Flag of Pakistan

Flag of Pakistan

Flag of Pakistan
Flag of Pakistan

Flag of Pakistan

Whitney Smith
Former Director, Flag Research Center, Winchester, Massachusetts. Author of Flags and Arms Across the World and others.
See Article History
Flag of Pakistan
national flag consisting of a green field with a large white crescent and star; at the hoist end is a vertical white stripe. The flag’s width-to-length ratio is 2 to 3.
When the independence struggle in British-dominated India began, many Muslims preferred to create a new state where they would be the majority. Therefore the All India Muslim League was founded as part of the broader movement toward Indian independence. At their first meeting, held on December 30, 1906, in what is today Dhākā, the capital of Bangladesh, they approved the Muslim League flag. Its green background and white star and crescent symbol were widely recognized as Islamic emblems. The star and crescent, adopted by Muslim states from earlier usage, today provide a striking Islamic symbol frequently found on flags, on buildings, and in the visual arts.

At midnight on August 14/15, 1947, Pakistan became independent under a national flag that differed from that of the Muslim League only in having a white vertical stripe at the hoist. It was explained that white represented all the colours in the spectrum and therefore appropriately stood for all minority religious groups in the country. Green and white were further seen as symbols of prosperity and peace; the crescent was referred to as a symbol of progress; and the star was called an emblem of knowledge and light. No change was made in the flag when Pakistan became a republic nor when the eastern half of the country separated in 1972 to become Bangladesh.

Whitney Smith
LEARN MORE in these related Britannica articles:
Crescent, political, military, and religious emblem of the Byzantine and Turkish empires and, later and more generally, of all Islāmic countries. The Moon in its first quarter was a religious symbol from earliest times and figured, for…
Muslim League
Muslim League, political group that led the movement calling for a separate Muslim nation to be created at the time of the partition of British India (1947). The Muslim League was founded in 1906 to safeguard the rights of Indian Muslims. At first the…
Pakistan, populous and multiethnic country of South Asia. Having a predominately Indo-Iranian speaking population, Pakistan has historically and culturally been associated with its neighbours Iran, Afghanistan, and India. Since Pakistan and India achieved independence in 1947, Pakistan has been distinguished from its larger southeastern neighbour by its overwhelmingly Muslim population…
newsletter icon
Sign up here to see what happened On This Day, every day in your inbox!
Email address
Email address
By signing up, you agree to our Privacy Notice.

Flag of the United States of America
Flag of Nepal
Flag of India
Flag of Canada
Flag of Australia
Flag of Germany
Flag of France
Flag of New Zealand
Flag of Italy
Flag of Mexico

ArticleMediaAdditional Info
Introduction & Quick Facts
Relief and drainage
The Himalayan and Karakoram ranges
The Hindu Kush and the western mountains
The Balochistan plateau
The submontane plateau
The Indus River plain
The desert areas
Plant and animal life
Ethnic composition
Linguistic composition
Settlement patterns
Traditional regions
Rural settlement
Urban settlement
Demographic trends
Agriculture, forestry, and fishing
Resources and power
Hydrocarbons and power
Labour and taxation
Transportation and telecommunications
Government and society
Constitutional framework
Local government
Political process
Health and welfare
Cultural life
Daily life and social customs
The arts
Cultural institutions
Sports and recreation
Media and publishing
Background to partition
The Muslim League and Mohammed Ali Jinnah
Birth of the new state
The early republic
Liaquat Ali Khan
Political decline and bureaucratic ascendancy
Military government
From disunion through the Zia al-Huq era
Civil war
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto
Zia ul-Haq
Political and social fragmentation
The first administration of Benazir Bhutto
The first administration of Nawaz Sharif
The interim government
The second administration of Benazir Bhutto
The second administration of Nawaz Sharif
Continuing challenges: conflict, a stalled economy, and nuclear tests
Growing unrest, tension with the military, and Sharif’s ouster
The Pervez Musharraf government
Relations with the United States, consolidation of Musharraf’s rule, and meetings with India
Hesitant rejection of Islamist militants
Reinstated constitution
Electoral losses and resignation
Pakistan under Zardari
U.S. drone strikes, floods of 2010, and religious tensions
Osama bin Laden discovered and killed
Defeat at the polls
The third administration of Nawaz Sharif
Domestic and foreign policy
Disqualification from office
Arrest and party defeat
Imran Khan’s premiership
Geography & Travel
Countries of the World

Shahid Javed Burki See All Contributors
Director, International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Washington, D.C. Author of Pakistan Under Bhutto and others.
Last Updated: Nov 27, 2020 See Article History
Alternative Titles: Islām-ī Jamhūrīya-e Pākistān, Islamic Republic of Pakistan, Pakstan
Pakistan, populous and multiethnic country of South Asia. Having a predominately Indo-Iranian speaking population, Pakistan has historically and culturally been associated with its neighbours Iran, Afghanistan, and India. Since Pakistan and India achieved independence in 1947, Pakistan has been distinguished from its larger southeastern neighbour by its overwhelmingly Muslim population (as opposed to the predominance of Hindus in India). Pakistan has struggled throughout its existence to attain political stability and sustained social development. Its capital is Islamabad, in the foothills of the Himalayas in the northern part of the country, and its largest city is Karachi, in the south on the coast of the Arabian Sea.

Pakistan. Political map: boundaries, cities. Includes locator.
Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.
French and English Stop and no Parking Signs
Official Languages: Fact or Fiction?
Is Spanish the official language of Andorra? Is Portugese the official language of Brazil? Sort fact from fiction, and test your fluency in this quiz of official languages.
Pakistan was brought into being at the time of the partition of British India, in response to the demands of Islamic nationalists: as articulated by the All India Muslim League under the leadership of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, India’s Muslims would receive just representation only in their own country. From independence until 1971, Pakistan (both de facto and in law) consisted of two regions—West Pakistan, in the Indus River basin in the northwestern portion of the Indian subcontinent, and East Pakistan, located more than 1,000 miles (1,600 km) to the east in the vast delta of the Ganges-Brahmaputra river system. In response to grave internal political problems that erupted in civil war in 1971, East Pakistan was proclaimed the independent country of Bangladesh.

Pakistan encompasses a rich diversity of landscapes, starting in the northwest, from the soaring Pamirs and the Karakoram Range through a maze of mountain ranges, a complex of valleys, and inhospitable plateaus, down to the remarkably even surface of the fertile Indus River plain, which drains southward into the Arabian Sea. It contains a section of the ancient Silk Road and the Khyber Pass, the famous passageway that has brought outside influences into the otherwise isolated subcontinent. Lofty peaks such as K2 and Nanga Parbat, in the Pakistani-administered region of Kashmir, present a challenging lure to mountain climbers. Along the Indus River, the artery of the country, the ancient site of Mohenjo-daro marks one of the cradles of civilization.

Terraced fields in the Hunza River valley, Karakoram Range, Northern Areas, Pakistani-administered Kashmir.
Terraced fields in the Hunza River valley, Karakoram Range, Northern Areas, Pakistani-administered Kashmir.
© Jeffrey Alford/Asia Access


Yet, politically and culturally, Pakistan has struggled to define itself. Established as a parliamentary democracy that espoused secular ideas, the country has experienced repeated military coups, and religion—that is to say, adherence to the values of Sunni Islam—has increasingly become a standard by which political leaders are measured. In addition, northern Pakistan—particularly the Federally Administered Tribal Areas—has become a haven for members of neighbouring Afghanistan’s ousted Taliban regime and for members of numerous other Islamic extremist groups. In various parts of the country, instances of ethnic, religious, and social conflict have flared up from time to time, often rendering those areas virtually ungovernable by the central authorities, and acts of violence against religious minorities have increased.

