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About Pakistan


“The Story of Pakistan, its struggle and its achievement, is the very story of great human ideals, struggling to survive in the face of great odds and difficulties.”

Muhammad Ali Jinnah, founder of Pakistan, March 23, 1948

“The great majority of us are Muslims. We follow the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed (may peace be upon him). We are members of the brotherhood of Islam in which all are equal in rights, dignity and self-respect. Consequently, we have a special and a very deep sense of unity. But make no mistake: Pakistan is not a theocracy or anything like it.”

Muhammad Ali Jinnah, founder of Pakistan, February 19, 1948

“You are free; you are free to go to your temples. You are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion, caste or creed –that has nothing to do with the business of the State.”

Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Presidential Address to the Assembly of Pakistan on August 11, 1947

Pakistan Quick Facts:

Official Name: Islamic Republic of Pakistan

Population: 176,243,000 (6th in the world)

GDP (per capita) (PPP): $2,600 (2008)

Life Expectancy: 64.5 years

Literacy Rate: 49.9%

The Islamic Republic of Pakistan has a complex and tumultuous history. Originally part of the British colonial territories in India, the modern state of Pakistan was created in 1947 following the Partition of British India into the new independent nations of India and Pakistan. Pakistan was established as a home for Muslims, and India was assigned as a home for Hindus. Today, 95 percent of Pakistan’s population is Muslim, and Pakistan is the world’s second most populous Muslim country.

The Partition of India was a traumatic event, as millions of refugees fled to find new homes in the newly established nations. Perhaps as many as one million people died or were murdered during the resulting mass migrations, riots and ethnic and religious conflicts within India and Pakistan after the Partition.

Although the Partition was considered to be one of the last acts of the old British Empire, it created lasting tensions that still affect politics and diplomatic relations in India and Pakistan today. In particular, the mountainous provinces of Jammu and Kashmir have been a source of ongoing dispute between India and Pakistan, which both have territorial claims to the area and fought a war over the issue in 1948 that has never been officially resolved. Sixty years after the first Kashmir war ended, Indian and Pakistani soldiers continue to face each other across the militarized “Line of Control” in Kashmir.

In just over 60 years of existence as independent states, Pakistan and India have gone to war four times, with three of the wars resulting from the dispute over Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan officially became a nuclear power in May 1998, following India’s declaration of successful nuclear tests earlier that month.

From its inception as an independent nation, Pakistan has seen itself as facing a severe threat from India, which never wanted Pakistan to be split into a separate country. This feeling of external threat has contributed to Pakistan’s massive military buildup, at the expense of other important priorities like education, health care, and economic development.

Throughout its 62-year history, Pakistan’s military has played a dominant role in the country’s political affairs, with four separate coup d’etats resulting in periods of military rule, most recently under General Pervez Musharraf (2001 – 2008).

Aside from the military, Pakistan’s civilian government institutions have been generally weak and ineffective, with endemic corruption and instability, and a general culture of bureaucratic incompetence. Pakistan’s police forces are widely described as under-equipped, poorly trained, and corrupt. Pakistan’s under-funded public schools often lack textbooks and desks (24% of schools do not have textbooks), and about 45% of Pakistani children drop out of school before completing their elementary education. When public schools are not available or affordable, children from poor families are more likely to attend religious schools, a minority of which teach values of intolerance.

In the health sector, one in 23 Pakistani women dies in childbirth, compared to one in 5,000 women in developed countries. About 400,000 infants die in Pakistan each year from diarrhea, and 60% of Pakistan’s child deaths result from water and sanitation-related diseases. There is 1 doctor for every 1,300 people in Pakistan, and 1 nurse for every 30,000 people.

Pakistan is confronting the economic crisis along with the rest of the world, but from a weak starting position. Two-thirds of Pakistanis live on less than $2 per day. The country has a shortage of energy – in spite of its extensive nuclear program, Pakistan has not been able to build enough power plants to keep up with demand for electricity, and many Pakistanis struggle with daily power outages. The U.S. would gain credibility by helping Pakistan update its energy infrastructure.

Pakistan’s currency has lost 20 percent of its value since early 2008, and the country’s debt has reached 60 percent of GDP. Agriculture employs 44 percent of the population but makes up only 21 percent of Pakistan’s GDP, pointing to significant inefficiencies and disparities of wealth in the broader economy.

Following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on America, Pakistan became a key ally to the U.S. in the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan and in the broader global struggle against terrorism. The Pakistani government provided military assistance and intelligence support for U.S. military efforts in Afghanistan, and has also helped to arrest several high-value terrorism suspects, including 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

Yet at the same time, despite the efforts of the Pakistani central government, Pakistan has witnessed an alarming rise in violent extremism and terrorist attacks. Taliban militants fleeing the U.S. war in Afghanistan have sought to find a haven in certain enclaves within Pakistan, such as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) along the northwest border with Afghanistan.

Pakistan is currently engaged in an internal struggle for stability, with the civilian government trying to suppress a Taliban insurgency and violent extremists. Terrorist attacks within Pakistan have quadrupled since 2006. Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated by extremists in December 2007 while campaigning. Pakistan suffered 66 suicide bombings in 2008, killing 965 people.

