Pakistan History, Language and Culture
History of Pakistan
The territory of present day Pakistan has witnessed the rise and fall of countless empires, which have contested this land from as early as 550BCE, when the Achaemenid Empire controlled vast swathes of Asia, Arabian and Northern Africa.
By 323BCE the marauding Macedonian, Alexander the Great, had staked his claim to Pakistan, setting a trend for conquering that continued for the next 2000 years.
The Mughal Empire (1526-1857) lasted longest and helped develop the region economically. Agriculture, art and commerce flourished during Mughal rule, which left behind a sophisticated administration and a wealth of architecture that still wows visitors today.
The British arrived in the region in the early 1800s and in 1849 the territory now known as Pakistan was incorporated into British India. It was not until 1947, as a result of a violent partition from India, that Pakistan acquired nationhood.
Under pressure from Indian Muslims led by Mohammed Ali Jinnah - who is considered to be the 'father of the nation' - the British created a separate Muslim state consisting of two parts; East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and West Pakistan (now a single unitary state), which were separated by 1,600km (1,000 miles) of Indian territory.
Political and religious disputes between the territories resulted in a civil war, which lasted for most of 1971. It was brought to an end by the intervention of India, which forced Pakistan to surrender and recognise the independence of modern day Bangladesh.
Pakistan’s relationship with India remains fraught. Both nations lay claim to Kashmir and have fought wars over the territory. Pakistan presently occupies one-third of the disputed territory and India occupies the other two-thirds. The Kashmiris themselves have become weary of both sides and there is a growing appetite for independence.
In contrast to India, democracy failed to take root in Pakistan, which suffered prolonged periods of military rule. After decades of revolving-door politics followed by incompetence, nepotism and corruption, tackling Pakistan's huge political and economic problems remains tougher than ever.
Although the country has struggled to maintain a foothold on political stability, Pakistan remains a politically aware nation, with a culture broadly based around family, Islam and an acceptance of different ethnic groups living throughout the country.
Did you know?
• Pakistan is home to the highest paved road in the world. Perched 4,693m (15,397ft) above sea level, the Karakoram Highway links China with Pakistan.
• The name Pakistan means ‘land of the pure’ in Persian and Urdu.
• Pakistan has the world’s largest volunteer ambulance service, founded by Sattar Edhi.
Religion in Pakistan
97% Muslim (77% Sunni, 20% Shi'a), the remainder are Ismaili Muslims (who follow the Aga Khan as their spiritual leader), Hindu or Christian.
Social Conventions in Pakistan
The right hand is used both for shaking hands (the usual form of greeting) and for passing or receiving things. Mutual hospitality and courtesy are of great importance at all levels, whatever the social standing of the host. Visitors must remember that most Pakistanis are Muslim and should respect their customs and beliefs.
Smoking is prohibited in some public places and it is polite to ask permission before lighting a cigarette. It is common for visiting businesspeople to be entertained in hotels and restaurants. If invited to a private home, a gift or national souvenir is welcome. Informal dress is acceptable for most occasions. Women should avoid wearing tight clothing and both men and women should ensure that their arms and legs are covered. Pakistani society is divided into classes and within each group there is a subtle social grading. The Koran is the law for Muslims and it influences every aspect of daily life.
Photography: Do not take photographs at military establishments, airports or of any infrastructure, including dams and bridges or from aircraft. The penalties can be severe.
Language in Pakistan
Urdu is the official language, though it is only used by 8% of Pakistanis. English is widely spoken. Regional languages include Punjabi, which is spoken by 48% of the population, Pashto, Sindhi, Saraiki and Balochi. There are numerous local dialects.