Overview | Government

This series of profiles of foreign nations is part of the Country Studies Program, formerly the Army Area Handbook Program. The profiles offer brief, summarized information on a country's historical background, geography, society, economy, transportation and telecommunications, government and politics, and national security. Derived from The Library of Congress.


Government Overview: The government is based on the much-amended constitution of 1973, which was suspended twice (in 1977 and 1999) and reinstated twice (in 1985 and 2002). According to the constitution, Pakistan is a federal parliamentary system with a president as head of state and a prime minister as head of government. The legislature, or parliament, is the Majlis-i-Shoora (Council of Advisers), consisting of the Lower House, which is often called the National Assembly, and the Upper House, or Senate. National Assembly members are directly elected for five-year terms. Senate members are elected by provincial assemblies, with equal representation from each of the four provinces as well as representatives from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Islamabad Capital Territory. Both the Senate and National Assembly may initiate and pass legislation, but only the National Assembly can approve federal budgets and finance bills. However, parliament often has had little real political power. For example, in 2003 the only bill passed by the National Assembly was the national budget.

Executive power lies with the prime minister and president. The prime minister is an elected member of the National Assembly and is the leader of the National Assembly’s dominant party or coalition. However, the prime minister also is appointed formally by the president. The prime minister is assisted by a cabinet of ministers who are appointed by the president on the prime minister’s advice. An electoral college composed of members of the national and provincial legislatures elects the president for a five-year term, and no individual may hold the office for more than two consecutive terms. By law the president must be a Muslim. The president acts on the advice of the prime minister but has the power to prevent passage of non-finance bills and may dissolve the National Assembly if he concludes that the government cannot operate according to the constitution. The Senate, however, cannot be suspended.

Politics in Pakistan often have not operated according to the constitution. The military and Civil Service of Pakistan (CSP) frequently have been the preeminent actors in the country’s power structure, and in 1999 General Pervez Musharraf assumed power in a military coup. Moreover, there has been some concern that Pakistan could become a “failed state” because of the apparent inability of any single entity to control the country, the weakened productivity of a population beset by years of economic difficulties, and continuing problems of communal conflict and terrorism. Ethnic and provincial tensions often are manifested in rivalries between political parties, and several governments have been ended by assassination or military coup rather than by formal, electoral change.

Religion has played an important role in politics, and religious differences have been very salient in Pakistani government and civil society. The government has consistently been faced with tensions of whether and how to synthesize Islamic principles into an essentially secular and Western form of government. Religious differences among politically influential actors have become increasingly prominent since the early 1980s, when politics became more religiously oriented under the rule of General Zia ul-Haq (1977–88). As religious groups’ access to government resources increased, groups competed for political resources and the capacity to promote their approach to Islam, and sectarian divisions often became violent.

Administrative Divisions: Pakistan has four provinces—Balochistan, North-West Frontier Province, Punjab, and Sindh—and numerous federally administered areas. Provincial boundaries correspond with areas of numerically dominant linguistic groups, and provinces are divided into a total of 26 divisions that are further subdivided into 101 districts. Federally administered areas include the capital (Islamabad) and 13 Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATAs) as well as the western third of Jammu and Kashmir, although Kashmir’s status is contested by India.

Provincial and Local Government: Each province has a governor appointed by the president, and provinces also have an elected legislative assembly and a chief minister who is the leader of the legislative assembly’s majority party or coalition. The chief minister is assisted by a council of ministers chosen by the chief minister and formally approved by the governor. Federally administered areas also have their own legislative entities, which have had less autonomy from the federal government than provincial legislatures. However, tribal areas in the west have traditional legal systems that operate independently of the federal government. Various regimes have promoted local-level Basic Democracies so that communities can have input into federal policy, but these entities have suffered from inconsistent federal government support.

Although provinces and federally administered areas have their own political and administrative institutions, federal government agencies are heavily involved in the affairs of these areas. There are some matters over which both federal and provincial governments can make laws and establish departments for their execution. For example, provincial governments administer agricultural and social services, but the federal government legislates on these matters, and federal agencies also are involved in their administration. Moreover, the federal government has the power to dismiss provincial chief ministers and legislatures.

