Principal Government Officials
Chief of State: President Asif Ali Zardari
Head of Government: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif
The president is chosen for a 5-year term by an electoral college consisting of the Senate, National Assembly, and the provincial assemblies. The prime minister is selected by the National Assembly for a 4-year term. The bicameral parliament--or Majlis-e-Shoora--consists of the Senate (100 seats; members are indirectly elected by provincial assemblies) and the National Assembly (342 seats; 60 seats reserved for women, 10 seats reserved for minorities). Each of the four provinces--Punjab, Sindh, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, and Balochistan--has a Chief Minister and provincial assembly. The Northern Areas, Azad Kashmir, and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) are administered by the federal government but enjoy considerable autonomy. The cabinet, National Security Council, and governors serve at the president's discretion.
The judicial system comprises a Supreme Court, provincial high courts, and Federal Islamic (or Shari'a) Court. The Supreme Court is Pakistan's highest court. With the 18th Amendment now in place, the president names the most senior Supreme Court justice to be chief justice; also, the courts’ and Parliament’s influence are increased through a new judicial commission to oversee judges’ appointments. Each province, as well as Islamabad, has a high court, the justices of which are appointed by the president after conferring with the chief justice of the Supreme Court and the provincial chief justice. The judiciary is proscribed from issuing any order contrary to the decisions of the president. Federal Sharia Court hears cases that primarily involve Sharia, or Islamic law. Legislation enacted in 1991 gave legal status to Sharia. Although Sharia was declared the law of the land, it did not replace the existing legal code.
According to the constitution, Pakistan is a federation of four provinces: Balochistan, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab, and Sindh. Governors appointed by the president head the provinces. There is also the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), comprised of seven agencies, and the Islamabad Capital Territory, which consists of the capital city of Islamabad. These areas and territory are under the jurisdiction of the federal government. The Northern Areas are administered as a de facto "Union Territory" and are treated as an integral part of Pakistan. The Pakistani-administered portion of the disputed Jammu and Kashmir region includes Azad Kashmir, a separate and autonomous government that maintains strong ties to Pakistan.
After September 11, 2001, Pakistan's prominence in the international community increased significantly, as it pledged its alliance with the U.S. in counterterrorism efforts and made a commitment to eliminate terrorist camps on its territory. Historically, Pakistan has had difficult and volatile relations with India, long-standing close relations with China, extensive security and economic interests in the Persian Gulf, and wide-ranging bilateral relations with the United States and other Western countries. It expresses a strong desire for a stable Afghanistan.
Since partition, relations between Pakistan and India have been characterized by rivalry and suspicion. Although many issues divide the two countries, the most sensitive one since independence has been the status of Kashmir.
At the time of partition, the princely state of Kashmir, though ruled by a Hindu king, had an overwhelmingly Muslim population. When the king hesitated in acceding to either Pakistan or India in 1947, some of his Muslim subjects revolted in favor of joining Pakistan. In exchange for military assistance in containing the revolt, the Kashmiri ruler offered his allegiance to India. Indian troops occupied the eastern portion of Kashmir, including its capital, Srinagar, while the western part came under Pakistani control.
India submitted this dispute to the United Nations on January 1, 1948. One year later, the UN arranged a cease-fire along a line dividing Kashmir but leaving the northern end of the line not demarcated and the Valley of Kashmir (with the majority of the population) under Indian control. India and Pakistan agreed to a UN-supervised plebiscite to determine the state's future. This plebiscite has not occurred because the main precondition, the withdrawal of both nations' forces from Kashmir, has failed to take place. Pakistan has since fought three wars with India over Kashmir, in 1948, 1965, and the Kargil conflict in 1999.
In July 1972, following the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war, which resulted in the creation of an independent Bangladesh, President Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi met in the hill station of Shimla, India, and agreed to a line of control in Kashmir. Both leaders endorsed the principle of settlement of bilateral disputes through peaceful means. In 1974, Pakistan and India agreed to resume postal and telecommunications linkages and to enact measures to facilitate travel. Trade and diplomatic relations were restored in 1976 after a hiatus of 5 years.
India's nuclear test in 1974 generated great uncertainty in Pakistan and is generally acknowledged to have been the impetus for Pakistan's nuclear weapons development program. In 1983, the Pakistani and Indian Governments accused each other of aiding separatists in their respective countries--Sikhs in India's Punjab state and Sindhis in Pakistan's Sindh province. In April 1984, tensions erupted after troops were deployed to the Siachen Glacier, a high-altitude, desolate area close to the Chinese border not demarcated by the cease-fire agreement (Karachi Agreement) signed by Pakistan and India in 1949.
Tensions diminished after Rajiv Gandhi became Prime Minister in November 1984 and after a group of Sikh hijackers was brought to trial by Pakistan in March 1985. In December 1985, President Zia and Prime Minister Gandhi pledged not to attack each other's nuclear facilities. A formal "no attack" agreement was signed in January 1991. In early 1986, the Indian and Pakistani Governments began high-level talks to resolve the Siachen Glacier border dispute and to improve trade.
