Pakistan at a glance

Things you need to know about this fascinating country

The people

Pakistan is riven by internal conflict. Its 160 million people are divided into numerous ethnic groups, with violent feuds occurring between many of them, and some parts of the country remaining beyond government control.

Map commentary by Shabeeh Abbas

North-West Frontier Province (NWFP)

Smallest province in size but second-largest in population. Pashto speakers (Pashtuns) form a rough majority. Other groups speak Hindko and Seraiki. Pakistani Pashtuns have close ties with Pashtuns

in neighbouring Afghanistan. Many sympathise with the Taliban, though secular Pashtun nationalism also exists. There are tensions between Pashtuns and non-Pashtuns.

Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata)

Nominally government-controlled, but tribal leaders hold the real power. Bordering Afghanistan, this area is the centre of Taliban activity, smuggling and drug production. The town of Darra Adam Khel is one of the biggest illegal arms markets in the world. Reputed hideout of Osama bin Laden.

Baluchistan

Largest but least populated province. Rich in natural resources, it is Pakistan’s main source of natural gas. Baluchis are the main ethnic group. Exploitation of natural resources by a punjabi-dominated elite has brought them few benefits. Construction of Gwadar port and the influx of workers have led to fears that the Baluchis will become a minority in their own land. Baluch nationalist insurgency is ongoing. The province shares a border with Iran, so it is used by Jundullah, a militant Sunni group, to carry out attacks inside Iranian territory.

Northern Areas and Azad Kashmir

Azad Kashmir is the Pakistani-administered part of the former state of Jammu and Kashmir. Most people speak Hindko. The Northern Areas were also part of Jammu and Kashmir prior to independence. They rebelled successfully and chose integration with Pakistan in 1947. Not officially a province, they have no representation in parliament. Pakistan’s only Shia-majority region. There is strong resentment against the central government.

Punjab

Most populous province. Punjabi speakers form the main group. They dominate the military and are accused of exploiting other groups. Concentrated in the south, Seraiki speakers are the second-largest group. Most feel politically and economically neglected.

Sindh

Major site of the ancient Indus Valley civilisation. Sindhi speakers are the main group. Most follow

a Sufic version of Islam. “Honour killings” regularly occur in rural areas. Concentrated in urban areas, Urdu speakers are the second-largest group. Communal violence between the two sides killed thousands in the 1980s.

The economy

Pakistan's economy boomed in 2005, growing faster than it had for 20 years. It has now settled to a GDP growth of 6.6 per cent - average for Asian economies. Foreign direct investment (FDI) has risen from $322m in 2002 to $3.5bn in 2006. Most of the money is going into the telecommunications and petroleum industries.

In 2003, the country had fewer than three million mobile-phone users; today there are almost 50 million.

Car ownership has been increasing at roughly 40 per cent a year since 2001. Rolls-Royce and Porsche opened their first showrooms in Pakistan last year.

According to the World Bank, Pakistan is the second best country in south Asia for doing business. That said, it takes on average 560 hours per year to comply with all Pakistani tax regulations.

Sales of leather garments rose sharply in 2006: 48 per cent more than in the previous year.

More science and engineering doctoral students are expected to graduate annually - 1,500 a year by 2010, a hundredfold increase on the 1990s figure.

Real-estate prices in Lahore have risen more than 1,000 per cent since 2001.

Twenty-four per cent of the population lives in poverty, down only 1 per cent since 1990. Infant mortality is higher than average for south Asia.

Sarah O'Connor

The culture

Pakistan has six Unesco World Heritage Sites. These are the archaeological ruins at Mohenjodaro; Taxila; the Buddhist ruins of Takht-i-Bahi and nearby city remains at Sahr-i-Bahlol; the historical monument of Thatta; Shahi Fort and Shalimar Gardens in Lahore; and Rohtas Fort.

Basant is the famous kite-flying festival, centred in Lahore, that marks the coming of spring. It attracts crowds from all over the country.

Roughly a thousand new cybercafés are opening each year; more Google searches for "sex" emanate from Pakistan than from any other country.

Television has boomed since deregulation in 2002. More than 40 stations now include one hosting south Asia's first cross-dressing television star.

Abrar-ul-Haq is the pioneer of modern bhangra in Pakistan and one of the country's most influential figures in music.

Pakistan's "truck art" is world-famous: trucks are painted with calligraphy and popular images, such as film stars (far left).

Bapsi Sidhwa is the best-known Pakistani novelist. Her works include The Crow Eaters and Cracking India.

Lollywood refers to the Pakistan film industry, which is based in Lahore (left). Joint projects with Indian film-makers have been planned since 2004, but these have not yet materialised.

Junoon, meaning "passion" in Urdu, is Pakistan's most popular rock band, blending western and folk styles.

Shabeeh Abbas

Read more from our Pakistan special issue here

This article first appeared in the 30 April 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Pakistan: The Taliban takeover

Biteback and James Wharton
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“It was the most traumatic chapter of my life”: ex-soldier James Wharton on his chemsex addiction

One of the British Army’s first openly gay soldiers reveals how he became trapped in a weekend world of drug and sex parties.

“Five days disappeared.” James Wharton, a 30-year-old former soldier, recalls returning to his flat in south London at 11pm on a Sunday night in early March. He hadn’t eaten or slept since Wednesday. In the five intervening days, he had visited numerous different apartments, checked in and out of a hotel room, partied with dozens of people, had sex, and smoked crystal meth “religiously”.

One man he met during this five-day blur had been doing the same for double the time. “He won’t have been exaggerating,” Wharton tells me now. “He looked like he’d been up for ten days.”

