As a relatively young player in the world power scene, Pakistan is nonetheless important in the modern political landscape. While the country itself was only born in 1947 to serve as a home for the growing Muslim nation, the land that is now Pakistan has been prominent throughout the history of the Middle East.
In its earliest days, the Indus people inhabited what was now Pakistan, and they created a very advanced society, complete with intricate architecture and a sophisticated government. When the Indus Valley died, the people began to suffer, leaving them open to foreign conquest. The Aryans came first, followed by Alexander the Great. Some of the pale-skinned people of the Kalasha Valleys region are believed to be the descendents of these early conquerors.
After Alexander, several different powers came into the region, bringing with them various cultural influences, like the Buddhist religion and Greek Culture. It was not until 711 AD that Mohammed bin Qasim, an Arab general, first brought Islam to the region. This was solidified in the 11th century when the Turkish rulers in Afghanistan established the Muslims as the ruling class. By the Mughal dynasty, a formidable Islamic government was established in the land.
Throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, the Mughals were without a doubt the leaders of the region. They brought a stable, unified rule to the subcontinent, and they fully established Islam as the ruling government and religion. Their downfall came when the empire got too big, and under leader Aurangzeb, they could not properly govern it. After Aurangzeb, struggles for succession broke up the empire, leaving the Mughals to rule in name only, with little real power, while provincial governments maintained primary control. It remained this way until 1857, when the British eliminated the final Mughal ruler.
Britain’s period of rule in the area brought several changes to the region, some of which are still part of Pakistan today. The law courts and mall in Lahore feature British-inspired architecture. A railway network in the country also points back to British control, as does the popularity of the English language.
In the early 1900s, the Hindus and Muslims who lived in the subcontinent united against British control. An untimely British massacre of unarmed protestors in Amristar in 1919 led the Muslims and Hindus to demand self-government and full independence. They made progress, but began to bicker among themselves. This led Muslim leader Mohammed Iqbal to push for a Muslim homeland in 1930.
From 1930 to 1947, demand for this Muslim homeland continued to grow. When the British Parliament began to look to giving India its freedom, they realized that they could not force the Hindus and Muslims to live in one unified country, and thus they created the separate countries of India and Pakistan.
Partitioning the two countries was not easy. Millions of people left one land to go to the other in order to be with their own people. Assets had to be divided, and violent struggles occurred. However, by August of 1947, Pakistan and India were both given independence.
Yet, even with independence, Pakistan was still divided. India separated West Pakistan from the Bengali East Pakistan region. These two regions had trouble agreeing, and in 1971, the Bengali region became Bangladesh. The remaining land of Pakistan continued to be plagued by clashes between its ethic groups and the demands of military dictators, but nationalism and the desire to have this Islamic homeland remained strong, even in the midst of the struggles of the nation.
- Because Pakistan is a Muslim nation, the people are called to prayer by loud chants from the minaret five times per day. These prayers are mandatory, so be prepared to see the people around you stop what they are doing to pray.
- As many as 97 percent of the people of Pakistan are Muslim. The country has the second largest Islamic population in the world.
- Urdu is the national language of Pakistan, but the official language, and the language that most people speak, is English. Others of the 60 spoken languages include Pashto, Persian, Siraiki, Balochi, Sindhi and Punjabi.
- In 1988, Benazir Bhutto became the first woman ever to be elected to lead a Muslim nation when she was named Prime Minister.
- Pakistan produces more salt than any other country in the world.
- Pakistan is the only Muslim country in the world to have nuclear power.
- A full 80 percent of the world’s soccer balls are created in Pakistan.
- Pakistan is home to the world’s largest deep sea port, the port in Gwader.
- The Tharparkar desert, located in southern Pakistan, is fertile, and this is the world’s only fertile desert.
- Peshawar – The Pashtun people are known for their hospitality, and be sure to check the Old City Bazaar for some of the best green tea in Pakistan.
- Lahore – This is the place to visit to see remnants of the Mughal empire.
- Kalasha Valleys – These three valleys in the Hindukush are rich in culture and well worth a visit.
- Khyber Pass – Live on the edge while venturing through the dangerous tribal lands on the way to Afghanistan, but be sure to take an armed escort.
- Karakoram Highway – Take a road trip through the peaks of the Karakoram Mountains on this scenic drive.
- Quetta – See Pakistan’s frontier in this desert outpost, and bring some money to shop at the bazaars.
- Moenjodaro – See what remains of one of the most advanced cities in the ancient world.
- Uch Sharif – This ancient town houses some of the loveliest shrines in the country.
- Swat District – If you are interested in visiting the resort scene, then take a trip to the riverside Swat District.
- Wagah – This border town on the edge of India has a rather flavorful closing-of-the-border ceremony at the end of each day that is well worth seeing.
How to Get Cash
- ATMs are one option as a place to get cash. You can find these locations in hub cities, such as Quetta and Lahore. However, these should not be considered your only place to get cash, because you may not find them once you leave the city. If you can find an ATM in a smaller city, it may not take foreign cards.
- High-end hotels will accept credit cards, as will upscale restaurants and shops, but not the budget options. Do not rely on credit cads as your form of payment while traveling in Pakistan.
- When visiting a moneychanger, you will need your passport. Always compare rates between the moneychangers and banks in the area you are visiting to ensure you are getting the best rate.
- Traveler’s checks are not widely accepted in Pakistan, even at big city banks.
- Western Union can serve as an option for an emergency transfer of cash if you run out while traveling in Pakistan.