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9.3: Pakistan and Bangladesh

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  • Learning Objectives

    1. Outline how Pakistan and Bangladesh are similar in their populations and economic dynamics but different in their physical environments.
    2. Understand why the two countries were once under the same government and separated in 1972, when East Pakistan became Bangladesh.
    3. Describe the various regions of Pakistan and their physical and cultural landscapes.
    4. Comprehend the impact that large populations have on the natural environment and outline the main environmental issues that confront these two countries.

    Pakistan and Bangladesh are two separate and independent countries physically divided by India. Historically, this was not always the case: from 1947 to 1971 they were administered under the same government. The two countries share a number of attributes. They both have Muslim majorities and both have high population densities. The countries are two of the top ten most populous countries in the world. Their populations are youthful and mainly rural; agriculture is the main economic activity in each country. Rural-to-urban shift is a major trend affecting urban development. Infrastructure is lacking in many areas of each country. These similar factors indicate that both Pakistan and Bangladesh will face comparable challenges in providing for their large populations and protecting their natural environments.

    The Muslim League was responsible for the formation of a united Pakistan, a predominantly Muslim state for South Asian Muslims. Pakistan was created from the former Indian territories of Sindh (Sind), North West Frontier Provinces, West Punjab, Baluchistan, and East Bengal. Pakistan was formed with two separate physical regions, defined by religious predominance. East Bengal, on the eastern side of India, was known as East Pakistan, while the remainder, separated by more than one thousand miles, was known as West Pakistan. The two physical units were united politically.

    East and West Pakistan, administered by one government, became independent of their colonial master in 1947, when Britain was forced out. Pakistan (East and West) adopted its constitution in 1956 and became an Islamic republic. In 1970, a massive cyclone hit the coast of East Pakistan and the central government in West Pakistan responded weakly to the devastation. The Bengali populations were angered over the government’s lack of consideration for them in response to the cyclone and in other matters. The Indo-Pakistan War changed the situation. In this war, East Pakistan, with the aid of the Indian military, challenged West Pakistan and declared independence to become Bangladesh in 1972. West Pakistan became the current country of Pakistan.


    The physical area of Pakistan is equivalent to the US states of Texas and Louisiana combined. Much of Pakistan’s land area comprises either deserts or mountains. The high Himalayan ranges border Pakistan to the north. The lack of rainfall in the western part of the country restricts agricultural production in the mountain valleys and near the river basins. The Indus River flows roughly northeast/southwest along the eastern side of Pakistan, flowing into the Arabian Sea. River sediments are deposited in large areas found between river channels and oxbow lakes formed from the constantly changing river channels. These “lands between the rivers” are called “doabs” and represent some of the most fertile land in the Indian subcontinent. The Indus River flows from the northern part of the Karakoram mountains and creates a large, fertile flood plain that comprises much of eastern Pakistan. Pakistan has traditionally been a land of farming. The Indus River Valley and the Punjab are the dominant core areas where most of the people live and where population densities are remarkably high.

    Figure 9.14


    The two core areas of Pakistan are the Punjab and the Indus River Valley.

    CIA World Factbook – public domain.

    Approximately 64 percent of the population lives in rural areas and makes a living in agriculture. Most of the people are economically quite poor by world standards. In spite of the rural nature of the population, the average family size has decreased from seven to four in recent decades. Nevertheless, the population has exploded from about 34 million in 1951 to about 187 million as of 2011. About half of the population is under the age of twenty; 35 percent is under the age of fifteen. A lack of adequate medical care, an absence of family planning, and the low status of women have created an ever-increasing population, which will have dire consequences for the future of Pakistan. Service and infrastructure to address the needs of this youthful population are not available to the necessary degree. Schools and educational opportunities for children are rarely funded at the needed levels. As of 2010, only about 50 percent of Pakistan’s population was literate.

    Figure 9.15 The Provinces and Territories of Pakistan


    Wikimedia Commons – public domain.

