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Pakistan (Urdu:  "Pure Land." The name was conceived by Muslim students at Cambridge in the 1930s) was created, with eastern and western entities nearly 1,000 miles apart, when India was partitioned following the end of British rule in 1947.  The eastern entity achieved independence in its own right in 1971 and became Bangladesh. The founding principle upon which Pakistan was constituted was that of nationhood based upon common religious affiliation (Muslim). In India, a secular democracy took root. The Muslim poet and theorist Muhammad Iqbal was a major inspirational force behind Pakistan's creation. In 2004, Pakistan was 97% Muslim with Sunnis outnumbering Shiites by four to one.

The constitution that went into effect in 1956 proclaimed Pakistan an Islamic Republic. However, two years earlier, as a draft of the constitution was being prepared, the governor-general, Ayub Khan, disbanded the constitutional assembly and began ruling as a dictator.  Ayub Khan fell from power in 1969 and was replaced by General Yahya Khan under whom Pakistan's first free elections were held.  The loss of East Pakistan (Bangladesh) in the Pakistani civil war of 1971-72 led to the rise in 1973 of Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. The loss of East Pakistan called into question the claim that a common religion was enough to hold a nation together.

On July 5, 1977, martial law was imposed in Pakistan by General Zia-ul-Haq after he had overthrown Bhutto. Zia had Bhutto hanged in 1979.  Zia was a fervent admirer of Islamist revivalist thinker Maulana Mawdudi and a supporter of international jihad as a tool of foreign policy in Afghanistan and Kashmir to advance Pakistan's security. Pakistan felt threatened by the Soviet Union from the north and India from the south and east.  Pakistan's intelligence service (Inter-Services Intelligence, or, ISI) accordingly provided active support to the anti-Soviet mujahideen in Afghanistan and later to the Taliban(See Steve Coll's book, and also Ahmed Rashid's book on the Taliban.)

In December, 1988, Benazir Bhutto, daughter of the former Prime Minister, became Prime Minister in Pakistan, the first woman to lead a Muslim country.  She was dismissed on August 6, 1990 when the President dissolved the National Assembly.  She and her husband, Asif Zardari, were charged with corruption along with thirty others and prevented from leaving the country.  Zardari (nicknamed "Mr. Ten Percent" after his reputation as a receiver of kickbacks) was eventually tried and convicted.  She was returned to power in 1993, but was ousted once again on corruption charges in November, 1996 after which she fled the country.  A brilliant and charismatic, but deeply polarizing, leader, Bhutto returned from exile in October, 2007 having been permitted to campaign for the office Prime Minister. She was assassinated the following December.

On January 3, 1998, in what was regarded as a serious setback for human rights in Pakistan, especially for minorities and women, Tablighi (or Tableeqi) Muslim Rafiq Tarar was elected president, the most religiously orthodox chief executive since military dictator Mohammed Zia-ul Haq, who died in a plane crash in 1988. Zia had brought back public hangings, death by stoning and public beatings in keeping with strict Islamic law. The Tablighi made up a missionary movement founded in India in 1927 by Maulana Muhammad Ilyas and believed in aggressive preaching of Islam worldwide, veiling of women, segregation of the sexes, and the strict interpretation and application of Islamic law and punishments.

Pakistan's Ahmedi (Ahmadiyya) Muslim minority was seen to be most at risk for persecution under the new leadership. The Ahmedis took their name from Mirza Ghulam Ahmed (1835-1908), a Punjabi who in 1882 declared himself a mujadid ("renewer") of Islam. The Ahmedis shunned jihad as a method of resistance against non-Muslims and taught that Jesus escaped death on the cross and lived to the age of 120 before dying and being buried in Srinagar. Adherents pledged to revive Islam by promoting non-violence and tolerance. They held that the Prophet Muhammad was not necessarily Islam's final prophet. The Ahmadiyya numbered 200 million members worldwide. (more)

On October 12, 1999, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was removed from power in a bloodless coup led by army chief General Pervez Musharraf, an admirer of Turkish President Ataturk whose attempts to "laicize" government in Turkey Musharraf hoped to imitate in Pakistan. The influence of fundamentalist Muslim ideas ha dbeen growing in the army since the United States cut off military funding earli er in the 1990s. 

Following the September 11, 2001 attacks, Musharraf came under pressure from the United States to reign in fundamentalist Deobandi Muslim madrassas ("schools") in Pakistan which, with the aid of the Pakistani intelligence services and other state bureaucracies, had educated, funded, and supported the Taliban. A new round of brinksmanship with India over Kashmir in the spring of 2002 created additional challenges for him.  Another challenge for Musharraf's government was protecting Pakistani Christians, who, in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks, suffered several attacks by Muslim militants. (For example, Sept. 25, 2002 with links to others) Of Pakistan's 96 million people, 3.8 million in 2002 were Christians (2.5% of the population - New York Times, Sept. 26, 2002. Attacks by militant Deobandi Sunni Muslims against Shiites were also common (see Feb. 22, 2003, for example, May 7, 2004, and Feb. 9, 2006).  Sunnis made up 77% of the population and Shiites 20%.

