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Pakistan Population & People

Surprisingly, Pakistan is the world’s ninth most population country. In 1992, an estimated 117 million people lived in the four regular provinces, plus million in Azad Jammu & Kashmir and 850,000 in the Northern Areas. Temporary residents include over million Afghan refugees (some of whom have now begun returning to Afghanistan) and up to three million Kashmiri refugees. Probably uncounted are nomads like the Gujar herders of the NWFP, as well as to two million Pakistanis working overseas. The rate of population growth is over 3%, one of Asia’s highest.

The population is concentrated in the Indus Valley. Especially the Multan-Lahore region, wile western Baluchistan averages only a few people per sq km. at least two-third are farmers, but the trend is off the farms and into the biggest cities (populations in millions) – Karachi (8), Lahore (4.1), Faisalabad (1.5), Rawalpindi (1.1), Hyderabad (1.1) and Multan (1).

Owing to its position on old trade and invasion routes, Pakistan is a fascinating kaleidoscope of people and languages. It seems impossible to define Pakistanis racially Every large city is full of faces that look Arab, Mongol, Indian, even European. The provincial borders only poorly reflect ethnic divisions, but native language (and to some extent body type) suggests five major group: Punjabi, Pashtun, Sindhi, Mohajir and Baluchi.

The tall Punjabis, descendants of ancient indo-Aryans, are in the clear majority-50% to 60% -with an even more lopsided representation in government, civil service and the military; most, however, are farmers and artisans. Second come the Pashtuns (Pathans) of the NWFP, also Indo-Aryans and mainly herders and farmers; for more about them see the NWFP chapter.

The majority in Baluchistan are Pashtuns. The second largest group are the Baluch tribes people, whose cousins also live in south-east Iran; some are still semi-nomadic, perhaps because arid and barren Baluchistan is poorly suited to a settled life.

Sindhis have since Partition been outnumbered in their own province by Mohajirs (the word means refugee), a diverse group of  Muslim Indian immigrants who have tended Mohajir make up fully two-thirds of Karachi’s population.

Prominent smaller groups include the Brahuis of Baluchistan, possibly latter-day Dravidians, the subcontinent’s most ancient people; the sometimes Mediterranean-looking peoples of Chitral, Gilgit and Hunza with origins lost in legend and speaking a startling range of languages; short, sturdy Mongol –Tibetan Baltistan, speaking a classical from of Tibetan; and the Kashmiris of Azad Jammu & Kashmir. For more on these minorities, see the regional chapters.

Of all these peoples, Punjabis are the most apt to call themselves ‘Pakistanis’. Others seem to regard themselves first as Sindhis Hunzakuts. Pashtuns, etc, and to share a vague dislike of ‘domineering, Punjabis. Although Urdu is officially the national language, it is the mother tongue for less than 8% of Pakistanis, mainly Mohajirs.

What nearly all have in common is Islam. Over 97% are Muslims –mostly Sunnis with Shias concentrated in the Northern Ares and offshoot communities like Ismailis in northern Chitral, the Northern Areas and Sind.

A small Christian minority is mostly descended from low-cast Hindu converts in colonial times. There are some Hindus and mostly in Lahore and Karachi, a few Parsees (Zoroastrians). Southern Chitral is home to the Kalasha people, with their own ancient religion.

Urbanization has forced some groups into close contact and competition for work, and ethnic rivalries are often acute in the cities. In recent years in Sind’s biggest cities, Karachi and Hyderabad, thousands have did in steadily escalating Mohajir-Sindhi violence.

Rural Sind and southern Punjab are in many ways quite feudal, with tenant farmers dominated by a few dozen powerful land-owning families who figure strongly in development  money has also generated a kind of ‘aristocracy’ among the traditionally egalitarian Pashtuns.

Pakistan is one of only four countries in the world (the others are India, Bangladesh and Nepal) where life expectancy for women is lower than that for men (51 vs 52 years). Both are well below the third-world average.                

History of Pakistan
British Times
Pakistan After Independence


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