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

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No peace after progress

How the death of the industrial way of life gave us choice – and stoked resentment and fear.

Now that the making of useful and necessary things in Britain is only a shadow of what it once was, we can see more clearly the effects of the Manufacturing Age. The cost was high to the producers of prodigious wealth; a ten-year difference in life expectancy remains between people living in the richest areas and those in Glasgow. The (fleeting, it now seems) visitation of industrialism has made life more comfortable and its dismantling has liberated millions from choiceless occupations. The legacy is one of spectacular improvement, unequally shared.

Perhaps the most dramatic experience of the 20th century was the suddenness with which profligate plenty replaced a skinflint subsistence. Was it the speed of this that distracted us from wondering why, instead of the secure sustenance that generations of needy people had asked of an unyielding economic system, we were offered a promiscuous spillage of goods, promoted with quasi-religious zeal by the converts of a capitalism that had previously delivered to most of its captive workers a life of penury? Such a rapid reversal might have alerted us to changes beneath the surface that elided losses incurred.

The greatest of these was certainly not the extinction of the industrial way of life itself, release from which has been an unqualified blessing. But the transition from relentlessly work-driven lives (in the 1950s, two-thirds of Britain’s workers were still manual labourers) was marked by perfunctory obituaries for the disintegration of industrial communities, with no acknowledgement that, for a century and a half, they had represented the inescapable destiny of the people they sheltered.

Even less recognition was given to the fortitude with which they had borne a long, coercive labour. A way of life, buried without ceremony in the unmarked grave of progress, could not be mourned; and this has generated some social pathologies of our time: resentment over an arbitrary obliteration of industry, disengagement from a party of labour by those it called, like feudal lords, its “own people”, loss of memory of the economic migrants we also were, passing from the goad of industry into the pastures of consumption, and thence into the liberating servitude of technology.

Grief makes no judgement on the intrinsic value of what is lost. Absence of the known and familiar is the object of melancholy in its own right, even if replaced by something immeasurably better. Objectively, there was little to mourn in the vanished industrial way of life: insufficiency and humiliation, malice of overseer and manager, officiousness of poor-law administrator and means-test man. Male industrial workers exhausted in body and spirit, instead of protecting those for whom the power of their hands was the only shelter against destitution, visited similar punishment on their wives and children. There is nothing to be lamented in an end to the penitential life of women, scrubbing not only the red tiles of the kitchen floor, but even an arc of pavement outside the front door; their interception of men on payday before wages were wasted on beer and oblivion; the clenching against joyless invasion of their bodies in the boozy aftermath. But it was the only life they knew, and they adhered to it with grim stoicism and even pride.

There is much to be said for their resistance. The fragile lattice formed by women’s arms was often the only safety net against destitution. Trade unions and friendly and burial societies that shielded folk from economic violence foreshadowed the welfare state and the National Health Service.

The life of labouring people in Britain was strikingly homogeneous, despite diversity of occupation, dialect and local sensibility. There was the same collective experience: terraced house with parlour reserved for celebration or mourning; the three-piece suite, plaster figure on a stand behind the window, chenille curtain against the draught, engraving of The Stag at Bay on the wall; the deal table and Windsor chairs in the living room, the mantelpiece a domestic shrine with clock, candlesticks and pictures of soldiers smiling before they died; the music of cinders falling through the bars in the grate; cheerless bedrooms where husband and wife slept in high connubial state, more bier than bed, where sexual enjoyment was ritually sacrificed as flowers of frost formed on the inside of the window.

And everywhere photographs: wraithlike children with ringlets or in sailor suits, fated never to grow up; weddings in the back garden, a bouquet of lilies and a grandmother in boots and astrakhan hat; the smudged features of a kinsman no one can now identify. Identical memories, too: the shotgun wedding in the dingy finery of a Co-op hall; the funeral tableau around the grave, amid ominous inscriptions of “Sleeping where no shadows fall”; queues outside the ocean-going Savoy or Tivoli to watch Gone With the Wind; the pub where “Vilia” or “The Last Rose of Summer” was hammered out on a discordant piano.