Save 50% off a Britannica Premium subscription and gain access to exclusive content.
Subscribe today
At the time of partition in 1947, as many as 10 million Muslim refugees fled their homes in India and sought refuge in Pakistan—about 8 million in West Pakistan. Virtually an equal number of Hindus and Sikhs were uprooted from their land and familiar surroundings in what became Pakistan, and they fled to India. Unlike the earlier migrations, which took centuries to unfold, these chaotic population transfers took hardly one year. The resulting impact on the life of the subcontinent has reverberated ever since in the rivalries between the two countries, and each has continued to seek a lasting modus vivendi with the other. Pakistan and India have fought four wars, three of which (1948–49, 1965, and 1999) were over Kashmir. Since 1998 both countries have also possessed nuclear weapons, further heightening tensions between them.

Pakistan is bounded by Iran to the west, Afghanistan to the northwest and north, China to the northeast, and India to the east and southeast. The coast of the Arabian Sea forms its southern border.

Since 1947 the Kashmir region, along the western Himalayas, has been disputed, with Pakistan, India, and China each controlling sections of the territory. Part of the Pakistani-administered territory comprises the so-called Azad Kashmir (“Free Kashmir”) region—which Pakistan nonetheless considers an independent state, with its capital at Muzaffarabad. The remainder of Pakistani-administered Kashmir consists of Gilgit and Baltistan, known collectively as the Northern Areas.

Relief and drainage
Pakistan is situated at the western end of the great Indo-Gangetic Plain. Of the total area of the country, about three-fifths consists of rough mountainous terrain and plateaus, and the remaining two-fifths constitutes a wide expanse of level plain. The land can be divided into five major regions: the Himalayan and Karakoram ranges and their subranges; the Hindu Kush and western mountains; the Balochistan plateau; the submontane plateau (Potwar Plateau, Salt Range, trans-Indus plain, and Sialkot area); and the Indus River plain. Within each major division there are further subdivisions, including a number of desert areas.

Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

flag of Pakistan
National anthem of Pakistan
Islamic Republic of Pakistan
federal republic with two legislative houses (Senate [104]; National Assembly [342])
President: Arif Alvi
Prime Minister: Imran Khan
English; Urdu
Pakistani rupee (PKR)
1 USD equals 168.249 Pakistani rupee
(2019 est.) 219,382,000
(2019) 5
(2018) 629.2
(2018) 242.9
Urban: (2016) 44.3%
Rural: (2016) 55.7%
Male: (2017) 66.1 years
Female: (2017) 70.1 years
Male: (2015) 72.2%
Female: (2015) 47.3%
GNI (U.S.$ ’000,000)
(2017) 311,667
(2017) 1,580
The Himalayan and Karakoram ranges
The Himalayas, which have long been a physical and cultural divide between South and Central Asia, form the northern rampart of the subcontinent, and their western ranges occupy the entire northern end of Pakistan, extending about 200 miles (320 km) into the country. Spreading over Kashmir and northern Pakistan, the western Himalayan system splits into three distinct ranges, which are, from south to north, the Pir Panjal Range, the Zaskar Range, and the Ladakh Range. Farther north is the Karakoram Range, which is a separate system adjoining the Himalayas. This series of ranges varies in elevation from roughly 13,000 feet (4,000 metres) to higher than 19,500 feet (6,000 metres) above sea level. Four of the region’s peaks exceed 26,000 feet (8,000 metres), and many rise to heights of more than 15,000 feet (4,500 metres). These include such towering peaks as Nanga Parbat (26,660 feet [8,126 metres]) and K2, also called Godwin Austen (28,251 feet [8,611 metres]), in the Northern Areas.

K2 (Mount Godwin Austen), in the Karakoram Range, viewed from the Gilgit-Baltistan district of the Pakistani-administered portion of the Kashmir region.
K2 (Mount Godwin Austen), in the Karakoram Range, viewed from the Gilgit-Baltistan district of the Pakistani-administered portion of the Kashmir region.
Several important rivers flow from, or through, the mountains of Kashmir into Pakistan. From the Pir Panjal Range flows the Jhelum River (which bisects the famous Vale of Kashmir); the Indus River descends between the Zaskar and Ladakh ranges; and the Shyok River rises in the Karakoram Range. South of the Pir Panjal is the northwestern extension of the Shiwalik Range (there rising to about 600 to 900 feet [200 to 300 metres]), which extend over the southern part of the Hazara and Murree hills and include the hills surrounding Rawalpindi and neighbouring Islamabad.

The Shyok River near Skardu, Northern Areas, Pakistan.
The Shyok River near Skardu, Northern Areas, Pakistan.
© Brian A. Vikander
Beyond the Karakoram Range in the extreme north lies the Uygur Autonomous Region of Xinjiang, China; to the northwest, beyond the Hindu Kush, are the Pamirs, where only the Vākhān (Wakhan Corridor), a narrow strip of Afghan territory, separates Pakistan from Tajikistan. The Himalayan massif was pierced in 1970 when Chinese and Pakistani engineers completed the Karakoram Highway across the Karakoram Range, linking the town of Gilgit in the Northern Areas with Kashgar (Kashi) in Xinjiang. The highway, a marvel of modern technology, carries considerable commerce between the two countries but has promoted little cultural exchange.

The northern mountain barrier influences the precipitation pattern in Pakistan by intercepting monsoon (rain-bearing) winds from the south. Melting snow and glacial meltwater from the mountains also feed the rivers, including the Indus, which emerge from the east-west-aligned ranges to flow southward. Siachen Glacier, one of the world’s longest mountain glaciers, feeds the Nubra River, a tributary of the Shyok. The many glaciers in this region, particularly those of the Karakoram Range, are among the few in the world to have grown in size since the late 20th century.

The northern and western regions of the country are subject to frequent seismic activity—the natural consequence of a geologically young mountain system. Minor earth tremors are common throughout the region. However, a number of earthquakes have been severe and highly destructive, given the fact that many buildings are poorly constructed and that those in the mountains are often precipitously perched. Historically recent major quakes in Pakistan include those in 1935, 1945, 1974, and 2005. The latter two were in the far north of the country, and the 2005 quake—centred in the mountainous border region of the North-West Frontier Province (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) and Azad Kashmir—killed some 80,000 to 90,000 people and left the entire area devastated.

The population in this inhospitable northern region is generally sparse, although in a few favoured places it is dense. In most of the tiny settlements of this region, the usual crop is barley; fruit cultivation, especially apricots, is of special importance. Timber, mainly species of pine, is found in some parts, but its occurrence varies with precipitation and elevation. Many slopes have been denuded of cover by excessive timber felling and overgrazing.

The Hindu Kush and the western mountains
In far northern Pakistan the Hindu Kush branches off southwestward from the nodal orogenic uplift known as the Pamir Knot. The ridges of the Hindu Kush generally trend from northeast to southwest, while those of the Karakorams run in a southeast-northwest direction from the knot. The Hindu Kush is made up of two distinct ranges, a main crest line that is cut by transverse streams, and a watershed range to the west of the main range, in Afghanistan, that divides the Indus system of rivers from the Amu Darya (ancient Oxus River) drainage basin. From the Hindu Kush, several branches run southward through the areas of Chitral, Dir, and Swat, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. These branches have deep, narrow valleys along the Kunar, Panjkora, and Swat rivers. In the extreme northern portion, the ranges are capped with perpetual snow and ice; high peaks include Tirich Mir, which rises to 25,230 feet (7,690 metres). The valley sides are generally bare on account of their isolation from the precipitation-bearing influences. Toward the south the region is largely covered with forests of deodar (a type of cedar) and pine and also has extensive grasslands.

