Frontline World

PAKISTAN - On A Razor's Edge, March 2004

Related Features THE STORY
Synopsis of "On a Razor's Edge"

Assessing Musharraf's Predicament

The Brink of Peace

Reporting on the Nuclear Scandal

Background, Government, Issues

India/Pakistan Relations, Islamic Fundamentalism, Media Resources




Images of landscapes, people and culture in Pakistan
Facts & Stats

• General Background
• Government
• Pakistan As a Nuclear Power
• Pakistani-Indian Relations

General Background

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.

Pakistan and India fought their first war over the disputed territory of Kashmir in 1948, a second in 1965, and a 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.

Present-day Pakistan, formerly West Pakistan, is 321,576 square miles (803,940 sq km), about twice the size of California. Its population is 150,694,740 -- more than four times that of California. Pakistan's capital is Islamabad.

Ninety-seven percent of Pakistanis are Muslim; 77 percent are Sunni Muslim, and 20 percent are Shiite Muslim.

The official language of Pakistan is Urdu, though only 8 percent of the population speak it. The most widely spoken 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, and 35 percent of the population lives below the international poverty line.

Pakistan's literacy rate is 45.7 percent.

Pakistan's primary industries are textiles, apparel, food processing, beverages, construction materials, paper products, fertilizer and shrimp. Its unemployment rate, not including substantial underemployment, is 7.8 percent.

Forty-four percent of Pakistan's labor force works in the agricultural sector, which produces cotton, wheat, rice, sugarcane, fruit, vegetables, milk, beef, mutton and eggs.

Pakistan exports textiles, rice, leather, sports goods, carpets and rugs to the United States, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, Germany and Hong Kong.

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Pakistan has a parliamentary government that has been ruled by alternating civilian and military leaders since 1947.

Pakistan's current president, General Pervez Musharraf, seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999, ousting a civilian government. Though the international community condemned the coup, Pakistan regained backing from the United States after supporting the United States' anti-terrorism efforts after 9/11.

Pakistan was suspended from the Commonwealth group of nations after Musharraf's 1999 coup and was not permitted back in at the league's December 2003 meeting.

There have been at least three assassination attempts on Musharraf, two of which happened within two weeks of each other in December 2003. In 2002, bombs planted in a car on the president's route through Karachi failed to detonate as he passed. On December 14, 2003, Musharraf's car narrowly escaped bombs that took down a bridge after the car passed, and 11 days later, two suicide bombers drove bombs into Musharraf's motorcade, killing 15 people in the area. Suspects arrested for December's attempts have been linked to al Qaeda and to banned Islamic militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad, which is fighting Indian rule in Kashmir.

The directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the Pakistani government's intelligence arm established shortly after partition in 1948, 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 of Pakistani government jurisdiction. After 9/11, pro-Taliban ties within ISI allegedly were cut.

In January 2004, Musharraf addressed the national assembly and senate for the first time since his 1999 coup. His speech calling for an end to extremism at Pakistan's borders was met with derision from opposition parties in the legislature.

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Pakistan As a Nuclear Power

In 1974, three years after the third India-Pakistan war, India held its first atomic test, prompting Pakistan's then-prime minister, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, to vow to develop a nuclear program in Pakistan.

Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, a Pakistani scientist then working in the Netherlands at the European nuclear enrichment consortium Urenco, allegedly stole centrifuge designs he had access to and returned to Pakistan in 1976, where he used the designs to help develop Pakistan's nuclear arms program. Khan is highly regarded within Pakistan for having put the nation on the international map as a nuclear power.

In 1998, both Pakistan and India conducted nuclear tests, which renewed tension between the two countries.

Musharraf removed Khan from his position as head of Khan Research Laboratories in 2001 after mounting pressure from the United States was pointing to evidence that Khan was involved in selling nuclear arms secrets abroad. After his forced retirement, Khan was given the title of "special advisor to the president."

In February 2004, Khan confessed to selling nuclear technology to North Korea, Libya and Iran. President Musharraf quickly pardoned the scientist, dismissing the possibility of an independent investigation into the leaks and drawing speculation from the international community about the government's knowledge of Khan's illegal activity. Musharraf has admitted that he had suspected the sharing of nuclear secrets for three years.

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Pakistani-Indian Relations

India and Pakistan have fought four wars since partition in 1947. Much of the conflict has arisen over ownership of the territory of Kashmir, to which Pakistan, India and China all make a claim.

Kashmir, a Muslim-majority state at partition and India's only Muslim-majority state today, was ceded to India by the territory's maharajah in exchange for India's armed assistance against Pakistani invaders. The United Nations intervened to stop the first war that followed, calling for a cease-fire in 1949 and a popular vote to determine how Kashmiris wanted to align themselves. This vote has still not come to pass, and the area known as Kashmir remains divided between Pakistan and India by a border called the Line of Control.

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, the first train in two years crossed from Pakistan to India. Renewed service between the countries has continued, along with bus service renewed in July 2003 and airline service renewed at the 2003 New Year. There also has been discussion of a pipeline being built from Iran to India via Pakistan.

Part of continuing negotiations between Pakistan and India include alleviating trade restrictions and tariffs that have hindered potentially valuable regional trade. In 2003, the official figure for bilateral trade between the two countries was $200 million. If restrictions are removed, it's estimated this figure could rise to a mutually lucrative $5 billion.

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