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Pakistan is situated in the western part of the Indian subcontinent, with Afghanistan and Iran on the west, India on the east, and the Arabian Sea on the south. The name Pakistan is derived from the Urdu words Pak(meaning pure) and stan (meaning country). It is nearly twice the size of California.
The northern and western highlands of Pakistan contain the towering Karakoram and Pamir mountain ranges, which include some of the world's highest peaks: K2 (28,250 ft; 8,611 m) and Nanga Parbat (26,660 ft; 8,126 m). The Baluchistan Plateau lies to the west, and the Thar Desert and an expanse of alluvial plains, the Punjab and Sind, lie to the east. The 1,000-mile-long (1,609 km) Indus River and its tributaries flow through the country from the Kashmir region to the Arabian Sea.
Military rule was instituted in Oct. 1999; a nominal democracy was declared in June 2001 by the ruling military leader, Pervez Musharraf.
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 governor-general. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In March 2007, President Musharraf suspended Chief Justice Iftakar Mohammed Chaudhry, accusing him of abuse of power and nepotism. Supporters of Chaudhry took the streets in protest, claiming the move was politically motivated. In May, 39 people were killed in Karachi when dueling rallies—those in support of Chaudhry and others of the government—turned violent. Justice Chaudhry had agreed to hear cases involving disappearances of people believed to have been detained by intelligence agencies and constitutional challenges involving Musharraf’s continued rule as president and head of the military. Chaudhry challenged his suspension in court, and in July, Pakistan’s Supreme Court ruled that President Musharraf acted illegally when he suspended Chaudhry. The court reinstated him.
Radical Islamist clerics and students at Islamabad's Red Mosque, who have been using kidnappings and violence in their campaign for the imposition of Shariah, or Islamic law, in Pakistan, exchanged gunfire with government troops in July 2007. After the initial violence, the military laid seige to the mosque, which held nearly 2,000 students. Several students escaped or surrendered to officials. The mosque's senior cleric, Maulana Abdul Aziz was caught by officials when attempting to escape. After negotiations between government officials and mosque leaders failed, troops stormed the compound and killed Abdul Rashid Ghazi, who took over as chief of the mosque after the capture of Aziz, his brother. More than 80 people died in the violence. Violence in remote tribal areas intensified after the raid. In addition, the Taliban rescinded the cease-fire signed in Sept. 2006, and a series of suicide bombings and attacks followed.
Musharraf's political troubles intensified in the late summer. In August, the Supreme Court ruled that former prime minister Nawaz Sharif could return to Pakistan from exile in Saudi Arabia. Both Sharif and Benazir Bhutto, also a former prime minister, had sought to challenge Musharraf's role as military leader and president. Days after the ruling, Bhutto revealed that Musharraf had agreed to a power-sharing agreement, in which he would step down as army chief and run for reelection as president. In exchange, Bhutto, who had been living in self-imposed exile for eight years, would be allowed to return to Pakistan and run for prime minister. Aides to Musharraf, however, denied that an agreement was reached. Shortly after, however, Musharraf said that if elected to a second term as president, he will step down from his post as army chief before taking the oath of office. Some opposition leaders, however, questioned whether he would follow through on his promise. In September, Sharif was arrested and deported hours after he returned to Pakistan.
On Oct. 6, Musharraf was easily reelected to a third term by the country's national and provincial assemblies. The opposition boycotted the vote, however, and only representatives from the governing party participated in the election. In addition, the Supreme Court said the results will not be formalized until it rules whether Musharraf was constitutionally eligible to run for president while still head of the military.
Bhutto returned to Pakistan on Oct. 18 amid much fanfare and jubilation from her supporters. The triumphant mood gave way to panic when a suicide bomber attacked her convoy, killing as many as 135 people. Bhutto survived the attack.