On October 11, 2002, national elections resulted in increased power for pro-Taliban anti-American Muslim parties in Pakistan which, it was predicted, would make President Musharraf's commitment to supporting the presence of American military forces in the region more difficult. 

In June, 2003, Musharraf's government came under new pressure from Islamist groups who introduced legislation to bring sharia law to the Northwest Frontier Province. 

On July 4, 2003, 47 Hazara Shiites were killed and 65 wounded when militants opened fire on worshippers gathering for Friday prayers in a mosque in Quetta. It was said to be the deadliest instance of sectarian violence in Pakistan's history. The Hazara constituted one of the larger ethnic minorities in Pakistan and Afghanistan.  In May and June 2004, Sunni-Shiite sectarian violence erupted again after a Sunni cleric was assassinated, and at least twenty-five died in a bomb blast during Friday prayers at a Shiite mosque in Sialkot on October 1.  On October 7, forty Sunni Muslims were killed in a car bomb attack in Multan. The government imposed a ban on religious gatherings. On May 27, 2005, at least 18 were killed when a suicide bomber struck the Shiite Bari Imam shrine in Islamabad. Nearly 4,000 had been killed over the preceding fifteen year period. 

On June 26, 2004, Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali resigned under pressure from President Pervez Musharraf and was replaced by Chaudry Shujaat Hussain, an ally of Musharraf. The change was seen as a further setback for democracy in Pakistan by Musharraf who had been criticized for unilaterally rewriting the constitution in order to increase presidential power relative to that of the parliament.  In mid October, Musharraf, a great admirer of the Turkish secularist reformer Ataturk, renounced an earlier pledge to hang up his military uniform and vowed he would continue to serve as both head of the military and President until the country was secure from extremist attacks. (see also, and also)  In line with his pledge to fight extremism, Musharraf in the summer of 2005 initiated a crackdown on militant Islamists throughout Pakistan.

In January, 2006, a U.S. drone aircraft carrying Hellfire missiles attacked targets along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan in a failed attempt to kill the number two al-Qaeda man, Ayman al-Zawahiri (more than a dozen others were killed, however). Pakistan formally protested the incident.

Subsequent Events:

2006, August: Riots in Baluchistan.

2006, September 6: Government-tribal accord strengthens Taliban. (more on Taliban)

2006, November: Pakistan amends rape laws.

2007, June-July: Mosque seized in Islamabad; Musharraf's hold on power weakening.

2007, October 18: Assassination attempt against former PM Benazir Bhutto.

2007, November 3: Emergency rule imposed.

2007, December 27: Benazir Bhutto assassinated; shifts in alliances among Jihadist groups.

2008: Was Pakistan on the verge of breaking up? (see Selig Harrison piece below)

2008, February 18: Musharraf's ruling party defeated in parliamentary elections.

2008: U.S. - Pakistan relations grow chilly.

2008, August 18: President Musharraf resigns from office.

2008, September 9: Asif Zardari becomes president. (see also)

2008, September 20:  Massive truck bomb in Islamabad destroys much of the Marriott Hotel.

2008, November: Pakistani militants implicated in Mumbai terror attacks. 

2009, February:  Pakistan cedes judicial control of the Swat Valley to the Taliban.

2009, March 3: Attack on Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore.

2009, April-May: Taliban on the march in Pakistan.

2009, August: Warlord and Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud killed.


Further Reading and R esources (some via ProQuest licensed to NMH Virtual Desktop):

Don Belt, "Struggle for the Soul of Pakistan," National Geographic, Sept. 2007, 32 - 59

Roger Cohen, "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Musharraf," New York Times, Nov. 8, 2007

Steve Coll, "Letter From Pakistan: Time Bomb," The New Yorker, Jan. 28, 2008. 45ff.

Carlotta Gall and David Rhohde, "Militants Escape Control of Pakistan, Officials Say," New York Times, Jan. 15, 2008 (on alleged involvement of Pakistan's prime military intelligence agency in supporting militant activity).

"The World's Most Dangerous Place: Pakistan," The Economist, Jan. 5, 2008

Selig Harrison, "Drawn and Quartered," (Op-Ed piece), New York Times, Feb. 1, 2008

"A Country on the Brink - Pakistan," The Economist, Jan. 5, 2008

William Dalrymple, "Bhutto's Deadly Legacy," New Times (Op-Ed), Jan. 4, 2007

William Dalrymple, "Pakistan in Peril," New York Review of Books, vol. 56, no. 2, Feb. 12, 2009

Shuja Nawaz, Crossed Swords: Pakistan, Its Army, and the War Within (New York: Oxford, 2008)

Ahmed Rashid, Descent Into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia. New York: Viking, 2009

Ahmed Rashid, Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia (New Haven: Yale University, Press, 2002)

Ahmed Rashid, Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil, and Fundamentalism in Central Asia (New York: Yale Nota Bene, 2000)

Ahmed Rashid, "Taliban the Big Winners," The Daily Telegraph, Nov. 5, 2007

Barnett R. Rubin, "Saving Afghanistan," Foreign Affairs, vol. 86, no. 1, Jan.-Feb., 2007.

PBS "Frontline: The Return of the Taliban"


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Last Revised: August 7,  2009