Country profile: Pakistan
Country profile: Pakistan
The Muslim-majority state of Pakistan occupies an area which was home to some of the earliest human settlements and where two of the world’s major religions, Hinduism and Buddhism, were practiced.
The modern state was born out of the partition of the Indian sub-continent in 1947 and has faced both domestic political upheavals and regional confrontations.
Created to meet the demands of Indian Muslims for their own homeland, Pakistan was originally in two parts.
War with India over the disputed northern territory of Kashmir came shortly after independence – the two countries fought again in 1965.
The break-up of the two wings came in 1971 when the mainly Bengali-speaking east wing seceded with help from India.
Civilian politics in Pakistan in the last few decades has been tarnished by corruption, inefficiency and confrontations between various institutions. Alternating periods of civilian and military rule have not helped to establish stability.
Pakistan came under military rule again in October 1999 after the ousting of a civilian government that had lost a great deal of public support.
The coup leader, General Pervez Musharraf, pledged to revive the country’s fortunes, but faced economic challenges as well as an increasing polarisation between Islamist militancy and the modernising secular wing of Pakistani politics.
Mr Musharraf eventually relinquished his army post in November 2007, but at parliamentary elections in February 2008, his supporters were defeated by the opposition Pakistan People’s Party and former PM Nawaz Sharif’s Muslim League.
The two parties formed a coalition government led by the PPP’s Yusuf Raza Gillani and an impeachment process was launched against Mr Musharraf, who resigned in August 2008.
Pakistan’s place on the world stage shifted after the 11 September 2001 attacks in the US. It dropped its support for the Taleban regime in Afghanistan and was propelled into the frontline in the fight against terrorism, becoming a key ally of Washington.
Pakistani forces say they have arrested hundreds of suspected al-Qaeda and Taleban-linked militants in the rugged, restive tribal regions along the Pakistani-Afghan border. Tens of thousands of troops are deployed in the area, which has been the scene of fierce fighting between security forces and suspected militants.
Tensions with India over Kashmir remain and have fuelled fears of a regional arms race. However, an ongoing peace process has brought the two nuclear-armed powers back from the brink of renewed conflict.
President: Asif Ali Zardari
Asif Ali Zardari won the presidential race of 6 September 2008 by a big majority. His election by Pakistan’s legislators came a few weeks after his predecessor Pervez Musharraf resigned under threat of impeachment.
At his swearing-in ceremony, Mr Zardari said he was accepting the post of president in the name of his assasinated wife, Benazir Bhutto.
Mr Zardari had long lived in the shadow of his late charismatic wife, who was twice Pakistan’s prime minister and head of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) – a position Mr Zardari inherited upon her death in December 2007.
Asif Zardari married Ms Bhutto in 1987 and held positions in her cabinet during her tenure as premier. He was Environment Minister between 1993 and 1996 and Investment Minister between 1995 and 1996.
But Mr Zardari was also controversially referred to as “Mr 10%” following allegations of corruption. For this, and for murder charges of which he was later cleared, he spent two separate terms in prison totalling eleven and a half years.
After Benazir Bhutto’s death Mr Zardari and his former rival, Nawaz Sharif, formed an alliance to force President Musharraf to resign.
As president, Mr Zardari has pledged to tackle Islamic militancy and to address Pakistan’s problems in cooperation with its neighbours.
Asif Ali Zardari was born on 26 July 1995. He comes from a prominent family in Pakistan’s Sindh province and has two sons and a daughter. His eldest son, Bilawal Zardari, was born in 1988 and is co-chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party.
Prime Minister: Yusuf Raza Gillani
Pervez Musharraf’s rule ushered in increased freedom for the print media and a liberalisation of broadcasting policies. Towards the end of his time in office, however, media rules were tightened under emergency rule.
A coalition government, formed in early 2008, pledged to undo laws and measures introduced by the former president, among them controversial steps to curb private broadcasters.
Television is the dominant medium, and licences for more than 40 private satellite TV stations have been awarded, bringing increasing competition for the state-run Pakistan Television Corporation. But there are no private, terrestrial TV stations.
Many Pakistanis watch international satellite TV channels, via a dish or an often-unlicensed cable TV operator.
Indian channels such as Zee TV and STAR TV are popular with those who can receive them. The channels circumvent censorship in Pakistan that is far more restrictive than in India.
Around 100 licences have been issued for private FM radio stations, although not all of them have been taken up. Pakistan’s media regulator has estimated that the country can support more than 800 private radio stations. Private stations are not allowed to broadcast news.
There are regular reports of private FM stations operating illegally, particularly in the tribal areas of North-West Frontier Province. Some of the stations have been accused of fanning sectarian divisions.
Pakistan and India regularly engage in a war of words via their respective media, occasionally banning broadcasts from the other country.
The government uses a range of legal and constitutional powers to curb press freedom.
Nevertheless, Pakistan’s print media are among the most outspoken in South Asia.
The Internet Service Providers Association of Pakistan estimated in March 2007 that there were between three and five million internet users. The authorities filter some websites. A small but growing number of bloggers write about political topics.