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Country profile: Pakistan 2008

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180208 - BBC - The Muslim-majority state of Pakistan occupies an area which was home to some of the earliest human settlements and where two of the world's major religions, Hinduism and Buddhism, were practised.

The modern state was born out of the partition of the Indian sub-continent in 1947 and has faced both domestic political upheavals and regional confrontations.

Created to meet the demands of Indian Muslims for their own homeland, Pakistan was originally in two parts.

The east wing - present-day Bangladesh - is on the Bay of Bengal bordering India and Burma and the west wing - present-day Pakistan - stretches from the Himalayas down to the Arabian Sea.

War with India over the disputed northern territory of Kashmir came shortly after independence - the two countries fought again in 1965.

The break-up of the two wings came in 1971 when the mainly Bengali-speaking east wing seceded with help from India.

Civilian politics in Pakistan in the last few decades has been tarnished by corruption, inefficiency and confrontations between various institutions. Alternating periods of civilian and military rule have not helped to establish stability.

Pakistan came under military rule again in October 1999 after the ousting of a civilian government that had lost a great deal of public support.

The coup leader, General Musharraf, pledged to revive the country's fortunes, but faced economic challenges as well as an increasing polarisation between Islamist militancy and the modernising secular wing of Pakistani politics.

Pakistan's place on the world stage shifted after the 11 September 2001 attacks in the US. It dropped its support for the Taleban regime in Afghanistan and was propelled into the frontline in the fight against terrorism, becoming a key ally of Washington.

Pakistani forces say they have arrested hundreds of suspected al-Qaeda and Taleban-linked militants in the rugged, restive tribal regions along the Pakistani-Afghan border. Tens of thousands of troops are deployed in the area, which has been the scene of fierce fighting between security forces and suspected militants.

Tensions with India over Kashmir remain and have fuelled fears of a regional arms race. However, an ongoing peace process has brought the two nuclear-armed powers back from the brink of renewed conflict.

President: Pervez Musharraf

General Pervez Musharraf seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999 which was widely condemned and which led to Pakistan's suspension from the Commonwealth until 2004.

But he shook off his pariah status and gained foreign acceptance after he backed the US-led campaign against terror following the attacks on America on 11 September 2001.

Overview

  • Full name: Islamic Republic of Pakistan

  • Population: 161.1 million (UN, 2005)

  • Capital: Islamabad

  • Largest city: Karachi

  • Area: 796,095 sq km (307,374 sq miles), excluding Pakistani-administered Kashmir (83,716 sq km/32,323 sq miles)

  • Major languages: English, Urdu, Punjabi, Sindhi, Pashto, Balochi

  • Major religion: Islam

  • Life expectancy: 63 years (men), 63 years (women) (UN)

  • Monetary unit: 1 Pakistani Rupee = 100 paisa

  • Main exports: Textile products, rice, cotton, leather goods

  • GNI per capita: US $690 (World Bank, 2006)

  • Internet domain: .pk

  • International dialling code: +92

 

The president has waged a campaign against Islamic extremists, banning several groups. But his stance against militancy has not been well received in some quarters; the general has survived a number of assassination attempts.

In 2002 General Musharraf awarded himself another five years as president, together with the power to dismiss an elected parliament. The handover from military to civilian rule came with parliamentary elections in November 2002, and the appointment of a civilian prime minister.

He held onto his military role, reneging on a promise to give up his army post and to become a civilian president.

In October 2007 he won the support of most parliamentarians in controversial presidential elections. However, the Supreme Court had earlier ruled that the winner could not be formally announced before it had ruled on whether General Musharraf was eligible to stand.

In early November, the general pre-empted the Supreme Court's ruling on his eligibility by imposing emergency rule and dismissing judges opposed to his candidacy, a move that received widespread condemnation in the international community.

The new Supreme Court confirmed President Musharraf's right to stand, clearing the way for him to become a civilian leader. He quit his army post soon afterwards and in mid-December lifted the state of emergency.