Judicial and Legal System: The legal system is derived from English common law and is based on the much-amended 1973 constitution and Islamic law (sharia). The Supreme Court, provincial high courts, and other courts have jurisdiction over criminal and civil issues. The president appoints the Supreme Court’s chief justice and formally approves other Supreme Court justices as well as provincial high court judges on the advice of the chief justice. The Supreme Court has original, appellate, and advisory jurisdiction, and high courts have original and appellate jurisdiction. The Federal Shariat Court determines whether laws are consistent with Islamic injunctions. Special courts and tribunals hear particular types of cases, such as drugs, commerce, and terrorism. Pakistan’s penal code has limited jurisdiction in tribal areas, where law is largely derived from tribal customs.

The 1973 constitution guarantees freedom of speech, press, and religion as well as the right to bail, counsel, habeas corpus, representation, appeal, and numerous other protections. However, the government has constitutional authority to limit civil liberties in accordance with Islamic doctrine, national security, and other circumstances. Pakistani courts can impose the death penalty, and some crimes are punishable by stoning, lashing, or amputation, although these punishments rarely occur outside of tribal areas. The judiciary has limited independence from the executive branch, and the legislative and executive branches often attempt to remove themselves from judicial oversight. The judiciary also suffers from low public credibility, large case backlogs, corruption, and a lack of resources. In 2001, however, the Asian Development Bank pledged US$350 million for judicial reform and improved governance.

Electoral System: Pakistan has universal adult suffrage, and those 18 years of age and older are eligible to vote. As of early 2005, there were 72 million registered voters. The minimum age of candidates is 25 years of age for national and provincial assemblies, 30 for the Senate, and 45 for president. The president sets election dates, and the Election Commission (EC) conducts national and provincial assembly elections, but the EC’s chair, the chief election commissioner, oversees elections for local governments, the Senate, and the presidency. The EC is an independent, financially autonomous body, but it has been criticized as having little power to enforce codes of conduct on political parties and candidates. Constituencies are demarcated by population, administrative boundaries, and other factors. In 2002 there were 357 constituencies for the National Assembly and 728 constituencies for provincial assemblies. Sixty seats in the National Assembly and 128 in the provincial assemblies are reserved for women. In addition, 10 seats in the National Assembly and 23 in the provincial assemblies are reserved for non-Muslims. In April 2002, Musharraf’s term as president was extended for five years in a national referendum. Elections were held for the national and provincial assemblies in October 2002 and for the Senate in February 2003. However, domestic and international observers have criticized these and earlier elections as flawed.

Politics and Political Parties: Political parties have increased in number but declined in political power, particularly in relation to the military. Since the late 1990s, numerous parties have splintered into factions, dividing electoral support and leading to the formation of coalitions that often also dissolve into factions. The three parties with the greatest electoral support since 1988 all have become shadows of their former selves. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz Sharif (PML-N) have splintered into numerous parties, and the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) has lost substantial legitimacy as a result of involvement in violence. Officially, 73 parties contested the 2002 National Assembly elections, but only 3 percent of voters were registered as members of a political party. As a result of elections in 2002, a coalition led by the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid-e-Azam (PML-Q) assumed control of provincial assemblies in Punjab and Sindh and the National Assembly. This party has been closely associated with the government of General Musharraf. Parties often have no constitutions, membership lists, or documentation of funding sources. Furthermore, electoral support is rarely nationwide and most often is drawn from particular religious, ethnic, or regional bases. The military has given financial support to religious parties as a counterweight to secular parties, but electoral support for religious parties has been well below 10 percent nationwide. Many parties have separate wings for women and youth, and many are accused of having militias that collect funds and intimidate opponents.