Pakistan: Hindu Kush
Pakistan: Hindu Kush
Wildflowers blooming in the Hindu Kush in the Chitral district of northern Pakistan.
© Brian A. Vikander
The Safid Mountain Range, lying south of the Kābul River and forming a border with Afghanistan, trends roughly east to west and rises throughout to an elevation of about 14,000 feet (4,300 metres). Its outliers are spread over Kohat district, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. South of the Safid Range are the hills of Waziristan, which are crossed by the Kurram and Tochi rivers, and even farther south is the Gumal River. Comparatively broad mountain passes are located south of the Kābul River. They are, from north to south, the Khyber, Kurram, Tochi, Gomal, and Bolan. The Khyber Pass is of special historical interest: broad enough to allow for the passing of large numbers of troops, it has often been the point of ingress for armies invading the subcontinent.

The Khyber Pass, on Pakistan’s northwestern border with Afghanistan.
The Khyber Pass, on Pakistan’s northwestern border with Afghanistan.
Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.
South of the Gumal River, the Sulaiman Range runs in a roughly north-south direction. The highest point of that range, Takht-e Sulaiman, has twin peaks, the higher of which reaches 18,481 feet (5,633 metres). The Sulaiman Range tapers into the Marri and Bugti hills in the south. The Sulaiman and, farther south, the low Kirthar Range separate the Balochistan plateau from the Indus plain.


Education: The postindependence period in Pakistan
South Asian arts: Pakistan
History of publishing: India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan
Nuclear weapon: Pakistan
Postal system: Pakistan
Intelligence: Pakistan
Cricket: Pakistan
The Balochistan plateau
The vast tableland of Balochistan contains a great variety of physical features. In the northeast a basin centred on the towns of Zhob and Loralai forms a trellis-patterned lobe that is surrounded on all sides by mountain ranges. To the east and southeast is the Sulaiman Range, which joins the Central Brahui Range near Quetta, and to the north and northwest is the Toba Kakar Range (which farther west becomes the Khwaja Amran Range). The hilly terrain becomes less severe southwestward in the form of Ras Koh Range. The small Quetta basin is surrounded on all sides by mountains. The whole area appears to form a node of high ranges. West of the Ras Koh Range, the general landform of northwestern Balochistan is a series of low-lying plateaus divided by hills. In the north the Chagai Hills border a region of true desert, consisting of inland drainage and hamuns (playas).

Beach. Sand. Ocean. Vacation. Sunset casts an orange glow over Ipanema Beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Places in Music
How well do you know your musical places? From AC/DC to Bruce Springsteen, test your knowledge of the origins of various musicians and groups in this quiz.
Southern Balochistan is a vast wilderness of mountain ranges, of which the Central Brahui Range is the backbone. The easternmost Kirthar Range is backed by the Pab Range in the west. Other important ranges of southern Balochistan are the Central Makran Range and the Makran Coast Range, whose steep face to the south divides the coastal plain from the rest of the plateau. The Makran coastal track mostly comprises level mud flats surrounded by sandstone ridges. The isolation of the arid plain has been broken by an ongoing development project at Gwadar, which is linked with Karachi via an improved road transport system.

The submontane plateau
Lying south of the northern mountain rampart, the submontane plateau has four distinct divisions—the Trans-Indus plains, the Potwar Plateau, the Salt Range, and the Sialkot region.

The Trans-Indus plains, west of the Indus River, comprise the hill-girt plateaus of the Vale of Peshawar and of Kohat and Bannu, all of which are oases in the arid, scrub-covered landscape of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Of these, the Vale of Peshawar is the most fertile. Gravel or clay alluvial detritus covers much of the area and is formed from loose particles or fragments separated from masses of rock by erosion and other forces. Annual precipitation is generally limited to between 10 and 15 inches (250 and 380 mm), and most of the cultivated area in the Vale of Peshawar is irrigated from canals.

Kohat is less developed than the Vale of Peshawar. Precipitation is about 16 inches (400 mm). Only a small percentage of the cultivated area is canal-irrigated, and its groundwater is not adequately exploited, although the water table is generally high. Much of the area consists of scrub and poor grazing land. The region is much broken by limestone ridges, and the uneven limestone floor is variously filled with lacustrine clays, gravel, or boulders.

In Bannu, about one-fourth of the cultivated area is irrigated. Annual precipitation is low, amounting to about 11 inches (275 mm). Fat-tailed sheep, camels, and donkeys are raised in Kohat and Bannu; wool is an important cash crop.

The Potwar Plateau covers an area of about 5,000 square miles (13,000 square km) and lies at an elevation of some 1,200 to 1,900 feet (350 to 575 metres). It is bounded on the east by the Jhelum River and on the west by the Indus River. On the north, the Kala Chitta Range and Margala Hills (at about 3,000 to 5,000 feet [900 to 1,500 metres]) form its boundary. Toward the south it gradually slopes into the Salt Range, which presents a steep face rising to about 2,000 feet (600 metres) even farther south. The middle of the Potwar Plateau is occupied by the structurally downwarped basin of the Soan River. The general terrain of the basin consists of interlaced ravines, which are locally known as khaderas and are set deep in the soft Shiwalik beds of which the whole area is composed. The surface layer of the area is formed of windblown loessic silt, deteriorating into sand and gravel toward the hill slopes. The small Rawalpindi plain in the north is the location of the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad.

The Potwar Plateau receives modest annual precipitation, averaging between 15 and 20 inches (380 to 510 mm). Though precipitation is somewhat higher in the northwest, the southwest is very arid. The landscape is dissected and eroded by streams that, during the rains, cut into the land and wash away the soil. The streams are generally deep set and are of little or no use for irrigation. It is generally a poor agricultural area, and its population puts excessive pressure on its resources.

The Salt Range is an extremely arid territory that marks the boundary between the submontane region and the Indus River plain to the south. The highest point of the Salt Range, Mount Sakesar, lies at 4,992 feet (1,522 metres). The Salt Range is of interest to geologists because it contains the most complete geologic sequence in the world, in which rocks from early Cambrian times (about 540 million years ago) to the Pleistocene Epoch (about 2,600,000 to 11,700 years ago) are exposed in an unbroken sequence.

The Sialkot region is a narrow submontane area in the northeast. Unlike the Potwar Plateau, it is a rich agricultural region. Precipitation varies from 25 to 35 inches (650 to 900 mm) per year, and the water table is high, facilitating well (and tube-well) irrigation; the soil is heavy and highly fertile. The population distribution is dense, and the land is divided into small farms on which intensive cultivation is practiced.

The Indus River plain
The Indus River plain is a vast expanse of fertile land, covering about 200,000 square miles (518,000 square km), with a gentle slope from the Himalayan piedmont in the north to the Arabian Sea in the south. The average gradient of the slope is no more than 1 foot per mile (1 metre per 5 km). Except for the micro relief, the plain is featureless. It is divisible into two sections, the upper and lower Indus plains, on account of their differing physiographic features. The upper Indus plain is drained by the Indus together with its tributaries, the Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas, and Sutlej rivers, forming a developed system of interfluves, known locally as doabs, in Punjab province (Persian panj āb, “five waters,” in reference to the five rivers). In the lower plain the Indus River has a Nilotic character; i.e., it forms a single large river with no significant tributaries. The plain narrows to form a corridor near Mithankot, where the Sulaiman Range comes close to the plain and the Indus merges with its last major tributary, the Panjnad River (which is itself merely the confluence of the five Punjab rivers). Flooding is a perennial problem, especially along the Indus, as a consequence of heavy rains (usually in July and August).

The upper Indus plain consists of three subdivisions: the Himalayan piedmont, the doabs, and the Sulaiman piedmont (referred to locally as the Derajat). The Himalayan piedmont, or the sub-Shiwalik zone, is a narrow strip of land where the rivers enter into the plain from their mountain stage, thereby giving each a somewhat steeper gradient. The zone is characterized by numerous rivulets, which have produced a broken topography in parts of the zone. These streams remain dry except in the rainy season, when they swell into gushing streams with considerable erosive power.