On Monday, Wharton went straight to his GP. He had suffered a “massive relapse” while recovering from his addiction to chemsex: group sex parties enhanced by drugs.

“Crystal meth lets you really dig in, to use an Army term”

I meet Wharton on a very different Monday morning six months after that lost long weekend. Sipping a flat white in a sleek café workspace in Holborn, he’s a stroll away from his office in the city, where he works as a PR. He left the Army in 2013 after ten years, having left school and home at 16.


Wharton left school at 16 to join the Army. Photo: Biteback

With his stubble, white t-shirt and tortoise shell glasses, he now looks like any other young media professional. But he’s surfacing from two years in the chemsex world, where he disappeared to every weekend – sometimes for 72 hours straight.

Back then, this time on a Monday would have been “like a double-decker bus smashing through” his life – and that’s if he made it into work at all. Sometimes he’d still be partying into the early hours of a Tuesday morning. The drugs allow your body to go without sleep. “Crystal meth lets you really dig in, to use an Army expression,” Wharton says, wryly.


Wharton now works as a PR in London. Photo: James Wharton

Mainly experienced by gay and bisexual men, chemsex commonly involves snorting the stimulant mephodrone, taking “shots” (the euphoric drug GBL mixed with a soft drink), and smoking the amphetamine crystal meth.

These drugs make you “HnH” (high and horny) – a shorthand on dating apps that facilitate the scene. Ironically, they also inhibit erections, so Viagra is added to the mix. No one, sighs Wharton, orgasms. He describes it as a soulless and mechanical process. “Can you imagine having sex with somebody and then catching them texting at the same time?”

“This is the real consequence of Section 28”

Approximately 3,000 men who go to Soho’s 56 Dean Street sexual health clinic each month are using “chems”, though it’s hard to quantify how many people regularly have chemsex in the UK. Chemsex environments can be fun and controlled; they can also be unsafe and highly addictive.

Participants congregate in each other’s flats, chat, chill out, have sex and top up their drugs. GBL can only be taken in tiny doses without being fatal, so revellers set timers on their phones to space out the shots.

GBL is known as “the date rape drug”; it looks like water, and a small amount can wipe your memory. Like some of his peers, Wharton was raped while passed out from the drug. He had been asleep for six or so hours, and woke up to someone having sex with him. “That was the worst point, without a doubt – rock bottom,” he tells me. “[But] it didn’t stop me from returning to those activities again.”

There is a chemsex-related death every 12 days in London from usually accidental GBL overdoses; a problem that Wharton compares to the AIDS epidemic in a book he’s written about his experiences, Something for the Weekend.


Wharton has written a book about his experiences. Photo: Biteback

Wharton’s first encounter with the drug, at a gathering he was taken to by a date a couple of years ago, had him hooked.

“I loved it and I wanted more immediately,” he recalls. From then on, he would take it every weekend, and found doctors, teachers, lawyers, parliamentary researchers, journalists and city workers all doing the same thing. He describes regular participants as the “London gay elite”.

“Chemsex was the most traumatic chapter of my life” 

Topics of conversation “bounce from things like Lady Gaga’s current single to Donald Trump”, Wharton boggles. “You’d see people talking about the general election, to why is Britney Spears the worst diva of them all?”

Eventually, he found himself addicted to the whole chemsex culture. “It’s not one single person, it’s not one single drug, it’s just all of it,” he says.



Wharton was in the Household Cavalry alongside Prince Harry. Photos: Biteback and James Wharton

Wharton feels the stigma attached to chemsex is stopping people practising it safely, or being able to stop. He’s found a support network through gay community-led advice services, drop-ins and workshops. Not everyone has that access, or feels confident coming forward.

“This is the real consequence of Section 28,” says Wharton, who left school in 2003, the year this legislation against “promoting” homosexuality was repealed. “Who teaches gay men how to have sex? Because the birds and the bees chat your mum gives you is wholly irrelevant.”


Wharton was the first openly gay soldier to appear in the military in-house magazine. Photo courtesy of Biteback

Wharton only learned that condoms are needed in gay sex when he first went to a gay bar at 18. He was brought up in Wrexham, north Wales, by working-class parents, and described himself as a “somewhat geeky gay” prior to his chemsex days.

After four years together, he and his long-term partner had a civil partnership in 2010; they lived in a little cottage in Windsor with two dogs. Their break-up in 2014 launched him into London life as a single man.

As an openly gay soldier, Wharton was also an Army poster boy; he appeared in his uniform on the cover of gay magazine Attitude. He served in the Household Cavalry with Prince Harry, who once defended him from homophobic abuse, and spent seven months in Iraq.


In 2012, Wharton appeared with his then civil partner in Attitude magazine. Photo courtesy of Biteback

A large Union Jack shield tattoo covering his left bicep pokes out from his t-shirt – a physical reminder of his time at war on his now much leaner frame. He had it done the day he returned from Iraq.

Yet even including war, Wharton calls chemsex “the most traumatic chapter” of his life. “Iraq was absolutely Ronseal, it did exactly what it said on the tin,” he says. “It was going to be a bit shit, and then I was coming home. But with chemsex, you don’t know what’s going to happen next.

“When I did my divorce, I had support around me. When I did the Army, I had a lot of support. Chemsex was like a million miles an hour for 47 hours, then on the 48th hour it was me on my own, in the back of an Uber, thinking where did it all go wrong? And that’s traumatic.”

Something for the Weekend: Life in the Chemsex Underworld by James Wharton is published by Biteback.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 30 April 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Pakistan: The Taliban takeover