Mass Media: In the early twenty-first century, the amount of print media in Pakistan declined precipitously while total circulation increased. From 1994 to 1997, the total number of daily, monthly, and other publications increased from 3,242 to 4,455 but had dropped to just 945 by 2003 with most of the decline occurring in Punjab Province. However, from 1994 to 2003 total print circulation increased substantially, particularly for dailies (3 million to 6.2 million). Print media are published in 11 languages, but most are published in Urdu and Sindhi, and English-language publications are numerous. The press generally publishes free from censorship and has played an active role in national elections, but journalists often exercise self-censorship as a result of arrests and intimidation by government and societal actors. Most print media are privately owned, but the government controls the National Press Trust, a major newspaper publisher, and the Associated Press of Pakistan, one of the two major news agencies. The constitution guarantees the rights of free speech and press but also allows for government restrictions in cases of offenses against Islam, public morality, national security, and other circumstances. In fact, the government can fine and imprison those who broadcast material that is deemed inconsistent with “national and social values.”

Foreign Relations: Pakistan’s primary foreign policy objectives are protection from external threats and the preservation of territorial integrity. Foreign alliances often have been based on mutual—and sometimes ephemeral—strategic interests. Contentious relations with India dominate foreign relations and are largely due to perennial tensions over Kashmir, which was the basis of wars in 1948, 1965, 1971, and 1999. Various talks in 2003–5 have eased tensions but not mutual suspicions. China has perhaps been Pakistan’s most consistent ally because of shared antipathies of other countries, such as India and Russia, but in the 1990s China assumed a more distant relationship as a result of India’s growing military prowess, Russia’s military decline, and other factors. However, China is alleged to have supplied Pakistan with nuclear weapons material, ostensibly to counter India’s nuclear weapons. Relations with Afghanistan have been harmonious and tense, often simultaneously. The two countries have a disputed border, but Pakistan supported insurgents in Afghanistan against Soviet occupation in the 1980s and was a key ally of the Taliban in the 1990s. Since their 1971 war, Pakistan and Bangladesh typically have had close ties based largely on shared opposition to India. Relations with Islamic Middle Eastern countries generally have been close, but ties with largely Shia Iran have been strained.

For countries outside South Asia and the Middle East, relations generally are based on Pakistan’s perceived strategic value in the international system. Pakistan’s successful nuclear tests in 1998 initially led to international sanctions that were later eased as a result of concerns that an economically weakened Pakistan might provide nuclear material to other nations. After September 11, 2001, the United States and other countries saw Pakistan as an important ally in fighting international terrorists operating in Afghanistan, and international aid increased substantially. Pakistan’s relations with the United States have resumed the closeness of the 1980s. However, Pakistan’s improved relations with the United States have had important ramifications for the government’s domestic support, particularly among some religious parties who perceive the government as acting against Islamic injunctions.

Membership in International Organizations: Pakistan is an active participant in international organizations, although its membership in the British Commonwealth of Nations was suspended from 1999 to 2004 because of the military coup. Pakistan views international organizations as a means of addressing the actions of relatively stronger countries and often appeals to international organizations such as the United Nations (UN) on matters such as Kashmir.

Pakistan’s international memberships include: the Asian Development Bank, Colombo Plan, Economic Cooperation Organization, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Group of 24, Group of 77, International Atomic Energy Agency, International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, International Chamber of Commerce, International Civil Aviation Organization, International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, International Criminal Police Organization, International Development Association, Islamic Development Bank, International Finance Corporation, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, International Fund for Agricultural Development, International Hydrographic Organization, International Labour Organization, International Maritime Organization, International Monetary Fund, International Olympic Committee, International Organization for Migration, International Organization for Standardization, International Telecommunication Union, Nonaligned Movement, Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Organization of American States (observer), Organization of the Islamic Conference, Permanent Court of Arbitration, South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, UN, UN Conference on Trade and Development, UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, UN Industrial Development Organization, UN Institute for Training and Research, UN Security Council (temporary), Universal Postal Union, World Confederation of Labor, World Customs Organization, World Federation of Trade Unions, World Health Organization, World Intellectual Property Organization, World Meteorological Organization, World Tourism Organization, and World Trade Organization.

Major International Treaties: Pakistan is a signatory to various international treaties including: the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Substances, Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, Chemical Weapons Convention, Convention on Biological Diversity, Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna, Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material, Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping Wastes and Other Matter, Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques, Convention on Wetlands of International Importance Especially as Waterfowl Habitat, International Plant Protection Convention, Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations (UN) Framework Convention on Climate Change, Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, Nuclear Safety Convention, Protocol of 1978 Relating to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, UN Convention to Combat Desertification, UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, and Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer.