    The capital of Pakistan when it was under British colonialism was Karachi, a port city located on the Arabian Sea. To establish a presence in the north, near Kashmir, the capital was moved to Islamabad in 1960. This example of a forward capital was an expression of geopolitical assertiveness by Pakistan against India. The lingua franca of the country for the business sector and the social elite continues to be English, even though Urdu is considered the national language of Pakistan and is used as a lingua franca in many areas. More than sixty languages are spoken in the country. There are as many ethnic groups in Pakistan as there are languages. The three most prominent ethnic groups are Punjabis, Pashtuns, and Sindhis.

    Regions of Pakistan

    The three main physical geographic regions of Pakistan are the Indus River Basin, the Baluchistan Plateau, and the northern highlands. These physical regions are generally associated with the country’s main political provinces. The four main provinces include the Punjab, Baluchistan (Balochistan), Sindh (Sind), and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (North West Frontier). To the north is the disputed region of Kashmir known as the Northern Areas. Each of these regions represents a different aspect of the country. The North West Frontier has a series of Tribal Areas bordering Afghanistan that have been traditionally under their own local control. Agents under Tribal Agencies have attempted to administer some type of structure and responsibility for the areas, with little success.

    The Punjab

    Figure 9.16 Donkey Cart on Busy Street in Lahore, Pakistan, in the Punjab


    This is an example of traditional transportation mixing with modern technology. Lahore is a large city with a wide range of methods of conducting business.

    Guilhem Vellut – A guy and his donkey – CC BY 2.0.

    As explained previously, the Punjab is a core area of Pakistan, and has about 60 percent of Pakistan’s population. The five rivers of the Punjab border India and provide the fresh water necessary to grow food to support a large population. Irrigation canals create a water management network that provides water throughout the region. The southern portion of the Punjab includes the arid conditions of the Thar Desert. The northern sector includes the foothills of the mountains and has cooler temperatures in the higher elevations. The Punjab is anchored by the cities of Lahore, Faisalabad, and Multan. Lahore is the cultural center of Pakistan and is home to the University of the Punjab and many magnificent mosques and palaces built during its early history. In the 1980s, many Punjabis migrated to Europe, the Middle East, and North America seeking opportunities and employment. This diaspora of people from the Punjab provided cultural and business ties with Pakistan. For example, trade connections between the Punjab and the United States are increasing. The Punjab is the most industrialized of all the provinces. Manufacturing has increased with industries producing everything from vehicles to electrical appliances to textiles. The industrialization of the Punjab is an indication of its skilled work force and the highest literacy rate in Pakistan, at about 80 percent.


    Figure 9.17 Man with His Camel in the Desert Region of Baluchistan in Western Pakistan


    Kashif Muhammad Farooq – CAMEL @ GADANI – CC BY 2.0.

    Baluchistan (Balochistan) encompasses a large portion of southwest Pakistan to the west of the Indus River. The region connects the Middle East and Iran with the rest of Asia. The landscape consists of barren terrain, sandy deserts, and rocky surfaces. Baluchistan covers about 44 percent of the entire country and is the largest political unit. The sparse population ekes a living out of the few mountain valleys where water can be found. Local politics provides the basic structure for society in this region. Within the Baluchistan province of Pakistan are several coastal and interior rivers; the interior rivers flow from the Hindu Kush Mountains of Afghanistan, while most of the rivers along the coastal deserts from west of Karachi to the Iranian border are seasonal in nature and provide one of the few sources of fresh water in those coastal regions. Much of the coastal region is arid desert with sand dunes and large volcanic mountainous features.