Parliamentary elections were scheduled to take place on 8 January 2008, but were postponed until 18 February on account of the unrest caused by the assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto.

President Musharraf denied there'd been any government security lapse in protecting Benazir Bhutto. He also rejected allegations that the Pakistani authorities had been complicit in her killing.

President Musharraf was born in Delhi in 1943 and his family emigrated to Pakistan after the partition of the Indian sub-continent.

His military career began in 1964 and included spells of training in the UK. He became head of military operations when Ms Bhutto was prime minister, and then head of the army in 1998.

Caretaker prime minister: Mohammadmian Soomro

Media

President Pervez Musharraf's rule ushered in increased freedom for the print media and a liberalisation of broadcasting policies.

However, media rules were tightened in 2007 in the midst of an opposition campaign against the president. The legislation gave the broadcasting regulator more power to shut down TV stations.

Months later, under emergency rule, broadcasts of private TV stations via cable were disrupted.

The expansion of private radio and television stations brought to an end more than five decades of the state's virtual monopoly of broadcasting.

Television is the dominant medium, and licences for more than 40 private satellite TV stations have been awarded, bringing increasing competition for the state-run Pakistan Television Corporation. But there are no private, terrestrial TV stations.

Many Pakistanis watch international satellite TV channels, via a dish or an often-unlicensed cable TV operator.

Indian channels such as Zee TV and STAR TV are popular with those who can receive them. The channels circumvent censorship in Pakistan that is far more restrictive than in India.

Around 100 licences have been issued for private FM radio stations, although not all of them have been taken up. Pakistan's media regulator has estimated that the country can support more than 800 private radio stations. Private stations are not allowed to broadcast news.

There are regular reports of private FM stations operating illegally, particularly in the tribal areas of North-West Frontier Province. Some of the stations have been accused of fanning sectarian divisions.

Pakistan and India regularly engage in a war of words via their respective media, occasionally banning broadcasts from the other country.

The government uses a range of legal and constitutional powers to curb press freedom. The shutting down of private TV news channels accompanied the declaration of a state of emergency in late 2007, and the law on blasphemy has been used against journalists.

Nevertheless, Pakistan's print media are among the most outspoken in South Asia.

The Internet Service Providers Association of Pakistan estimated in March 2007 that there were between three and five million internet users. The authorities filter some websites. A small but growing number of bloggers write about political topics.

The press

  • Daily Jang - Karachi-based, Urdu-language; largest-circulation daily
  • Dawn - Karachi-based, largest-circulation English-language daily
  • The Nation - Lahore-based, English-language daily
  • The Frontier Post - Peshawar-based, English-language
  • The News - English-language daily, published by Jang group
  • Daily Ausaf - Islamabad-based, Urdu-language
  • Daily Times - English-language, publishes in Lahore and Karachi
  • Pakistan Observer - Islamabad-based daily
  • Business Recorder - financial daily
  • Pakistan and Gulf Economist - business weekly
  • The Friday Times - Lahore-based weekly, English-language

    Television

  • Pakistan Television Corporation Ltd - state TV, operates PTV 1, PTV National, PTV Bolan, PTV World
  • ATV - semi-private, terrestrial network
  • Geo TV - leading private satellite broadcaster, owned by Jang publishing group; based in Dubai; services include Urdu-language Geo News
  • Dawn News - private satellite broadcaster, owned by Herald group; first English-language news channel
  • Aaj TV - private satellite broadcaster, owned by Business Recorder group
  • Indus TV - private, via satellite, runs Indus Vision, Indus Plus, Indus News, Indus Music
  • ARY Digital - private, via satellite; services include news channel ARY One World

    Radio

  • Radio Pakistan - state-run, operates 25 stations nationwide, an external service and the entertainment-based FM 101 network, aimed at younger listeners
  • Azad Kashmir Radio - state-run
  • Mast FM 103 - private, music-based
  • FM 100 - private, music-based

    News agency

  • Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) - state-funded

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