Pakistan has signed but not ratified the Convention on Fishing and Conservation of Living Resources of the High Seas. It is not a party to either the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) or the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). Pakistan has argued that the NPT and MTCR are not relevant to the country’s security concerns because they do not reduce nuclear weapons proliferation by states already possessing nuclear weapons, and they deny non-nuclear states the right to have nuclear weapons.


Armed Forces Overview: The military is formally called the Pakistan Armed Forces, and as of 2004 consisted of approximately 619,000 active personnel in the army (550,000), air force (45,000), and navy (24,000), as well as 513,000 reserves. Under the 1973 constitution, the federal government controls the armed forces, and the president is the commander in chief. The Ministry of Defence has a permanent staff of civil servants headed by the defense secretary general, and the minister of defense is a civilian member of the prime minister’s cabinet. The Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee deals with problems concerning military aspects of state security and is charged with integrating and coordinating the army, navy, and air force. The committee’s secretariat acts as the principal link between the service headquarters and the Ministry of Defence. The Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) is of particular importance at the joint services level because it manages covert operations outside of Pakistan (and in internationally disputed areas) and because it has been involved in domestic politics, usually to keep track of the incumbent regime’s opponents. The chief of the army staff (COAS) is the key power holder in the armed forces and is also one of the triumvirate that runs the country, along with the prime minister and president. The COAS usually operates from army headquarters in Rawalpindi. General Pervez Musharraf acts as both president and COAS. Musharraf also heads a National Security Council composed of politicians and senior military officers.

Under the constitution, the military is responsible for defending the nation against external aggression and threats of war and is to aid civil authorities only when called to do so. The military is forbidden constitutionally from acting independently of the elected political leadership in domestic matters. However, from 1947 to 2004 military generals have acted as head of state for nearly 30 years, and in times of civilian government the armed forces have routinely intervened on domestic and foreign policy issues. The military justifies its consistent involvement in politics as protection from malign foreign interests and corrupt and incompetent politicians. Although public opinion surveys are rare, it appears that the public dislikes military rule, yet consistently has a more favorable view of the military than of elected officials.

Because the military conducts its affairs with carefully defended secrecy, the degree to which army officers and personnel are religiously motivated is debated. However, Western analysts tend to conclude that whereas the military increasingly sees itself as serving Islam, the institution’s decision making is still largely secular. Military intervention in politics is designed to limit civilian involvement in sensitive matters, such as Kashmir, nuclear disarmament, internal military personnel decisions, and defense spending. The military also is extensively involved in the economy, and military enterprises produce approximately 3 percent of the gross national product. Military enterprises include the Army Welfare Trust (AWT), whose assets include the Askari Bank, one of the country’s largest financial institutions, and the Fauji Foundation, which is the country’s biggest conglomerate. These and other military financial institutions often are exempt from taxes and regulations covering the manufacturing sector and asset disclosure.

With regard to military strategy, the military’s budget and personnel have reduced strategy to largely defensive objectives, such as limited offensive tactics in bordering areas (particularly Kashmir), use of irregular forces, and deterring and countering possible attacks from foreign powers (particularly India). The military’s history of far lower military expenditures and capabilities than India has prompted the military to attempt to impose high costs on India to force its withdrawal from Kashmir. Furthermore, the military hopes that its nuclear capabilities can reduce the disadvantages of its conventional forces. However, the theoretical deterrence between nuclear powers has not limited military engagement between India and Pakistan—as exemplified by the 1999 Kargil War—and analysts believe that Pakistan’s military strategy historically has suffered from overly optimistic assessments of potential success and underestimations of diplomatic and military losses, as well as a lack of contingency planning.

