From the lowlands along the Indus running through the centre of it, to the arid plateau of Baluchistan, and the mountains of the north, Pakistan is a country with a wide variety of landscapes, from barren deserts to lush, green valleys to stark mountain peaks. Its highest point, Mount K2, is only second to Everest as the tallest peak in the world. Here’s a look at a country with constantly changing circumstances.
While Pakistan as a country is relatively new, the Indus River region is known as a cradle of civilization. Archaeologists have found fossils of Homo sapiens in the area which date back 50,000 years. One of the reasons for the rise and the prosperity of the Indus Civilisation was its situation right along a natural trade route between central Asia and the Indian subcontinent.
While this position encouraged the rise of an urban trading society, it also encouraged wave after wave of invasion, making the region’s history a mind-boggling tapestry of successive conquests.
The initial entry of Islam into India came in the first century after the death of the Prophet Muhammad pbuh. The Umayyad Caliph in Damascus sent an expedition to Balochistan and Sindh, both now part of Pakistan, in 711 AD. Coastal trade and the presence of a Muslim colony in Sindh, however, permitted significant cultural exchanges and the introduction into the subcontinent of saintly teachers or Sufis. Muslim influence grew and Islam quickly spread throughout the region.
The great Mughals came to power in early 16th century and ruled the area for the next 200 years. Their reign left a legacy of magnificent palaces, forts, mosques and gardens which can still be seen in Lahore, Thatta, Malki and many other places in Pakistan. The exotic Shalimar Gardens, the Badshahi Mosque, the fabulous Lahore Fort, Jahangir’s Tomb and many other masterpieces are examples of superb Muslim architecture. Under the emperors Akbar, Jahangir and Shah Jahan, art and architecture flourished.
By the mid 19th century the region became part of the British Raj. When India prepared for independence from the British in the 1940s, Muslim Indians pushed for their own independent Muslim homeland. The Islamic Republic of Pakistan came into being on August 14, 1947, under the leadership of Mohammad Ali Jinnah the founder of Pakistan.
Pakistan’s population of 128 million is one of the fastest-growing in Asia. The country is divided into four provinces: Punjab, Sindh, Baluchistan and North West Frontier Province (NWFP). Punjab is the largest and is where Islamabad, the capital, is located. The Punjabis dominate political and business life. The Sindh is where the main port of Karachi, which is the largest city, is located. Baluchistan is arid and mountainous, and the NWFP is where the Pathanis or Pashtun live and are mainly herders and farmers. The official language is English, though Urdu is the national language, plus other regional languages.
No matter which direction you turn in Pakistan, there are strong neighbours. To the north-west is Afghanistan, with whom they have a good trading relationship. The Afghanis need to go through Pakistan to get to the ports of Karachi and Gwadar. To the east is India, a bitter rival, with whom they have been engaged in an on-again, off-again battle over the region of Kashmir for decades. With both countries holding nuclear weapons, it makes this a more daunting relationship. The north corner borders with the Chinese Muslim autonomous region of Xinijiang. This ancient trade link has been revived with the Karakoram Highway which links the two countries and follows the Indus River down to the port city of Karachi. One feels the possibilities here have yet to be realized. And to the west is Iran, though there is little activity at this border as it is a desert region.
Throughout the chequered political history of Pakistan two factors have remained decisive; Islam and the army, in collaboration with civilian bureaucracy and feudal aristocracy. The intact feudal structure and religious institutions all worked in tandem for common interests in retaining the status quo and still pose a threat to any real social transformation. The dubious ruling regimes and opposition movements trying to dislodge them both exploited Islam to the utmost. Those in power, used ‘religious’ sentiments of ignorant masses to maintain their power and those thirsting for power, exploited the same sentiments in an attempt to manoeuvre their way in.
Nation building remains a difficult process in Pakistan with four different ethnic groups. But although the country has undergone a succession of traumatic sociopolitical experiences since achieving independence in 1947, it continues to demonstrate its resilience and its capacity to survive and adapt to changing circumstances.
Pakistan, is a largely self-sufficient nation and all food there is considered Halal. Its huge Muslim population also serves as an ideal market for Halal products. Products with a Halal certification have, in the past, enjoyed benefits such as being exempt from sales tax. One of its main imports is palm oil which comes from Malaysia. They also look to Malaysia for consultants for construction projects, ICT development and banking, and hope to work with Malaysia on high-end agriculture projects in the future.
Pakistan is of the leading producers of cotton and textiles in the world. Other main exports also include wheat, rice, seafood, surgical equipment, clothing, leather goods and sports goods which have earned a reputation for distinction in the world market in terms of quality and price.
While their long-term prospects remain uncertain, given Pakistan’s low level of development, medium-term prospects for job creation and poverty reduction are the best in nearly a decade Islamabad raised development spending from about 2% of GDP in the 1990s to 4% in 2003. GDP growth, spurred by double-digit gains in industrial production, has become less dependent on agriculture. Foreign exchange reserves continued to reach new levels in 2004/5 (US$15-20 billion) and are supported by a robust GDP growth rate from 7.1% in 2004 to 8.7% in 2005. Alongside this there has been a steep rise in exports.
The Prime Ministers of Pakistan and Malaysia met twice in 2005 to discuss ways that they can work together, including exchange programmes, strengthening the bilateral ties between these two strong OIC countries. Pakistan International Airways will now be able to fly directly to Kuala Lumpur, a route which was not deemed to be financially viable before, from 28th June 2005 on the instruction of their Prime Minister. Malaysian Airlines is also opening a new route to Lahore on the same basis. This bodes well for the future collaboration of the people in these two countries.
**This article was first published in The Halal Journal Jul/Aug 2005 edition.