with India over Kashmir. The charges against Bhutto were resolved, and she returned to lead the PPP.

In April 1993 Ishaq Khan once again used his presidential power, this time to dismiss Sharif and to dissolve parliament. However, Sharif appealed to the Constitutional Court of Pakistan, which stated that Kahn’s actions were unconstitutional and reinstated Sharif as Prime Minister. Sharif and Kahn subsequently became embroiled in a power struggle that paralysed the Pakistani government. In an agreement designed to end the stalemate, Sharif and Kahn resigned together in July 1993, and elections were held in October of that year. The PPP won and Bhutto was again named Prime Minister. Farooq Ahmad Khan Leghari became the new president in November 1993.

Nuclear Proliferation

With Bhutto in office, relations between India and Pakistan became more tense. Bhutto openly supported the Muslim rebels in Indian-held Jammu and Kashmir, who were involved in sporadic fighting against the Indian army. She also announced that Pakistan would continue with its nuclear weapons development programme, raising concerns that a nuclear arms race could start between Pakistan and India, which is believed to have had nuclear weapons since the 1970s. In February 1992, when the Pakistani government admitted to having nuclear capability, it claimed that its nuclear weapons programme had been stopped at the level achieved in 1989—that is, with an actual nuclear device far from completion. In 1996 the United States returned to a policy of delaying delivery of military equipment to Pakistan owing to China having supplied nuclear-weapons-related materials in 1995. Relations between Pakistan and India deteriorated in early 1996, when each country accused the other of conducting nuclear tests, though the first officially confirmed tests did not take place for another two years.

Islamic Activism

Pakistan has generally been considered a moderate Islamic state; Islamic fundamentalists won only nine National Assembly seats in the 1993 elections; however, during the 1990s Islamic activists seemed to be gaining in influence. There were persistent reports of discrimination against religious minorities. The incidents increased after 1991 when the National Assembly ruled that the criminal code should conform to Islamic law and the death sentence was made mandatory for a blasphemy conviction.

In February 1995 the position of religious minorities was highlighted by the conviction and sentencing to death of two Christians, one aged 14, for the alleged writing of blasphemous remarks on a mosque wall in a village in Punjab province. The imposition of the death sentence on a child and questions surrounding the evidence provoked an outcry within Pakistan, as well as abroad. The High Court at the end of the month overturned the conviction, saying there was no evidence to sustain it; earlier the original complainant, an imam (Muslim prayer leader) in the village, had withdrawn his charges. The government, which had supported the changes in the law, appeared caught in a dilemma. Benazir Bhutto described herself as "shocked" by the sentences but declined to intervene. However, following the High Court ruling she said there would be a review of the law.

In June 1995 violence flared in Karachi over Bhutto’s alleged condemnation of the ethnically based Mohajor Qaumi Movement, leaving over 290 people dead; all-party talks with the movement were convened immediately afterwards, but did not bring the hoped-for ceasefire in the city. In October a number of army officers were arrested over an attempted Islamic fundamentalist coup. Tension with India following a mysterious rocket strike on a mosque in the Pakistani province of Azad Kashmir, bordering Indian-controlled Kashmir, escalated into heavy fighting along the Kashmir ceasefire line in January 1996. In April 1996 the former Pakistan cricket captain Imran Khan formed an anti-government political group, the Justice Movement, while bombings and political violence took place in Lahore and elsewhere.

Recent Developments

In November 1996 Bhutto’s government was for the second time dismissed by the president under renewed charges of corruption and misrule. The National Assembly was dissolved for the third time since civilian rule replaced military rule. Following Bhutto’s petitioning of the Supreme Court to reinstate her, the court voted by a 6-1 majority to reject her appeal.

On February 3, 1997, elections were held in order to replace the Bhutto government. A low turnout (around 30 per cent), mainly because of widespread disgust over politics, nevertheless produced a vast majority for former prime minister Sharif. The PML faction led by Sharif won 130 out of 217 seats, with Bhutto’s PPP winning only 20 seats. Despite his large majority and his election having been welcomed by the business community, Sharif has to contend with a president vying for greater influence, indicated in his setting-up of a special council that gives the military an official governmental role—and which reflects the military’s perennial influence in the country’s political process. Sharif also faces widespread economic problems and rising crime and violence.

In late March 1997 the government announced the implementation of an economic revival programme aiming to enhance exports, reduce prices, and generate employment. In April the National Assembly unanimously passed a constitutional amendment removing the president’s power to dissolve the assembly. This controversial ability had been used to dismiss three elected governments since 1985. The rupee was devalued in October by 8.5 per cent, an action followed (later that month) by the announcement a three-year financing package from the IMF amounting to US$1,558 million; a World Bank loan of US$250 million was announced in December.

Following a constitutional crisis, during which Sharif had accused President Leghari and the chief justice of trying to undermine his government, Leghari unexpectedly resigned his position in December; the chief justice was dismissed from his post. Sharif’s position was further enhanced when his nominee for the presidential office, Muhammad Rafiq Tarar, was successfully elected.

A year after enquiries into corruption allegations against the Bhutto family begun, 12 corruption cases were filed with Pakistan’s accountability commission in January 1998. Although the family’s Swiss bank accounts had been frozen in September, courts in the United Kingdom questioned the legality of the request for release of all documents held in the United Kingdom pertaining to the Bhutto’s finances and dealings. Talks with India resumed in January regarding the possibility of a resolution to the Kashmir situation. A complementary working party has been established, which also covers the issue of the disputed Himalayan territory of Siachen. In April Pakistan openly tested a surface-to-surface missile with a range of 1,500 km (930 mi). Following five underground nuclear tests by India in May 1998, Pakistan responded within days with six nuclear tests. The events further heightened tensions between the two countries.