Pakistan is a sovereign country in South Asia. It is bordered by India to the east, Afghanistan to the west and north, Iran to the south-west and China in the far northeast. Pakistan has a 1,046 km coastline along the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman in the south. The land area covers 796,095 sq. km — approximately equal to the combined land of France and the UK. In 1947 it became an independent nation for Muslims from the regions in the east and west in India where there was a Muslim majority. In 1956 it adopted a new Constitution becoming the Islamic Republic. Now it is the second-largest Muslim country (after Indonesia). It is a federal parliamentary republic consisting of four provinces—Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtun and Baluchistan, four federal territories including the capital city Islamabad and the Federally Administered tribal areas in the northwest. It is ethnically and linguistically a diverse country. The name Pakistan literally means ‘Land of the Pure’ in Urdu and Persian.
A Civil War in 1971 in East Pakistan resulted in secession of East Pakistan as the new country of Bangladesh. However, Pakistan’s post-independence history has been characterised by periods of military rule, political instability and conflicts with neighbouring India. The country continues to face challenging problems including terrorism, poverty, illiteracy and corruption. Pakistan and India continue to be rivals. The Kashmir conflict remains the major point of rift, and three of their four wars were over this territory in 1965, 1971, and 1999, and several skirmishes over the Siachen glacier. India claims the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir and administers approximately 45.1% of the region including most of Jammu, the Kashmir Valley, Ladak and Siachen glacier. However, India’s claim is contested by Pakistan which controls approximately 38.2% of Kashmir including Azad Kashmir and the northern areas of Gilgit and Baltistan, though a ceasefire was made in 1949 and a Line of Control was established, dividing Kashmir between the two countries. Islamabad is the capital city of Pakistan.
Now both India and Pakistan possess nuclear power, and China is a strong supporter of Pakistan’s nuclear power programme.
Pakistan is one of a small number of countries that have an active research presence in Antarctica since 1991 with two summer research stations and plans to open another base which will operate all year round.
The Constitution of Pakistan provides free primary and secondary education. There are also madrassahs that provide free Islamic education and offer free board and lodging to students who come mainly from the poorer strata of society. However, after criticism over terrorists’ use of madrassahs, efforts have been made to regulate them. The government is now extending English medium education to all schools across the country. Meanwhile, it has been decided that by 2015 all educational institutions in Sindh will have to provide Chinese language courses, reflecting Pakistan’s close ties with China. The literacy rate of the country is about 58.5% and out of that male literacy is 70% while female literacy rate is 46% and only 3% in tribal areas!
More than sixty languages are spoken in Pakistan, including a number of provincial languages. Urdu is the lingua franca and the national language which is understood by over 75% of Pakistanis. English is the official language used for official business, government and legal contracts. The national poet of Pakistan is Md Iqbal who wrote poetry in Urdu and Persian.
The national sport of Pakistan is hockey in which it has won three gold medals (1960, 1968 and 1984). Pakistan has also won the Hockey World Cup a record four times (1971, 1978, 1982, 1994). However, cricket is the most popular game across the country and has won the Cricket World Cup once in 1992.
Pakistan has good relations with all Arab and most other Muslim countries. Now the country is a member of the United Nations, the Commonwealth of Nations, the Next Eleven Economies, SAARC, ECO and the G20 developing nations.