FRONTLINE/World [home]

Search FRONTLINE/World

FRONTLINE/World Rough Cut

Rough Cut: Pakistan: Cold Comfort
Background Facts and Related Links
Learn more about Islam and the history of Pakistan. Also, link to the latest updates on relief efforts.

Pakistan Country Profile

Pakistan was formed on August 14, 1947, when India gained independence from Great Britain. Created as a homeland for India's Muslim population, the nation was originally divided into East Pakistan and West Pakistan. Kashmir has remained disputed territory ever since the partition.

Present-day Pakistan, formerly West Pakistan, is 321,576 square miles (803,940 sq km), about twice the size of California. Its population is approximately 162,419,946 -- more than four times that of California. Pakistan's capital is Islamabad. Pakistan borders the Arabian Sea, India, Iran, Afghanistan and China and controls two important routes between Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent: Khyber Pass and Bolan Pass. The region was home to some of the earliest human settlements, and although it is now a Muslim-majority state, Hinduism and Buddhism both have strong roots in the region.

A large part of the country is hot, dry desert. The area affected by the earthquake is in the rugged mountains in the northwest of the country.

Ninety seven percent of Pakistanis are Muslim, 77 percent are Sunni Muslim and 20 percent are Shiite Muslim. The remaining 3 percent is composed of Hindus, Christians and others.

The official language of Pakistan is Urdu, although only 8 percent of the population speaks it. The most widely used language in Pakistan is Punjabi, spoken by 48 percent of the people.

The average age in Pakistan is 19.8 years, and life expectancy is 62.2 years. The average annual income is approximately US$420. Thirty five percent of the population lives below the international poverty line. The literacy rate is 45.7 percent.


Pakistan has a parliamentary government that has been ruled by alternating civilian and military leaders since 1947. Political corruption and the competing agendas of various institutions have contributed to a lack of stability in the government for several decades.

The directorate for Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), the Pakistani government's intelligence arm that was established in 1948 shortly after the partition, is responsible for foreign, domestic and military intelligence and the conduct of covert offensive operations. The ISI, rumored to be one of the most powerful agencies in the government, has been criticized for operating outside Pakistani government jurisdiction. After 9/11, pro-Taliban ties within ISI allegedly were cut.

Pakistan's current president, General Pervez Musharraf, seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999, ousting a civilian government. As the coup leader, General Musharraf promised to revive the country's fortunes, but was dogged by economic challenges and problems with law and order.

Everything changed for Musharraf after 9/11. The United States quickly realized it needed Pakistan as an ally if it wanted to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan, and Pakistan was thrust onto the world stage in the fight against terrorism.

There have been at least three assassination attempts on Musharraf. Suspects arrested in the latest attempts have been linked to al Qaeda and to the banned Islamic militant group Jaish e Mohammad, which is fighting Indian rule in Kashmir. Hundreds of local tribesmen joined in a fight to defend Afghanistan's Islamic status after the U.S. led military invasion in 2001. There are now indications that some Pakistani tribesman may have links with foreign militants, including al Qaeda, and may be offering them shelter and support. The Pakistani military says it has arrested hundreds of suspected al Qaeda and Taliban militants since the anti terrorism campaign began.

Kashmir and India/Pakistan Relations

When British India separated into the independent nations of Pakistan and India in 1947, it was largely along religious lines. More than 14 million people crossed the line of partition in one of the greatest mass migrations ever to occur. But the split was never satisfactorily resolved, and the disputed territory of Kashmir has been a stage for communal violence ever since.

Pakistan and India fought their first war over the disputed territory of Kashmir in 1948, their second in 1965 and their third in 1971 when India intervened in a civil war over East Pakistan's attempt to secede from the nation. The secession was ultimately successful, and East Pakistan formed what is now Bangladesh.

The United Nations intervened to stop the first war, calling for a cease-fire in 1949 and a popular vote to determine how Kashmiris wanted to align themselves. This vote still has not come to pass, and the area known as Kashmir remains divided between Pakistan and India by a border called the Line of Control.

Recently, the global community has come to fear that the dispute over Kashmir could spark a nuclear war, as both countries began testing nuclear weapons in 1998. There have been countless summit meetings between the leaders of the two countries. These negotiations have brought them back from the brink of nuclear attacks, but they have failed to reach a stable agreement or make any real progress toward peace.

In a January 2004 summit, General Musharraf and India's prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, agreed to resume a dialogue over the disputed territory of Kashmir. After the January summit, for the first time in two years, a train crossed from Pakistan into India. Renewed service between the countries has continued, along with bus and airline service. There also has been discussion of a pipeline being built from Iran to India via Pakistan. But in August 2005, Pakistan tested its first nuclear-capable cruise missile, renewing fears over a nuclear arms race.