On Nov. 3, Musharraf declared a state of emergency, suspended Pakistan's constitution, and fired Chief Justice Iftakar Mohammed Chaudhry and the other judges on the Supreme Court. In addition, police arrested at least 500 opposition figures. Political opponents said Musharraf had in effect declared martial law. Analysts suggested that Musharraf was trying to preempt an upcoming ruling by the Supreme Court, which was expected to declare he could not constitutionally run for president while head of the military. Musharraf, however, said he acted to stem a rising Islamist insurgency and to "preserve the democratic transition.” On Nov. 5, thousands of lawyers took to the streets to protest the emergency rule. Many clashed with baton-wielding police. As many as 700 lawyers were arrested, including Chaudhry, who was placed under house arrest. Under pressure from U.S. officials, Musharraf said parliamentary elections would take place in Jan. 2008.
On Nov. 9, thousands of police officers barricaded the city of Rawalpindi, the site of a protest planned by Bhutto. She was later placed under house arrest. On Nov. 15, the day that Parliament's five-year term ended, Musharraf swore in a caretaker government, with Mohammedmian Soomro, the chairman of Pakistan's senate, as prime minister. He also lifted Bhutto's house arrest. Later that month, the Supreme Court, stacked with judges loyal to Musharraf, dismissed the case challenging the constitutionality of Musharraf being elected president while head of the military. Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif returned to Pakistan on Nov. 25 after eight years in exile and demanded that Musharraf lift the emergency rule and reinstate the Supreme Court justices that were dismissed on Nov. 3. Sharif, who has refused to share power with Musharraf, poses a formidable political threat to Musharraf.
Musharraf stepped down as military chief on Nov. 28, the day before being sworn in as a civilian president. Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the former head of Pakistan’s intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, took over as army chief. Since he no longer controls the military, Musharraf's power over Pakistan has been significantly diminished.
Musharraf ended emergency rule on Dec. 14 and restored the constitution. At the same time, however, he issued several executive orders and constitutional amendments that precluded any legal challenges related to his actions during and after emergency rule and barred the judges whom he fired from resuming their positions. "Today I am feeling very happy that all the promises that I have made to the people, to the country, have been fulfilled," he said.
Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in a suicide attack on Dec. 27, 2007, at a campaign rally in Rawalpindi. President Pervez Musharraf blamed al Qaeda for the attack, which killed 23 other people. Bhutto's supporters, however, accused Musharraf's government of orchestrating the combination bombing and shooting. Rioting throughout the country followed the attack, and the government shut down nearly all the country's services to thwart further violence. Bhutto had criticized the government for failing to control militants who have been unleashing terrorist attacks throughout Pakistan. In the wake of the assassination, Musharraf postponed parliamentary elections, which had been scheduled for Jan. 8, 2008, until Feb. 18.
Scotland Yard investigators reported in February 2008 that Bhutto died of an injury to her skull. They said she hit her head when the force of a suicide bomb tossed her. Bhutto's supporters, however, insist she died of a bullet wound. Also in February, two Islamic militants who had been arrested in connection to the assassination admitted that they armed the attacker with a suicide vest and a pistol.
In the parliamentary elections in February, Musharraf's party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Q, which has been in power for five years, suffered a stunning defeat, losing most of its seats. The opposition Pakistan Peoples Party, which was led by Bhutto until her assassination and is now headed by her widow, Asif Ali Zardari, won 80 of the 242 contested seats. The Pakistan Muslim League-N, led by Sharif, took 66 seats. Musharraf party's won just 40. His defeat was considered a protest of his attempts to rein in militants, his coziness with President Bush, and his dismissal of Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. The Pakistan People's Party and the Pakistan Muslim League-N formed a coalition government. In March, Parliament elected Fahmida Mirza as speaker. She is the first woman in Pakistan elected to the position.
In March, Zardari selected Yousaf Raza Gillani, who served as speaker of Parliament in the 1990s under Benazir Bhutto, as prime minister. One of Gillani's first moves as prime minister was to release the Supreme Court justices that Musharraf ousted and detained in late 2007.
