Leader: President General Muhammad Zia ul-Huq
Economy: GNP per capita US$380 Monetary unit: Pakistani rupee Main exports: rice, cotton, textiles, carpets
People: 93 million
Health: Infant mortality: 120 per 1,000 live births
Life expectancy: 50 years
Percentage of population with access to clean water: 29%
Culture: Ethnic groups include Mongols, Arabs and Aryans
Languages: Urdu is official language, English widely spoken. Also used are Punjabi, Sindhi, Pushto and Baluchi
Religion: Mostly Muslim with some Christians, Hindus and Parsees
Sources: World Bank Report 1984. Asia and Pacific Yearbook. State of the World’s Children 1985.
In medieval times Genghis Khan and his hordes swept through the land we now call Pakistan. His was just one of the waves of conquest seen there over thousands of years. But with the demise of the British raj and independence from India’s Hindu domination in 1947 Pakistan’s people believed they at last held freedom in their grasp. But freedom from external rulers has not meant freedom from internal dominance. Since its turbulent birth as an independent Muslim state, Pakistan has been scarred by the iron rule of the modern khans.
Ayub Khan and Yahya Khan - two unrelated generals - were among the first military rulers. Yahya Khan was toppled from power when his plan to subordinate geographically separate East Pakistan backfired. Intervention by the Indian army on the side of the Bengalis led to Bangladeshi independence in 1971.
Current president General Zia uI-Huq remains true to the khans’ autocratic tradition. Since seizing power in 1977 with a promise to restore democracy in 90 days, he has instead tightened his grip in the name of national security.
Pakistan under Zia points up the hypocrisy of international realpolitik. Before 1979 the regime was roundly condemned by the West: Zia was a pariah who had executed former Prime Minister Bhutto. Then the Russians invaded Afghanistan. All at once Pakistan became a bastion of the West against Soviet expansionism.
About three million Afghani refugees flooded in, going mainly to the bothersome Northwest Frontier and Buluchistan provinces. Squabbling between locals and refugees over scarce resources is an additional headache for Zia and could thwart his ambitious Islamicisation programme.
Critics accuse Zia of wanting a fundamental Islamic state because the qualities it calls for - like obedience and unquestioning loyalty - are precisely those which will keep him in power. Religious fervour can replace political dissent. In downtown Lahore recently for instance soldiers were busy containing a political demonstration while in nearby Lahore old town chanting flagellants occupied themselves by lacerating their bodies as a penance for the murder of Muhammed’s grandson a thousand years ago.
Whether religious fervour will sustain the regime remains to be seen. But a buoyant economy based on increased yields of wheat, rice and cotton has boosted the living standards of many, despite the continuing widespread poverty.
It is hard to nurture the seeds of democracy in a country so divided by race, region and language as Pakistan is. And with its sensitive location on the map, and the simmering dispute with India over the beautiful Jammu and Kashmir region it is unlikely that Pakistan’s khans will relinquish their hold.