The land of Pakistan extends from the Himalaya Mountains to the Arabian Sea along the Indus River and its tributaries. Pakistan is the site of the earliest urban civilization in the world at Mehrgarh in Balochistan settled about 8,000 BCE. It was in these lands that the Indus Valley Civilization, one of the most brilliant in the annals of human history, flourished with its main centers at Moenjo Daro and Chanhu Daro in Sindh, Harappa in the Punjab and also influencing Kashmir, Shahi Tump at Kej in Balochistan and Mehrgarh in Balochistan and Judeiro Daro in the Sarhad. It was here that Buddhist culture blossomed and reached its zenith under the Kushans in the form of Gandhara civilization at the twin cities of Peshawar and Taxila. It was on this very soil that the Greco-Bactrian civilization had its best flowering and left the indelible marks of finest Greek art in the Potwar plateau around Rawalpindi and Kashmir. The entire Balochistan is strewn with the remains of the earliest products of man’s activities. “Pakistan is a region which has been conspicuously important in the development of civilization.” (‘Pakistan and Western Asia’, By Prof. Norman Brown).
Isolated remains of Homo Erectus in has been found indicating that Pakistan might have been inhabited since at least the Middle Pleistocene era. The precise date of these remains is unclear, and archaeologists put it anywhere between 200,000 to 500,000 BCE. The fossils are the earliest human remains found in South Asia. The genetical studies have shown that more than 60% of Pakistanis have their Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) maternal roots in South Asian specific branches of haplogroup ‘M’. Because of its great time depth and virtual absence in western Eurasians, it has been suggested that haplogroup M was brought to Asia after their evolution in Africa, along the southern route passing through Arabia and Iran, by the earliest migration wave of anatomically modern humans, Homo Sapiens, nearly 60,000 years ago
The original inhabitants of Pakistan may have been the tribals speaking languages related to Munda family of languages. Pakistan was the site of the world’s oldest 8,000 year old civilization at Mehrgarh in the Balochistan province. The Mehrgarh declined about the same time as the Indus Valley Civilization only 200 Kilometers south east was developing. It has been surmised that the Mehrgarh residents moved to fertile Indus River valley as Balochistan became arid over time. The Elamo-Dravidians invaded from the Iranian plateau and settled in the Indus valley around 4000 BCE. The main site of the Indus Valley Civilization in Punjab was the city of Harappa and Moenjo Daro and Chanhu Daro in Sindh. The Indus Valley Civilization spanned much of what is today Pakistan, but suddenly went into decline just prior to the invasion of Indo-European Aryan tribes from the Eurasian Steppe nearly 3100 BCE. The Indo-European Aryan tribes moved passed through the northern Punjab and then turned south, avoiding the heavily populated Indus River valley civilization, and settled around the ancient Sarasvati River in India which flowed parallel to the Indus River nearly 300 Kilometer in the east. The descendents of Indo-European Aryan tribes developed Hinduism and the Sarasvati river became the holiest river in their religion. Sarasvati river dried up nearly 2800 BCE as its tributary rivers changed direction towards Indus River and Ganges River due to ancient earthquakes and movements of the tectonic plates. The descendents of Indo-European Aryan tribes then migrated to the Ganges River valley in northern India.
The Indus Valley Civilization of Pakistan and Gangetic Valley Civilization of India have remained separate entities. In fact Pakistan based governments ruled over northern India more often and for much longer periods than Indian based governments have ruled over Pakistan territories. What is more important, Pakistan as an independent country always looked westward and had more connections ethnic, cultural, linguistic, religious, commercial, as well as political with the Sumerian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek and Central Asian civilizations than with the Gangetic Valley. It was only from the Muslim period onward that it became subservient to northern Indian governments. Even this period is not devoid of revolts and successful assertion of independence by people of Pakistan. In the pre-Muslim period, India’s great expansion covering large portions of the South Asia took place only during the reigns of the Mauryas (3rd century BC), the Guptas (4th century AD), Raja Harsha (7th century AD), the Gurjara empire of Raja Bhoj (8th century AD) and the Pratiharas (9th century AD). It is important to note that except for the Maurya period lasting barely a hundred years, under none of the other dynasties did the Indian based governments ever rule over Pakistan. They always remained east of river Sutlej.
Babylonian Queen Semiramis invaded the Indus Valley about 800 BCE but was defeated. The Scythians invaded from Central Asia and settled in modern Pakistan. The Scythian empire ruled Pakistan around 650 BCE. The Persian King Cyrus invaded in 535 BCE defeated the Scythians and conquered Gandhara in northern Pakistan. Later the Persian Achaemenian Empire under King Darius conquered modern Pakistan in 521 BCE and it remained part of Persian empire for more than two hundred years. Alexander the Great of Macedonia also conquered Persian satrapy of Pakistan in 327 BCE and did briefly crossed into India but returned after his army refused to advance further into South Asia. Pakistan remained part of the Hellenic world for nearly two hundred years. Pakistan was part of the Greek-Bactrian empire of Demetrius who ruled in 190 BCE. The Kushan invaded in 162 CE and Pakistan became part of the Central Asian based Kushan empire.