Foreign Military Relations: Pakistan has sought to become an important actor in international politics, but its foreign military alliances often are intended to address matters with bordering countries. Other countries have established alliances with Pakistan to address their own strategic interests in South and Central Asia, and these alliances have tended to be ephemeral. Pakistan’s military relationship with China started in the 1970s as a way of countering India, but China has softened its relations since India’s military strength has increased. Still, Pakistan and China maintain a military relationship, including periodic joint military exercises. United States aid in the 1980s was significantly reduced after the Soviet Union pulled out of Afghanistan in 1989 but resumed after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Moreover, in March 2004 the United States granted Pakistan status as a major non-North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally, which provides access to U.S. military equipment and cooperation. In fact, the United States is one of the largest suppliers of military equipment to Pakistan along with China and Russia. Pakistan’s military relations with India have been contentious, and the two countries fought a limited conflict in Kashmir in 1999. However, under the 1999 Lahore Agreement the two countries provide each other with advance notification of missile tests, and in 2003 and 2004 they engaged in several high-level discussions that have eased tensions.

External Threat: The military and public generally view India as the nation’s primary security threat, and opposition to India is often a greater source of social cohesion than either Islam or Urdu. India’s far greater military capabilities have been a source of both fear and frustration, and many suspect that this imbalance has prompted Pakistan to engage Indian forces indirectly through supporting insurgents morally, financially, or otherwise. Whether Pakistan has done so is debated, but it seems clear that the country’s newly demonstrated nuclear capabilities have helped level military differences with its rival neighbor. Yet India is not the country’s only security concern, as Pakhtun and Balochi irredentist movements in Pakistan’s western provinces have contributed to sometimes-tense relations with neighboring Afghanistan.

Defense Budget: According to World Bank figures for 1988 to 2003, Pakistan’s military expenditures represented 25–29 percent of central government expenditures and 6–7 percent of gross national income. In fiscal year (FY) 2004, military expenditures constituted 18 percent of government expenditures. Historically, Pakistan’s governments have used defense spending to stimulate economic growth.

Major Military Units: The army, with 550,000 active personnel and 500,000 reserves, is organized into nine corps located at Bahawalpur, Gujranwala, Karachi, Lahore, Mangla, Multan, Peshawar, Quetta, and Rawalpindi. The Northern Area Command is headquartered at Gilgit and is directly responsible to army general headquarters. The army has 2 armored divisions, 19 infantry divisions including 1 area command, 9 corps artillery brigades, 26 independent brigades (7 armored, 1 mechanized, 6 infantry, 5 artillery, and 7 engineer), 3 armored reconnaissance regiments, 1 special forces group, and 1 air defense command. The navy has 24,000 active personnel—including 1,400 marines and 2,000 in the Maritime Security Agency—and 5,000 reserves. The navy has four commands: fleet, logistics, naval installations in the north of Pakistan, and fleet headquarters at Karachi, the nation’s only major naval base. Two bases are under construction at Gwadar and Ormara. The air force has 45,000 active personnel and 8,000 reserves. Air force headquarters in Rawalpindi has directorates for operations, electronics, administration, and maintenance. The air force has three regional air commands: Northern (in Peshawar), Central (Sargodha), and Southern (Faisal).

Major Military Equipment: In 2004 the army had an estimated 2,461 tanks, 1,146 armored personnel carriers, 1,829 tube-launched optically-tracked wire-guided “TOW” missiles, 260 self-propelled artillery, 52 multiple rocket launchers, 2,350 mortars, 165 surface-to-surface missiles, 10,500 antitank guided weapons, and 1,900 air defense guns. The army also had 80 observation aircraft, 45 liaison aircraft, 2 survey aircraft, 22 attack helicopters, and 131 transport helicopters. The navy had 8 anti-surface warfare submarines, 3 inshore submarines, 7 frigates, 6 missile craft, 3 coastal patrol craft, 6 combat aircraft, and 9 armed helicopters. The air force had 415 combat aircraft and no armed helicopters. Pakistan became a nuclear state in 1998 and periodically tests nuclear-capable short- and medium-range missiles.

Military Service: Military service is voluntary, and active-service personnel are liable for duty eight years after active service ends. Officers are obligated to serve until 50 years of age, other ranks until 45 years of age. Women serve in the military but are a numerical minority.