The new government signaled a change of course with the announcement that it would negotiate with militants who live and train in Pakistan's remote tribal areas. The policy met resistance from the United States, which, with approval from Musharraaf, has stepped up its attacks against the militants.
In May, the coalition government reached a compromise agreement to reinstate the Supreme Court justices who were dismissed in Nov. 2007 by Musharraf. The agreement fell apart days later, when the Pakistan Muslim League-N said it would withdraw from the cabinet because the Pakistan Peoples Party insisted on retaining the judges who replaced those who were dismissed by Musharraf. In addition, the two parties disagreed on how to reinstate the justices. Sharif wanted the judges immediately reinstated by executive order; Asif Ali Zardari, the leader of the Pakistan People's Party preferred it be done through Parliament, a process that may be protracted.
Skirmishing along Kashmir's Line of Control broke out over the summer of 2008, after more than four years of relative calm. The problems arose after authorities in Indian-controlled Kashmir transferred 99 acres of land to a trust that runs a Hindu shrine, called Amarnath. Muslims launched a series of protests. The government rescinded the order, which outraged Hindus. About 40 people were killed in the protests and counterdemonstrations, which involved several hundred thousand people. Despite the hostilities, a trade route between India and Pakistan across the line of control opened in October for the first time in 60 years.
U.S. intelligence agencies determined that Pakistan's Directorate of Inter-Services Intellgence (ISI) helped to carry out an attack outside the Indian Embassy in Kabul in July that killed more than 50 people, including two Indian diplomats. The attack occurred while Gillani was in the United States meeting with President Bush. Officials also said that the ISI has been tipping off militants about U.S. operations against them.
In August, the governing coalition announced plans to "immediately initiate impeachment proceedings" against President Musharraf on charges of violating the constitution and misconduct. The charges stem from his actions in Nov. 2007, when he suspended the country's constitution and fired Chief Justice Iflikhar Muhammad Chaudhry and the other judges on the Supreme Court. Days later, on Aug. 18, Musharraf resigned as president. "Not a single charge can be proved against me," he said, adding that he was stepping down to put the country's interests above "personal bravado." Muhammad Mian Soomro, the chairman of the Senate, was named acting president.
On Aug. 25, Sharif withdrew his party, the Pakistan Muslim League-N, from the governing coalition, saying he could no longer work with Zardari. He said Zardari went back on pledges to restore Chaudhry to his role as chief justice of the Supreme Court and to work with Sharif to select a presidential candidate. Instead, Zardari announced plans to run for president.
In September 2008, the two houses of Parliament elected Zardari president by a wide margin. He faces the overwhelming task of rooting out members of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, who control much of the country's tribal areas. He also promised to improve the relationship between Parliament and the presidency. "Parliament will be sovereign,” he said. “This president shall be subservient to the Parliament.”
The Pakistani military launched a three-week-long cross-border air assault into Afghanistan's Bajaur region throughout August, which resulted in more than 400 Taliban casualties. The continuous airstrikes forced many al-Qaeda and Taliban militants to retreat from towns formally under their control. However, the Pakistani government declared a cease-fire in the Bajaur region for the month of September in observance of Ramadan, raising fears that the Taliban will use the opportunity to regroup.
In its first acknowledged ground attack inside Pakistan, U.S. commandos in September raided a village that was home to al-Qaeda militants in the tribal region near the border with Afghanistan. The New York Times later reported that in July, President Bush authorized U.S. Special Operations troops to launch ground attacks inside Pakistan without seeking approval from the Pakistani government. The report said the U.S. would, however, alert Pakistan to attacks. A top Pakistani military leader said the army will not tolerate such attacks.
A truck bomb exploded outside the popular Marriott Hotel in Islamabad in September 2008, killing more than 50 people and wounding hundreds. The bomb went off as government leaders, including the president and prime minister, were dining a few hundred yards away, at the prime minister's residence. It is one of the worst terrorist attacks in Pakistan's history.