The Syrian Umayyad Caliphate sent an Muslim Arab army led by Muhammad bin Qasim and it conquered Pakistan territories from Kashmir to the Arabian Sea, in 711 BCE. During the Arab rule, the territories of Pakistan were known as ‘Sindh’ and India was known as ‘Hind’. The Arab dynasties ruled Pakistan from Baghdad in Iraq and Damascus in Syria for more than two hundred years. Many inhabitants of Pakistan converted to Islam during the long Arab rule. The Muslim technocrats, bureaucrats, soldiers, traders, scientists, architects, teachers, theologians and Sufis flocked from the rest of the Muslim world to Islamic Sultanate in South Asia and many settled in the Pakistan.
The five thousand year history of Pakistan reveals that its independence had been a rule while its subservience to or attachment with India an exception. “Throughout most of the recorded history the north-west (i.e. Pakistan) has normally been either independent or incorporated in an empire whose centre lay further in the west. The occasions when it has been governed from a centre further east (India) have been the exception rather than the rule; and the creation of Pakistan which has been described as a geographer’s nightmare is historically a reversion to normal as Pakistan is concerned.” (‘A Study of History’, by A J Toynbee).
During its five thousand year known history, Pakistan has been subservient to Central Indian governments only during the Maurya, the Turko-Afghan and British periods who were Buddhist, Muslim and Christian respectively. While the Mauryan (300-200 BC) and British (1848-1947) periods lasted barely a hundred years each, the Turko-Afghan period was the longest covering a span of more than 600 years. The Mughal Empire ruled most of Pakistan and large parts of India and Bangladesh for more than three hundred years.
Pakistan, the Indus land, is the child of the Indus in the same way as Egypt is the gift of Nile. The Indus has provided unity, fertility, communication, direction and the entire landscape to the country. Its location marks it as a great divide as well as a link between central Asia and south Asia. But the historical movements of the people from Central Asia and Middle East to South Asia have given to it a character of its own and have established closer relation between the people of Pakistan and those of: Iran, Afghanistan, Turkistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhistan, Uighuristan, Kyrghyzistan, Tataristan, Bashkiristan, Daghistan, Chechenistan, Azerbaijan, Kurdistan, Arab lands or Arabistan and Turkey in the field of culture, religion, ethnicity, language, literature, food, dress, furniture and folklore.
Modern Pakistan gained it’s independence from the British on 14th August 1947 as the British empire in South Asia was divided on religious regions. The Hindu and Sikhs fanatics massacred over one million Muslims refugees fleeing from India. This modern Islamic nation was established after a long freedom struggle by the leaders of the Muslim League; Quaid-e-Azam (Great Leader) Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Shair-e-Mashriq (Poet of the East) Mohammad Iqbal, Quaid-e-Millat (Leader of the Nation) Liaqat Ali Khan, and Madr-e-Millat (Mother of the Nation) Fatima Jinnah.
It is the Arabian Sea that has opened the doors for journey beyond to the Arabian world through the Persian Gulf and Red Sea right into the ancient civilization of Mesopotamia and Egypt. It is this Sea voyage that gave to the Indus Land its earliest name of Meluhha because the Indus people were characterized as Malahha (Sailor) or Meluhha in the Babylonian records. It is for this reason that the oldest civilization of this land, called Indus Valley Civilization, had unbreakable bonds of culture and trade link with the Persian Gulf States of Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Qatar, Bahrain and right from Yemen and Oman to Kuwait and Persia. While a Meluhhan village sprang up in ancient Mesopotamia (Modern Iraq), the Indus seals, painted pottery, Lapis Lazuli and many other items were exchanged for copper, tin and several other objects from Oman and Persian Gulf States. It is to facilitate this trade that the Indus writing was evolved in the same proto-symbolic style as the contemporary cuneiform writing of Mesopotamia. The Baloch and Sindh coastal ports also carried extensive trade with African ports in Ethiopia, Somalia, Zanzibar, Kenya, and Tanzania. Pakistan ports were also very active in trade with Roman and Byzantine empires. The fables of Sindbad the sailor, ‘Sindbad Jahazi’ (Sindbad the Shipmate), (Sindbad is Sindh-abad) are also based on historical Sindhi trading expeditions to other parts of Southeast Asia, Africa, Red Sea and Persian Gulf. Much later in history it is the pursuit of this seaward trade that introduced Islam from Arabia in to Pakistan. Pakistani ports also had extensive trade with Ottoman and Safavid empires. The twin foundations of cultural and religious link have helped build the stable edifice of Islamic civilization in this country. All these cultural developments are embedded in the personality of the people of Pakistan.
Pakistan, a developing country, is the sixth most populous in the world and has faced a number of challenges on the political and economic fronts. Although a very poor country when it became independent in 1947, in the 1960s Harvard economists proclaimed it to be a model of economic development. In each of its first four decades, Pakistan’s economic growth rate was better than the global average, but imprudent policies led to a slowdown in the late 1990s.
