Pakistan was one of the two original successor states to British India, which was partitioned along religious lines in 1947. For almost 25 years following independence, it consisted of two separate regions, East and West Pakistan, but now it is made up only of the western sector. Both India and Pakistan have laid claim to the Kashmir region; this territorial dispute led to war in 1949, 1965, 1971, 1999, and remains unresolved today. What is now Pakistan was in prehistoric times the Indus Valley civilization (c. 2500–1700 BC).
A series of invaders—Aryans, Persians, Greeks, Arabs, Turks, and others— controlled the region for the next several thousand years. Islam, the principal religion, was introduced in 711. In 1526, the land became part of the Mogul Empire, which ruled most of the Indian subcontinent from the 16th to the mid-18th century. By 1857, the British became the dominant power in the region.With Hindus holding most of the economic, social, and political advantages, the Muslim minority’s dissatisfaction grew, leading to the formation of the nationalist Muslim League in 1906 by Mohammed Ali Jinnah (1876–1949).
The league supported Britain in the Second World War while the Hindu nationalist leaders, Nehru and Gandhi, refused. In return for the league’s support of Britain, Jinnah expected British backing for Muslim autonomy. Britain agreed to the formation of Pakistan as a separate dominion within the Commonwealth in Aug. 1947, a bitter disappointment to India’s dream of a unified subcontinent. Jinnah became governorgeneral. The partition of Pakistan and India along religious lines resulted in the largest migration in human history, with 17 million people fleeing across the borders in both directions to escape the accompanying sectarian violence.
The New Republic
Pakistan became a republic on March 23, 1956, with Maj. Gen. Iskander Mirza as the first president. Military rule prevailed for the next two decades. Tensions between East and West Pakistan existed from the outset. Separated by more than a thousand miles, the two regions shared few cultural and social traditions other than religion. To the growing resentment of East Pakistan,West Pakistan monopolized the country’s political and economic power. In 1970, East Pakistan’s Awami League, led by the Bengali leader Sheik Mujibur Rahman, secured a majority of the seats in the national assembly.
President Yahya Khan postponed the opening of the national assembly to skirt East Pakistan’s demand for greater autonomy, provoking civil war. The independent state of Bangladesh, or Bengali nation, was proclaimed on March 26, 1971. Indian troops entered the war in its last weeks, fighting on the side of the new state. Pakistan was defeated on Dec. 16, 1971, and President Yahya Khan stepped down. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto took over Pakistan and accepted Bangladesh as an independent entity.
In 1976, formal relations between India and Pakistan resumed. Pakistan’s first elections under civilian rule took place in March 1977, and the overwhelming victory of Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) was denounced as fraudulent. A rising tide of violent protest and political deadlock led to a military takeover on July 5 by Gen. Mohammed Zia ul-Haq. Bhutto was tried and convicted for the 1974 murder of a political opponent, and despite worldwide protests he was executed on April 4, 1979, touching off riots by his supporters. Zia declared himself president on Sept. 16, 1978, and ruled by martial law until Dec. 30, 1985, when a measure of representative government was restored. On Aug. 19, 1988, Zia was killed in a midair explosion of a Pakistani Air Force plane. Elections at the end of 1988 brought longtime Zia opponent Benazir Bhutto, daughter of Zulfikar Bhutto, into office as prime minister.
A Shaky Government
In the 1990s, Pakistan saw a shaky succession of governments—Benazir Bhutto was prime minister twice and deposed twice and Nawaz Sharif three times, until he was deposed in a coup on Oct. 12, 1999, by Gen. Pervez Musharraf. The Pakistani public, familiar with military rule for 25 of the nation’s 52-year history, generally viewed the coup as a positive step and hoped it would bring a badly needed economic upswing. To the surprise of much of the world, two new nuclear powers emerged in May 1998 when India, followed by Pakistan just weeks later, conducted nuclear tests. Fighting with India again broke out in the disputed territory of Kashmir in May 1999. Close ties with Afghanistan’s Taliban government thrust Pakistan into a difficult position following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Under U.S. pressure, Pakistan broke with its neighbor to become the United States’ chief ally in the region. In return, President Bush ended sanctions (instituted after Pakistan’s testing of nuclear weapons in 1998), rescheduled its debt, and helped to bolster the legitimacy of the rule of Pervez Musharraf, who appointed himself president in 2001. On Dec. 13, 2001, suicide bombers attacked the Indian parliament, killing 14 people. Indian officials blamed the attack on Islamic militants supported by Pakistan. Both sides assembled hundreds of thousands of troops along their common border, bringing the two nuclear powers to the brink of war.
Musharraf Extends Power
In 2002, voters overwhelmingly approved a referendum to extend Musharraf’s presidency another five years. The vote, however, outraged opposing political parties and human rights groups who said the process was rigged. In August, Musharraf unveiled 29 constitutional amendments that strengthened his grip on the country. Pakistani officials dealt a heavy blow to al- Qaeda in March 2003, arresting Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the top aide to Osama bin Laden, who organized the 2001 terrorist attacks against the U.S. The search for bin Laden intensified in northern Pakistan following Mohammed’s arrest.
In Nov. 2003, Pakistan and India declared the first formal cease-fire in Kashmir in 14 years. In April 2005, a bus service began between the two capitals of Kashmir— Srinagar on the Indian side and Pakistan’s Muzaffarabad—uniting families that had been separated by the Line of Control since 1947. Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb, was exposed in Feb. 2004 for having sold nuclear secrets to North Korea, Iran, and Libya. Musharraf had him apologize publicly, and then pardoned him. While much of the world reviled him for this unconscionable act of nuclear proliferation, the scientist remains a national hero in Pakistan. Khan claimed that he alone and not Pakistan’s military or government was involved in the selling of these ultraclassified secrets; few in the international community have accepted this explanation.
Relationship with Taliban
Pakistan has launched major efforts to combat al-Qaeda and Taliban militants, deploying 80,000 troops to its remote and mountainous border with Afghanistan, a haven for terrorist groups. More than 800 soldiers have died in these campaigns. Yet the country remains a breeding ground for Islamic militancy, with its estimated 10,000–40,000 religious schools, or madrassas. In late 2006 and into 2007, members of the Taliban crossed into eastern Afghanistan from Pakistan’s tribal areas.
The Pakistani government denied that its intelligence agency has supported the Islamic militants, despite contradictory reports from Western diplomats and the media. In Sept. 2006, President Musharraf signed a controversial peace agreement with seven militant groups, who call themselves the “Pakistan Taliban.” Pakistan’s army agreed to withdraw from the area and allow the Taliban to govern themselves, as long as they promise no incursions into Afghanistan or against Pakistani troops.
Critics said the deal hands terrorists a secure base of operations; supporters counter that a military solution against the Taliban is futile and will only spawn more militants, contending that containment is the only practical policy. That agreement came under fire in the U.S. in July 2007 with the release of a National Intelligence Estimate. The report concluded that al-Qaeda has gained strength in the past two years and that the United States faces “a persistent and evolving terrorist threat over the next three years.” The report also said the deal has allowed al-Qaeda to flourish. An earthquake with a magnitude of 7.6 struck Pakistani-controlled Kashmir on Oct. 8, 2005. More than 81,000 people were killed and 3 million left homeless. About half of the region’s capital city, Muzaffarabad, was destroyed. The disaster hit at the onset of the Himalayan winter. Many rural villages were too remote for aid workers to reach, leaving thousands vulnerable to the elements.