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June 2009

Pakistan, 2002

Pakistan, 2002

Pakistan is located in Southern Asia bordering the Arabian Sea, between India to the east and Iran and Afghanistan to the west and China to the north. Pakistan covers an area of 803,943 sq. km., nearly twice the size of the U.S. state of California. The majority of Pakistan's population lives along the Indus River valley and along an arc formed by the cities of Faisalabad, Peshawar, Lahore, and Rawalpindi/Islamabad. Pakistan controls Khyber Pass and Bolan Pass, the traditional invasion routes between Central Asia and the Indian Subcontinent.

Pakistan's climate is mostly hot, dry desert with a temperate northwest and an arctic north. Its terrain is flat in the east along the Indus plain; mountains in north and northwest; and the Balochistan plateau lies in the west. The natural resources of Pakistan include: land, extensive natural gas reserves, limited petroleum, poor quality coal, iron ore, copper, salt, and limestone. Its natural hazards include: frequent earthquakes, occasionally severe especially in north and west, with flooding along the Indus after heavy rains (July and August).

The Indus Valley civilization, one of the oldest in the world and dating back at least 5,000 years, spread over much of what is presently Pakistan. During the second millennium B.C., remnants of this culture fused with the migrating Indo-Aryan peoples. The area underwent successive invasions in subsequent centuries from the Persians, Greeks, Scythians, Arabs (who brought Islam), Afghans, and Turks. The Mughal Empire flourished in the 16th and 17th centuries; the British came to dominate the region in the 18th century. The separation in 1947 of British India into the Muslim state of Pakistan (with West and East sections) and largely Hindu India was never satisfactorily resolved; India and Pakistan fought two wars - in 1947-48 and 1965 - over the disputed Kashmir territory. A third war between these countries in 1971 - in which India capitalized on Islamabad's marginalization of Bengalis in Pakistani politics - resulted in East Pakistan becoming the separate nation of Bangladesh.

In response to Indian nuclear weapons testing, Pakistan conducted its own tests in 1998. The dispute over the state of Kashmir is ongoing, but discussions and confidence-building measures have led to decreased tensions since 2002. Mounting public dissatisfaction with President Musharraf, coupled with the assassination of the prominent and popular political leader, Benazir Bhutto, in late 2007, and Musharraf's resignation in August 2008, led to the September presidential election of Asif Zardari, Bhutto's widower.

Pakistani government and military leaders are struggling to control Islamist militants, many of whom are located in the tribal areas adjacent to the border with Afghanistan. The November 2008 Mumbai attacks again inflamed Indo-Pakistan relations. The Pakistani Government is also faced with a deteriorating economy as foreign exchange reserves decline, the currency depreciates, and the current account deficit widens.

U.S. State Department Background Notes; CIA World Factbook, 03/2009; 06/2009

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