Since then, the Pakistani government has instituted wide-ranging reforms, and economic growth has accelerated in the current century. Pakistan’s economic outlook has brightened and its manufacturing and financial services sectors have experienced rapid expansion. The growth of the non-agricultural sectors has changed the structure of the economy, and agriculture now only accounts for roughly one-fifth of the GDP. There has been a great improvement in its foreign exchange position and a rapid growth in hard currency reserves in recent years. In the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2005, Pakistan’s GDP growth rate was 8.4% which is (after China) the second-highest among the ten most populous countries in the world.
Pakistan economy is based on agriculture, industry and expanding services sector. The main agriculture crops are: Wheat, Rice, Sugar, Corn, Cotton, various fruits, legumes and vegetables. The main industries are: Textile, Steel, Machinery, Pharmaceutical, Cement, Automobile, and consumer goods.
Pakistan has a total area of 803,940 square kilometers (land area of 778,720 km²), approximately the combined land areas of France and the United Kingdom. To Pakistan’s east is India, which has a 2,912 km (1,809 mile) border with Pakistan. To the west is Iran, which has a 909 km (565 mile) border with Pakistan. To Pakistan’s northwest lies Afghanistan, with a shared border of 2,430 km (1,510 miles). China is towards the northeast and has a 523 km (325 mile) border with Pakistan. To the south is the Arabian Sea, with 1,046 km (650 mile) of coastline. The northern and western areas of Pakistan are mountainous. Kashmir contain some of the highest mountains in the world, including K2 and Nanga Parbat. Northern Pakistan has many areas of preserved moist temperate forest. In the southeast is the Cholistan or Thar Desert which extends into India. West-central Balochistan has a high desert plateau, bordered by low mountain ranges. Most areas of the Punjab, and parts of Sindh, are fertile plains where agriculture is of great importance.
Demographics and Society
The population of Pakistan in 2006 is estimated to be over 166 million. The capital of Pakistan is Islamabad (City of Islam). There are five provinces of Pakistan: Kashmir, Punjab, Sarhad, Balochistan, and Sindh. The languages of Pakistan are Urdu, Punjabi, Sindhi, Pashto, Kashmiri, Seraiki, Baloch, Brahui, etc. Arabic is the religious language, Persian or Farsi is the cultural language, Urdu is the national language and English is the official language of Pakistan.
Major ethnic groups in Pakistan are: Punjabis, Sindhis, Pakhtuns, Kashmiris, Muhajirs, Seraikis, Balochis, Brahuis, and others. The smaller ethnic groups are mainly found in the northern parts of the country such as Turwalis, Kafiristanis, Hindko, Khowar, Shina etc. Pakistan’s census does not include the sizeable refugee population from neighboring Afghanistan, who are found mainly in the Sarhad, Balochistan and Karachi. From the 1980s, Pakistan accommodated over four million Afghan refugees – the largest refugee population in the world, including Pakhtuns, Tajiks, Turkmen, Uzbeks and Hazaras. Majority of the Afghan refugees have permanently settled in Pakistan. A large number of Bangali immigrants from Bangladesh have settled in Karachi, while hundreds of thousands of immigrants from Iran are scattered throughout the country. There is also a sizeable community of Muslim refugees from Myanmar (Burma) and Africa concentrated in Karachi. There is also a small and influential immigrant Arab minority.
The people of Indus river valley followed several ancient tribal religions. Later the Hinduism and Buddhism from India; Zoroastrianism and Manichaeism from Persia; and Hellenic religion from Greece, flourished in Pakistan. The Semitic religious traditions from Judaism, Christianity, and Islam as expressed in Torah, Bible and Quran have been integral part of Pakistan’s religious identity.
Pakistan remains deeply conservative Islamic nation with over 98% Muslim population and high pilgrimage rate to Makkah and Madina in Saudi Arabia. The Muslims are divided into different sects which are called schools of jurisprudence i.e. ‘Maktab-e-Fikr’ (School of Thought) in Urdu. Nearly 80% of Pakistani Muslims are Sunnis and 20% are Shias. The nearly all Pakistani Sunni Muslims belong to Hanafi school with a small Hanbali school represented by Wahabis. The Hanafi school is divided into Barelvis and Deobandis. While majority of Pakistani Shia Muslims belong to Ithna Ashari school with significant minority of Nizari Ismaili and a small Dawoodi Bohra schools. By one estimate, in Pakistan, Muslims are divided into following schools: the Barelvis 48%, Deobandis 25%, Ithna Ashari 19%, Ahle Hadith 4%, Ismailis 1%, Bohras 0.25%, and other smaller sects. The Ahle-e-Hadith is a small group of Sunni Muslims in Pakistan who do not consider themselves bound by any particular school of law and rely directly on the Prophet’s Sunnah. Nearly 65% of the total seminaries are run by Deobandis, 25 per cent by the Barelvis, six percent by the Ahle Hadith and three percent by various Shia organizations. There are small but influential small Shia sects belonging to Nizari Ismaili and Dawoodi Bohra schools of jurisprudence. Zikris are considered to be a heretical sect by mainstream Muslims.
The non-Muslim minorities are nearly 2% of the population and they include: Christians, Hindus, Parsis (Zoroastrians) and Ahmadis, and others.