The doabs between the various rivers display similar micro relief, which comprises four distinct landforms—active floodplains, meander floodplains, cover floodplains, and scalloped interfluves. An active floodplain (known locally as a khaddar or bet), which lies adjacent to a river, is often called “the summer bed of rivers,” as it is inundated almost every rainy season. It is the scene of changing river channels, though protective bunds (levees) have been built at many places on the outer margin of the bet to contain the river water in the rainy season. Adjoining the active floodplain is the meander floodplain, which occupies higher ground away from the river and is littered with bars, oxbow lakes, extinct channels, and levees. The cover floodplain is an expanse of geologically recent alluvium, the result of sheet flooding, in which alluvium covers the former riverine features. The scalloped interfluves, or bars, are the central, higher parts of the doab, with old alluvium of relatively uniform texture. The boundaries of the scalloped features are formed by river-cut scarps at places over 20 feet (6 metres) high. The generally level surface of this section of the plain is broken into small pockets in Chiniot and at Sangla Hill, near the much denuded Kirana Hills, which stand out in jagged pinnacles. These hills are considered to be the outliers of the Aravali Range of India.

The largest but poorest of the doabs is the Sind (Sindh) Sagar Doab, which is mostly desert and is situated between the Indus and Jhelum rivers. The doabs that lie to the east of it, however, constitute the richest agricultural lands in the country. Until the advent of irrigation, at the end of the 19th century, much of the area was a desolate waste, because of the low amount of precipitation. But irrigation has been a mixed blessing; it has also caused waterlogging and salinity in some places. In an attempt to correct this problem, the Pakistan government, with the financial support of such international agencies as the World Bank, constructed the Left Bank Outfall Drain (LBOD) in the 1980s and ’90s. The intent was to build a large artificial waterway roughly east of and parallel to the Indus to carry salt water from the plains of Punjab and Sind (Sindh) provinces to the Arabian Sea coast in the Badin region of southeastern Sind. The final segment of the LBOD consisted of building a “tidal drain” 26 miles (42 km) to the sea. However, instead of draining salt water away, the improperly designed tidal drain produced an environmental disaster in southeastern Sind: large portions of the land and freshwater lakes and ponds were flooded by salt water, crops were ruined, and freshwater fisheries were destroyed. The tidal drain issue was further complicated by instances of severe weather in the coastal region, including a destructive tropical cyclone in 1999 and torrential rains there and in Balochistan in 2007—both of which caused many deaths and forced the evacuation of tens of thousands of people. After the 2007 storms, the people of Badin called on the government to cease using the LBOD.

The Sulaiman piedmont is different from the Himalayan piedmont in that it is generally dry. Seamed with numerous streams and wadis, the surface is undulating. The gradient of the streams is comparatively steep, the floodplains are narrow, and the right bank of the Indus sometimes rises just above the main channel.

The lower Indus plain, the course of which goes through Sind province, is flat, with a gradient as slight as 1 foot per 3 miles (1 metre per 10 km). The micro relief is quite similar to that of the upper Indus plain. The valley of the Indus and its banks have risen higher than the surrounding land as a result of the aggradational work of the river; and though the river is lined with flood-protecting bunds along its course, the alluvial sands and clays of the soil tend to give way before floods, leading the river to change course frequently. The level surface of the plain is disturbed at Sukkur and Hyderabad, where there are random outcroppings of limestone. The Indus delta has its apex near Thatta, below which distributaries of the river spread out to form the deltaic plain. To the southeast of that point is the Rann of Kachchh (Kutch), which is an expanse of saline marsh. The coastal tract is low and flat, except where the Pabbi Hills meet the coast between Karachi and Ras Muari (Cape Monze).

Section of the Sukkur Barrage irrigation project, on the Indus River, Pakistan.
Section of the Sukkur Barrage irrigation project, on the Indus River, Pakistan.
Frederic Ohringer—Nancy Palmer Agency/Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.
Manchhar, a marshy lake west of the Indus, has an area of 14 square miles (36 square km) at low water but extends for no less than 200 square miles (500 square km) when full; on such occasions it is one of the largest freshwater lakes in South Asia. The quality of groundwater in the Indus plain varies, that in the southern zone (Sind) being mostly saline and unfit for agricultural use. Extensive areas in both the northern and southern zones of the plain have been affected by waterlogging and salinity. In the south the Indus delta (in marked contrast to the Ganges-Brahmaputra delta) is a wild waste. When high tides and Indus floods coincide, the littoral is flooded for some 20 miles (30 km) inland.

The desert areas
The southeastern part of the Indus plain, from eastern Bahawalpur to the Thar Parkar region in the south, is a typical desert, an extension of the Thar Desert between Pakistan and India. It is separated from the central irrigated zone of the plains by the dry bed of the Ghaggar River in Bahawalpur and the eastern Nara Canal in Sind. The desert is variously known as the Cholistan or Rohi Desert in Bahawalpur and the Pat or Thar Desert in Sind. The surface of the desert is a wild maze of sand dunes and sand ridges. Most of the Sind Sagar Doab, the most western of the doabs of Punjab, was an unproductive wasteland (known as the Thal Desert) before the construction of the Jinnah Barrage on the Indus River near Kalabagh in 1946. The Thal canal system, which draws water from the barrage, has turned parts of the desert into fertile cultivated land.

Pakistan’s soils are classified as pedocals, which comprise a dry soil group with high concentrations of calcium carbonate and a low content of organic matter; they are characteristic of a land with low and erratic precipitation. The major soil groupings are Indus basin soils, mountain soils, and sandy desert soils. However, the very mode of soil formation gives rise to their diversification even within small areas. These soils vary in texture, chemical composition, colour, and organic content from place to place.

The Indus basin soils are mostly thick alluvium deposited by rivers and are of recent origin. Soils in the vicinity of river courses are the most recent and vary in texture from sand to silt loam and silty clay loams. They have a low organic content and are collectively known as the khaddar soils. Away from the river, toward the middle of the doabs, older alluvial soils (called bangar) are widely distributed. These soils are medium to fine in texture, have low organic content, and are highly productive under conditions of irrigation and fertilization. In some waterlogged areas, however, these soils are salinized. Strongly alkaline soils are localized in some small patches. In the submontane areas under subhumid conditions these soils are noncalcareous and have slightly higher organic content. In the delta the estuarine soils are excessively saline and barren.

Mountain soils are both residual (i.e., formed in a stationary position) and transported. Shallow residual soils have developed along the slopes and in the broken hill country. Those soils generally are strongly calcareous and have low organic content, but under subhumid conditions their organic content increases.

Sandy desert soils cover the Cholistan part of Sind Sagar Doab and western Balochistan. They include both shifting sandy soils and clayey floodplain soils. These include moderately calcareous and eolian (wind-borne) soils.

Aridity is the most pervasive aspect of Pakistan’s climate, and its continental nature can be seen in the extremes of temperature. Pakistan is situated on the edge of a monsoonal (i.e., wet-dry) system. Precipitation throughout the country generally is erratic, and its volume is highly variable. The rainy monsoon winds, the exact margins of which vary from year to year, blow in intermittent bursts, and most moisture comes in the summer. Tropical storms from the Arabian Sea provide precipitation to the coastal areas but are also variable in character.

The efficiency of the monsoonal precipitation is poor, because of its concentration from early July to mid-September, when high temperatures maximize loss through evaporation. In the north the mean annual precipitation at Peshawar is 13 inches (330 mm), and at Rawalpindi it reaches 37 inches (950 mm). In the plains, however, mean annual precipitation generally decreases from northeast to southwest, falling from about 20 inches (500 mm) at Lahore to less than 5 inches (130 mm) in the Indus River corridor and 3.5 inches (90 mm) at Sukkur. Under maritime influence, precipitation increases slightly to about 6 inches (155 mm) at Hyderabad and 8 inches (200 mm) at Karachi.