Bilateral tensions increased in early 1990, when Kashmiri militants began a campaign of violence against Indian Government authority in Jammu and Kashmir. Subsequent high-level bilateral meetings relieved the tensions between India and Pakistan, but relations worsened again after the destruction of the Ayodhya mosque by Hindu extremists in December 1992 and terrorist bombings in Bombay in March 1993. Talks between the Foreign Secretaries of both countries in January 1994 ended in deadlock.
The relationship improved markedly when Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee traveled to Lahore for a summit with Nawaz Sharif in February 1999. There was considerable hope that the meeting could lead to a breakthrough. However, any breakthrough that was made was negated when in spring 1999, infiltrators from Pakistan occupied positions on the Indian side of the Line of Control in the remote, mountainous area of Kashmir near Kargil. By early summer, serious fighting flared in the Kargil sector of Kashmir. The infiltrators withdrew following a meeting between Prime Minister Sharif and President Bill Clinton in July. Subsequently, relations between India and Pakistan became particularly strained during the 1999 coup in Islamabad. Then, on December 13, 2001 just weeks after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, an attack on India's Parliament further strained this relationship.
The prospects for better relations between India and Pakistan improved in early January 2004 when a summit meeting of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) permitted India's Prime Minister Vajpayee to meet with President Musharraf. Both leaders agreed to reestablish the Composite Dialogue to resolve their bilateral disputes. The Composite Dialogue focuses on eight issues: confidence building measures, Kashmir, Wullar barrage, promotion of friendly exchanges, Siachen glacier, Sir creek, terrorism and drug trafficking, and economic and commercial cooperation. The first round in this renewed Composite Dialogue was held in New Delhi on June 27-28, 2004.
Relations further improved when President Musharraf met Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New York in October 2004. Additional steps aimed at improving relations were announced when Indian Foreign Minister Natwar Singh visited Islamabad in February 2005 and in April 2005 when President Musharraf traveled to India to view a cricket match and hold discussions. In a further display of improved relations, bus service commenced from Pakistan-controlled Kashmir to Srinagar in April 2005. After a destructive earthquake hit the Kashmir region in October 2005, the two countries cooperated with each other to deal with the humanitarian crisis.
However, the July 2008 bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul, followed in November 2008 by terrorist attacks in Mumbai, brought the bilateral Composite Dialogue to a halt. Pakistan agreed to foreign secretary-level talks in New Delhi, which occurred February 25, 2010. On April 29, 2010, Singh and Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani met on the sidelines of the 16th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Summit and signaled they would work toward resuming dialogue. Following the meeting, Pakistani officials assured India that Pakistan would not allow its territory to be used for terrorist activity directed against India. Pakistan also said it would expedite the trial of suspects implicated in the Mumbai attacks.
Following the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Pakistani Government played a vital role in supporting the Afghan resistance movement and assisting Afghan refugees. After the Soviet withdrawal in February 1989, Pakistan, with cooperation from the world community, continued to provide extensive support for displaced Afghans. Continued turmoil in Afghanistan prevented the refugees from returning to their country. In 1999, more than 1.2 million registered Afghan refugees remained in Pakistan. Pakistan was one of three countries to recognize the Taliban regime of Afghanistan. International pressure after September 11, 2001, prompted Pakistan to reassess its relations with the Taliban regime and support the U.S. and international coalition in Operation Enduring Freedom to remove the Taliban from power. Pakistan has publicly expressed its support to Afghanistan's President Karzai and has pledged $100 million toward Afghanistan's reconstruction. Both nations are also working to strengthen cooperation and coordination along their shared rugged border.
People's Republic of China
In 1950, Pakistan was among the first countries to recognize the People's Republic of China (P.R.C.). Following the Sino-Indian hostilities of 1962, Pakistan's relations with China became stronger; since then, the countries have regularly exchanged high-level visits resulting in various agreements. China has provided economic, military, and technical assistance to Pakistan. Favorable relations with China have been a pillar of Pakistan's foreign policy. The P.R.C. strongly supported Pakistan's opposition to Soviet involvement in Afghanistan and is perceived by Pakistan as a regional counterweight to India and Russia.
Iran and the Persian GulfHistorically, Pakistan has had close geopolitical and cultural-religious linkages with Iran. However, strains in the relationship appeared following the Iranian revolution. Pakistan and Iran supported different factions in the Afghan conflict. Also, some Pakistanis suspect Iranian Government support for the sectarian violence that has plagued Pakistan. However, relations between the countries have improved since their policies toward Afghanistan have converged with the fall of the Taliban. Both countries contend that they are on the road to strong and lasting friendly relations.
Pakistan has also provided military personnel to strengthen Gulf-state defenses and to reinforce its own security interests in the area.
Sources:CIA World Factbook (October 2010)
U.S. Dept. of State Country Background Notes ( October 2010)