Paramilitary Forces: The central government (specifically the Ministry of Interior) controls the coast guard, paramilitary forces, and numerous specialized police agencies, such as the Federal Investigative Agency and railroad and airport police forces. However, provincial governments organize paramilitary forces, which often act as an extension of the army to assist provincial police in internal security matters. In addition, senior government officials often have strong control over security forces and have at times established personal security forces. The largest paramilitary organization is the 185,000-member National Guard, which comprises the National Cadet Corps, the Women Guards, and the Janbaz Force. The Frontier Corps reportedly has 65,000 members and is responsible for Balochistan and the North-West Frontier Province. The Pakistan Rangers has 35,000 to 40,000 members and deals with unrest in Punjab. The Northern Light Infantry has an estimated 12,000 members, and the Maritime Security Agency, which is under the navy’s direction, has an estimated 2,000 personnel.

Foreign Military Forces: Pakistan hosts 45 military observers from nine countries stationed in Jammu and Kashmir under the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP). U.S. military forces occasionally work with Pakistan’s military against insurgents supporting the Taliban and al Qaeda in areas of Pakistan bordering Afghanistan.

Military Forces Abroad: In 2004 Pakistan’s military participated in United Nations peacekeeping missions in Burundi, Côte d’Ivoire (9 personnel including 3 observers), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (1,092 personnel including 26 observers), East Timor (78 personnel including 5 observers), Georgia (8 observers), Liberia (2,762 personnel including 16 observers), Sierra Leone (3,865 personnel including 15 observers), Serbia and Montenegro (1 observer), and Western Sahara (7 observers).

Police: Provincial governments are charged with police administration in their respective jurisdictions, and provincial police forces operate independently. The federal government is largely uninvolved in provincial police administration but controls police in federally administered and tribal areas. The federal minister of interior supervises police nationwide, and the Police Service of Pakistan (PSP) selects, trains, and assigns senior officers to provincial or central government agencies. Although service in the PSP is competitive and well paid, lower-ranking police personnel often have far lower education, skills, and motivation. Police often are accused of routine extortion, violating civil liberties, and acting to preserve the tenure of government officials rather than the rule of law. The quantity of overall crime and various types of crime (such as murder and banditry) increased steadily from 1992 to 2003, and the extensive availability and use of automatic weapons in Pakistani society is often referred to as the “Kalashnikov Culture.” Furthermore, the population generally does not perceive the police to be effective against crime or publicly accountable.

Internal Security and Terrorism: Pakistan has numerous categories of terrorism and internal threats, with most insurgent groups identifying themselves as religious or ethnic separatists. Some political parties represent distinct religious and ethnic communities, and rivalries among these parties have been violent. Violence between religiously identified groups is rarely based solely on differing religious doctrines but rather the different social, political, and economic statuses that correlate with religion. Some Islamic militias have connections to the Taliban and al Qaeda, which was linked to two assassination attempts on President Musharraf in December 2003. Militant organizations have some influence on Pakistan’s foreign policy, and militants in Pakistan (such as Harkat-ul-Ansar) have assisted militant organizations in countries whose governments are perceived as oppressing Muslims. There are also concerns that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal could be seized by insurgents in an event such as a coup or assassination of the nation’s president. However, the government claims that it has enacted security measures to prevent such a threat and that the numerical and political superiority of religious moderates over religious extremists is a substantial obstacle to the latter’s access to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.

The most significant violence between religious groups is between Islamic militias, the Shia militia Sipah-e-Mohammed Pakistan (SMP, “Army of Mohammed”) and the Sunni militias Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP, “Army of the Friends of the Prophet”) and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ, “Army of Jhangvi”). The violence has, at times, disrupted both civil order and the economies in areas of Sindh and Punjab provinces. The violence has resulted in large part from the influx of weapons and returning mujahideen from Afghanistan, as well as financial support from large landowners, drug lords, and some political parties. Tensions between ethnic groups often stem from perceptions that other ethnic groups dominate politics and economics to the detriment of minority ethnicities. The Muhajir Quami Movement (MQM) was involved in substantial conflict in the 1980s and early 1990s but has since been far more quiescent as a result of internal factionalism and an apparent lack of motivating doctrine. The only other significant ethnic violence involves secessionists in Balochistan, who contend that the government is appropriating the province’s mineral wealth while providing little economic benefit in return. There are also long-suspected connections of foreign-sponsored subversion, such as Indian support of Sindhi dissidents and Iranian ties to Shia and Balochi militants.