The opening up of such sombre lives might have been expected to call forth cries of gratitude. Instead, a synthetic joy has emanated largely from the same sources that, until recently, offered people grudging survival only, the change of tune outsourced to producers of manufactured delight, purveyors of contrived euphoria to the people – a different order of industrial artefact from the shoes, utensils and textiles of another era.

***

A more authentic popular res­ponse exists beneath the official psalmody, a persistent murmur of discontent and powerlessness. Anger and aggression swirl around like dust and waste paper in the streets of our affluent, unequal society. As long-term recipients of the contempt of our betters, we know how to despise the vulnerable – people incapable of work, the poor, the timid and the fearful, those addicted to drugs and alcohol. Sullen resentment tarnishes the wealth of the world, a conviction that somebody else is getting the advantages that ought to be “ours” by right and by merit.

Rancour appears among those “left behind” in neighbourhoods besieged by unknown tongues and foreign accents: people who never voted for unchosen change, as all political options are locked up in a consensus of elites. “Give us back our country!”
they cry; even though that country is not in the custody of those from whom they would reclaim it. There was no space for the working class to grieve over its own dissolution. If, as E P Thompson said, that class was present at its own making, it was certainly not complicit in its own undoing.

Grief denied in individuals leads to damaging psychological disorders. There is no reason to believe that this differs for those bereaved of a known way of living. The working class has been colonised, as was the peasantry in the early industrial era. When the values, beliefs and myths of indigenous peoples are laid waste, these lose meaning, and people go to grieve in city slums and die from alcohol, drugs and other forms of self-inflicted violence. Though the dominant culture’s erasure of the manufacturing way of life in Britain was less intense than the colonial ruin of ancient societies, this subculture was equally unceremoniously broken. It is a question of degree. The ravages of drugs and alcohol and self-harm in silent former pit villages and derelict factory towns show convergence with other ruined cultures elsewhere in the world.

Depression is a symptom of repressed grief: here is the connection between unfinished mourning and popular resentment at having been cheated out of our fair share, our due, our place in the world. If we are unable to discern our own possible fate in suffering people now, this is perhaps a result of estrangement from unresolved wrongs in our own past. Nothing was ever explained. Globalisation occurred under a kind of social laissez-faire: no political education made the world more comprehensible to the disaffected and disregarded, people of small account to those who take decisions on their behalf and in their name.

Anyone who protested against our passage into this changed world was criminalised, called “wrecker” and “extremist”. The miners’ strike of 1984 was the symbol of this: their doomed fight to preserve a dignity achieved in pain and violence was presented by the merchants of deliverance not only as retrograde, but also as an act of outlawry. Resistance to compulsory change was derided as a response of nostalgics protecting the indefensible, when the whole world was on the brink of a new life. Early in her tenure of Downing Street, Margaret Thatcher, that sybil and prophet who knew about these things, warned that Britain would become “a less cosy, more abrasive” place: a vision confirmed by the Battle of Orgreave – redolent of civil war – and the anguish of Hillsborough.

It is too late to grieve now. Scar tissue has healed over the untreated wound. Though no one expects the ruling classes to understand the distress of perpetual “modernisation”, the leaders of labour might have been able to recognise capitalism’s realm of freedom and a gaudy consumerism that concealed hardening competitiveness and the growth of a crueller, more bitter society.

The ills of this best of all worlds, its excessive wealth and extreme inequality, are on show in hushed thoroughfares of London, shuttered sites of “inward investment”, where the only sound is the faint melody of assets appreciating; while elsewhere, people wait for charitable tins of denutrified substances to feed their family, or sit under a grubby duvet, a Styrofoam cup beseeching the pence of passers-by.

Unresolved feelings about industrialism, enforced with great harshness and abolished with equal contempt for those who served it, are certainly related to the stylish savagery of contemporary life. The alibi that present-day evils are an expression of “human nature” is a poor apology for what is clearly the nature – restless and opportunistic – of a social and economic system that has, so far at least, outwitted its opponents at every turn.

Jeremy Seabrook’s book “The Song of the Shirt” (C Hurst & Co) won the Bread and Roses Award for Radical Publishing 2016

This article first appeared in the 23 June 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Divided Britain