The Islamic Republic of Pakistan covers an area in South Asia of 310,000 square miles, about twice the size of California. The country borders India in the east, China in the north, Afghanistan in the north-west, Iran in the west and the Arabian Sea in the south. It has four major provinces (Punjab, Sindh, North-West Frontier Province and Balochistan) and two territories (Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Islamabad Capital Territory).
The most populous province, Punjab, has only 26 percent of the land area but is home to about one-half (56% in the 1998 census) of the 143 million people estimated to live in Pakistan in 2002. Pakistan, a former British colony, gained independence on August 14, 1947. It was formed at that time by partitioning British India to create a homeland for India’s Muslim population separate from the largely Hindu India. However, this partition was never fully resolved. Originally, Pakistan comprised West Pakistan (now Pakistan) and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).
After a third war between Pakistan and India in 1971, East Pakistan seceded to become the separate nation of Bangladesh. A dispute over the state of Kashmir, which lies between Pakistan and India, is ongoing. The government of Pakistan is a parliamentary democracy. The Prime Minister serves as the head of the government and is elected by the National Assembly. The President functions as the head of state and is elected by the National Assembly, the Senate, and the four provincial assemblies.
The capital of Pakistan is Islamabad, which had 529,000 residents in the 1998 census. The national language of Pakistan is Urdu, which is spoken by eight percent of the people. The mostly widely spoken language is Punjabi (44%). The main ethnic groups are Punjabi, Sindhi, Pashtun (Pathan), Baloch and Muhajir (immigrants from India and their descendents). Islam is the state religion, and 96 to 97 percent of the population are Muslims. The remainder is Hindus, Christians and members of other religions.