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History of Pakistan

WARNING: Terrorist threats continue in Pakistan, please read this travel warning before going!

People have been living in what is today Pakistan for hundreds of thousands of years, although no true large-scale civilization arose until about 7000 BC when the Mehrgarh people established settlements in the region and continued to live in the area until about 2500 BC. From this time until about 2000 BC these people were slowly replaced by the people of the Indus Valley, which are the ancestors of today's Indians and Punjabis.

The Indus civilization lasted for over a thousand years, but only ruled over modern day Pakistan for a fraction of this time as the civilization collapsed in about 1700s BC, just after they had taken the whole of modern day Pakistan. From the time of their collapse a number of smaller civilizations came to control the region. During this time the people of the Indus Valley settled the region further as Hinduism was introduced to the people. This period lasted until at least 600 BC.

In about 500 BC Darius the Great came to power in what is today Iran and his empire, the Achaemenid Empire took control over much of modern day Pakistan. This Persian rule took root in the Indus Valley and controlled the region until about 300 BC when Alexander the Great from Macedonia (ethnic Greek) took the region. However, this was the edge of Alexander's kingdom since his men refused to continue on. His eastern border is roughly equivalent to the Indus River. Even after Alexander's death the region remained under Greek control as the Seleucid Kingdom was established by one of Alexander's generals.

Even under Greek rule though, not all of modern day Pakistan was united as other rulers controlled various regions of the modern day country, including the Maurya Empire, which took control of nearly all of modern day Pakistan after negotiating a peace with the Seleucid rulers. This shift in power also shifted religious loyalties as the ancient Greek religions were forgotten in favor of Buddhism and a return of Hinduism. The Maurya Empire continued to grow for some time before powerful rulers in India took power in the east and by 185 BC the empire had collapsed.

Over the next few centuries the people were ruled over by numerous kings and kingdoms as rulers were influenced by both Greek and Indian cultures, creating something entirely unique from both. This shifting from kingdom to kingdom finally came to an end when the Gupta Empire took over much of modern day India and Pakistan; they ruled from 320 to 600 AD. The greatest contributions this empire made were architectural and cultural as they welcomed trade and outside influences, greatly altering the culture.

The Gupta Empire was again followed by numerous successive dynasties, few of which lasted long, before the Pala dynasty took over much of the east in the mid-700s, while the Arabs took much of the west in about the same time. The Arabs took most of the Indus Valley, converting most of these people to Islam, while the Pala Empire re-established Buddhism as the religion of choice; these led to a primarily Muslim population in the south and west and a primarily Buddhist population in the north and east.

After the fall of these empires the country again fell under the rule of multiple small rulers, including Turks from the north and Indians from the east. These Indians, based in Delhi had the greatest influence on the people as they set up trading posts and welcomed both locals and foreigners to the region of Pakistan. This actually created the Urdu language as it grew from the local languages with the introduction of Iranian, Turkish, Arabic, and Indian languages.

As Indian rulers declined in power, the Timurid Dynasty entered the region from Central Asia in the 1500s. Eventually this empire entered India and one of its offshoots became the Islamic Mughal Empire. As they moved east they built up numerous cities, including Lahore as they encouraged religious tolerance, although they were Muslim.

Mughal rule in Pakistan continued until 1739 when the Afsharid dynasty from Persia took power, creating the Durrani Empire. However this empire didn't last long in Pakistan and soon were overthrown, although not without wars and attempts, some successful, to regain control. By 1799 the Sikh Empire had taken control over most of the region. Again, this rule didn't last long as the British arrived in the 1800s and by 1849 had defeated the Sikhs, establishing British India, which included modern day Pakistan.

Almost immediately the people of Pakistan fought British rule and independence movements arose in the late 1800s. This led to the creations of the Muslim League in 1906, whose initial goals were to guarantee rights for Muslims in a territory that was overwhelmingly Hindi. Sadly this was viewed as a threat by many Hindus and division among the people by religion began.

Soon division among the Muslims and Hindis in India was widening as many Muslims sought immediately independence from Britain, while many Hindus stood behind Gandhi's stance of non-violence, which required more time and patience. This difference in methodology led to the formation of Pakistan. However, the Muslim League was losing proponents among the Muslims as well, as the people were divided in opinion; some people wanted independence immediately, others supported a longer, non-violence approach, while they also argued over whether to remain with India after independence or to become a separate nation.

By 1940 India was at war, getting involved on the side of the Britain in World War II, and the Muslim majority in Pakistan was slowly coming to believe that no united nation was possible after independence. As WWII came to a close Britain let India go as India formed one country and Pakistan (which included modern day Bangladesh at the time) formed another country in 1947.

Unfortunately, the borders were questioned so both Punjab and Bengal were divided among the two countries. This led to the movement of people: Hindus to India and Muslims to Pakistan, but this came with much violence. These areas broke out in war as trains moving from one country to the other were at times stopped as the people were massacred on both sides. There was also argument over the region of Kashmir, which both countries claimed, leading to war and India eventually gaining control over the region.

In the same year, 1947 war broke out between India and Pakistan as border disputes continued and fighting on the borders continued. This led to great nationalism in Pakistan, which unintentionally led to excluding the people of East Pakistan (modern day Bangladesh).

Due to all these early problems facing Pakistan in the 1950s, the military stepped in and took over the government, creating an Islamic Republic. This chaos led to full war with India in 1965 leading to greater military control, until 1970 when the military stepped aside to a degree and allowed free elections. These elections showed the drastic difference between east and west Pakistan, leading to the separation of east Pakistan, creating the country of Bangladesh in 1971. This action was not recognized by Pakistan at the time, but India encouraged the separation.

India's recognition of Bangladesh also led to increased hostilities between India and Pakistan, but also represented the return of a democracy in Pakistan. Leader, Zulfikar Bhutto developed great changes, including a growing technology to obtain the atomic bomb, to counteract India. The 1970s were a time of unifying the country, while also militarizing. This culminated in 1977 when the military again took over.

Under military rule from 1977 to 1988 the military government purged numerous detractors and restricted rights on numerous levels. This ended in 1988 when Benazir Bhutto took power. During the 1980s and 1990s the country tried to balance between numerous international interests, at times working with the Soviets, at other the United States and working with the Taliban in Afghanistan. It also was a time when relations with India again worsened as India began undergoing nuclear bomb testing. Pakistan responded by announcing that they had successfully create a nuclear bomb in the late 1990s.

In 1999 military power again took control in Pakistan as numerous politicians were exiled. In 2001, after the al Qaeda attacks on the United States, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf supported the United States in their quest to oust Taliban rule in Afghanistan. The people generally disagreed with this decision and most of the Taliban and Al Qaeda fugitives fled from Afghanistan into Pakistan.

In 2007 numerous exiled politicians, including former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and former President Benazir Bhutto returned. This led to numerous assassination attempts, which found themselves successful when Bhutto was killed later that year. The following year Musharraf stepped down from office and relations with many western countries severely diminished. This was further escalated when in 2011 the United States entered Pakistan without their permission to kill Osama bin Laden, the leader of al Qaeda and mastermind of the September 11, 2001 attack on the United States.

Today Pakistan remains unstable at best as politics and personal opinions are divided on nearly every issue. Additionally, the government and people struggle to find international allies as there seems to be little cohesiveness on what direction the country should head.

This page was last updated: July, 2012