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Pakistan is located in South Asia, on the Arabian Sea. It shares borders with Iran, Afghanistan, China, and India, and its coastline lies on the Arabian Sea.
Pakistan’s population is estimated at some 176 million (Pakistan Census Organization, Government of Pakistan, 2011). The official language is Urdu, though regional languages are also very popular. English is most commonly spoken by the country’s elites. Islam is the dominant religion, with small minorities of Christians, Hindus, and others.
Located in a part of the world with a rich and ancient history, the modern state of Pakistan was created in 1947 when the Indian sub-continent was divided: Pakistan was created as a state for Muslims of India, with east and west sections separated by India in between.
Yet the division left unresolved the status of the strategically important territory of Kashmir, and India and Pakistan fought wars in 1947-48 and again in 1965 over this area.
In 1971, unrest within East Pakistan followed by a third war between Pakistan and India led to East Pakistan becoming the independent state of Bangladesh.
Animosity between Pakistan and India remained a constant and tensions again flared up after India, followed by Pakistan, tested nuclear weapons in 1998. The two sides fought a limited war in Kashmir in 1999 and experienced a major crisis in 2001-02 and then after the Mumbai terrorist attacks in 2008.They have also intermittently made efforts to normalize relations but all have proved to be in vain.
Alternating periods of military and civilian rule has prevented Pakistan from consolidating democratic rule and has often led to internal instability. The most recent military ruler, General Musharraf took power in a coup in 1999 and following the September 11, 2001 attacks in the U.S., pledged cooperation with U.S. counter-terrorism efforts.
Following a return to civilian rule in 2008, under Prime Minister Yousuf raza Gilani, the U.S. publicly announced its commitment to strengthening Pakistan’s transition to democracy. The current democratic dispensation in Pakistan has raised hopes for institutional revival, and the civilian leadership has had notable political successes despite increased militant violence and a severe economic crisis that has left Pakistani institutions excessively stressed.
Pakistan continues to face the challenges of militancy of all kinds within its own borders. The government and military leaders are struggling to control domestic insurgents and transnational militants, many of whom are located in the tribal areas adjacent to the border with Afghanistan. Violence in the areas bordering Afghanistan, and in Afghanistan itself, has led to large numbers of displaced people and has placed a strain on Pakistani institutions and resources.
Following the killing by U.S. forces of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a Pakistani Garrison town in May 2011, relations between the U.S. and Pakistan became strained, though a stable Pakistan remains an important U.S. national security interest in that region. Both sides have pledged to continue cooperation.
The United States Institute of Peace’s work in Pakistan focuses on improving mutual understanding between the U.S. and Pakistan; strengthening Pakistan’s capacity to mitigate conflict; and promoting peacebuilding through education and civil society initiatives.
Over several years, USIP has been involved in training conflict resolution facilitators, promoting peace education in Islamic seminaries, encouraging community and policy level dialogues aimed at conflict management and prevention, and conducting research and analysis on the ground in Pakistan.
USIP is actively engaged in helping policymakers understand and address these complex issues as well as supporting initiatives to foster long-term peace and stability through a variety of research and action-oriented programs.
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