    The Sindh

    The Sindh (Sind) region of the southeast is anchored by Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city and major port. The Indus River is the border on the west and the Punjab region lies to the north. To the east of the Sindh is the border with India and the great Thar Desert. The Sindh is a region that misses out on the rains from the summer monsoon and the retreating monsoon season, when the winds sweep in from the north over South Asia. The city of Hyderabad, Pakistan, is located along the Indus River, which is a key food-growing area. Food crops consist of wheat and other small grains, with cotton as a major cash crop that helps support the textile industry of the region.

    Hyderabad, Pakistan, is not to be confused with a large city with the same name in India.

    Figure 9.18 Female Doctor Examining Patient from a Mobile Medical Clinic in the Sindh Region of Pakistan


    DFID – UK Department for International Development – A female doctor with the International Medical Corps – CC BY 2.0.

    Rural-to-urban shift has pushed large numbers of Sindh residents into the city of Karachi to look for opportunities and employment. In previous sections, slums and shantytowns have been described and explained for cities such as Mexico City and São Paulo; Karachi has similar development patterns. The central business district has a thriving business sector that anchors the southern part of the country. The city has a large port facility on the Arabian Sea. As a city of twelve to fifteen million people or more, there are always problems with a lack of public services, law enforcement, or adequate infrastructure. Urban centers usually have a strong informal economy that provides a means for many of the citizens to get by but is outside the control of the city or national government. The Sindh is the second-most populous region of Pakistan, after the Punjab.

    Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (The North West Frontier)

    Figure 9.19 Man Firing AK-47 in the North West Frontier of Pakistan


    Kai Hendry – dcp_9062 – CC BY 2.0.

    The North West Frontier is a broad expanse of territory that extends from the northern edge of Baluchistan to the Northern Areas of the former Kingdom of Kashmir. Sandwiched between the tribal areas along the Afghanistan border and the well-watered lands of the Punjab, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province is dominated by remote mountain ranges with fertile valleys. The famous Khyber Pass, a major chokepoint into Afghanistan, is located here. The frontier is a breeding ground for anti-Western culture and anti-American sentiments, mainly fueled by the US military activity in Afghanistan. The Taliban movement that once controlled the government of Afghanistan has been active and generally more organized in this region than in Afghanistan. A push for more fundamentalist Islamic law has been a major initiative of the local leaders. Support for education and modernization is minimal. The government of Pakistan has also stepped up its military actions in the region to counter the activities of the militant Islamic extremists.

    The Tribal Areas

    The North West Frontier borders the Tribal Areas, where clans and local leaders are standard parts of the sociopolitical structure. These remote areas have seldom been fully controlled by either the colonial governments (the British) or the current government of Pakistan. There are about seven main areas that fall under this description. Accountability for the areas has been difficult and even when the national government stepped in to exercise authority, there was serious resistance that halted any real established interaction. These remote areas are where groups such as al-Qaeda and the Taliban often find safe haven. South and North Waziristan are two of the main areas that have been controlled by Tribal Agencies and not directly by the Pakistani government.

    Northern Areas with Disputed Kashmir

    Pakistan’s Northern Areas include the territories that were once part of the Kingdom of Kashmir, the boundaries of which are disputed with India. The region is, in other words, interconnected with the issues related to Kashmir that involve Pakistan, India, and China. There are two main political entities: the large northern section bordering Afghanistan is called Gilgit-Baltistan, and the narrow section near Islamabad is called Azad Kashmir (Azad Jammu and Kashmir). The Northern Areas are highlands, bordered to the north by the towering Karakoram and Pamir mountain ranges. K2, the world’s second highest mountain, which reaches 28,250 feet, is located here. The Northern Areas are sparsely populated except for the Indus River valley. The conflicts over these territories fuel nationalistic forces in both Pakistan and India. The conflicts are as much between Islam and Hinduism as they are between political factions. The early war between India and Pakistan over the border that the British placed between them in 1947 almost seems to be reenacted in the more recent conflicts over the region of Kashmir.

    Figure 9.20 The Highlands of the Northern Areas in Pakistan


    Junaidrao – This is an absolutely Amazing View – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.