Human Rights: The government’s human rights record is generally regarded as poor by domestic and international observers, although there have been some improvements since 2000. Security forces use excessive and sometimes lethal force and are complicit in extrajudicial killings of civilians and suspected militants. The police and military have been accused of engaging in physical abuse, rape, and arbitrary arrest and detention, particularly in areas of acute conflict. Although the government has enacted measures to counter these problems, abuses continue. Furthermore, courts suffer from lack of funds, outside intervention, and deep case backlogs that lead to long trial delays and lengthy pretrial detentions. Many observers inside and outside Pakistan contend that Pakistan’s legal code is largely concerned with crime, national security, and domestic tranquility and less with the protection of individual rights. Provincial and local governments have arrested journalists and closed newspapers that report on matters perceived as socially offensive or critical of the government. Journalists also have been victims of violence and intimidation by various groups and individuals. In spite of these difficulties, the press publishes freely, although journalists often exercise self-restraint in their writing. In 2002 citizens participated in elections for the National Assembly, but those elections were criticized as deeply flawed by domestic and international observers.

Societal actors also are responsible for human rights abuses. Violence by drug lords and sectarian militias claims numerous innocent lives, discrimination and violence against women are widespread, human trafficking is problematic, and debt slavery and bonded labor persist. The government often ignores abuses against children and religious minorities, and government institutions and some Muslim groups have persecuted non-Muslims and used some laws as the legal basis for doing so. The Blasphemy Law, for example, allows life imprisonment or the death penalty for contravening Islamic principles, but legislation was passed in October 2004 to eliminate misuse of the law. Furthermore, the social acceptance of many these problems hinders their eradication. One prominent example is honor killings (“karo kari”), which are believed to have accounted for more than 4,000 deaths from 1998 to 2003. Many view this practice as indicative of a feudal mentality and as an anathema to Islam, but others defend the practice as a means of punishing violators of cultural norms and view attempts to stop it to as an assault on cultural heritage.


February 2005


Formal Name: Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

Short Form: Pakistan.

Term for Citizen(s): Pakistani(s).

Capital: Islamabad (Islamabad Capital Territory).

Major Cities: Pakistan has seven cities with a population

of 1 million or more: Karachi (9,339,023), Lahore (5,143,495),

Faisalabad (2,008,861), Rawalpindi (1,409,768), Multan

(1,197,384), Hyderabad (1,166,894), and Gujranwala (1,132,509).

Independence: Proclaimed August 14, 1947, from Britain.

Public Holidays: Eid-ul-Azha (Feast of the Sacrifice of Abraham, movable date); Muharram (Islamic New Year, movable date); Kashmir Day (February 5); Ashura (movable date); Pakistan Day (signing of first constitution and proclamation of the republic, March 23); Labour Day (May 1); Eid-i-Milad-un-Nabi (Birthday of the Prophet Muhammad, movable date); Independence Day (August 14); Ramadan commencement (movable date); Iqbal Day (Birthday of Muhammad Iqbal, November 9); Eid-ul-Fitr (end of Ramadan, movable date); Birthday of Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Christmas (December 25). Muslim holidays are observed nationally, and Christian holidays are elective for Christians only.


Pakistan’s flag is green with a narrow vertical white band on its left side.

A white crescent and star are in the center of the green band. Green

signifies the Muslim majority, white denotes minorities, the crescent

represents progress, and the star symbolizes light and knowledge.


Early Empires: Existing archaeological evidence suggests that humans lived in what became Pakistan around 2.2 million years ago, and the first civilization in South Asia, the Harappan Civilization, is believed to have started around 3000 B.C. in the Indus River valley. Indus civilizations maintained irrigated agriculture, had contact with the Middle East and North Africa, and endured until around 1750 B.C., when nomadic tribes from Central Asia called Aryans conquered much of the Indus Valley. The Aryans maintained a system of social stratification

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