To some extent, previous U.S. policies in the region have contributed to the current problems. As an example, America provided funding to the Taliban during the 1980s when the Taliban was fighting the Soviet Union in Afghanistan – the same group that is presently an enemy of Pakistan and the United States was once strengthened by U.S. support. By providing funding and support for certain military groups or certain regimes based on short-term promises and short-term interests, America’s past foreign policy has at times been counter productive to the long-term goals of a stable, peaceful and democratic Pakistani society. This is part of what the Council on Pakistan Relations is attempting to change.

In spite of its many severe challenges, Pakistan has potential to remain an essential protector against the resurgence of the Taliban, and is an important U.S. ally that needs America’s support.

The overwhelming majority of Pakistanis reject the extremism and violence that have affected their country; they want Pakistan to succeed as a modern, pluralistic democracy. America should stand with the majority of Pakistan’s people, and recognize that even in these challenging times for Pakistan, there are important reasons of optimism.

In spite of many severe challenges, there are reasons for optimism in Pakistan.

* The Lawyers’ Movement (2007-2009): In March 2007, General Pervez Musharraf deposed Mr. Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, after the Chief Justice repeatedly made rulings against Musharraf. This decision was met with widespread outrage from Pakistan’s judicial system, with thousands of lawyers marching in the streets to protest Musharraf’s violation of Pakistan’s independent judiciary. After a long struggle with sustained support from media commentators, foreign bar associations, and Pakistani expatriates, the Lawyers’ Movement succeeded in mid-March 2009 in getting Chief Justice Chaudhry restored to office. The triumph of the Lawyers’ Movement indicates a restored trust in Pakistan’s judiciary and rule of law, and is a significant victory for civil society in Pakistan.

* Successful Elections in 2008: Following eight years of military rule, General Pervez Musharraf stepped down from his role as president in January 2008, following new elections. Pakistan has had a turbulent history of democracy, with repeated military coups, assassinations of elected leaders, and violence around elections. The January 2008 elections are widely seen as a sign of hope that Pakistan can experience a rebirth of democracy.

* The Media as a Force for Diversity, Modernism, and Moderate Viewpoints: Pakistan is benefiting from an increasingly diverse and active media to connect people with ideas and shape public perceptions. 10 years ago, Pakistan had only one, state-run television channel; today there are 60 private TV stations, many of which broadcast round-the-clock about the lawyers’ movement to restore the Chief Justice. Pakistani expatriates, especially in the United States and United Kingdom, have used blogs and other Web media to become a strong voice for activism against extremists within Pakistan. Pakistan’s increasingly diverse and vibrant media is proving to be a force for moderation and modernity – and these messages are welcomed by the majority of Pakistanis.

“The Obama administration should recalibrate its strategy to emphasize the priority of the mission in Pakistan and to prepare domestic and international audiences for expanded, sustained U.S. engagement in South Asia…if the United States takes seriously the enormity and complexity of the threat posed by extremism in South and Central Asia, only a comprehensive, Pakistan-centered strategy will serve U.S. security requirements today and into the future.”

– Daniel Markey, Council on Foreign Relations: From AfPak to PakAf: A Response to the New U.S. Strategy for South Asia. April 2009.

No other country has suffered more than Pakistan for being an ally to the United States.

  1. Pakistan is crucial to America’s national security. It is in America’s best interests to promote a peaceful, stable and prosperous Pakistan. Pakistan’s current levels of internal instability and tribal friction have resulted in increased violence and suicide bombings. If the U.S. can help Pakistan to achieve greater security and stability, then the rest of South Asia will be more stable.
  2. Pakistan has a long history as a committed ally of America and a supporter of U.S. interests in the region. During the Cold War, Pakistan allied itself with the United States and served as the central conduit for U.S. military aid to the U.S.-backed insurgency against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Pakistan’s cooperation was instrumental to the military effort which helped bring about the collapse of the Soviet Union. In addition to its military cooperation with the U.S. and its allies against the Soviets, Pakistan agreed to absorb 5 million Afghan refugees during the Soviet invasion, 3 million of whom are still living in Pakistan. Some of the Afghan refugees brought with them a culture of gun violence, drug running, and extremism – problems which Pakistan is still confronting today.
  3. Pakistan is one of America’s most important allies in the post-9/11 era of the global struggle against violent extremism. After the 9/11 attacks on the U.S., Pakistan again committed itself as an ally to America, and supported America’s War on Terror. This support of America’s agenda made Pakistan and its people a target of extremists and terrorists, and also led to more refugees flooding into Pakistan across the Afghan border.
  4. Pakistan has sacrificed and suffered to support America’s goals. U.S. assistance to Pakistan should be considered not only in terms of humanitarian goals, or in terms of national security interests, but also as a form of recognition and thanks to the people of Pakistan. America should recognize Pakistan for its long-term involvement and commitment in supporting U.S. goals, and this spirit of gratitude should help inform U.S. assistance to Pakistan in the future.