India's military sources say there are about 125,000 troops and paramilitaries in the Indian-administered area of Kashmir. Unofficial figures put that number much higher. Thousands of militants from the Pakistani side are fighting India's security forces. The three main militant groups are Hizbul Mujahideen, Laskhar e Taiba and Harkat ul Mujahideen. Hizbul Mujahideen, composed mostly of Kashmiris, is one of the older militant groups -- it has been active since the early days of the insurgency. Non Kashmiris joined the insurgency in large numbers in 1994 and are primarily linked to Laskhar e Taiba, which is said to embrace a rigid form of Sunni Islam. Groups that once wielded strong influence, like the Jammu and the Kashmir Liberation Front, have lost power in recent years, but new groups, including Jaish e Mohammad, have emerged. These new groups have been part of an ideological shift in the insurgency: The nationalist and secularist movement has taken on a much more Islamic emphasis.

The earthquake on October 8, 2005, struck in Pakistan-administered Kashmir. It devastated communities in this region as well as in the North West Frontier province of Pakistan and India-controlled Kashmir. Since the earthquake, five access points have been opened up across the Line of Control in hopes of speeding relief efforts.

Sources: CIA World Factbook; BBC News; The Guardian; Agence France Presse; PBS's Online NewsHour; The New York Times; Reuters; The Economist.


On a Razor's Edge
In this March 2004 story, FRONTLINE/World reporter and producer Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy returns to her native Pakistan as she investigates the clashes between President Pervez Musharraf, a key U.S. ally, and the increasingly powerful Islamic fundamentalists who oppose him. Also read two dispatches from Obaid-Chinoy, one from September 2004 and another from August 2005, as she reports from the remote tribal regions of northwest Pakistan, where the army continues to battle al Qaeda insurgents.

Kashmir: The Road to Peace?
In this November 2004 FRONTLINE/World Fellows story, Sachi Cunningham and Jigar Mehta make their way across the beautiful mountain territory of Kashmir, which has been a divided state since 1947 and is torn by Muslim-Hindu conflict. Their road trip tests the willingness of neighboring India and Pakistan to re-open the main highway across Kashmir as a move toward peace.

Islamic Republic of Pakistan, Official Web Site
Pakistan's official government Web site posts news updates on relief efforts and lists military contacts in all areas of the Pakistan-administered quake zone. It's also a source of information on political developments. President Pervez Musharraf's public speeches are archived on the site, dating back to 1999.

General Pervez Musharraf, President of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan
This is the official site of President Musharraf. It includes statements about Musharraf's goals and agenda, his daily calendar, and a simple process for writing Musharraf a letter. There is also biographical information and a whole section devoted to recovering from the 2005 earthquake.

Earthquake 2005
This blog was created after the earthquake. It includes comments and experiences of people affected by the quake, news updates, and numerous links. One entry lists contacts for a source offering modular plastic blocks useful for constructing a quick winterized home. The most heated debate is found in the "Why Earthquakes Come" section, which contains various hypotheses on the cause of the earthquake, including a gay marriage in Pakistan and a lack of adherence to Islamic principles.

Joint Action Committee, Pakistan Earthquake Relief Effort
The Joint Action Committee -- a collaboration between 85 NGOs based in Pakistan -- launched this site in hopes of coordinating earthquake relief efforts. It includes maps of the affected area, appeals for volunteers and contact information for Joint Action Committee offices in seven different locations within the quake zone.

Islamic Relief Worldwide (IRW)

This site is another source for news on Islamic relief efforts. The U.K. based organization reports that it has funded 65 earthmoving vehicles for opening roads and has distributed food to more than 180,000 people in the last six months. It enables visitors to sponsor an orphan and explains other IRW projects around the world.

South Asia Quake In-Depth

This comprehensive BBC coverage of the earthquake includes an animated guide explaining how earthquakes happen, listings for missing persons, dialogue from a live linkup between school children in Muzaffarabad and London, and the latest news from the affected regions.

BBC World Service Guide to Islam
This is a good overview of Islam. It covers the history, geography and scripture of Islam, includes brief descriptions of the five pillars of Islam, and provides an overview of Prophet Muhammad's life.

Jama'at Ud Da'Awah
This is the official site in English and Urdu of one of the Islamic groups assisting relief efforts. It includes explanations of their mission and modes of working, a "Brief Imperial History" of Kashmir, and links to other Muslim organizations. The site also presents reactions to international coverage of the Jamaat Ud Dawa relief work and their denunciations of allegations that they are linked to Laskhar e Taiba, a banned militant organization.

Pakistan's Militant Islamic Groups
This BBC report details some of the organizations banned in Pakistan and provides information on Pakistan under Musharraf. It provides helpful background information on the Pakistani government and international relations.

World Health Organization (WHO)

WHO has the most detailed information regarding the nature and prevalence of medical issues that field hospitals in the quake zones are dealing with. It publishes weekly morbidity and mortality reports and lists of the most urgently needed drugs and medical supplies.

Earth and Sky Radio Series

This interview with geologist Peter Molnar helps explain the science behind earthquakes in the Himalayas. It includes diagrams of the Indian subcontinent's movements and satellite images of the quake zone.