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320px-Flag_of_Pakistan.svgPakistan (1947- ) is the country just to the west of India. Under the near-absolute rule of army general Musharraf it is playing a deadly double game of trying to be friends with both America, whose money and goodwill it needs, and the Islamists, who would destroy America in a holy war.

The Islamists include not only Osama bin Laden, believed to live somewhere in the lawless mountains of the north, but also the Taliban and many home-grown Islamists.

If Musharraf does not somehow keep both sides happy he will fall. If the Islamists take over Pakistan they will have the bomb. It is unlikely that America would sit by and let that happen.

So what happens in Pakistan holds a key to the future.

When British rule ended in 1947, the British divided India into Muslim and Hindu halves. The Muslim part became known as Pakistan. Even so, religious violence still followed and millions died. Millions more fled to either India or Pakistan according to their religion. Musharraf was one of them. Most Pakistanis who speak Urdu come from India.

India was once ruled by the Muslims under the Mogul princes. They are the ones who built the Taj Mahal. Like Pakistan, they had a green flag with a moon on it. Even under British rule Muslims made up most of the army.

Pakistan once included East Pakistan, which is now known as Bangladesh. It is the eastern, Muslim part of Bengal which stands at the mouth of the Ganges. It broke away in 1971 in a war in which millions died.

Pakistan and India are enemies and both have the bomb. Their chief dispute is over Kashmir. It is a beautiful land in the far north where both Hindus and Muslims live. Consequently, both countries say it is theirs. It has led to war and could do so again.

Pakistan and America are sometime friends. When Pakistan started to develop the bomb, America cut it off. Pakistan seemed headed for ruin, but then came 9/11. America suddenly needed its friendship again.

In the 1990s before Musharraf took over, Pakistan was a democracy. It was led by corrupt landowners. Land is still power in Pakistan.

The name “Pakistan” was invented in 1934 out of the provinces that would make it up:

  • Punjab
  • Afghan Province (= North West Frontier Province)
  • Kashmir
  • Sindh
  • Baluchistan

The name also means “Land of the pure”.

Languages: Out of every 100 Pakistanis, 48 speak Punjabi, 12 Sindhi, 10 Siraiki, 10 English, 8 Pashto, 8 Urdu and 3 Baluchi. Punjabi is spoken in the north-east, Sindhi in the south-east, Baluchi in the south-west and Pashto in the north-west. English is spoken by those at the top.

The people in the west – the Pashtuns, who speak Pashto, and Baluchis – are not Indians but Persians. About two-thirds of all Pashtuns live in Pakistan; the rest live in Afghanistan.

Religion: Most Pakistanis are Sunni Muslims; one in five is Shia Muslim.

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