The 20-inch (500-mm) precipitation line, which runs northwest from near Lahore, marks off the Potwar Plateau and a part of the Indus plain in the northeast; these areas receive enough rainfall for dry farming (farming without irrigation). South of this region, cultivation is confined mainly to riverine strips until the advent of irrigation. Most of the Balochistan plateau, especially in the west and south, is exceptionally dry.

Pakistan’s continental type of climate is characterized by extreme variations of temperature, both seasonally and daily. High elevations modify the climate in the cold, snow-covered northern mountains; temperatures on the Balochistan plateau are somewhat higher. Along the coastal strip, the climate is modified by sea breezes. In the rest of the country, temperatures reach great extremes in the summer; the mean temperature during June is 100 °F (38 °C) in the plains, where the highest temperatures can exceed 117 °F (47 °C). Jacobabad, in Sind, has recorded the highest temperature in Pakistan, 127 °F (53 °C). In the summer, hot winds called loos blow across the plains during the day. Trees shed their leaves to avoid excessive moisture loss. The dry, hot weather is broken occasionally by dust storms and thunderstorms that temporarily lower the temperature. Evenings are cool; the diurnal variation in temperature may be as much as 20 to 30 °F (11 to 17 °C). Winters are cold, with minimum mean temperatures of about 40 °F (4 °C) in January.

Plant and animal life
Differences of latitude, elevation, soil type, and climate have favoured a variety of plant growth. Drought-resistant vegetation in the desert consists of stunted thorny scrub, mostly acacia. The plains present a parkland view of scattered trees. Dry scrub forests, called rakhs, grow in parts of the arid plain. In the northern and northwestern foothills and plains, shrub forests, principally acacia, and wild olive are found. In the wetter parts of the northern and northwestern mountains, evergreen coniferous softwood forests, with some broad-leaved species, grow. Fir, deodar, blue pine (Pinus wallichiana), and spruce are the principal coniferous trees. At lower elevations, below 3,000 feet (900 metres), broad-leaved oaks, maples, birches, walnuts, and chestnuts predominate. Conifers are an important source of commercial timber. In the arid landscape of the Potwar Plateau, some hills are only thinly wooded. In the northern ranges of the Balochistan plateau are some groves of pine and olive. The babul tree (Acacia arabica) is common in the Indus River valley, as are many species of fruit trees. The country’s forest cover is naturally sparse, but it has been diminished further by excessive timber cutting and overgrazing.

Destruction of natural habitats and excessive hunting have led to a reduction in the range of animal life in large parts of the country, but wildlife can still be found in abundance in some areas. The variety of large mammals in the northern mountains includes brown bears, Asiatic black bears (Ursus thibetanus, also known as the Himalayan bear), leopards, rare snow leopards, Siberian ibex (Capra ibex sibirica), and wild sheep, including markhors, Marco Polo sheep (Ovis ammon polii, a type of argali), and Chiltan wild goats (Capra aegagrus chialtanensis).

Manchhar Lake in Sind has many aquatic birds, including mallards, teals, shovelers, spoonbills, geese, pochards, and wood ducks. Crocodiles, gavials (crocodile-like reptiles), pythons, and wild boars inhabit the Indus River delta area. The Indus River itself is home to the Indus river dolphin, a freshwater dolphin whose habitat has been severely stressed by hunting, pollution, and the creation of dams and barrages. At least two types of sea turtles, the green and olive ridley, nest on the Makran coast.

Desert gazelles are widely distributed, including nilgais, chinkaras (Gazella gazella bennetti), and muntjacs. Jackals, foxes, and various wild cats (including Eurasian lynxes, caracals, fishing cats, and jungle cats [Felis chaus]) are also found throughout the country. Despite occasional reported sightings of the Asiatic cheetah, that species is likely extinct in Pakistan. A series of national parks and game preserves was established beginning in the 1970s. However, a number of species have been declared endangered, including the Indus river dolphin, snow leopard, and gavial.

Ethnic composition
The area currently occupied by Pakistan has long been a route of military conquest and an entrepôt for peoples and cultures. It is therefore a significant cultural and ethnic melting pot. Modern Pakistan’s population can be divided broadly into five major and several minor ethnic groups. The Punjabis, who constitute roughly half of the population, are the single largest group. The Pashtuns (Pathans) account for about one-eighth of the population, and Sindhis form a somewhat smaller group. Of the remaining population, the muhajirs—Muslims who fled to Pakistan after the partition in 1947—and Balochs constitute the largest groups.

Pakistan: Ethnic composition
Pakistan: Ethnic composition
Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.
There are subgroups within each of these five categories, as well as a number of smaller ethnic groups not included among them. The Arains, Rajputs, and Jats—all Punjabis—regard themselves as ethnically distinct. Some groups overlap the five categories; for instance, there are Punjabi Pashtuns as well as Hazarvi Pashtuns. Some smaller groups, such as the Brahuis in Sindh (Sind) and the Siraikis in Punjab, are also ethnically distinct. Tribal Pashtuns are another subgroup of the Pashtun constellation. Divided into numerous tribal orders, they inhabit the mountainous region along the Afghan frontier. Among these are the Yusufzai, Orakzai, Swati, Afridi, Wazir, Mohmand, and Mahsud. Other unique tribal peoples are found still farther north in the remoter mountain regions of Dir, Chitral, Hunza, and Gilgit.

Linguistic composition
Pakistan is, in general, linguistically heterogeneous, and no single language can be said to be common to the whole population. Each of its principal languages has a strong regional focus, although statistics show some languages to be distributed between various provinces because administrative boundaries cut across linguistic regions. The picture is also complicated by the fact that, especially in Sindh, there are substantial numbers of Urdu- and Punjabi-speaking muhajirs. In addition to Urdu and Punjabi, other languages claimed as mother tongues include Sindhi, Pashto, Siraiki, Balochi, and Brahui.

Having originated during the Mughal period (early 16th to mid-18th century), Urdu is the youngest of the country’s languages and is not indigenous to Pakistan. It is similar to Hindi, the most widely spoken language of India. Although the two languages have a common base, in its literary form Urdu emphasizes words of Persian and Arabic origin, whereas Hindi emphasizes words of Sanskrit origin. Urdu is written in a modified version of the Persian script, whereas Hindi is written in Devanagari script. Because it is predominantly the language of the educated Muslims of northern India, including the Punjab, Urdu has strong associations with Muslim nationalism—hence the ideological significance of Urdu in Pakistani politics. Urdu is the mother tongue of only a small proportion of the population of Pakistan, but it is the country’s only official language; it is taught in the schools along with the regional languages.

The 1956 constitution prescribed the use of English (the administrative language during the colonial period) for official purposes for 20 years, and the 1962 constitution made that use indefinite. The 1973 constitution, however, designated a 15-year transition period to Urdu, after which English would no longer be used for official purposes. That provision of the constitution has not been fully implemented. English is still taught and used in schools at all levels, and it remains the lingua franca of the government, intelligentsia, and military. With the exception of this educated elite, English is spoken fluently by only a small percentage of the population. Many English words and phrases, however, have worked their way into local parlance, and most Pakistanis with even a modest education have some grasp of the language.

Urdu, rather than Punjabi, is the first language taught in virtually all schools in Punjab province, so every educated Punjabi reads and writes Urdu. In Pakistan, Punjabi is mainly spoken rather than written, and it is a predominantly rural rather than urban language. A movement to promote the Punjabi language began in the 1980s, and some Punjabi literature has been published using the Urdu script; among the works published are Punjabi classics that have hitherto been available in Gurmukhi script (in which Punjabi is written in India) or preserved in oral tradition.

