King Faisal Mosque, Islamabad

Pakistan, Land of the Pure - in a Nutshell

Author: Sue
Date: 9th October 2023

A Brief History of Pakistan

  • Pakistan has a rich and complicated past. beginning with the 8,500-year-old Neolithic site of Mehrgarh in Balochistan. One of the world’s oldest and largest civilizations (the Indus Valley) flourished, in the Bronze Age, in the region that is today Pakistan.
  • Pakistan was part of the Achaemenid empire (as witnessed at Taxila), Alexander the Great followed (briefly) and then the Seleucids, the Maurya, the Kushan, the Gupta, the Umayyads (in the south), the Hindu Shahis, the Ghaznavids, the Delhi Sultanate, the Mughals, the Durranis, the Omani Empire, the Sikh Empire, British East India Company rule, and the British Raj.
  • Pakistan gained independence in 1947, after the Partition of the British Indian Empire led by Muhammed Jinnah and the demand for an Islamic republic. It came at a cost -' unparalleled mass migration and loss of life'. Pakistan was initially a Dominion of the British Commonwealth, divided into East and West Pakistan, oddly separated by northern India.
  • In 1971, the exclave of East Pakistan seceded as the new country of Bangladesh, after a nine-month-long civil war.
  • Pakistan struggles to unite its culturally diverse regions and has resorted to imposed dictatorships. There are religious tensions. Christian and Hindu minorities as well as a Shia Muslim minority living within a majority Sunni Islamic state.
  • Tensions between India and Pakistan have continued since partition. The main point of conflict is Kashmir, which both sides claim, even though Kashmir itself would prefer to be independent. It has instead been subjected to a line (Asia's Berlin Wall) drawn through it and constant incursions on both sides. Both Pakistan and India are focused again on border issues and access. Pakistan sees its passage to the north as closed off, and possibly its access to China, if it loses Kashmir. Perhaps more importantly, the Indus waters two thirds of Pakistan, irrigating the cotton crop and driving the economy. It rises in Tibet and flows through Kashmir to get there. India and Pakistan have more than 2,000 miles of shared border over which to maintain hostilities.

Facts and Factoids

  • With an estimated population of over 241.5 million people, and despite partition from India, and then separation from Bangladesh, Pakistan is the world's fifth-most populous country. (It has the world's largest Muslim population as of 2023). It's the 33rd largest by area, reflecting some dense population in parts.
  • The official language of Pakistan is Urdu, but English is also widely spoken.
  • The majority religion is Islam with 96% of citizens identifying as Muslim.
  • The term ‘Pakistan’ was chosen by Jinnah, derived from the Urdu and Pashtun languages, in which it means ‘Land of the Pure’. It's also an acronym for the five distinct regions of Pakistan, which the nation struggles to unite: P for Punjab, A for Afghania (home of the Pashtuns on the Afghan border,) K for Kashmir, S for Sindh and Tan for Baluchistan.
  • Pakistan is home to the second highest mountain in the world, K2, the third highest, Tirich Mir, and shares the three highest mountain ranges in the world ( Hindukush, Karakoram and Himalayas).
  • The world's largest deep sea port, Gwadar, is in Pakistan, financed by the Chinese, who wanted another warm water port with links through to western China.
  • Pakistan’s Sialkot produces over half the world’s hand sewn footballs, making the country world’s largest producer of hand-sewed footballs.
  • Pakistan is home to the youngest ever Nobel Laureate, Malala Yousafzai.
  • And, sobering thought, Pakistan is the only Muslim nuclear power country in the world.

Is Pakistan a Safe Place to Visit?

Pakistan is definitely not classified as a safe country. The FCO lists a series of no go zones including Peshawar and sections of the Karakorum Highway. The risk of terrorism is said to be high, especially in the main cities. Kidnapping could be a problem. There are heatwaves and have monsoon rains. earthquake and landslides are mentioned. The risks are high yes, but only in relation to other countries. Most visits are trouble free. It's just important to minimise the risks by being sensible, taking local advice and staying alert.

Is Pakistan Expensive?

This is a developing economy. 22% of the population still live below the poverty line, due to corruption and internal conflicts. However, it's good news for travellers - this is the cheapest country in the world.

Pakistani Food and Drink

Many travellers will be very familiar with Pakistani food, which is not dissimilar to Indian cooking: rice, spiced sauces, and meat. It also takes inspiration from Iran and Afghanistan. Alcohol is only available in some hotels - for non Moslems. The lassi yogurt drink is also widespread. Street food - pakoras, parathas is also widely available. Outside the major cities good quality food can become hard to track down and the diet tends towards repetitive and dare I say tedious.

What to Do In Pakistan?

Pakistan boasts a huge variety of landscapes, ranging from gorgeous peaks and lush green valleys in the north (arguably the most beautiful mountain views in the world ). The world's highest paved road, the so-called eighth wonder of the world (the China-Pakistan Friendship Highway or the Karakoram Highway) wends its way through here. In the south, deserts and beaches. The lively cities reward (careful) exploration. Peshawar, especially, is fascinating, as well as being the best place to get your Afghan visa. The people nearly everywhere, are very friendly and interesting to chat to.

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