Country Profile

Country profile: Pakistan.

Where is Pakistan? ‘Arise! Awake the poor of my world from slumber, shake down to the foundations the palaces of the affluent, the epoch of people’s rule is about to dawn…’ Back in 1931 poet Muhammad Iqbal’s dream was not just of liberation from British colonial rule but also of an independent Pakistan (Land of the Pure). When the subcontinent was carved up 16 years later, East and West Pakistan were created as Muslim homelands. But it was hardly a dream come true.

The massacres of Partition left up to a million dead. In less than 50 years Pakistan has fought three bitter wars with India, two over Kashmir and the third a humiliating defeat after which, in 1973, East Pakistan became Bangladesh. The world’s ninth most populous country, its 120 million people are linked by one common bond: Islam.

But the bond is showing signs of strain. Sectarian and ethnic violence has swept across the country and the cities have become hotbeds of violent crime. The drugs and gun trades have also rocketed since three-and-a-half million refugees from the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan arrived in 1979. Even in rural areas, where 87 per cent of people live, the apparent serenity of life is deceptive: the landless majority is trapped in poverty by a strict feudal system.

Since the death in 1948 of its first leader Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistan has been ruled by the whims of its dictatorial rulers, whether elected or not; most notably the charismatic Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and the notorious General Zia ul-Haq.

Bhutto was both adored and despised. A keen socialist, he began by nationalizing banks and industry and introducing popular social reforms. But paranoia soon set in and he started allying himself with wealthy landowners and industrialists: after the 1977 elections, accusations of fraud and corruption led to riots and then to martial law.

Zia ul-Haq was waiting in the wings. He hanged Bhutto for murder and ruled for the next 11 years, steering the country towards strict Islamic rule. Zia banned political parties and introduced repressive laws like the Hudood and Zina Ordinance, under which a woman can only prove rape if she provides four Muslim male witnesses. Without such proof she faces imprisonment for adultery.

It was in such a climate that Bhutto’s ambitious daughter, Benazir, returned from exile in 1988. Following Zia’s assassination, she was elected the first woman head of a Muslim state, though her government dissolved in 1990 amid allegations of corruption and nepotism.

Benazir was re-elected in 1993 but has so far failed to repeal any of Zia’s oppressive legislation. Nor has she opposed the Shariah Court ruling that anyone defiling the Holy Prophet’s name must be imprisoned for life.

Women’s groups and minorities feel betrayed, accusing her of trying to appease the small but influential religious right. Mean-while basic education and healthcare, clean drinking water and proper sanitation have become nothing more than pipedreams for the country’s poor.

Maria del Nevo


LEADER: Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto

ECONOMY: GNP per capita $420 (US $23,240).
Monetary unit: Pakistani rupee
Main exports: Cotton (60%), rice
Main imports: Machinery and transport equipment, oil, manufactured goods
The economy depends on agriculture (27% of GDP, compared with industry’s 17%) and was badly damaged by major floods that hit the cotton crop in 1992. The processing and manufacture of cotton goods is the main industrial activity.

PEOPLE: 128.1 million. Population density ranges from 230 per sq km in Punjab to 13 per sq km in Baluchistan (UK 235 per sq km).

HEALTH: Infant mortality 95 per 1,000 live births (Canada, 7 per 1,000). One doctor for every 2,940 inhabitants (Australia, one for every 436).

CULTURE: Religion: 97% Muslim, the vast majority Sunni; 2% Hindu.
Languages: Urdu is the national language although it is only spoken by about 9% of people. The provincial languages of Punjabi, Sindhi and Pushtu are the most commonly used.

Sources: State of the World’s Children 1995; The World: A Third World Guide 1995/96; Asia & Pacific Review 1993/94.

Previously profiled August 1985


[image, unknown] INCOME DISTRIBUTION [image, unknown]
Vast gap between rich and poor.
1985 [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
[image, unknown] LITERACY [image, unknown]
35%. Primary-school enrolment 42%.
1985 [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
[image, unknown] SELF-RELIANCE [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Dependent on cotton but food production is generally good. Would be more self-reliant if it did not spend 35% of its budget on defence.
1985 [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
[image, unknown] FREEDOM [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Despite formal democracy, little progress    has been made on human rights since martial law. Journalists, political activists and religious minorities remain vulnerable.
1985 [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
[image, unknown] POSITION OF WOMEN [image, unknown]
Patriarchal and feudal culture along with recent Islamization impose restrictions. Purdah is still widely observed.
1985 [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
[image, unknown] LIFE EXPECTANCY [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
59: compared with a regional average of 56 and a rich-world average of 76.
1985 [image, unknown] [image, unknown]


[image, unknown] NI ASSESSMENT [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Benazir Bhutto spearheaded the movement for the restoration of democracy. Whether she is boxed in by her coalition government or has insufficient will, she has done little to restore full democratic and human rights, let alone address the needs of the poor and the women she might have represented.

NI star rating

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