Sindhi is derived from the Virachada dialect of the Prakrit languages. It has fewer dialects than Punjabi and is written in a special variant of the Arabic script. Prior to the partition of India in 1947, most of the educated middle class in Sindh were Hindu, and their departure to India at that time had a traumatic effect on Sindhi culture. Vigorous efforts were therefore directed toward recovering and preserving the rich Sindhi literary and cultural heritage. Large numbers of Urdu-speaking refugees settled in Sindh and came to constitute the majority of the population of its larger towns. As a consequence, the movement for the promotion of Sindhi language and culture was sometimes expressed as opposition toward Urdu. The Sindhi population feared that their language and culture would be overrun by the language and culture of the predominantly Urdu-speaking muhajir community, and that fear led to what became known as the language riots of 1972 and to the national government’s decision to grant special status to the Sindhi language. (The rise of militant ethnic politics in Sindh that began in the 1980s—notably the clashes between native Sindhis and organized members of the muhajir community—likely can be traced to that decision.)

Pashto, the language of the Pashtuns of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, has a scant literary tradition, although it has a rich oral tradition. There are three major dialect patterns within which the various individual dialects may be classified: Northern Pashto (Pakhto), which is the variety spoken along the Afghanistan border and in and around Peshawar; Central Pashto, also called Waziri and Bannochi, spoken in Waziristan, Bannu, and Karak; and Southern Pashto, spoken in Balochistan and Quetta. As in the Punjab, Urdu is the language taught in schools, and educated Pashtuns read and write Urdu. Again, as in the case of Punjabi, there was a movement for developing the written language in Persian script and increasing the usage of Pashto.

Siraiki, also spelled Saraiki or Seraiki, is spoken in Central Pakistan from Mianwali, Punjab, to Khairpur, Sindh, and extends into Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as well. It is linguistically intermediate between Sindhi and Punjabi.

The two main spoken languages of Balochistan are Balochi and Brahui. An important dialect of Balochi, called Makrani or Southern Balochi, is spoken in Makran, the southern region of Balochistan, which borders Iran.

Almost all of the people of Pakistan are Muslims or at least follow Islamic traditions, and Islamic ideals and practices suffuse virtually all parts of Pakistani life. Most Pakistanis belong to the Sunni sect, the major branch of Islam. There are also significant numbers of Shīʿite Muslims. Among Sunnis, Sufism is extremely popular and influential. In addition to the two main groups there is a very small sect called the Aḥmadiyyah, which is also sometimes called the Qadiani (for Qadian, India, where the sect originated).

The role of religion in Pakistani society and politics finds its most visible expression in the Islamic Assembly (Jamāʿat-i Islāmī) party. Founded in 1941 by Abū al-Aʿlā Mawdūdī (Maududi), one of the world’s foremost thinkers in Sunni revivalism, the party has long played a role in Pakistan’s political life and has continually advocated refashioning Pakistan as a chaste Islamic or theocratic state.

The majority of Pakistani Sunnis belong to the Ḥanafiyyah (Hanafite) school, which is one of four major schools (madhhabs) or subsects of Islamic jurisprudence; it is perhaps the most liberal of the four but nevertheless is still demanding in its instructions to the faithful. Two popular reform movements founded in northern India—the Deoband and Barelwi schools—are likewise widespread in Pakistan. Differences between the two movements over a variety of theological issues are significant to the point that violence often has erupted between them. Another group, Tablīghī Jamāʿat (founded 1926), headquartered in Raiwind, near Lahore, is a lay ministry group whose annual conference attracts hundreds of thousands of members from throughout the world. It is perhaps the largest grassroots Muslim organization in the world.

The Wahhābī movement, founded in Arabia, has made inroads in Pakistan, most notably among the tribal Pashtuns in the Afghan border areas. Moreover, after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, Saudi Arabia assisted Pakistan in caring for vast numbers of Afghan refugees in the border areas and in the construction and staffing of thousands of traditional Sunni madrasahs (religious schools). Those schools generally provided instruction along Wahhābī lines, and they subsequently became vehicles for the spreading influence of extremist groups (particularly al-Qaeda and the Taliban of Afghanistan) in Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and elsewhere throughout the country. Although extremism in the name of Islam has become more pronounced in Pakistan since 2000, more-moderate Sunni Muslims are found in the country’s business community, especially among Gujarati Memons and Chiniotis from Punjab who follow less-conservative Islamic traditions.

Among the Shīʿites there are several subsects; notable are the Ismāʿīlīs (or Seveners)—including the Nizārīs (followers of the Aga Khans, among whom are the Khojas and the Bohrās), who are prominent in commerce and industry—and the Ithnā ʿAshariyyah (or Twelvers), who are more austere in their practices and more closely resemble the Shīʿite tradition found in Iran. Shīʿites have long been the target of Sunni radicals, and violent encounters between followers of the two sects are common.

The ʿĪdgāh Mosque, Multān, Pakistan.
The ʿĪdgāh Mosque, Multān, Pakistan.
Robert Harding Picture Library
With the exception of some sects, such as Dawoodi Bohrās, there is no concept of an ordained priesthood among Pakistan’s Muslims. Anyone who leads prayers in mosques may be appointed imam. Those who are formally trained in religion are accorded the honorific mullah or mawlānā. Collectively, the community of Muslim scholars is known as the ʿulamāʾ (“scholars”), but among the practitioners of a more popular sect of Islam (generally associated with Sufism) there are powerful hereditary networks of holy men called pīrs, who receive great reverence (as well as gifts in cash or kind) from a multitude of followers. An established pīr may pass on his spiritual powers and sanctified authority to one or more of his murīds (“disciples”), who may then operate as pīrs in their own right. There are also many self-appointed pīrs who practice locally without being properly inducted into one of the major Sufi orders. Pīrs who occupy high positions in the pīr hierarchy wield great power and play an influential role in public affairs.

Among the basic tenets of the Aḥmadiyyah is the belief that other prophets came after Muhammad and that their leader, the 19th century’s Mīrzā Ghulām Aḥmad, was called to accept a divine mission. The Aḥmadiyyah therefore appear to question Muhammad’s role as the last of God’s prophets. More conservative Muslims find this seeming revision of traditional belief blasphemous, and in 1974 a constitutional amendment declared the Aḥmadiyyah community to be non-Muslims. The community became the focal point of riots in the Punjab in 1953, instigated by the Islamic Assembly but also including a broad representation of religious groups. Since then the Aḥmadiyyah have experienced considerable persecution, particularly during the administration (1977–88) of Gen. Mohammad Zia ul-Haq—when they were denied all semblance of Islamic character—and they have been denied positions in the civil service and the military and often have been forced to conceal their identity.

At the time of partition, most Hindus left newly formed West Pakistan for India. In the east, wealthier Hindus also fled newly formed East Pakistan, but a sizeable minority of Hindus (nearly 10 million) stayed behind. The vast majority remained there until the civil war of 1971 (which led to the creation of Bangladesh) compelled them to seek refuge in India.

There is also a small but fairly significant population of Christians in the country. There are adherents to a variety of denominations, Roman Catholicism being the largest. Violent attacks against Christians became increasingly common during the Zia ul-Haq regime, a trend that continued afterward with the increase of religious strife.

Settlement patterns
Geographically, the population of Pakistan is distributed rather unevenly. More than half of the population is in Punjab; on the other hand, Balochistan, the largest province in terms of area, has significant areas with virtually no settled population. Likewise, within each province, the population further pools in various areas. Much of the population of Balochistan, for instance, is concentrated in the area of Quetta. The region around Karachi and the inhabited strip along the Indus River are the most densely settled areas in Sindh province. Within Punjab the population density generally decreases from northeast to southwest. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa the plain around Peshawar and Mardan is a high-density area. Broadly speaking, population density is greatest in fertile agricultural areas. Nomadism and transhumance, once common lifestyles in Pakistan, are practiced by relatively few people in the 21st century.

Traditional regions
The traditional regions of Pakistan, shaped by ecological factors and historical evolution, are reflected in the administrative division of the country into the four provinces of Sindh, Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (including the Federally Administered Tribal Areas), and Balochistan, each of which is ethnically and linguistically distinct.

In the Punjab, until the advent of irrigation, most of the population was restricted to those areas receiving more than 20 inches (500 mm) of precipitation annually, namely the Potwar Plateau and the upper Indus plain. Such areas where dry farming is practiced are referred to as barani. Later, large areas of uncultivated land in the Indus River plain of the southern Punjab were irrigated by canals and populated by colonists drawn from other parts of the province. Referred to as the Canal Colony, that area now forms the richest agricultural region of the country.

Agricultural wealth is concentrated in those barani areas around Lahore that have benefited from irrigation, together with the Canal Colony areas and Sindh province. Those regions contain most of the rural population of Pakistan and produce more than half of the country’s wheat and virtually all of its cotton and rice. Landholdings are larger in the Canal Colony areas of the Punjab and in Sindh.

Elsewhere, in the overpopulated and poor districts of the barani region that do not benefit from irrigation, holdings are exceedingly small and fragmented. In those districts, there is great pressure to migrate from the villages in order to find employment in towns, to enlist in the armed forces, or to seek work abroad, particularly in the Persian Gulf states of the Middle East.

Rural settlement
About two-thirds of the rural population of Pakistan lives in nucleated villages or hamlets (i.e., in compact groups of dwellings). Sometimes, as is generally the case in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the houses are placed in a ring with windowless outer walls, so that each complex resembles a protected fortress with a few guarded entrances. Dispersed habitation patterns in the form of isolated single homesteads are rare, occurring only in a few mountainous areas. But it is not uncommon to find numerous satellite hamlets of varying sizes near larger villages; such hamlets are occupied either by a landlord (along with his family, servants, and sharecroppers) or else by members of an extended family group living together in adjoining houses. The spread of tube wells (driven wells) in the Punjab has increased the tendency for such dispersal, for people often prefer to live near their tube wells in order to guard the valuable machinery. The concept of village, therefore, often tends to be equivalent to that of the mawzaʿ (an area of land that, together with a village and its satellite hamlets, forms a unit in land-revenue records). It is difficult to speak of an average size of village, for patterns of habitation are complex. Most groups of dwellings have a minimum of a dozen or a score of houses, and there are usually a few hundred dwellings in each “village.” Large villages rarely have populations exceeding 2,500 persons.

Three basic types of village layout are to be found. Most of the older settlements are of the “spiderweb” form, having at least one focal point, such as the village mosque, some shops, or a well from which lanes radiate. A few villages follow the contours of hill slopes and other natural features. In the Canal Colony areas, villages are of a regular rectangular pattern, with a well, a mosque, and a school, as well as the house of the village headman, at the centre and with the houses being arranged in a series of concentric rectangles. Houses are built from available local materials; the vast majority are of adobe, a material that is not only cheap and reasonably durable in the dry climate but also provides better insulation from extremes of heat and cold than brick or stone. Houses usually have walled courtyards where animals are tethered and where people sleep in the open in the hot summer.

Urban settlement
The urban population of Pakistan represents about two-fifths of the total. Two cities have a dominating position—Karachi, the capital of Sindh province (and of the country until 1959), and Lahore, the capital of Punjab. Since the 1960s, government policy has been directed toward the dispersal of industry, which had become heavily concentrated in Karachi. As a consequence, urban growth has been more evenly distributed among several cities. Karachi remains the principal port and centre of commerce and industry.

Rapid and unplanned urban expansion has been paralleled by a deterioration in living conditions, particularly in the housing conditions of lower-income groups. Many urban households are unable to pay rent for the cheapest form of available housing and live in shacks in makeshift communities known collectively as katchi abadis. Water supply and sewerage systems are inadequate, and in many areas residents have to share communal water taps. Inadequate urban transport is also a major problem.

Karachi experienced serious ethnic conflict between the muhajir immigrants and Sindhis and (since the late 1980s) between the Sindhis and Punjabis. Discouraged by civil strife, businesses—both industrial and commercial—began to relocate to Punjab, particularly in and around Lahore. After Karachi and Lahore, the principal cities are Faisalabad and Rawalpindi in Punjab and Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Quetta is the capital and largest city of Balochistan. The national capital, Islamabad, adjoins Rawalpindi.

Demographic trends
Pakistan is one of the most populous countries in the world. Infant mortality has decreased, and life expectancy has increased; nearly two-thirds of the population is under 30 years of age. The birth rate is higher than the world’s average, while the death rate is lower. Life expectancy is 66 years for men and 70 years for women.

Pakistan: Age breakdown
Pakistan: Age breakdown
Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.
The overwhelming demographic fact of Pakistani history is the enormous shift of population during the country’s partition from India. Millions of Hindus and Sikhs left Pakistan, and about eight million immigrants (muhajirs)—then roughly one-fourth of the country’s population—arrived from India, bringing their own language (mostly Urdu), culture, and identity. Most settled in Sindh province, but muhajir pockets can be found throughout the country.

The major demographic shifts in the postindependence period have been movements within the country (largely to urban areas), the exodus of large numbers of Pakistanis to live and work abroad, and the influx of large numbers of Afghan refugees into the country beginning in the early 1980s.

The movement of people to urban areas and abroad can be tied to an overall increase in population—which has strained resources, particularly in rural areas—largely due to improved health care and dietary intake.The economies of most parts of the countryside have been unable to absorb the increased population, and many Pakistanis have turned to the cities in search of jobs. Though Karachi and Lahore are the only two cities that can properly be called megalopolises, all of the cities of Pakistan have grown rapidly in size and population since independence. Even in the cities, however, resources have been strained. Beginning in the oil boom of the 1970s, large numbers of Pakistanis traveled to the Persian Gulf states seeking work. Most found employment as unskilled labourers, traveling without their families and returning home at the end of their contracted time. Also, a great many Pakistanis—mostly among the educated professional classes—emigrated to the West, either to the United States or to the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth countries, but with advances in modern communications they often have kept in close contact with other family members still in Pakistan.

During the 1980s millions of Afghans fled to Pakistan during the Afghan War. Most of them settled along the two countries’ shared border, although a significant number migrated to larger cities. It was only with the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in the late 1980s and, more importantly, the end of Taliban rule there in 2001 that significant numbers of Afghans were repatriated. Nevertheless, a great many have remained in refugee camps in the border areas as well as in Pakistan’s cities.

After several experiments in economic restructuring, Pakistan currently operates a mixed economy in which state-owned enterprises account for a large portion of gross domestic product (GDP). The country has experimented with several economic models during its existence. At first, Pakistan’s economy was largely based on private enterprise, but significant sectors of it were nationalized beginning in the early 1970s, including financial services, manufacturing, and transportation. Further changes were made in the 1980s, under the military government of Zia ul-Haq. Specifically, an “Islamic” economy was introduced, which outlawed practices forbidden by Sharīʿah (Muslim law)—e.g., charging interest on loans (ribā )—and mandated such traditional religious practices as the payment of zakāt (tithe) and ʿushr (land tax). Though portions of the Islamic economy have remained in place, the state began in the 1990s to privatize—in whole or in part—large sectors of the nationalized economy.

The economy, which was primarily agricultural at the time of independence, has become considerably diversified. Agriculture, now no longer the largest sector, contributes roughly one-fifth of GDP, while manufacturing provides about one-sixth. Trade and services, which combined constitute the largest component of the economy, have grown considerably. In terms of the structure of its economy, Pakistan resembles the middle-income countries of East and Southeast Asia more than the poorer countries of the Indian subcontinent. Economic performance compares favourably with that of many other developing countries; Pakistan has maintained a sustained and fairly steady annual growth rate since independence.

At the same time, there has been a relentless increase in population, so, despite real growth in the economy, output per capita has risen only slowly. This slow growth in per capita income has not coincided with a high incidence of absolute poverty, however, which has been considerably smaller in Pakistan than in other South Asian countries. Nonetheless, a significant proportion of the population lives below the poverty line, and the relative prosperity of the industrialized regions around Karachi and Lahore contrasts sharply with the poverty of the Punjab’s barani areas, the semiarid Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

Agriculture, forestry, and fishing
Overall, approximately one-fourth of Pakistan is arable land, although only small fractions of that are in permanent crops (about 1 percent) or permanent pastures (6 percent). Roughly 5 percent of the country is forested. Nonetheless, agriculture, forestry, and fishing still provide employment for the single largest proportion of the labour force and a livelihood for an even larger segment of the population. Land-reform programs implemented in 1959, 1972, and 1977 began to deal with the problems of large-scale, often absentee ownership of land and the excessive fragmentation of small holdings by introducing maximum and minimum area limits. The commercialization of agriculture has also resulted in fairly large-scale transfers of land, concentrating its ownership among middle-class farmers.

The attention given to the agricultural sector in development plans has brought about some radical changes in centuries-old farming techniques. The construction of tube wells for irrigation and salinity control, the use of chemical fertilizers and scientifically selected seeds, and the gradual introduction of farm machinery have all contributed to the notable increase in productivity. As a consequence, Pakistan experienced what became known as the Green Revolution during the late 1960s, leaving a surplus that was partly shipped to East Pakistan (Bangladesh) and partly exported; self-sufficiency in wheat—the national staple—was achieved by about 1970. Cotton production also rose, which added to the domestic production of textiles and edible cottonseed oils. Rice is the second major food staple and one of the country’s important export crops. Large domestic sugar subsidies have been primarily responsible for an increase in sugarcane production. Other crops include chickpeas, pearl millet (bajra), corn (maize), rapeseed, and mustard, as well as a variety of garden crops, including onions, peppers, and potatoes. Pakistan benefits greatly from having two growing seasons, rabi (spring harvest) and kharif (fall harvest).

The cultivation and transportation of illicit narcotics remains a large sector of the informal economy. Pakistan is one of the world’s leading producers of opium poppy (for the production of heroin) and also produces or transports cannabis (as hashish) from Afghanistan for local markets and for reexport abroad.

Animal husbandry provides important domestic and export products. Livestock includes cattle, buffalo, sheep, goats, camels, and poultry. These animals provide meat and dairy products for local consumption, as well as wool for the carpet industry and for export and hides and skins for the leather industry. The contribution of forestry to national income remains negligible, but that of fisheries has risen. Fishing activity is centred in Karachi, and part of the catch of lobster and other shellfish is exported.

River water is used in large parts of the country to irrigate agricultural areas. The Balochistan plateau has a remarkable indigenous method of irrigation called the qanāt (or kārīz) system, which consists of underground channels and galleries that collect subsoil water at the foot of hills and carry it to fields and villages. The water is drawn from the channels through shafts that are sunk into the fields at suitable intervals. Because the channels are underground, the loss of water by evaporation is minimized.

Resources and power
The exploration of Pakistan’s mineral wealth is far from complete, but some two dozen different types of exploitable minerals have been located. Iron ore deposits are mostly of poor quality. The most extensive known reserves are situated in the Kalabagh region, in western Punjab. Other low-grade ore reserves have been found in Hazara, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Small reserves of high-grade iron ore have been identified in Chitral and in the Chilghazi area (located in northwestern Balochistan), as well as in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Deposits of copper ore equaling or surpassing the reserves of iron ore have been found, but most sites remain unexploited. There are enormous reserves of easily exploited limestone that form the basis of a growing cement industry, a major component of the manufacturing sector. Other minerals that are exploited include chromite (mostly for export), barite, celestine (strontium sulfate), antimony, aragonite (calcium carbonate), gypsum, rock salt, and marble and granite.

Hydrocarbons and power
Pakistan has modest quantities of petroleum and some large natural gas fields. The first oil discovery was made in 1915. Pakistan intensified the search for oil and natural gas in the 1980s and was rewarded with the discovery of a number of new oil fields in the Potwar Plateau region and in Sind. A number of fields have been developed, particularly near Badin, in Sind. Despite the continued search for new and richer fields (including some offshore exploration and drilling), Pakistan has had to import increasing amounts of oil from abroad to satisfy growing consumption, making the country vulnerable to fluctuations in world oil markets. Most imports take the form of crude oil, which is refined into various products. Pakistan’s refinery capacity well exceeds its domestic crude production. The oil sector is regulated by the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Resources, and international oil companies are authorized to operate in Pakistan in cooperation with domestic companies.

The largest natural gas deposits are at Sui (on the border between Balochistan and Punjab), discovered in 1953. A smaller field, at Mari, in northeast Sind province, was found in 1957. A number of smaller natural gas fields subsequently have been discovered in various areas. A network of gas pipelines links the fields with the main consumption areas: Karachi, Lahore, Multan, Faisalabad, and Islamabad. Although proven reserves are large, they have not kept pace with domestic consumption.

Coal mining is one of the country’s oldest industries. The quality of the coal is poor, and the mines have been worked below capacity because of the difficulty of access; despite ample reserves, the country regularly imports coal.

Although energy production has grown faster than the economy as a whole, it has not kept pace with demand, and as a result there are shortages of fuel and electric power. The bulk of power requirements are provided by thermal plants (coal, oil, and natural gas), with most of the remainder provided by hydroelectric installations.

The generation, transmission, and distribution of power is the responsibility of the Pakistani Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA), a public-sector corporation. WAPDA lost its monopoly over generation after Pakistan entered into an agreement in 1989 with a consortium of foreign firms to produce power from giant oil-fired plants located at Hub, near Karachi; the plants were completed in 1997.

Great progress, however, has been made in the development of the hydroelectric potential of Pakistan’s rivers. A giant hydroelectric plant is in operation at the Mangla Dam, on the Jhelum River in Azad Kashmir (the part of Kashmir under Pakistani administration). Another such source is the giant Tarbela Dam, on the Indus River.

Pakistan has three nuclear power plants, the Karachi Nuclear Power Plant (completed 1972), the Chashma Nuclear Power Plant-1 (2000), and the Chashma Nuclear Power Plant-2 (2011). The Chashma plants are at Kundian, Punjab. Nuclear power provides only a tiny proportion of the country’s total energy production.

Mining and quarrying account for a small percentage of GDP and of total employment. Manufacturing, however, constitutes a healthy proportion. The beginning of the main industrialization effort dates to the cessation of trade between India and Pakistan in 1949, soon after the two countries gained independence. Initially it was based on the processing of raw agricultural materials for domestic consumption and for export. This led to the construction of cotton textile mills—a development that now accounts for a large part of the total employment in industry. Woolen textiles, sugar, paper, tobacco, and leather industries also provide many jobs for the industrial labour force.

The growing trade deficit in the mid-1950s compelled the government to cut down on imports, which encouraged the establishment of a number of import-substitution industries. At first these factories produced mainly consumer goods, but gradually they came to produce intermediate goods and a range of capital goods, including chemicals, fertilizers, and light engineering products. Nevertheless, Pakistan still has to import a large proportion of the capital equipment and raw materials required by industry. In the 1970s and early ’80s Pakistan set up an integrated iron and steel mill at Pipri, near Karachi, with the financial and technical assistance of the Soviet Union. A new port, Port Qāsim (officially Port Muḥammad Bin Qāsim), was built to bring iron ore and coal for the mill.

Initially Karachi was the centre of Pakistan’s industrialization effort, but in the late 1960s and early ’70s Lahore and the cities around it began to industrialize rapidly. Karachi’s ethnic problems in the late 1980s and early ’90s accelerated this process, and Punjab increasingly became Karachi’s competitor in industrial output.

Major manufactured products include jute and cotton textiles, cement, vegetable ghee, cigarettes, and bicycles. Although the country still imports most of its motor vehicles, some Pakistani firms have entered into contracts with foreign companies to produce automobiles, motorcycles, and industrial tractors domestically.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *