Insight Guides Pakistan (Travel Guide eBook)
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Insight Guides Pakistan (Travel Guide eBook)


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447 pages

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Insight Guides Pakistan

Travel made easy. Ask local experts. 
Comprehensive travel guide packed with inspirational photography and fascinating cultural insights.

From deciding when to go, to choosing what to see when you arrive, this guide to Pakistan is all you need to plan your perfect trip, with insider information on must-see, top attractions like Badshahi Mosque, the Karakoram Highway and Mohenjo-daro, and cultural gems like the breathtaking Lahore Fort, the eerie beauty of the Hunza valley and the bustling bazaars and buildings of Peshawar's Old City.

Features of this travel guide to Pakistan:
Inspirational colour photography: discover the best destinations, sights and excursions, and be inspired by stunning imagery
-Historical and cultural insights: immerse yourself in Pakistan'srich history and culture, and learn all about its people, art and traditions
-Practical full-colour maps: with every major sight and listing highlighted, the full-colour maps make on-the-ground navigation easy
Editor's Choice: uncover the best of Pakistan with our pick of the region's top destinations
-Key tips and essential information: packed full of important travel information, from transport and tipping to etiquette and hours of operation
Covers: (Sindh) Karachi; Lower Sindh and the Thar Desert; Up and down the Indus; Mohenjo-daro; (Punjab) Islamabad, Rawalpindi and the Murree Hills; The Grand Trunk Road to Attock; Taxila; The Grand Trunk Road to Lahore; Lahore; Around Lahore; South Punjab; (Balochistan) A tour of Balochistan; (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) Peshawar and the Khyber Pass; Takht-e-Bahi; The Swat Valley; (The Karakoram to the Hindu Kush) Karakoram Highway to Hunza; Balitisan; To Chitral

Are you also travelling to India? Check out Insight Guides India for a detailed and entertaining look at all the country has to offer.

About Insight Guides: Insight Guidesis a pioneer of full-colour guide books, with almost 50 years' experience of publishing high-quality, visual travel guides with user-friendly, modern design. We produce around 400 full-colour print guide books and maps, as well as phrase books, picture-packed eBooks and apps to meet different travellers' needs. Insight Guides' unique combination of beautiful travel photography and focus on history and culture create a unique visual reference and planning tool to inspire your next adventure.



Publié par
Date de parution 01 janvier 2020
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9781839052583
Langue English
Poids de l'ouvrage 7 Mo

Informations légales : prix de location à la page 0,0037€. Cette information est donnée uniquement à titre indicatif conformément à la législation en vigueur.


Features of this travel guide to Pakistan:
Inspirational colour photography: discover the best destinations, sights and excursions, and be inspired by stunning imagery
-Historical and cultural insights: immerse yourself in Pakistan'srich history and culture, and learn all about its people, art and traditions
-Practical full-colour maps: with every major sight and listing highlighted, the full-colour maps make on-the-ground navigation easy
Editor's Choice: uncover the best of Pakistan with our pick of the region's top destinations
-Key tips and essential information: packed full of important travel information, from transport and tipping to etiquette and hours of operation
Covers: (Sindh) Karachi; Lower Sindh and the Thar Desert; Up and down the Indus; Mohenjo-daro; (Punjab) Islamabad, Rawalpindi and the Murree Hills; The Grand Trunk Road to Attock; Taxila; The Grand Trunk Road to Lahore; Lahore; Around Lahore; South Punjab; (Balochistan) A tour of Balochistan; (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) Peshawar and the Khyber Pass; Takht-e-Bahi; The Swat Valley; (The Karakoram to the Hindu Kush) Karakoram Highway to Hunza; Balitisan; To Chitral

Are you also travelling to India? Check out Insight Guides India for a detailed and entertaining look at all the country has to offer.

About Insight Guides: Insight Guidesis a pioneer of full-colour guide books, with almost 50 years' experience of publishing high-quality, visual travel guides with user-friendly, modern design. We produce around 400 full-colour print guide books and maps, as well as phrase books, picture-packed eBooks and apps to meet different travellers' needs. Insight Guides' unique combination of beautiful travel photography and focus on history and culture create a unique visual reference and planning tool to inspire your next adventure.

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How To Use This E-Book

Getting around the e-book
This Insight Guide e-book is designed to give you inspiration for your visit to Iceland, as well as comprehensive planning advice to make sure you have the best travel experience. The guide begins with our selection of Top Attractions, as well as our Editor’s Choice categories of activities and experiences. Detailed features on history, people and culture paint a vivid portrait of contemporary life in Iceland. The extensive Places chapters give a complete guide to all the sights and areas worth visiting. The Travel Tips provide full information on getting around, activities from culture to shopping to sport, plus a wealth of practical information to help you plan your trip.
In the Table of Contents and throughout this e-book you will see hyperlinked references. Just tap a hyperlink once to skip to the section you would like to read. Practical information and listings are also hyperlinked, so as long as you have an external connection to the internet, you can tap a link to go directly to the website for more information.
All key attractions and sights in Iceland are numbered and cross-referenced to high-quality maps. Wherever you see the reference [map] just tap this to go straight to the related map. You can also double-tap any map for a zoom view.
You’ll find hundreds of beautiful high-resolution images that capture the essence of Iceland. Simply double-tap on an image to see it full-screen.
About Insight Guides
Insight Guides have more than 40 years’ experience of publishing high-quality, visual travel guides. We produce 400 full-colour titles, in both print and digital form, covering more than 200 destinations across the globe, in a variety of formats to meet your different needs.
Insight Guides are written by local authors, whose expertise is evident in the extensive historical and cultural background features. Each destination is carefully researched by regional experts to ensure our guides provide the very latest information. All the reviews in Insight Guides are independent; we strive to maintain an impartial view. Our reviews are carefully selected to guide you to the best places to eat, go out and shop, so you can be confident that when we say a place is special, we really mean it.

© 2020 Apa Digital (CH) AG and Apa Publications (UK) Ltd

Table of Contents
Pakistan’s Top 10 Attractions
Editor’s Choice
Introduction: Land of the Indus
Decisive dates
Cradle of civilisation
Ancient crossroads
The arrival of Islam
The Mughal Empire
The British
Modern history
Prospects and priorities
Insight: All creatures great and small
Music and poetry
Insight: The colours of the road
Railway tracks
Lower Sindh and the Thar Desert
Up and down the Indus
Islamabad, Rawalpindi and the Murree Hills
The Grand Trunk Road to Attock
The Grand Trunk Road to Lahore
Around Lahore
South Punjab
Insight: Channan Pir
A tour of Balochistan
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
Peshawar and the Khyber Pass
The Swat Valley
The Karakoram To The Hindu Kush
Insight: The Great Game
Karakoram Highway to Hunza
To Chitral
Travel Tips: Transport
Travel Tips: A–Z
Travel Tips: Further Reading
Pakistan’s Top 10 Attractions

Top Attraction 1

Badshahi Mosque. Though no longer the largest of Pakistan’s mosques, this icon of Lahore is the grandest and most treasured of Pakistan’s Mughal monuments. For more information, click here .

Top Attraction 2

The Karakoram Highway. Along this legendary route – from the lowlands to Gilgit and onwards to Kashgar on the old Silk Road – is some of the most impressive mountain terrain on the planet. It also links up with the even more dramatic Skardu Road. For more information, click here .
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Top Attraction 3

Baltistan. Once known as “Little Tibet”, this remote region is a trekker’s and mountaineer’s dream, home to the Baltoro Glacier, K2 and other giants of the Karakoram. For more information, click here .

Top Attraction 4

Mohenjo-daro. The most impressive remains of the Indus Valley Civilisation, which flourished in the region between 3,000 and 1,500 BC. The city had a grid layout of streets, brick houses complete with plumbing, public baths, workshops and stores. For more information, click here .
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Top Attraction 5

Nanga Parbat. This awesome peak – dubbed “Killer Mountain” for being a particularly forbidding climb – marks the eastern end of the Himalayas, dominating the views from the idyllic Fairy Meadows. For more information, click here .

Top Attraction 6

Lahore Fort. One of the great Mughal forts, with splendid courtyards, pavilions and palaces, including Shah Jahan’s breathtaking Shish Mahal (Palace of Mirrors). For more information, click here .
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Top Attraction 7

Makran Coast. A place of sublime beauty, with bizarre, lunar landscapes and great hammerhead peninsulas dropping into the Arabian Sea. For more information, click here .
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Top Attraction 8

Peshawar’s Old City. Centring around the sensitively restored Bazaar-e-Kalan with its carved mansions, Peshawar’s old bazaars are among the most immersive in the country. For more information, click here .

Top Attraction 9

Mazar-e-Quaid. Surrounded by a beautifully kept garden complex, this imposing marble monument is where millions come to pay their respects to the nation’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. For more information, click here .

Top Attraction 10

Hunza. This valley has an almost eerie beauty, its tapestry of terraced fields and irrigation channels bespeckled with poplars and dominated by the snow-covered hulk of Rakaposhi. For more information, click here .
Editor’s Choice

Cathedral Spires on the Karakoram Highway.
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Magnificent mosques

Badshahi Mosque . Among Lahore’s most famous landmarks, built by Aurangzeb to accommodate up to 60,000 worshippers. For more information, click here .
Wazir Khan Mosque . Also in Lahore, built during the reign of Shah Jahan and famous for its tilework. For more information, click here .
Mahabat Khan Mosque . Peshawar’s finest example of Mughal architecture, this brilliant marble mosque lies in the Old City’s gold and silver bazaar. For more information, click here .
Bhong Mosque . Built over a period of 50 years in the 20th century, this is an eclectic mix of techniques and styles. For more information, click here .
Shah Jahan Mosque . Sindh’s outstanding contribution to Pakistan’s Mughal heritage, famous for its acoustics and calligraphy. For more information, click here .
Shah Faisal Mosque . Islamabad’s beautiful modern mosque, with enormous tent roof and pointy minarets. For more information, click here .

Shah Faisal Mosque, Islamabad.

Mountain scenery

Cathedral Spires . One of the most awesome sights along the Karakoram Highway (KKH), this row of jagged granite peaks can be seen from the tiny town of Passu. For more information, click here .
Chitral . A hidden paradise in the far northwest, dominated by Tirich Mir, the highest mountain in the Hindu Kush. For more information, click here .
Swat Valley . A scenic trip from the Vale of Peshawar up to Mingora and beyond. For more information, click here .
Nanga Parbat . The “Killer Mountain”, breathtaking from all sides – though particularly so from its sheer vertical Rupal Face. For more information, click here .
The Kirthars . Gorgeous sunsets overlook this barren and rugged range from the peaceful hill station of Gorakh. For more information, click here .

Swat Valley stupa.

Desert scenery

Hingol National Park . These towering spires and deep, rugged valleys are reminiscent of the American West. For more information, click here .
Salt Range . Jutting out of the Punjab plains, this is a fine place for walks and exploring Hindu ruins. For more information, click here .
Thar Desert . Travel from village to village or fort to ruined fort, across sands hardly touched by tourism. For more information, click here .
Katpana Desert . In stark contrast to its jagged mountain backdrop, the rolling dunes of Skardu Valley are touted as the world’s highest cold desert. For more information, click here .

Skardu Valley.
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Buddhist legacy

Swat . The Swat Valley is sprinkled with dozens of Buddhist stupas and shrines, among them the recently restored Jahanabad Buddha, carved high into a cliff face. For more information, click here .
Taxila . The remains of three ancient cities and numerous stupas, temples and monasteries dot the valley that was once the hub of Gandharan civilisation. For more information, click here .
Takht-e-Bahi . Perhaps the most impressive Buddhist monastery complex in Pakistan, beautifully preserved and in a glorious location. For more information, click here .
Peshawar Museum . While there are fascinating Gandharan exhibits in Taxila, Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi, the ancient Buddhist capital houses the most impressive collection. For more information, click here .

Impressive forts

Rohtas Fort . A fine example of Mughal military architecture just off the Grand Trunk Road south of Rawalpindi. For more information, click here .
Baltit Fort . Dating back around 700 years, this Tibetan-style fort is defiantly perched on a strategic knoll overlooking the Hunza Valley. For more information, click here .
Naukot . An astonishing brick-built edifice on the edge of the Thar Desert. For more information, click here .
Rani Kot . In western Sindh beneath the Kirthar Range, this is claimed to be the largest fort in the world. For more information, click here .
Bala Hisar . See the Changing of the Guard and the Regimental Museum in Peshawar’s historic bastion. For more information, click here .

Rohtas Fort.
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Shrines and tombs

Lal Shahbaz Qalandar . This golden-domed shrine brings up to one million devotees to tiny Sehwan Sharif to honour the beloved saint and scholar. For more information, click here .
Shah Jamal . Drummers doubling as dervishes perform at this shrine in Lahore every Thursday night until late. For more information, click here .
Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai . Devotional music can be heard every night of the year at Bhit Shah’s glorious shrine of the revered poet. For more information, click here .
Sheikh Rukn-e-Alam . The greatest shrine in that city of shrines, Multan. For more information, click here .
Tomb of Bibi Jawindi . The most beautiful pre-Mughal building in Pakistan – despite half of it having been washed away. For more information, click here .
Jahangir’s Tomb . At Shahdara in Lahore, this is an exquisite structure of red sandstone and marble. For more information, click here .

Lal Shahbaz Qalandar.
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Best bazaars

Peshawar . Each bazaar in the Old City is devoted to a product/trade: jewellery, meat, vegetables, brass and copper, leather, birds… and more. For more information, click here .
Lahore . Saunter through the Kashmiri Bazaar (For more information, click here ) and adjoining streets within the Old City; Anarkali (For more information, click here ) is another fascinating place to browse.
Hyderabad . Sindh’s second city has the longest bazaar in Pakistan, with congeries of alleys where almost anything may be purchased. Its clocktower was a British bequest. For more information, click here .
Karachi . Another clocktower adorns Karachi’s covered Empress Market, which sells all manner of groceries. Zainab Market and Bohri Bazaar are also worth a visit. For more information, click here .
Rawalpindi . Raja Bazaar is the bustling heart of Pindi’s Old City. For more information, click here .
Faisalabad . Pakistan’s third-largest city centres around eight bazaars radiating outwards from another clocktower. For more information, click here .

Spice seller in the iconic Empress Market, Karachi.
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Rooms with a view

Serena Shigar Fort . A beautiful heritage hotel in a magnificent location in the Karakoram, en route to K2. .
Hindu Kush Heights . The Chitral Valley’s most desirable place to stay, run by a descendant of the former rulers. .
The Raikot Sarai Fairy Meadows . Stay in cottages or tents in the glorious surroundings of Fairy Meadows beneath Nanga Parbat. For more information, click here .
Eagle’s Nest . Offers nice rooms, good food and unrivalled views of the Hunza Valley. .
Pearl Continental . Top hotels in Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi, Bhurban and Peshawar. .

Memorable journeys

Grand Trunk Road . So many sights to see along this historic highway. For more information, click here or click here .
Khyber Pass . The famous pass can be visited by road, or aboard the Khyber Train Safari. For more information, click here .
Islamabad–Gilgit flight . This takes just an hour, but the views of Nanga Parbat are stunning. For more information, click here .
Biafo/Hispar Glacier Trek . This challenging 122km (75-mile) trek connects Baltistan with Hunza amid some awesome scenery. For more information, click here or click here .
Bolan Pass by rail . Whether going to, or coming from Quetta, this is one of the world’s great railway journeys, criss-crossing over bridges and passing through numerous tunnels. For more information, click here .
Makran Coastal Highway . The smooth highway from Karachi to Gwadar brings you to pristine beaches, lazy fishing villages and spectacular desert scenery. For more information, click here .

Porter on the Biafo/Hispar Glacier Trek.
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Culinary highlights

Food Street . Lahore’s central Food Street has everything from kebabs to kulfi (ice cream) and Punjabi-style fish, along with views of Badshahi Mosque.
Namak Mandi . Aromas of freshly barbecued meat billow up and down this famous Peshawar street, home to a number of Afghan restaurants.
Seafood . Enjoy pomfret, king-sized prawns and other specialities served up in Karachi’s seafood restaurants.
Apricots . Apricot soup (bateringe daudo) is just one of the specialities of Hunza; another is the meat-filled chapshuro .
Dhabas . These are the truck drivers’ pull-ups. What is available in a dhaba may not be gracious living, but it is freshly cooked food.
Posh restaurants . A bewildering choice along M. M. Alam Road in Lahore, at Zamzama, Edhi and Clifton in Karachi, and at all the top-end hotels. For more on food in Pakistan, click here .

Kebabs in Lahore.
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Shrine of Sachal Sarmast, the great Sufi poet, in Sindh.
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A farmer crosses the Hussaini Hanging Bridge over the Hunza River in the Gojal Valley.
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Temples near the town of Bilot Sharif.
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Introduction: Land of the Indus

An independent country since 1947, Pakistan is the inheritor of a long and varied history and rich cultural traditions.

Up in the mighty Karakoram mountains in the north, the Indus river is still young as it cuts its way through some of the most forbidding country on earth. By the time it reaches the plains of Punjab it has matured, slowing right down to old age as it washes the banks of timeless Sindh before dying in the Arabian Sea. The journey ends but the flow is eternal. Since the beginning of time, the river has witnessed so much. Its blood-soaked sands have been the playground and burial place of some of the greatest imperialist adventurers – Iranian, Greek, Scythian, Turkish, Mughal and British. Alexander, Mahmud of Ghazni, Timur and countless warlords have furiously fought for imperial supremacy over the rugged land of the Indus Valley.
Pakistan, the meeting place of many worlds, has not only provided the theatre for the ravages of invading armies. It has also been the abode of peace and prosperity for humanity on a very large scale. Ancient cities, some abandoned millennia ago and some still thriving in the modern age, are testimony to the fact that the Land of the Indus has provided for many of the world’s greatest civilisations.
Since the Harappans, who built the world’s oldest advanced civic culture some 5,000 years ago, many have come and gone or come and stayed in and around the Indus Valley. From those early times, through the Vedic and Buddhist eras and on to the world of Islam, the Pakistanis of today are the common inheritors of some of the greatest cultural traditions of humanity.
They are traditions that sail slowly along the river and plough the fields at the water’s edge and roll with the simple bullock cart along the endless track of time. They are traditions that have been written down in great epic poems or simply passed down by word of mouth from generation to generation, which are now poured out in song and dance and music and verse. They sing of the call of the mountains and of love in the desert. They beat the drums and blow the bagpipes at the door of the holy man’s shrine.
Emanating from the historical continuity of intensely human values, the cultural strength of the Pakistanis has grown not in spite of but because of the fact that so many people have chosen the Indus as a home, and even invaded it to fulfil their dreams.

Tent pegging is still played in rural Punjab.
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Mosque detail.

It’s not easy to categorise the Pakistanis. They belong to different ethnic groups and different tribes, and they speak an array of different languages.
Assuming that they have coped successfully with the culture shock induced in most Westerners by the sheer numbers of people to be seen on the busier streets of any Asian city, the first impression of Pakistanis likely to be gained by visitors to cities like Karachi, Lahore or Peshawar is of the variety of its inhabitants. Men in turbans with long flowing beards, dressed in all kinds of colourful regional attire, nudge against clean-shaven men attempting to get to the office, some dressed in suits and ties, but most in the more common salwar kameez (long shirt and baggy trousers). Women too, their faces often veiled, stride confidently through the bazaars.

Cholistan farmer sitting with his camels.
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Melting pot
There are people from the country, people there to stay, people passing through. There will be youths jumping off fast-moving buses, stumbling across desert tribesmen selling their hand-knotted carpets in the market, where groups of other men with henna beards squat, chatting in a whole variety of languages and accents that nobody else in the vicinity understands. Nearby, on one side of the street, a man lights his water pipe behind his rows of spices, as the ladies return home with reams of new silk they have just bought from the same shop they always frequent. There are aristocratic-looking people milling around, whose ivory complexion indicates that they originate from Turkish or Iranian lands, while the poorer man selling his wares on the corner may have a much darker, South Indian complexion. There are people whose Caucasian features make them look remarkably European, and others who appear as direct descendants of Genghis Khan. From the tall and strapping to the slight and delicate, there is commonly such variety of people on the streets of a Pakistani city that the visitor may well ask himself the question, “Who are the Pakistanis?”

Naran resident.
Although this question has been endlessly posed in the debate about national identity going on since the creation of the country in 1947, many Pakistanis seem quite happy with the answer “We are all Muslims, and that is what makes us Pakistanis, despite our differences.” And that is the answer that most visitors will be immediately content with as well, as the call to prayer sounds across the bustle of the city, booming from loudspeakers that cling precariously to the tops of minarets.
Though ostensibly unified through Islam, the Pakistanis are as varied a mix of people as one is likely to find anywhere. Some of the differences between them are due to regional origins, to cultural formations and preferences, and others to specific religious beliefs and values; others still stem from social and economic background, whether in the rural areas that constitute so much of the country or in the cities and towns where increasing numbers of Pakistanis live.
While past migrations and invasions from Central Asia have certainly left their mark here and there, the genetic inheritance of most Pakistanis stems largely from the vast South Asian pool, which embraces one-fifth of mankind. Only in the mountainous border regions do the Central Asian physical types predominate, as among the sharp-featured and fair-skinned Pathans and the peoples of Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral. The legacy of population movements throughout the ages causes such “non-Indian” features to occur in the majority population as well, though only sporadically.
As is the case in most parts of the world, the ethnic breakdown of the Pakistanis owes more to cultural than to physical factors. Much more significant, therefore, are the major regional differences. These are only crudely reflected in the administrative division of Pakistan into the four provinces of Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, plus the outlying territories of Gilgit-Baltistan and Kashmir, since the boundaries of these units are in many cases simply the product of arbitrary administrative decisions made during the colonial period, and run clean across ethnic and linguistic lines. The language issue is in fact central to the debates within Pakistan about the country’s multiple ethnic identities, which can only be followed with some awareness of the relationships between the languages involved besides the characteristics of the regions in which they are spoken.


Pakistan has shown the ability to breed tall men. Of course, there are many tall, handsome Pakistanis, but some really are tall. Until June 1998, the world’s tallest man was Haji Mohammad Alam Channa, a caretaker of the famous shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan, Sindh. Known as a gentle giant, he was 2.31 metres (7ft 7ins) tall. Sadly, kidney failure led to his death at the age of 45. However, Pakistan had meantime produced numerous other contenders for the title. Born in 1976, Naseer Ahmed Soomro – a PIA officer and native of Shikarpur District (also in Sindh) – is even taller than Channa was at 7ft 8ins. Ajaz Ahmed, born in the same year in Bhakhar (Punjab), is taller still, measuring 7ft 10ins. At present, however, the tallest man in Pakistan is Zia Rashid, born in 1995 in Multan. Standing at about 8ft tall, he is, at least for the time being, more than happy to pose for selfies.
In common with most languages of Europe nearly all the languages spoken in Pakistan belong to the same great Indo-European language family. These were originally brought to the subcontinent by the Aryan invaders, whose language is preserved in the ancient Sanskrit of the Vedas . Spoken across the vast plains that extend from Pakistan through northern India to Bangladesh, the modern Indo-Aryan languages, produced as a result of a long process of simplification and mixture with now lost local languages, are descended from Sanskrit in the same sort of way as French and Spanish are derived from Latin.
This Indo-Aryan family includes Urdu, now the national language of Pakistan (along with English). Urdu began as mixture of the Hindi of Delhi and the Persian spoken by the invading Muslim armies, and was later developed as the lingua franca of the Mughal Empire. Punjabi is very closely related to Urdu, and is indeed sometimes unjustly dismissed as being Urdu’s country cousin, while Sindhi is a more distant relative with many special features of its own. Siraiki, a language distinct from both of these, is spoken mostly in southwest Punjab, though its speakers are also found in neighbouring portions of Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The minority languages of the north, such as Shina (spoken in Gilgit) and Wakhi (spoken in Upper Hunza), are still more different members of the same Indo-Aryan with a long history of separate evolution.
Within the larger Indo-European family, the languages to the west of Indo-Aryan belong to the quite closely related Iranian group, whose most important member is Persian (Farsi). In the northwest, the tribal movements of the Pathans have carved out a still-expanding area for Pashto (or Pukhtu), famous for its harsh clusters of consonants whose sound is often likened to that of someone talking with a mouthful of stones. Pashto is less similar to Persian or the Indo-Aryan languages than the other Iranian language of Pakistan. This is Balochi, spoken in Balochistan alongside Brahui, a non-Indo-European language belonging to the Dravidian family otherwise largely confined to south India. Apart from the Tibetan Balti-speakers, the only other non-Indo-European language native to Pakistan is the Burushaski spoken in Hunza, a strange survivor that seems to be related to no other language on earth, in spite of crackpot attempts to prove otherwise.
There is thus a rich variety of languages, but as is so often the case in Pakistan this variety is balanced by a number of common elements. In this instance, the most obvious is the use of some form of the Arabic script, of such special significance for Muslims everywhere as the script of the Qur’an, to write all the major languages, even if special letters and writing styles are used for spelling Sindhi and Pashto. The shared Islamic heritage is also deeply embedded in the vocabulary of all the languages, which draws extensively on Arabic and Persian. In conjunction with the basic grammatical similarities between most of the languages, this common vocabulary (which has of course long come also to include a great many borrowings from English) greatly eases communication.
Ethnic and social groups
Intercommunication is certainly called for in the cities, for it is there that conflicts between ethnic groups may erupt, perhaps most notoriously in the great metropolis of Karachi. Although it is the capital of Sindh, Sindhis have long been a minority in this continually expanding city. They are far outnumbered by the Pathans and Punjabis, the dominant groups in Pakistan as a whole, as well as by the muhajir , literally “refugees”, the name given to the Muslims who left their homes in India at the time of Partition to settle in the Islamic homeland of Pakistan, the majority of them in Karachi and Hyderabad.
Wherever they came from in India, the muhajir and their descendants were almost all united by being native speakers of Urdu, unlike most other Pakistanis, who have to learn the national language in school. Also unlike most other Pakistanis, with their traditional attachment to the land, many of the muhajir came from urban backgrounds, and on their arrival in Pakistan took over many of the city jobs previously managed by Hindus. This has provoked the feeling among Sindhis that such jobs should go to the “sons of the soil”.

Recent years have seen a reaffirmation of ethnic and tribal origins. The Frontier tribes, for example, often feel more empathy with their cousins in Afghanistan than they do with Islamabad.

Hushe Valley youth.
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This is but one manifestation of the tensions that have accompanied Pakistan’s rapid process of urbanisation, which has inevitably brought people of different backgrounds into close contact with one another. Pakistan is still, however, a predominantly rural country, with the majority (around 60 percent) of the population tied to the land. In much of Punjab and Sindh, where intensive agriculture is made possible by canal irrigation, the village remains the centre of social and economic life. In these provinces, remnants of the traditional caste system – though without the social discrimination still widespread in Hindu India – are to be seen in the specialisation of the artisans.
The status of farmers varies from region to region. In the central parts of Punjab they mostly own the land themselves, but in the Siraiki-speaking areas of southwest Punjab and in Sindh they are more likely to be the tenants of great land-owning families, whose estates have largely survived attempts at land reform. Popularly referred to as “feudals”, these great families, which may control hundreds of thousands of hectares, form an aristocracy that continues to provide Pakistan with many of its leading figures.

Men socialising in Ayun, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
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The landed power of the countryside is in turn linked to the economic power of the cities, whose own expansion has however allowed fresh fortunes to be made by newcomers to the old world of the “22 families” believed to have controlled virtually all Pakistan’s wealth during the Ayub Khan period in the 1960s. The wealthy still thrive in Pakistan, and the English-medium education given to their children in the prestigious schools modelled on the British pattern gives them a rather different outlook to that of most Pakistanis, while ensuring their future social status.


The Kama Sutra advises how to best enjoy a hijra – a word best translated as “eunuch”. Loyal servants of the Mughal Emperors, hijras were once tasked with tactfully killing the lovers of errant daughters. Comprising much of Pakistan’s intersex, transvestite and transgender community, today’s hijra continue to live in close-knit groups, carrying on their unique traditions and a way of life that remains highly mysterious to outsiders. Disowned by their families and shunned by the majority of a very conservative society, they typically live in poverty, relying on a combination of begging, sex work and street performance. They often make an appearance at weddings and births, singing, dancing and making lewd jokes that would hardly be tolerated from anyone else. In a country where few women are seen, hijras certainly stand out, sauntering down the street looking drop-dead gorgeous.
Though much more can be hoped for, some progress has been made in tackling the discrimination that has long targeted this community. Most recently, the 2018 Transgender Persons Act now guarantees a raft of rights, among them employment, inheritance, education, health provision and access to public office. As for taking on the entrenched social stigma, more time will certainly be required.
The other main focus of power lies with the army, which has ruled Pakistan for so much of its history. Although its presence is felt throughout the country, most of its ranks are still drawn from the old recruiting grounds of British India, the naturally poor districts of northwest Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The Pathans also make up an important part of the officer corps, which is however dominated by the strongly nationalist background of the Punjab squirearchy.
The one great force whose effects are felt throughout Pakistan is the Islamic religion in the name of whose ideals the country itself was founded. These effects are most certainly also felt – at least as much – by the tiny religious minorities that constitute about 4 percent of the population.
Islam itself is, of course, far from monolithic. The truth of this is amply demonstrated by the variety to be found in Pakistani Islam, stemming not only from recent developments but also from the earliest period of Islamic history. Soon after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, a major split arose between the followers of his son-in-law, Ali. While the Shia community holds that Ali and his descendants are the divinely ordained successors to absolute leadership of all Muslims, the majority party – the Sunnis – consider Ali to be only one of the caliphs appointed to head the Muslim community, one meant to be guided by the sunna or example of the Prophet.
First introduced into Sindh by the early Arab invasions and later massively reinforced by the full-scale Muslim conquests of medieval times, the prevalent local version of Islam in Pakistan remains the Sunni one. More precisely, the majority of Pakistan aligns with the Sunni Hanafi school of Islamic law. In the majority of mosques in Pakistan, whose number was so greatly expanded by the orthodox policies of the Zia regime, the daily prayers are therefore performed in accordance with Hanafi ritual, which is observed by the majority of believers at the community prayers held on the major festivals at large mosques or specially constructed idgah.
As in other Sunni Muslim countries, religious leadership is provided by the clerics trained in Islamic law who are known collectively as the ulama and individually as maulvis , or more disparagingly – by those out of sympathy with their traditionalism – as mullahs . A variety of clerical groupings has emerged from the reform movements of the 19th and 20th centuries founded on the ideals of restoring Islam to its original pristine state or restating these in modern terms. Many of these have political ambitions, and are today represented by the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), a coalition of Islamist parties seeking the consolidation of Pakistan as an Islamic state.

Gurjar shepherd.
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Besides the Sunnis, there are also substantial Shia minorities. Most follow “Twelver” Shiism, the official religion of Iran, which claims that the line of living imams came to an end with the twelfth. Although many of their beliefs are shared with the Sunnis, Shias have a particular reverence for Sayyids , the title given to all those who claim linear descent from the Prophet. The Twelver Shias are spread through many parts of Pakistan. They have their own clerical leaders, tend to worship in their own mosques, and have as the high point of their religious year the spectacular mourning ceremonies of Muharram . More distinctive in their observances are the Ismailis who believe that the Aga Khan is the living imam , and who practise their worship in the special buildings called jamatkhanas , which are prominent features of many cities in Sindh. At the other end of the country, the efforts of early Ismaili missionaries also converted the inhabitants of Hunza to their version of Islam.
The importance of shrines
Since the numbers of immigrants from other parts of the Muslim world were never that large, even before the flow virtually dried up with the collapse of the Mughal Empire, most Sunnis in Pakistan too are the descendants of local converts. In this great missionary enterprise of medieval times, a much lesser part was played by the orthodox clerics than by the pirs , saints who followed the mystical teachings of Sufism (for more information, click here ).

Christmas service at the Sacred Heart Cathedral, Lahore.


Though in terms of numbers the bulk of Pakistan’s religious minorities evacuated during Partition, many small groups remain scattered across the country. Due to widely attached stigmas, their numbers remain extremely difficult to accurately assess. The largest religious minorities are Christians and Hindus – about 1.6 percent of the population each. Mostly found in cities, the former largely descend from the mass conversions of untouchables carried out during the British period by the missionaries of many different churches, from Roman Catholics to Seventh Day Adventists. Most of Pakistan’s Hindus reside in rural Sindh. Some are descended from the professional groups that dominated urban life before 1947, though most registered Hindus are either tribespeople living in the deserts bordering India, or else those who have rejected conversion to Islam or Christianity in favour of their own Balmiki cult. Declared officially non-Muslim by the National Assembly in 1974, Pakistan’s Ahmadis nevertheless silently consider themselves to be as much a Muslim sect as any other. Other tiny groups include Buddhists, Sikhs and Parsis, the Zoroastrian community that migrated centuries ago from Iran to India, along with the long-reclusive Kalash of Chitral (for more information, click here ). In addition to all of these is a small but growing nonreligious community: those opting to identify with no religion at all.
The shrines constructed around the tombs of the great pirs have for centuries lain at the heart of the religious life of the country, as magnets for devotion attracting both those in spiritual need of the aid of the saint, and many petitioners making vows in the hope of gaining his support for more practical or even material ends. While a mosque is always attached to a major shrine for those who wish to offer formal prayers, it is to the tomb, typically covered with flowers lying on a sheet, that petitioners come to make their requests, to stroke the surround or grille to establish contact, to raise the hands in a silent prayer, typically the Fatiha (the first chapter of the Qur’an), and to leave a cash offering.

Women in colourful attire gather for a photo in a rural community of the Thar Desert.
The holy reputation of the pirs has ensured the hereditary devotion of families or even tribes of followers, and hence a continuing status of immense importance for the leaders of the great pir families. These are often themselves long-standing members of the “feudal” elite, enjoying substantial incomes even after the formal nationalisation of the vast endowments of the shrines. The patronage of wealthy devotees has ensured that the older shrines are often complexes of unique architectural beauty and interest, while even those that came more recently into existence around the tombs of saints buried within living memory leave the passerby in no doubt as to the importance of what lies behind the eye-catching extravagance of their invariably garish exteriors.
Some idea of the continuing importance of the shrines in bringing Pakistanis of all types and backgrounds together may best be gained from visiting them on Thursday evenings, when crowds gather to listen to the rhythmic singing of mystical songs, called qawwali . Even more unforgettable is the sight of the annual festivals held to mark the anniversary of the saint’s death, or rather his “marriage” ( urs ) with God. These festivals may attract thousands of pilgrims of both sexes, often brought from distant provinces by special trains and buses.
The accompanying mela (fairs) are an additional attraction on these occasions, bringing in all sorts of other people, including many whom one suspects seldom step inside a mosque for the performance of the prescribed prayers. Open to everyone, whatever their needs or wants, Pakistan’s great shrines provide the opportunity for the visitor, bewildered by the hustle and bustle outside in the street, to step inside to try to establish contact with a more spiritual reality.

A woman’s place

In Pakistan, women remain far outnumbered by men in positions of power, though significant recent gains point to further progress ahead.
Women in politics is nothing new in Pakistan. Muslim women played a leading role in the struggle for independence, the resistance to the radical reforms of the Zia regime, and, more recently, the popular women’s marches protesting everything from honour killings to workplace sexual harassment. Women have also reached the highest offices of state administration. Most famously, Benazir Bhutto was twice elected to her country’s premier post (in 1988 and 1993), becoming the world’s first female Muslim head of state. In 2008, Fahmida Mirza became the first female parliamentary speaker, while in 2018, Sherry Rehman became the first female opposition leader in the senate, Krishna Kumari became the first female Hindu Dalit senator, and Tahir Safdar became Pakistan’s first female Chief Justice. Despite this, female representation remains largely limited to a small reserved quota of seats. Laudable as the progress has been, there remains a way to go in challenging traditional gender disparities.

Girls march for equal education in Hyderabad.
Fortunately, the aspirations of Pakistani women wishing to launch careers outside the home are backed by the nation’s constitution, which encourages the participation of women in all spheres of national life and prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender. The relevant articles antedate the United Nation’s declarations on women’s rights by 40 years. Indeed, many Pakistani women have successfully gone beyond the realm of traditionally feminine occupations, such as teaching or nursing. There are woman doctors, lawyers, bankers, directors and university professors. Women work as executives in advertising, personnel management and public relations. They are employed at senior management level by international corporations and development organisations. Women also run their own highly successful enterprises. Emancipated women, with a good education and training, can go a long way in Pakistan.
The impact of successful female role models for independent income earners has been considerable. Many have achieved international recognition – among these are Maleeha Lodhi, Pakistan’s representative to the United Nations; Asma Jahangir, a co-founder and long-time chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan; Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, an internationally acclaimed, award-winning filmmaker; and, of course, Nobel Peace Prize recipient Malala Yousafzai, a champion of female education and a household name across the globe.
Time-honoured tradition
Most Pakistani women, however, lead relatively traditional lives. Their background often dictates that they will have far less of a chance – let alone a desire – of entering into professional fields of work. Though consistently rising over recent decades, the literacy rate among girls was reported as only 49 percent in a 2014 census, compared with 70 percent among boys. Various attempts to increase educational and healthcare provision for women are hampered by patriarchal attitudes towards a woman’s role. Such attitudes are often as strong in the cities as in rural areas. However, recent years have seen a great amount of progress in improving the chances of women, and there are now activists at all levels of society.
Though critics in Pakistan and elsewhere implicate Islam in the denial of women’s rights, for many Muslims Islam is considered the guarantor of gender equality – so long as it is faithfully implemented. Indeed, when set beside other religious doctrines (such as orthodox Judaism, Hinduism and Christianity), Islamic scripture appears to extend relative freedom to women: insisting upon a woman’s right to receive rather than owe dowry, to own and inherit property separately from her husband, as well as to expect personal maintenance from him. Thus, in defending the purity of Islam, many have laid various forms of gender inequality squarely at the feet of local custom and tradition. For example, learned sources report that Mohmand Pathan women cannot own or inherit land or houses. Their consent is not asked in marriage negotiations, they retain no rights in the marriage settlement and cannot ask for divorce. Even a woman’s rights over her personal belongings are subject to her father’s, husband’s or other male guardian’s wishes. Many argue that such practices – some or all of which are found in others of Pakistan’s rural areas – are mere relics of folk religions pre-dating Islam, borrowings from other south Asian religions, or simply misunderstandings of true Islamic orthodoxy.
There are, however, some aspects of Islamic law that have been seen as disproportionately discriminatory towards women, such as the Hudood Ordinance, brought into force during Zia ul-Haq’s Islamisation period. For 25 years, the Ordinance enforced punishments mentioned in the Qur’an and sunnah for crimes such as adultery, rape and theft. In 2006, a hard-fought amendment managed to scale back the Ordinance’s negative impact on women. Though far short of the full repeal that activists had hoped for, it nevertheless spelt an end to the rampant adultery charges that had landed thousands of women in prison each year for failure to provide the requisite proof of their purported rapes. In addition to much harsher penalties enacted for false accusations, the amendment brought the matter of rape as a whole back under the Pakistani penal code (where forensic and DNA evidence are again permissible). In a true example of compromise with conservative parties, however, fornication was also brought under the penal code, while adultery alone remains punishable under Zia’s Ordinance.
A matter of class
Despite the insistence that – when properly interpreted – Islam emphasises women’s rights to run their own affairs, as a matter of practice it remains difficult for many women from traditional households to act independently. Their decisions are generally enacted by a male spokesman, after consulting with male kinsmen. This is due to a set of customs, known as purdah , which are deeply rooted in the traditional way of life. Purdah means curtain or veil, but keeping purdah essentially involves sexual segregation. Unless they are close relatives, men and women should keep their distance from each other. When meeting strangers of the opposite sex, modesty is preserved by avoiding eye contact, speaking formally and keeping the interaction short. Traditionally minded families divide social life into two domains, the private (household) and the public (non-household).
In the modern urban centres, high socio-economic status is often linked with freedom from such traditional constraints. In Karachi, Islamabad and Lahore, women from the elite groups go about unveiled and may wear Western-style dress. This is seldom the case in the provincial towns, which are more conservative; you won’t see many women on the streets in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (except in women’s bazaars), and then often concealed by the all-enveloping burqa or chaddar (a sheet wound around the head and body).
Segregation is less pronounced in the rural areas, as women must move among males to work in the fields. Women do 75 percent of Pakistan’s agricultural work. With work ranging from sowing, reaping and threshing to fetching water, the more conservative forms of veiling would be quite impractical. The women of rural Punjab and Sindh usually wear a chunni or dupatta (a scarf draped around the head and shoulders) to signify modesty when men are present. Women of nomadic tribes do not wear veils, often scorning purdah as bazaari (townspeople’s) practice.
Purdah is primarily the preserve of the provincial middle classes, and for them it is a particular source of prestige, stating their claim to a distinctive status based on religious piety. For a woman who keeps purdah, whatever her background, her status exists in the approval of her immediate social circle. She is awarded points for chastity before marriage and fecundity afterwards. Many such women are serene in the knowledge that, whatever happens, their menfolk will look after them. Just as some silently envy the relative freedom of upper-class women, those keeping purdah are themselves often envied by the less fortunate women forced to go out and toil in the fields to supplement the family income.

The Chaukhandi Tombs.
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Decisive Dates

Early civilisations
From 7000 BC
Settled agriculture is practised to the west of the Indus at Mehrgarh.
3000–1500 BC
Indus Valley Civilisation thrives as a well-organised, sophisticated society, building cities at Harappa and Mohenjo-daro.

An ancient crossroads
1700 BC
Invasion by the Aryans from Central Asia. The Aryans are culturally less advanced than the Harappans, yet their presence leads to the development of Hinduism. They compose the Rigveda and the epics, Mahabharata and Ramayana .
516 BC
Gandhara established as the easternmost province of Achaemenid Empire. With capitals at Pushkalavati (Charsadda) and Taxila, it has one of the greatest universities of the ancient world.
327–325 BC
Alexander the Great invades, visiting Taxila and the Salt Range, following the Jhelum and Indus rivers to the sea and returning home across the Makran desert.
321 BC
Chandragupta establishes the Mauryan Empire. His grandson, Asoka, rules most of the subcontinent and promotes Buddhism, which flourishes in Gandhara. The empire collapses soon after his death.
185 BC
Bactrian Greeks, the descendants of Alexander’s armies, build cities at Taxila and Pushkalavati. The Parthians follow close behind, followed in turn by the Scythians.
AD 60
Kushans arrive from Central Asia. Their winter capital is at Peshawar and summer capital at Kabul. Gandhara becomes a Buddhist holy land. After their decline, Sassanians, Hephthalites and Turki Shahis rule.
The Arrival of Islam
Arab general Muhammad bin Qasim arrives in Sindh and proceeds as far north as Multan.

Votive stupa, Taxila.
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The Hindu Shahis establish their capital at Hund, ruling until around 1020.
Mahmud of Ghazni launches a series of plundering raids.
Sindh ruled by the Soomrahs, a local Sindhi tribe.
Muhammad of Ghor captures Delhi, establishing the beginnings of the Delhi Sultanate, which gains independence from Ghor in 1206. In all, there are five dynasties: Mamluk, Khalji, Tughlaq, Sayyid and Lodhi.
1221, 1398–9
Invasions by Genghis Khan and Tamerlane (Timur). It is also thought that Hulegu, another Mongol, invaded during the Khalji period.
Guru Nanak, founder of the Sikh religion, is born in Nankana Sahib, Punjab. He is followed by nine other Gurus, the last dying in 1708.

Portrait of Jahangir.
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Mughals, Sikhs and the British
Babur’s invasion and victory at Panipat establishes the Mughal Empire.
Reign of the industrious Sher Shah Suri, who contested the supremacy of the Mughals by defeating Babur’s son, Humayun.
Reign of Akbar, who, while pursuing his aim of becoming divine ruler of India, also pursues a tolerant and eclectic religious policy.

A battle in the Anglo-Sikh war.
Reign of Jahangir sees a great flowering of the arts; Persian influence increases.
Reign of Shah Jahan. Builder of the Taj Mahal, he also creates wonderful monuments in Lahore.
Reign of Aurangzeb, last of the great Mughals, who adopts a more pious approach to ruling than his predecessors.
Founding of Kalhora dynasty in Sindh.
Nadir Shah invades from Persia and carries off the famous peacock throne from Delhi.
Ahmad Shah Durrani founds a kingdom in Afghanistan, effectively controlling Punjab, Kashmir and Indus territories.
Talpur Balochis overthrow Kalhoras in Sindh.
Ranjit Singh takes control of Lahore, establishing himself as emperor. He expands his lands and rules until 1839.
Sindh annexed by British officer Sir Charles Napier.
Anglo–Sikh wars result in annexation of the Punjab. The British grant the territory of Kashmir to Gulab Singh, a Hindu.
Mutiny, or “First War of Independence”, involving various discontented groups in northern India.

British soldiers during the 1857 mutiny.
The British Raj
The British Raj is established. Queen Victoria assumes the title of Empress of India in 1877.
After the Second Afghan War (1878–9) the British take control of the North West Frontier to thwart the perceived Russian threat.
Gilgit Agency established as a means of extending British influence into the far north. Hunza and Nagar are conquered.
Uprising on the North West Frontier quelled by the Malakand Field Force.
All-India Muslim League founded.
Muhammad Iqbal proposes the establishment of Pakistan as a separate Muslim state.
The Lahore Resolution calls for the partition of India.
Independent Pakistan
Independence and Partition.

The High Commissioner of Pakistan performs the first flag-raising ceremony at Lancaster House, London, 1947.
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Death of Muhammad Ali Jinnah (Quaid-e-Azam). Indo–Pakistan clash over Kashmir.
Prime Minister Liaqat Ali assassinated.
Constitution is established.
Constitution is abrogated by General Ayub Khan’s military government.
Indo–Pakistan War (17-Day War).
Government of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Pakistan People’s Party.
Bangladesh becomes independent.
Military rule under General Zia ul-Haq.
Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif governments. Experiments with democracy.

Imran Khan addresses his people.
Pakistan tests a nuclear device.
Return to military rule as Pervez Musharraf takes power.
After 9/11 Pakistan becomes a frontline state in the “war against terror”.
Benazir Bhutto assassinated after a political rally in Rawalpindi.
Osama bin Laden killed in Pakistan in a US raid.
Sharif’s third term begins to revive the economy, signing the monumental CPEC deal with China. His term ends with corruption charges.
A deadly terror attack on a Peshawar school is followed by a series of hugely successful military campaigns to root out militancy.

Benazir Bhutto in 1986.
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Imran Khan’s PTI wins national elections. The Tribal Areas are merged with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Tense standoff with India ends when Prime Minister Imran Khan releases a captured Indian pilot.

The Indus Valley Civilisation developed more than 5,000 years ago. It is remarkable for the sophistication of its urban planning and structures.

The most enduring testimony to the existence of prehistoric man anywhere in the world are the tools that he left behind. From the first crude hand axes and cleavers made in the Palaeolithic age about 500,000 years ago through to the finest microliths of the Mesolithic age, archaeologists almost wholly depend upon a study of technological developments of stone tools for an understanding of cultural evolution.
Pakistan is no exception, and it seems that from a very early date the first inhabitants of the region had begun to evolve a particularly high level of organisation in their hunter and gatherer societies. Here, man relied upon chert from the Rohri Hills of Upper Sindh and quartzite from the Potwar Plateau and Soan Valley of the Northern Punjab for the raw materials from which he learned to fashion an increasingly wide range of tools. The enormous quantity of discarded chippings or flakes, the waste left over from stone tool manufacture, spread over these quarries, suggests that they were used to produce tools not just for local needs but to serve a very large area. By around 50,000 BC a well-established system of communication and social structure had developed in Pakistan; tools were mass-produced through organised labour.

Harappan-period dancing girl in bronze.
Man settles down
About 10,000 years ago, as the climate grew warmer, the nomads were encouraged to settle down and grow crops. In Pakistan this was the first of a number of steps that led to the first urban settlements, which ultimately blossomed into what is known as the Indus Valley Civilisation. Exactly where and when the first permanent settlements were established remains questionable. The oldest settlements were believed to have been in the Quetta, Loralai and Zhob Valleys in Balochistan, where a mixture of pastoral and agrarian farming was practised. However, these societies appear to have continued to be semi-nomadic and more recent research suggests that the first permanent settlements are to be found nearer to the flood plains of the Greater Indus River System.

Board Game, Harappa Museum.
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Older than Mesopotamia
Some of the world’s earliest evidence of permanent settled agriculture comes from Mehrgarh, situated on the transitional zone between the upland valleys of Balochistan to the west and the Indus flood plains to the east. Archaeologists have revealed that by around 7000 BC Mehrgarh was already a sizable village of 6 hectares (15 acres) – some 1,000 years before the growth of urbanism in Mesopotamia – and by 6000 BC it had grown to a small town of 12 hectares (30 acres) with a probable population of 3,000. The original inhabitants lived in an irregular scatter of mud-brick houses, the same material that they used to build the granaries in which they stored their grain. As well as barley and wheat, dates were grown and soon there was to be cotton too. They relied increasingly upon domesticated cattle, including water buffalo, rather than sheep, goat or deer, which at that time were still wild.

Society at Mehrgarh became increasingly sophisticated. A well-ordered city emerged with streets laid out in grids and two or three storeyed houses constructed with cut stone and brick.
Strong trade relations were established with Mesopotamia and West Asia. While there is no evidence of palaces or temples, the earliest-known ritual burial grounds have been found here. The dead, curled up on their sides, were buried with grave goods including turquoise beads believed to have been imported from Turkmenia.
Only a handful of sites comparable to Mehrgarh have been discovered, all west of the Indus. It seems that, for a while at least, most people chose to continue living as hunter-gatherers or semi-nomadic farmers.
Then, from about 3500 BC, communities began to move east onto the river plain. Permanent settlements sprang up throughout the Indus River System. Civilisation evolved only very slowly but a study of the earliest settlements near the Indus and its tributaries gives clues to this development. Archaeologists have identified different cultural groups largely on the basis of the different types of pottery they used. One such group is typified by the pottery found at Amri and another by that found at Kot Diji, both sites located in Sindh. The fact that these sites were destroyed and only after being rebuilt began to follow the culture of the more mature Indus Valley Civilisation may indicate that the latter was forcibly imposed upon them. On the other hand, the fire at Kot Diji could easily have been accidental, and the strong continuity in pottery styles and other artefacts lends weight to the school of thought that changes evolved peacefully.

Clay figurines found at Mehrgarh.
Indeed, there is evidence of gradual and peaceful development elsewhere and it is possible to show that many features of the mature Indus Valley Civilisation have their origins in these earlier settlements. At several earlier sites terracotta mother goddesses, for example, have been found, as have horned deities etched onto pottery shards. Sheep and goats were domesticated well before the advent of the Indus Valley Civilisation, copper was already in use, as were stamp seals. Furthermore, town walls were already a common feature and the grid layout of the streets at Rahman Dheri, dating back to about 3500 BC, provides some of the earliest-known evidence of advanced urban planning.
Spheres of influence
The heartland of the Indus Valley Civilisation – sometimes called the Harappan Civilisation after the site where it was first discovered – was the floodplains of the Indus Valley. Its influence, however, extended much further – from Afghanistan to northern India in the north and from the Iranian border to Bombay in the south, an area larger than that encompassed by either Ancient Egypt or Mesopotamia, and larger than modern-day Pakistan. In all, some 1,500 Harappan settlement sites have been identified within the Indus and Saraswati region. The civilisation lasted, at its height, from about 2600 to 1900 BC, but the question of how and why an advanced, independent culture grew up in this part of the world is still open to speculation. Where did the inspiration come from?


The material remains of the Harappan Civilisation are remarkable for their uniformity and much about them was unique to the northwest of the Indian subcontinent.
Particularly in the fields of architecture and urban planning, the home-grown Harappan Civilisation sets itself apart from developments further west. While Ancient Egyptians were driving their slaves to build their celebrated Pyramids and Mesopotamian craftsmen were engaged in the construction of magnificent temples, the Harappans were designing much plainer, more uniform buildings, not from huge stone blocks but from red bricks of a standard 28 by 14 by 7 centimetres. These houses provided a quality urban environment for the ordinary citizens at a time when the everyday working Egyptian would never have lived in anything more substantial than a wattle-and-daub hut.
The houses were built in blocks on a grid layout defined by intersecting avenues and streets. The cities were zoned off into sectors to accommodate an administrative area, wealthy and working-class residential districts, and quarters for artisans and tradesmen. Harappan cities almost look like blueprints for modern urban design. It was to be 3,000 years before similar planning strategies were employed again in Pakistan, at Sirkap, near Taxila. The expertise there, however, was provided by the Bactrian Greeks.
When the first discoveries were made at Harappa (1920) and Mohenjo-daro (1922), archaeologists knew almost nothing of the earlier civilisations of Pakistan. They therefore looked at what they did know and through an examination of different artefacts they argued that the idea of settlement on the Indus originated with those who had set the example on the Tigris, the Euphrates and the Nile. Yet, although ancient trade links undoubtedly existed between them, there is little to suggest any direct influence.
One measure of the heights that a civilisation reaches is the quality of the artefacts that it produces. Harappan pottery was actually quite poor. Mostly plain, but often with a red slip and black painted decoration, it gives an uninspiring impression of efficient mass production. However, the Harappan craftsmen more typically displayed great skill, exemplified by large numbers of beautifully worked stamp seals, usually made from the soft stone steatite. The faces of the seals were mostly carved with animal designs, though humans were also occasionally represented. On most of the seals appear sophisticated written inscriptions. Though some have suggested the script to be an early form of Dravidian, it remains to be deciphered. Yet the presence of the script even on coarse pottery suggests widespread literacy. Once the code to this script is eventually unlocked, our understanding of the society will increase manyfold.
Above all, the craftsmen were skilled at making faïence from steatite and beads from cornelian and although relatively few pieces have been discovered, especially in comparison to Egypt and Mesopotamia, experts argue that their all-round talent was unsurpassed in the ancient world.
There are some clues about the religion of the day and these are remarkably reminiscent of aspects of Hinduism. The Great Bath at Mohenjo-daro and the presence of advanced washing facilities in many households hints that bathing was already a ritual function. Moreover, of all the animals carved on steatite seals, the most beautifully executed was the humped bull or Zebu. The high quality of the work is perhaps an indication that over 4,000 years ago this animal had already taken on a special association. A prototype of Siva, who would become linked with the humped bull in Hinduism, also seems to appear on the seals in a number of guises, and the modern Hindu Goddesses may have their antecedents in the female terracotta figurines excavated on a number of sites. They are heavily adorned with jewellery and sometimes sport elaborate headdresses.

Great Bath, Mohenjo-daro.
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While the uniformity of town planning indicates a tightly and centrally organised society, the Harappans were a long way from enjoying any sort of genuine equality. The huge variations in the size of dwellings suggest a pronounced hierarchical society. Some have suggested that within this hierarchy lay the origins of the Hindu caste system. If so, who were the rulers? Is it possible that they are represented by the few stone sculptures so far discovered, sculptures with bearded faces and narrow eyes, their hair worn at the back in a bun or a plait? Some have sensed a religious air about them and conclude that the Harappans were ruled by a priestly class.
The capital of the Harappan Civilisation is generally thought to have been Mohenjo-daro, the greatest known Harappan city which, at its height, may have had a population of about 80,000. However, Harappa may have been a twin capital, and the discovery of similarly sized towns at Lurewala in the central Indus Valley and Ganweriawala in the Cholistan Desert possibly suggests that a series of provincial capitals was established, including the sizable settlements of Kalibangan and Lothal, both in modern-day India.
Trade and industry
Various centres began to specialise in particular crafts, confident that well-developed trade routes could provide access to a wide market. Nodules of flint and finished flint blades from the Rohri Hills have been found on sites as far apart as Harappa and Lothal. Balakot, Chanhu Daro and Lothal were developed as centres for shell and bangle making, while the latter two also specialised in the working of cornelian beads. Industrial sites, providing expertise in brick and pottery production as well as copper smelting, have been identified in the Cholistan Desert. And a colony at Shortugai in Afghanistan, near the Badakstan lapis lazuli mines, appears to have been established solely for the purpose of exploiting this beautiful blue stone.
Meanwhile, the volume of imported raw materials increased. There came gold from South India, silver from Afghanistan or Iran, copper from Arabia and jade from Central Asia. There was doubtless trade with Mesopotamia too, much of which would have been carried by ship. Although the sunken oblong structure adjacent to the settlement of Lothal may not after all have been a dock, rather a system for providing fresh water for the local people, a number of other sites near the coast west of Karachi almost certainly must have been ports. Images of ships regularly appear on Harappan seals and there are obtuse references to sea trade in Mesopotamian texts. No doubt pack oxen were used to cover arduous land routes. Internally, the Indus River network must have been vital and carts were also important for local transport as implied by the copper or bronze models and terracotta toys which have been excavated at a number of sites.

Throughout the Indus Valley there was a standardisation of weights and measures, implying a firm regulation of trade that increased both internally and abroad as the civilisation matured.
Efficient agriculture
Nevertheless, the backbone of the Harappan Civilisation was the development of efficient agricultural production. At its height, sheep, goats, various strains of cattle, oxen, fowl and even elephants, buffalo and camels were domesticated. Then, as indeed still today, as the Indus and its tributaries receded during the summer months it left behind rich alluvial soil which could yield a second full crop the following spring without the need even for ploughing or manure.
Two types of wheat, barley, dates, field peas, cotton, sesamum and mustard were all widely grown and rice husks have been found at Lothal and Rangpur. The likelihood is that wheat and barley were harvested in the spring and cotton and sesamum in the autumn. Yet for all these advances an analysis of the skeletons from the cemetery at Harappa indicates a paltry life expectancy for adults of around 30 years.

Figure with floral headdress, Harappa.
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Decline and fall
So what could finally have brought this great civilisation to an end? Opinion has been greatly influenced by the discovery of skeletons in the upper archaeological levels at Mohenjo-daro. Apparently massacred, they have been assumed to be the victims of invading Aryan hordes. This theory has been given extra credence by references in the Rigveda to the defeat of non-Aryans by invaders at Hariyupuya, which has been linked to modern Harappa. However, not only is Mohenjo-daro the only Harappan site for which there is physical evidence of a violent end, but modern dating techniques also suggest that the city had fallen into decline well before the Aryans ever arrived.
An alternative theory is that the very success of the Harappan Civilisation led to its own downfall. Perhaps a population boom led to an over-exploitation of natural resources and consequent soil exhaustion. On the other hand, as the entire population may never have exceeded 400,000, this cannot provide the full answer. A more likely cause would have been the problem created by recurring and ever-worsening floods.

This Harappan skeleton is between four and five thousand years old.


Due to a combination of sedimentation and tectonic movement there was a gradual change in the drainage system of the Indus Valley. Some water, which normally would have flowed into the ancient Saraswati River system, was captured by the Sutlej River, part of the Indus system to the west, and the Yamuna River, part of the Gangetic system to the east. The resulting increase in volume of water in its valley led the Indus River to take a new course further east, flooding many settlements and burying them with silt. Ironically, settlements along the banks of the now-dry bed of the ancient Saraswati River also had to be abandoned.
The Indus Valley Civilisation fragmented into a number of different cultural groups, which emerged across the region, bringing to an end this remarkable period of uniformity. In Balochistan, Harappan sites were totally abandoned and the people probably returned to pastoral nomadism, a way of life many Balochis still follow to this day. In Punjab and Sindh, as indeed in Kutch and Sarashtra in India, some sites continued to be occupied, but there was a marked decline in general standards. At Chanhu Daro, for example, later settlers dismantled Harappan buildings for bricks and built much inferior houses. However, whereas it was once believed that these people represented a new wave of immigrants, scholars have more recently scoffed at such invasion theories, preferring instead to stress continuity of settlement and gradual cultural change from within the existing community.
History books
It is with the arrival of the Aryans that a new chapter in the story of Pakistan really begins. Though there is scant archaeological evidence of their presence, they are known to us chiefly through their written texts. The Rigveda shows that the Aryan tongue was related to the great family of Indo-European languages, and was an early form of classical Sanskrit. Linguistic clues suggest that the Aryans probably originated on the steppes of Eurasia and seem to have arrived in Pakistan in two principal waves, the first around 2000 BC, and the second, larger wave around 1400 BC, after they had been displaced from Iran. Skilled warriors, they were able to establish themselves quickly in the Punjab.

The earliest and most important text for understanding the origins of the Aryans is the Rigveda, a book of hymns written down c. 1500–1300 BC.
Searching for cows
There are numerous references in the Rigveda to the Aryans’ destruction of cities which, perhaps rather uncritically, have been taken to mean the destruction of the Indus Valley Civilisation. They themselves chose to live in villages. Although they cultivated barley and probably wheat, they were predominantly pastoralists. The very word for war in the Rigveda is gavisthi , meaning “search for cows”.
The Aryans were led by a hereditary king who was at least partly accountable to an assembly made up from the five tribes. These tribes fought not only against non-Aryans but also among themselves. From the beginning of its time on the subcontinent, Aryan society was divided into three varnas or “colours” – the Brahmana (priests), Rajanya (warriors), and Vaishya (common people). Soon a fourth – the Sudras – emerged, who were not entitled to be invested with the sacred thread, and who were gradually denied other privileges too. Initially, divisions were probably merely social, based upon occupations, but with time more and more sub-castes were formed, which would further fragment and ultimately stifle Indian society. They were increasingly rigid, too, and became linked not to occupation but to birth.
The Aryans expanded eastwards, reaching the Indus Valley through a mixture of conquest and amalgamation. Once they acquired iron they embarked on a massive programme of land clearance, which paved the way for their change from pastoralism to settled agriculture. Archaeology indicates that towns, if only crudely built with mud and wattle-and-daub, sprang up: urban life was returning with growing prosperity.
Despite their war-like image, the Aryans had always been lovers of music, dance and poetry. In addition to the Rigveda , we know of three further books of hymns, as well as the great epic poems of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata . These words were almost certainly not written down until centuries after, but were committed to memory and passed down orally from generation to generation. This is remarkable given that the Mahabharata is the largest single poem ever created. From these works, much is learnt of the religion of the Aryans. Originally nature worshippers, they believed their gods to be represented by the forces of nature. Fire and sacrifice were important to them, but significantly it was forbidden to sacrifice cows, which were held in special esteem. Gradually a theory of rebirth was developed as well as the doctrine of Karma , whereby one’s status in life was pre-determined by one’s conduct in the previous incarnation. From these early beliefs, through a long process of transition and change, would emerge many aspects of today’s Hinduism.

Modern pottery production in Sindh.
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Ancient petroglyph depicting a stupa, Deosai National Park.
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Into the Indus Valley came a succession of invaders and new ideas. They all left their mark and some had a profound impact on cultural development in the region.

Up until the 6th century BC Pakistan remained without a powerful, unifying political force. In late Vedic (or Aryan) times, a number of small principalities emerged. These included Gandhara, which lay to either side of the Indus, incorporating the Peshawar, Lower Swat and Kabul valleys.
The Persians
These principalities battled with each other for supremacy, but none were strong enough to unify the area into a single kingdom. The whole region was therefore vulnerable to the attentions of the expanding Persian Empire, the Achaemenid rulers of Iran. Indeed, shortly before 530 BC, Cyrus the Great crossed the Hindu Kush to receive tribute and within a decade Gandhara had been annexed as the 12th satrapy (province) of the Achaemenid Empire, thus bringing the independence of the region to an end. With a base established in the north, the Persians were able to advance down the Indus Valley.
Gandhara’s trade with Iran and Central Asia began to thrive, largely on the strength of its famous woollen goods, and the area soon became one of the richest satrapies of the whole Empire. The towns blossomed. Pushkalavati (modern Charsadda) developed into a regional capital along with Taxila, which was to grow into one of the finest seats of learning in the ancient world, a centre both for Vedic and Iranian studies. The Kharoshthi script, written from right to left, which would later appear on Asokan inscriptions in the 3rd century BC and which would continue to be used up until the 3rd century AD, was introduced into the area at this time by Persian scribes.

Gandharan relief carving showing the death of Buddha.
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The origins of Buddhism
Meanwhile, important developments were taking place in India, essentially a reaction to the economic and social changes of the time. The growth of towns and agricultural expansion in the late Vedic period, particularly in the Ganges Valley, had by the 6th century BC produced an accumulation of wealth concentrated in the hands of the powerful few. At the same time, the caste system was steadily becoming more restrictive. Many thinkers increasingly came to question Brahmanical orthodoxy and the authority of Vedic literature. Among them were Vardhamana Mahavir, who was to formulate Jainism, and Gautama Buddha, who was the founder of Buddhism. Their ideas won quick support, especially from the lowly and oppressed castes. Jainism remained restricted to India, but Buddhism was soon to reach Pakistan with profound implications.
Alexander’s quick visit
When Alexander the Great brought Persia to her knees in around 330 BC, there was no power in Central Asia left to resist his relentless march east. Doubtless driven on by his natural geographical curiosity, not to mention the tales of fabulous wealth on the Indian subcontinent, in 327 BC Alexander marched his armies from Bactria in the north across the Hindu Kush. Once in Pakistan, he found that with the collapse of Persian authority this land had once more fragmented into the control of local rulers and he was able to advance at will.

Stupa detail dating from the 3rd century BC.

Alexander was given a friendly reception at Taxila where the local king offered him a tribute of fresh troops and treasure.
The dreaded Nandas
Only when Alexander reached the Jhelum River did he encounter any serious resistance, but even then he proved victorious. However, upon reaching the Beas, his troops refused to go any further. Quite possibly, after 10 years of continuous campaigning, they were exhausted and longing for home. They were also probably intimidated by the prospect of encountering the dreaded Nandas, who are referred to in Greek texts. The Nandas were the formidable army of the great Mauryan Empire which was rising in India. Alexander therefore abandoned hope of reaching the Ganges and sailed down the Indus to the sea from where he and his army returned home. Some went on foot across the Makran Desert (for more information, click here ) and others by ship via the Persian Gulf.
By 325 BC, Alexander was off Pakistani soil and when he died even the governors he had left behind to rule his conquests returned west. Despite this “defeat”, the manuscripts of contemporary Greek commentators have survived to provide us with fascinating glimpses into developments in society. We can read of the practice of sati (widow sacrifice upon the death of a husband) and of the poor selling their daughters in the market place. We read too of the splendid quality of the local oxen, so splendid in fact that Alexander had 200,000 of them sent back to Macedonia. For all the references in the Greek texts to the Indian subcontinent, there is no single reciprocal reference in the Indian texts. But Alexander’s brief rule did have significant consequences: for the first time ancient Europe and India came face to face and new trade routes were opened up. Important too was the power vacuum that Alexander left behind for the expanding Mauryan Empire to step into.
The Mauryan Empire
The Mauryan Empire grew out of the kingdom of Magadha, another of the states which had emerged in the late Vedic period, from its base in the Lower Ganges Basin. From the 6th century BC it had struggled with neighbouring states for supremacy and with the accession of Chandragupta Maurya about 325–321 BC the first Indian Empire was born. From its capital at Pataliputra, near Patna, the Empire at its height was to dominate the whole of the Indian subcontinent apart from the land south of Karnataka and parts of Afghanistan to the west.
In Pakistan areas were brought under control that were to elude even the British Empire, and a decisive step forwards in achieving this was the successful campaign by Chandragupta in the Indus Valley in 305 BC against Seleucus, one of Alexander’s generals who had founded the Seleucid dynasty in Iran. This victory brought the land to the west of the Indus under Mauryan control.
Chandragupta ended his reign to become a Jain and, according to Jaina sources, travelled to south India with a group of Jaina monks, where he carried abstinence to the extreme and deliberately starved to death.
At this time the area of Kalinga, modern Orissa, remained a troublesome thorn in the flesh of the Empire. When Chandragupta’s grandson Asoka, the greatest of the Mauryan rulers, succeeded to the throne, he waged a bloody and ultimately victorious campaign in this area in 260 BC. A legend relates that in order to inherit the throne he had been prepared to murder 99 rival brothers, yet he found the experience so disturbing that he turned to Buddhism, and during his reign Buddhism was to flourish in Gandhara.
As part of his administrative control of the Empire, Asoka issued a series of edicts, which he had engraved either on natural rock surfaces or on specially erected sandstone pillars and placed usually along the sides of public roads (see box, below). For 100 years the Indian subcontinent was forged into a unified whole. The system was principally maintained by a land tax and by trade duties. Internal and external trade blossomed, agriculture was developed and new roads were built to facilitate the movement of goods. One royal highway is said to have linked Taxila with Tamralipti, the main port at the Ganges Delta.

Alexander the Great on horseback
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For a long time Asoka’s rock edicts were believed to carry Buddhist messages, but Asoka was always careful to differentiate between his personal leanings and his official responsibilities.
The inscriptions in fact relate to the idea and practice of dharma , which broadly means working towards the general well-being. Words such as consideration, obedience, generosity and honour are used, but the inscriptions also refer to such practical topics as the establishment of medical services, digging wells, building rest houses for travellers and planting banyan trees along the roadside to provide shade.
At its height the Empire was also able to support a huge army. According to Pliny this consisted of 9,000 elephants, 30,000 cavalry and 600,000 infantry. The Mauryan Empire was therefore not only the first Indian Empire but also the greatest. Despite many attempts by later rulers to emulate the Mauryans, none were ever able to do so.
Yet within 50 years of Asoka’s death in 232 BC the Empire had shrunk back to the Ganges. Some have explained the decline in terms of a revolt of the Brahmins, yet Asoka never directly attacked Brahminism, although he did attack what he saw as useless ceremonies and sacrifices. It is much more likely that the economic burden of the administration and army simply proved too great to bear.

The Scythians were constantly on the move.
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Bactrians, Scythians, Parthians
Each time that a major political power based in India collapsed, Pakistan moved back into the orbit of Central Asia, and so it was upon the disintegration of the Mauryan Empire. However, following the death of Alexander, power in Central Asia also fragmented, resulting in the formation of a number of kingdoms ruled by ex-Greek generals and their descendants. One such kingdom was Bactria, situated in a prosperous region between the Hindu Kush and the Oxus, and enriched by its strategic position on the line of a major trade route between Gandhara and the Mediterranean.
In 185 BC the Bactrian king Demetrius marched over the Hindu Kush, into the Punjab and down the Indus, so bringing much of Pakistan quickly under his control. Under Menander, the most successful of their kings, who ruled 155–130 BC and who was to become a Buddhist, the Swat Valley, the Hazara district and the Punjab as far east as the banks of the Ravi were brought to heel. Menander even made a determined, if unsuccessful, attempt to conquer the Ganges Valley. Indeed, all Bactrian ambition was soon to be undermined when their home base was itself attacked by a number of nomadic tribes from Central Asia, among them the Scythians. Nowhere is the constant movement and interaction of peoples across Central Asia and through the Indian subcontinent better illustrated than in this episode.
When Emperor Shi Huang Ti built the Great Wall of China a number of Central Asian nomadic tribes were denied the possibility of raids into China. One of these tribes, the Yeuh-chi, therefore turned their attentions to the shores of the Aral Sea from where they dislodged the Scythians. The uprooted Scythians were forced eastwards through Bactria and Parthia, over the Bolan Pass and into the Indus Valley, where they arrived around 75 BC, before some of their number moved on as far east as Delhi. However, while they had few problems dislodging the Bactrians from Gandhara, they were in essence still a nomadic Central Asian tribe and fell victim to the next wave of migrants to pass through. These were the Parthians from east of the Caspian Sea who arrived and prospered in northern Pakistan even before the 1st century BC was over. Yet they too were in their turn soon swept aside by the Kushans, a branch of the Yeuh-chi, who arrived in Pakistan in the 1st century AD. It was they who finally ushered in a period of stability.
Although the Kushan rulers appear to have been Zoroastrians, they displayed great tolerance towards Buddhism. Buddhist monasteries and stupas were built throughout Gandhara. They were lavishly adorned with statues of Buddha and Bodhisattvas (future Buddhas) and narrative scenes both from the life of Siddhartha, the historical Buddha, and from the Jatakas , his previous births.
From their position on the Silk Road the sculptors were able to draw on a range of artistic influences and it was the particular fusion of Graeco-Roman and Indian styles that produced the distinctive and much acclaimed Gandharan art form. A revolutionary feature of the Gandhara School was the successful representation of the Buddha in human form. Previous attempts in the “Ancient Indian” sculptural schools had either been unsatisfactory, or represented Buddha in the form of a symbol, such as a lotus, a tree, a wheel or a stupa. Significantly it was at this time that a new form of Buddhism developed called Mahayana Buddhism in which the image of the Buddha himself came to be worshipped. Kanishka, the greatest of the Kushan kings, appeared to have given his full support to the new ideas. The message of Buddhism was sent out to the world. Missionaries were dispatched westwards into Central Asia and eastwards into China and Tibet via the Karakoram. Still today Buddhist engravings can be seen carved into rock faces along the Karakoram Highway, evidence of the movement of ideas.


The rule of the Kushans was one of the most decisive periods in the history of the subcontinent. At their height in the 2nd century AD they ruled from the Oxus to the Ganges and yet their influence spread way beyond even these frontiers, for their winter capital was at Purushapura near Peshawar and from this position they had control of the Silk Road that linked Rome in Europe with Xian in China. With this position came wealth. The real significance of the Kushans, however, was not the size of their empire nor the wealth they accumulated; rather it was the way in which they chose to spend that wealth: transforming Gandhara into a religious holy land.

Chinese scholar Xuanzang once visited Gandhara.

The cities and monasteries of Gandhara have long attracted Buddhist pilgrims from across Asia. The numbers of visitors – particularly from Japan, Korea and Southeast Asia – have risen dramatically in recent years as ease of access to the sites has been improved.

Gandharan art

Northwest Pakistan’s museums show case what remains of the Greco-Buddhist art form that once blossomed here.
The glory that was Gandhara, which flourished under Kushan patronage during the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, is hard to envisage today. In this once great spiritual heartland, Buddhist monasteries and stupas lie in ruins, eerily devoid of more than an occasional weather-beaten effigy of the Enlightened One.
Gandharan art is principally dedicated to the cause of Buddhism. Episodes in the life of the Buddha, the Jataka , which include his childhood, preaching, miracles and death, were exquisitely carved using a variety of media, usually bluish schist and often stucco. Some concessions were made to traditional religious practices. The fertility spirits of Hariti and Panchika were absorbed and represented within Gandharan art. So too were elements of western traditions. However, these concessions were never more than token; Gandharan art was focused squarely on the Buddha.
Buddhas and Bodhisattvas
The living Buddha had explicitly forbidden images of himself. Despite this, the most significant contribution that Gandhara made to the development of Buddhism was the transformation of his image from an abstract symbol, as he had appeared in early Hinayana Buddhism, to representation in human form. This transformation possibly dates to the beginning of the 1st century AD. From his early representation as the chakra , or wheel (symbolising the wheel of law), and the triratna , or trident (symbolising the three pillars of early Buddhism), there emerged a new image, that of an idealised teacher.
These soon appeared in their thousands, with supporting appearances from Bodhisattvas. Wearing monastic garments, the Buddha is usually identifiable by the Ushnisha , a cranial protuberance, and Urna , a hairy mole between the brows. The addition of a halo reminded worshippers of his deification. In an age when few could read, the sculptors conveyed much symbolic meaning through the positioning of his hands, which were invariably arranged in one of four poses or gestures, known as “mudras”. These are the Abhaya Mudra (reassurance), the Dhyana Mudra (meditation), the Dharmachakra Mudra (preaching), and the Bhumisparsa Mudra , or earth-touching gesture.
The explosion of Gandhara onto the cultural map of the world marked one of the most dynamic and revolutionary periods in the history of art. Much credit has been attributed to Western influences, although both Iranian and indigenous Indian art made valuable contributions to its development. But the great development of Gandharan art undeniably coincided with an era when ideas as well as goods flowed freely along the Silk Road; when Ancient India established strong commercial and political connections with the Roman world. Indeed, the robe of the Buddha, with its heavy folds, strongly evokes the toga of the emperors that appeared on statues throughout the Roman Empire. His very head is thought to have been inspired by conventionalised representations of Apollo.
It is ironic, therefore, that if the West played such a part in the rise of Gandharan art, in some respects it also played a part in its demise. This magical world had not even been discovered by European archaeologists until the closing decades of the 19th century. However, the ever-advancing British Empire ultimately encroached into the North West Frontier (modern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa). Today, although there remain Gandharan treasures in local museums, many have been scattered far and wide around the world, from Karachi to London and Geneva to New York.

Gandharan Buddhist art, 2nd century AD.
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Territorially, however, the Kushan kings never fulfilled their ambitions of controlling Central Asia. Indeed, after the death of Kanishka their territory gradually fell apart. By the mid-3rd century AD only Gandhara and Kashmir remained to them and by the end of the century even these territories had been swallowed up by the Sassanian king of Persia, reducing the Kushans to mere vassals. As for their lands in India, they were steadily acquired by the Guptas.
The Gupta Empire
Although it is unlikely that the Guptas ever had absolute control of the Indus Valley and probably never exacted anything more than tribute from the Punjab, it is difficult to ignore this dynasty in a history of Pakistan because the Gupta period has often been referred to as the Classical Age of India. During their rule much of what has come to be recognised as Indian culture was established or consolidated, particularly in the fine arts, literature, philosophy and science, and of course all this has great bearing on the evolution of Pakistan.
Patronised by the court, there was a strong revival of Hinduism during which the king himself came to be looked upon as Vishnu. The Brahmins were also keen to foster this image and in return their own authority was strengthened by gifts of land. The caste system continued to be refined and progress was made in both religious and secular literature. The Ramayana and the Mahabharata , the two epic Vedic poems, were finally committed to writing in the 4th century AD. For all this, the origins of the Gupta dynasty are obscure. However, from a position of mere local importance, the marriage of Chandra Gupta I into royalty at the beginning of the 4th century AD undoubtedly marked a great advance in their pursuit of supremacy. A capital was established at Pataliputra and Chandra Gupta I began to call himself “great king of kings” and yet, even after considerable expansion under his son, Samudra Gupta, effective control probably remained limited to the Ganges Valley.
The Empire reached its height under Chandra Gupta II (AD 375–415). Following a victorious military campaign against the Scythians in Western India (AD 388–409), Sindh was brought within its sphere of influence, as was northern India. However, even with these acquisitions the Empire could not rival the Mauryan Empire before it, mainly because it lacked sufficient central administrative control.
The Huns and the Dark Ages
The Gupta Empire appears to have been steadily weakened by worsening economic problems. Additionally, by the 5th century AD there was a fresh threat coming from the northwest in the form of the Huns, reputedly fierce barbarians from Central Asia. One branch of the tribe had headed west for Europe and ravaged the Roman Empire, while a second had headed east to terrify the Persians from a position on the banks of the Oxus. This second branch then turned its eyes towards South Asia.
King Skanda Gupta was able to hold back the Huns during his reign, but they eventually broke through the Hindu Kush around AD 466 and were reinforced by a second wave of invaders about 20 years later. They quickly established a kingdom that extended into Sindh and as far east as Central India. They are considered to have been excellent horsemen and first-class archers. Their ferocity no doubt also contributed to their success: the Huna chief Mihirakula is renowned as an oppressive tyrant who is said to have sought entertainment by having live elephants rolled over a precipice.
Though their rule was short-lived, its consequences were far-reaching. Most immediately, Gandhara was sacked and Gandharan art, already well past its heyday, was never to recover. Buddhism retreated from the plains of northern Pakistan and sought refuge in the Swat Valley, where it survived until the 16th century. Further afield, the fragmentation of the Gupta Empire introduced a period of political confusion plunging most of the northern Indian subcontinent into a dark age.
Yet even this episode made a long-term contribution to the development of society. A number of other tribes followed the Huns over the Hindu Kush and settled in what is now Pakistan. The Huns themselves moved east, where, many scholars believe, they converted to Hinduism and became the forefathers of the great Rajput families of Rajasthan.

It was a military campaign that first brought Islam to the subcontinent. But mass conversions followed with the arrival of the Sufi preachers.
In AD 711, a youthful Arab general named Muhammad bin Qasim rode eastwards along the desolate Makran Coast with 6,000 Syrian Arab cavaliers to become the conqueror of Sindh. It was an event of great historic significance about which the Italian scholar F. Gabrieli comments: “Present-day Pakistan, holding the values of Islam and Arabism in such high esteem, should look upon the young Arab conqueror, Muhammad bin Qasim, almost as a distant Kistes (founding father), a hero of Indian Islam.”

Eid al-Fitr prayers in Karachi.
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Battle of destiny
Muhammad bin Qasim’s conquests were part of the proselytisation and expansion of the Damascus-based Umayyad Empire. He was the military commander of Caliph Walid bin Abdul Malik whose domains extended from Central Asia to Spain. In 712, Muhammad bin Qasim conquered Sindh’s major sea port Daibul. Its ruins are considered to potentially be part of the mysterious site now known as Banbhore, situated 60km (40 miles) east of Karachi at the mouth of a dried-up channel of the Indus Delta.

Badshahi Mosque, Lahore.
Anthon Jackson
At that time Sindh was ruled by the Brahmin King Dahir, son of Chach, or at least so relates the 13th-century Persian chronicle Chachnama , translated from a lost near-contemporary account in Arabic referred to by later Arab historians. Dahir’s kingdom extended from the Indus Delta on the Arabian Sea to Rur, contemporary Rohri, on the eastern banks of the Indus opposite the modern city of Sukkur. The kingdom had brought about a reassertion of Brahminism over Buddhism, but the Arabs nevertheless came across so many Buddhist idols in Sindh that they adopted the word budd (Buddha) for the idol in the temple, a word still used in Pakistan.
After taking control of Daibul, Muhammad bin Qasim continued his advance northwards and conquered Niran near Hyderabad. There the Arabs were reinforced by a contingent of 4,000 native Jat soldiers. They crossed the Indus by a bridge of boats and challenged Dahir’s army near Rawar. The battle of destiny ensued. Dahir’s forces were scattered and he died fighting.
The Arabs continued pressing northwards along the Indus. They captured Dahir’s capital city Brahmanabad (Brahmin City), where they built their own city, Mansura. Next, they occupied Rur and continued their advance to take Multan, one of the most ancient living cities of South Asia. With its renowned ancient golden temple dedicated to the sun god Aditya, Multan contained so much gold that the conquerors evidently felt that they need go no further. For three centuries it remained the northernmost outpost of the Sindh province of the Arab Empire.
The amazing Arab Islamic expansion was not only the result of cavalry forays. They had combined military operations with political means as well. Their offer to proselytise the natives to their own faith and become part of the new Islamic community had a far-reaching impact. It was an offer that was open to all, and one that was perhaps most readily accepted by the lower orders of Hindus who now had a marvellous opportunity for collective manumission from caste slavery. As a result, many Sindhi tribes accepted Islam. Others saw conversion as a means to a good job and better status, but the new ruling power in Sindh did not impose Islam on anybody, and those who did not choose to convert were allowed to continue making idols of their gods. Initially, the local chiefs remained virtually independent, but after 724, direct rule was imposed by the caliph, though Sindh’s ruling-class Brahmins retained their posts and much of the administration of the country was left in their hands.

Islamic inscription on a gravestone at Makli Hills.
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Links with Baghdad
The Umayyads were succeeded by the Abbasids who became the new rulers of Sindh. From AD 750 the Abbasid caliphs with their capital in Baghdad sent their governors to rule. Being a rich and prosperous land, Sindh paid substantial revenue to Baghdad. In 820, Caliph Al Ma’mun received 1 million dirhams as revenue from Sindh.

Ibn Hawqal, who travelled extensively through the Arab domains around the middle of the 10th century, particularly mentioned the affluence of the people and abundance of food in Sindh.
Culturally, deep interactions had begun between the Middle East and the subcontinent. The Arabic language had made deep inroads into Sindh, which has the longest tradition of Arabic scholarship in the whole region. Modern Sindhi vocabulary is full of Arabic words. There is mention of Sindhi scholars and poets in the annals of Abbasid Arabic literature. There was also a synthesis of Islamic and Sindhi living patterns. Local dress was adopted by the common folk from among the new settlers, though the merchants continued to wear their distinctive flowing Arab cloaks.
Academically, the cultural traffic was not entirely one-way. During the rule of Abbasid Caliph Al-Mansur, scholars from the Indus Valley were welcomed at the court of Baghdad. Their works on medicine, mathematics, astronomy and philosophy were translated into the Arabic language.
In the meantime, Islam was also making inroads in the north, where missionaries were actively spreading their faith among the tribes of the northwestern regions of Pakistan. A stone tablet in the Peshawar Museum – inscribed with both Arabic and Sanskrit characters from the Tochi valley of Waziristan – establishes the presence of Islam in the area as early as 857.
The coming of the Turks
With the gradual decline of the Abbasid Arab Empire, the Turks made their entrance in the imperial arena. In the late 9th century, they established themselves in Ghazni (modern-day Afghanistan). In 977, Mahmud of Ghazni succeeded his father Sabuktigin (a Turkic slave who had become ruler of Ghazni) and set about the extension of the new, Turkic Empire into South Asia. He carried his plundering military campaigns into the Aryavarta (the abode of Aryans). He was acknowledged as a vassal by the Abbasid Caliph Qadir Billah who presented him a robe of honour and gave him the title “Right Hand of the Empire and the Ruler of the Community”. Mahmud’s empire extended from Iraq to the Ganges and from Khwarizm to Kathiawar on the Arabian Sea. Mahmud’s successors consolidated the empire in the Indus Valley, and it was extended right up into the Punjab. Lahore replaced Multan as the administrative and cultural centre.
Multan was visited by one of the greatest rationalists of the world of Islam, Abu Rayhan al Biruni (973–1053), the philosopher, mathematician, astronomer and meritorious cultural historian (for more information, click here ). He has left a brilliant and authoritative work on Indian culture, the Tahqiq ma lil Hind (Research on India). Al Biruni was also a scholar of Sanskrit and was fascinated by the charitable Indians. “It is obligatory with them every day to give alms as much as possible. They do not let money become a year or even a month old, for this would be a draft on an unknown future, which a man does not know whether he reaches or not.”


Kallar, a Brahmin of probable Turkic descent (known in Kashmiri chronicles as Lalliya), was a minister of the Shahi (royal) dynasty of Kabul. Overthrowing his king around the middle of the 9th century, Lalliya took control of the kingdom and established the Hindu Shahi dynasty. By 870 Kabul came under the control of the Arabs and Lalliya moved east to establish Udhabhandapura (modern Hund, for more information, click here ) as his capital.
Lalliya’s son Toraman (a.k.a. Kamaluka) could make no advances, but his grandson Bhimadeva made significant additions to the kingdom through superb administrative skill. It is from this line that the doughty Jaipal, the ruler of Lahore and Peshawar, and his son Anandpal come. Though these worthy warriors fought against Mahmud, the raider king of Ghazni, with unparalleled courage, they failed to stem the influx of their cousins now converted to Islam. The kingdom thus came to an end in 1021.
Even Abu Rayhan al Biruni, the Muslim scholar who visited India after the dynasty’s displacement, acknowledged the courage of the Shahi kings with respect. But they also had enormous wealth and fine taste. Evidence of the latter are the fine temples sprinkled from Kashmir through the Salt Range to the banks of the Indus. To this day they are known as the Hindu Shahiya temples.
The most benevolent legacy of the age was undoubtedly the movement for mystic brotherhood spread by the Sufi saints, including Ali bin Usman al Hujwiri, also known as the dispenser of the treasure of spiritual guidance (Data Ganj Bakhsh). Hujwiri preached Islam to all, irrespective of caste. His work Kashf-ul-Mahjub (Unveiling of the Hidden) was written for the layman. He was critical of the age: “The Almighty has caused us to be born in an age when people consider their baser passions to be their religion. They crave for authority and rank. For them their pride and vanity are the marks of honour and knowledge. They interpret their hypocritical and exhibitionist acts of worship as fear of God. They have vengeance in their hearts and pretend to be compassionate and honourable. Exhibitionism and baseness are presented as chastity and purity. Hypocrisy for them is piety.”
The Delhi Sultanate
The Ghaznavid dynasty was ousted by the Ghurids (1148–1206). Mu’izz al Din Muhammad was appointed governor of Ghazni by his brother, Emperor Sultan Ghiyath al Din Muhammad. He extended the borders of the empire up to the Yamuna and conquered Ajmer and Delhi. His Turkish successors advanced their domains southwards to Bengal. At the turn of the 13th century the Delhi Sultanate was established.

The Delhi Sultanate lasted for 300 years. Many of the local administrative and civic structures that were created during this era remain in place today.


A thousand years on from the arrival of Sufism in Pakistan, its spiritual impact remains deeply felt.
Much of the Qur’an consists of the regulations that are subsequently elaborated to form the law that governs all aspects of Muslim life. But the holy scripture is much more than a legal text, and many of its most beautiful verses, like “Wherever you turn, there is the face of God”, have always been an inspiration to Muslims seeking to draw close to God through directly realised spiritual experience.
These seekers came to be called Sufis from the clothes of wool ( suf in Arabic) that they wore as a badge of their having renounced the world to pursue the path of mystical realisation. The early Sufi masters, who often came into conflict with the strict exponents of the law, developed an elaborate mystical theology that was heavily inspired by the Neoplatonic concept of emanation, mapping the stages of the spiritual quest towards its ultimate goal: the union of the soul with God. Drawing on a great many sources for its inspiration, Sufism was never a unified movement, rather the product of various schools, each with its different special teachings passed on directly from a sheikh (Arabic for “old man”; pir in Persian) to his murids (disciples). The Sufis were organised into different orders, or tariqas, each typically spread through a different territory.
Sufism in the subcontinent
This flexible pattern was rapidly extended to India from the 11th century onwards. Although it was the soldiers of the Sultans who conquered the vast territories of northern India, including the heartlands of Pakistan, it was the great sheikhs or pirs of the Sufi orders who were responsible for the conversion of so much of the local population to Islam. Although many of these converts were first attracted by the awesome reputation of the pirs as wonder-workers, the Sufi ideals of tolerance and of gradually bringing people to a greater spiritual awareness were what lay behind the most successful missionary movement in South Asia’s history.
The sheikh’s authority was absolute. Every detail of his behaviour would be carefully noted and recorded by his disciples. Only he could teach the personalised discipline of the order, known as zikr , or remembrance. This may consist simply of the repetition of a short formula like “there is no god but God” to a prescribed pattern of breathing and chest-beating. A few orders have specialised in fiercer and more spectacular physical mortification, whose advanced practice might allow devotees to pass skewers through their cheeks without lasting pain. In the environment of India, with its yogic traditions, many individual Muslim fakirs have always rejected the carefully balanced spiritual discipline of the regular Sufi orders in favour of more outlandish practices like wearing heavy chains, or of the quick path to enlightenment through drugs.
Within the mainstream, however, the most popular discipline has been the practice of listening to the singing of mystical poetry in the strongly rhythmic style called qawwali. Particularly encouraged in the Chishti order, this poetry and its music has always had an immensely popular appeal. Most of the classic poetry in the local languages of Pakistan is of Sufi inspiration. The Sufi poets often related the agony of the separation from the Beloved and the joy at finding Him using tales of romance as metaphors for their spiritual quests; such romances are still recalled. So even today, when the regular institutional practice of Sufism has greatly declined in Pakistan, the Sufi legacy continues to be a vital part of the country’s cultural heritage.

“Dancing Dervishes” folio from the Shah Jahan Album.
Public domain
The Delhi Sultanate’s administration was based on the structures of the Abbasid Empire. The Sultan was source of all power. He ruled his realm with the help of a large army and a vast civil administration. Judiciary was headed by a Qaziul Qazat , the chief justice, with magistrates and jurisconsults to dispense justice to all. Police, intelligence and communications were developed. Local people were incorporated in the army and civil administration. Most of the revenue collectors were the traditional village heads. During the Sultanate, there was a fruitful fusion of Islamic and Indian culture and spiritual values. The political unity of the subcontinent resulted in economic regeneration and trade on a large scale. It resulted in the development of exquisite crafts and high quality of consumer goods. Poetry and music became the artistic passions of the masses. Literary romances and history writing flourished, giving birth to the secular modern literature in prose in various languages.

Leaving friday prayers at Markazi Jamia Masjid, Rawalpindi.
But, with all the pomp and splendour of the Delhi-based Turkic Empire, the spread of Islam was not the result of the military successes of the Sultans, but of the peaceful preaching of the mystics (see opposite). While in the 14th century Shia Muslims established important centres in the Deccan in southern India, the imperial centre did not generally attract converts to Islam. It became the religion of the majority only on the western and eastern peripheries, where the mystics were most active and where the Islamic country of Pakistan was to emerge.
The greatest challenge the Sultanate faced appeared as the scourge of Mongols who invaded the northern subcontinent in the 13th and 14th centuries. Firstly, there were the hordes of Genghis Khan who reached the Indus in 1221, to be followed in 1398 by the Central Asian conqueror Timur. Both caused havoc in the region. There was death and destruction, chaos and confusion. But then Timur grew weary of the subcontinent and returned to Samarkand. Under a series of different dynasties, the Sultanate survived until the beginning of the 16th century, when it fell to the displaced descendant of the house of Timur, the great adventurer Babur.

The Mughal Empire was one of the most powerful the world had ever seen. Its rulers created magnificent works of art and united the subcontinent as never before.

The turn of the 16th century was a busy time. Not only in Central and South Asia, but the world over. Europe in particular was beginning to expand its influence in all directions. In 1492, Columbus sailed to America and, with Vasco da Gama, the Portuguese had opened up the subcontinent and the Far East to sea trade. The world was getting smaller, and everyone, it seems, was in search of new wealth, territory and empire.

Emperor Zahiruddin Muhammad Babur receiving a visitor.
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Babur’s conquest
Born in 1483, Zahiruddin Muhammad Babur originally came from the principality of Ferghana, part of present-day Uzbekistan. He was a professional ruler of the house of Timur whose empire was under threat from the Uzbeks, advancing from the north. Having lost Ferghana, and captured and lost Samarkand, his first expedition outside Central Asia resulted in the capture of Kabul in 1504. He had become a ruler without a kingdom and, denied the places he loved, turned his gaze south in search of a fitting domain. He was a writer, poet and adventurer and his fantasies resulted in the creation of an empire that represented one of the most glorious epochs in the history of the subcontinent. At the height of their power, in the 16th and 17th centuries, the Mughals were to rule over 150 million people. The Empire was to become one of the most powerful the world had ever seen.

Elephants were much favoured by the Mughals.
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Sweeping down with his army, Babur seized Kandahar in 1522 and Lahore in 1524. In 1526 in a battle at Panipat, 80km (50 miles) north of Delhi, Babur defeated the Afghan leader Sultan Ibrahim Lodi, ruler of the last dynasty of the Delhi Sultanate. It was the first time Northern India had seen guns: the matchlocks and mortars that Babur used to annihilate the forces of the Lodi chief. Even with 100,000 men and 1,000 elephants, the sultan didn’t stand a chance. Subsequently, Mughal rule was established and Babur secured a territory stretching from the Oxus in the west to Bengal in the east, with a southern limit marked by the Rajasthan Desert.
Though his military achievements were extremely momentous in the course of South Asian history, Babur is particularly remembered for the wonderful gardens he laid wherever he went, as well as for his memoirs, the Baburnama . His first impressions of the subcontinent were certainly less than glowing: “Hindustan is a country of few charms. Its people have no good looks; of social intercourse, paying and receiving visits there is none; of genius and capacity none; of manners none; in handicraft and work there is no form or symmetry, method or quality; there are no good horses, no good dogs, no grapes, muskmelons or first-rate fruits, no ice or cold water, no good bread or cooked food in the bazaars, no hot baths, no colleges, no candles, torches or candlesticks…”
He did, however, see some advantages within his newly conquered territory: “Pleasant things of Hindustan are that it is a large country and has masses of gold and silver… Another good thing is that it has unnumbered and endless workmen of every kind. There is a fixed caste for every sort of work and for everything, which has done that work or that thing from father to son till now…”

“Akbar Hunting”, a folio from Akbarnama.
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Akbar’s biographer was his courtier and confidant Abul Fazl, who produced the Akbarnama, a massive biography. Apparently Akbar ate one meal a day, comprising 40 dishes.
Babur didn’t live long enough to reap the full rewards of his military exploits. It is said that he offered up his own life to Allah in exchange for that of his son, Humayun, who had fallen critically ill in 1530. The wish was granted; Babur died and Humayun recovered.
Humayun, however, lacked his father’s talent and energy. At continual odds with the Afghans, their rebel chief Sher Shah Suri finally forced him to leave India and seek asylum in Persia.
During Sher Shah’s five-year reign, a great deal was achieved in terms of administration and building. As well as making a contribution to the building of the Grand Trunk Road, he also constructed a number of strategic forts to protect the Empire, including the giant Rohtas Fort near Jhelum. His reign is said to represent the longest five years in India’s history.
Humayun only took back his father’s territory in India on the death of Sher Shah in 1556, after which he continued to reign for only seven months. He died after falling down the steps of his library in Delhi. It is said that he took excessive amounts of opium.


Even as a young boy Akbar’s powers of leadership were put to the test when fighting against the forces of his father’s enemy, Sher Shah. Fighting on the side of Sher Shah was a man called Hemu who was a Hindu of very humble birth. He had risen to a high position in the service of a nephew of Sher Shah and was universally liked by Hindus and Muslims, equally open-handed with all. He ran his fief well and maintained a large army that achieved many victories.
He especially appreciated elephants, which he saw as an important part of the force. Perhaps because he was an ugly little man and was unable or unwilling to ride a horse, he always led his troops into battle on an elephant. He was too weak to wield a sword, but was always in the thick of the battle, leading his men and calling them on. His disabilities mattered little as people were afraid of his name and reputation and his unbroken line of victories.
When he fought against Akbar, an arrow hit Hemu in the eye and his elephant bolted. Seeing the commander go, the troops, as always, withdrew; and so it was that Hemu was captured. Bairam Khan told Akbar, who was then a young boy, to decapitate this enemy. Some accounts say that Akbar did so. Others say that, seeing the lad look reluctant, Bairam Khan did it for him.
Akbar the Great (1556–1605)
Before Humayun was ousted from Indian soil by Sher Shah Suri, his wife, Hamida Banu Begum, had borne him a son while they were taking refuge in the Sindhi desert town of Umerkot in 1542. His name was Akbar and he became Emperor when he was only 13 years old, proceeding to rule the Mughal Empire for nearly 50 years.

Seventeenth-century painting of Akbar visiting musicians in the forest.
In his declared aim of becoming Lord Paramount of India, Akbar saw the importance of a strong, highly disciplined army, claiming, “A monarch should be ever intent on conquest, otherwise his neighbours rise in arms against him. The army should be exercised in warfare, lest from want of training they become self-indulgent.” True to purpose, he led his forces in a sweep across India, securing an Empire that stretched from the Arabian Sea eastwards to Bengal and from Kashmir in the north to the Deccan Plateau in the south.
The Mughals had inherited the administration of the Delhi Sultanate and Akbar ensured that the Empire ran smoothly by encouraging the loyalty of his officials through a ranking system known as mansabdari . Mansabdars (officers) of various rank ( mansab ) were required to recruit and maintain a specified number of cavalry, extracting sufficient revenue for the purpose from either cash payments or jagirs , the granting of pieces of land from which revenue could be exacted. The system bred competition among those keen on titles and honour. They remained loyal and ensured that Akbar had his army. The mansabdar was also required to send a certain amount of revenue to the Emperor as a kind of tax. As a clever adjunct, Akbar continually rotated the mansabdars around the jagirs lest local alliances grew to threaten the absolute power of the Emperor.


One day Akbar heard a beautiful song about a lady called Rupmati who was in the harem of Baz Bahadar, the ruler of Malwa. Brooding on the words of the song he decided he had to have Rupmati, and dispatched an army to Malwa. Baz Bahadar prepared for battle and sent the women of the palace to a safe place.
Akbar won the day and Baz Bahadar fled. The ladies were all slain, except for Rupmati who was badly injured. As the Mughal commanders tried to save her, she took a phial of poison and perished. Akbar was stricken with grief. Since then popular songs have celebrated Baz Bahadar, the faithful Rupmati and Akbar.
In Akbar’s time, the number of Hindus given official posts increased dramatically, gaining a very large share in the administration of the Empire. The jizya , taxes that had previously been levied on Hindus, were abolished. Akbar’s openness towards the Hindus did not stop with administration. He also married a great many Hindu wives, partly to help cement alliances and partly to keep his vast Empire intact. And he didn’t stop with his wives either. He very often used to disguise himself and venture into the slums to see how the people really lived.

Jahangir and his father, Akbar.
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As his reign went on, Akbar became increasingly keen on discussing religious matters and listened to the debates of various faiths; Hindus, Parsis and Christians all had an impact on his thinking. In the latter half of his reign, he established the Din-e-Ilahi , a new order encouraging a cult of loyalty around himself, elevating himself in some people’s eyes to a position of a divine ruler. His experiments with religion were not continued by his successors.
Akbar had the Hindu classics Mahabharata and Ramayana translated into Persian. In the arts there was a great deal of influence from Persia. Humayun had brought back Persian artists after his period of exile. Akbar continued to foster the Persian tradition and encouraged local artists to fuse it with their own ideas. An Indo-Persian school developed using primarily secular themes such as portraits, court scenes, natural life, historical subjects and legends. Beautiful paintings, the classic Mughal Miniatures (see box, below), were used to illustrate the namas (biographies) of Mughal rulers.
His contribution to architecture is of no less importance and is characterised by a blending of Hindu and Muslim styles. His greatest achievement was Fatehpur Sikri near Agra in India, which became his capital from 1570 to 1585. He then moved to Lahore, which was more strategically located, and built the Lahore Fort. Akbar finally died in 1605.


The Emperor Humayun brought the painters Mir Sayyid Ali and Abd al-Samad to India from Tabriz in Persia in 1555. Under Akbar, they trained 200 Indian artists, and the subsequent fusion of Safavid and native art produced the vibrant and refined Mughal style. These exquisite paintings were not intended for public show, but were held in folios for viewing at intimate gatherings. The style flourished under Akbar, who left a library of some 24,000 manuscripts, and his son Jahangir, known for his delight in representations of the natural world. Shah Jahan continued the tradition, but later the artists went to regional courts and painting at the Mughal court declined.
Jahangir (1605–1627)
Developments during the reign of Akbar’s son Jahangir were to a large extent directed by his intelligent and very beautiful wife, Nur Jahan. Artists and politicians began to flood in from Persia as never before. Jahangir became a keen collector of art as well as jewels and other priceless gifts which his nobles gave him.
While leading a number of military campaigns aimed at extending the Empire further southwards – to the Maratha kingdom of the Deccan Plateau – Jahangir simultaneously indulged his favourite hobby, collecting and dissecting all manner of species of animals.
Much has been written on his bouts of heavy drinking and brutality. When angry, and especially if his throne was threatened, he was capable of great cruelty, having men flayed alive, impaled, or torn to pieces by elephants. Once, while hunting, his men inadvertently frightened away the prey. Jahangir was incensed and in his memoirs he relates without shame his radical reaction, “In a great rage I ordered them to kill the groom on the spot and to hamstring the bearers and mount them on asses and parade them through the camp so that no one should again have the boldness to do such a thing.”
Shah Jahan (1627–58)
On Jahangir’s death there followed a very bloody fight for his throne from which his eldest son, Shah Jahan, emerged victorious.
Shah Jahan’s name has gone down in history as the architect of the Taj Mahal, erected in memory of his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal. Important as it is, the Taj Mahal is only one of the many landmarks of a reign that marked the climax of the Mughal dynasty. For 30 years Shah Jahan’s throne was never seriously threatened and the realm never invaded by a foreign foe. And, with the exception of some moves south into the Deccan, where he placed his son Aurangzeb as viceroy, the Empire was not greatly extended.

Shah Jahan on horseback
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Shah Jahan was primarily interested in collecting jewels and he took enormous pleasure in the display of courtly magnificence. The opulence of his court was a legend not only in India, but also in Europe. After his formal enthronement, he glorified himself by constructing a peacock throne more splendid and costly than the throne of any other monarch. It took seven years to build and was in the form of a bedstead on golden legs with an enamelled canopy supported by 12 emerald pillars, each of which bore two peacocks encrusted with gems. Between the birds on each pillar was a tree covered with diamonds, rubies, emeralds and pearls.

Mumtaz bore Shah Jahan 14 children, eight sons and six daughters, in a period of 17 years.
In the realm of Mughal architecture and art, the reign of Shah Jahan most certainly marked the apex. Each of his buildings is characterised by elegance and the lavish use of costly decoration. As well as perfecting the use of red sandstone as favoured by Akbar and Jahangir – for instance, with the Red Fort and Jama Masjid of Delhi – he relied heavily on marble, most strikingly with the Taj Mahal and the Moti Masjid (Pearl Mosque) in Agra. The lesser known, red-brick Shah Jahan Mosque of Thatta (Sindh) is also outstanding, featuring exquisite blue tilework.
Shah Jahan also left an indelible mark on Lahore, contributing Jahangir’s tomb, the magnificent Shalimar gardens and the most extravagant structures within the Lahore Fort – the Shish Mahal and an earlier version of the Moti Mahal. It was also during his reign that the Masjid Wazir Khan and the Shahi Hammam were built. Indeed, there was at the time a saying about Lahore: “The Persian cities of Isfahan and Shiraz together are not equal to half of Lahore!”

The Naulakha Pavilion in Lahore Fort.
The end of his reign was far from noble, being imprisoned by his son Aurangzeb who, some have claimed, deposed his father partly to put a halt to his architectural extravagances. He died in 1666, a prisoner in the Agra fort.
Aurangzeb (1658–1707)
The two most prominent sons of Shah Jahan were Aurangzeb and his older brother Dara Shikoh. They were worlds apart in how they envisaged the Mughal world, typifying two completely opposing arguments. While Dara Shikoh thought that the only way of maintaining the Empire was by joining the oceans of Islam and Hinduism, much in the same vein as Akbar, Aurangzeb felt that all the wealth and idolatry encouraged by previous rulers had led to a degeneration of moral conduct. He was convinced that the only path ahead lay in a reassertion of strict Islamic principles combined with orthodox mysticism. The argument heralded the beginnings of a split in the unity of northern India, and Aurangzeb’s reign was marked by his constant adherence to his principles. Before their father died, Aurangzeb defeated Dara Shikoh in battle and had him executed when he became Emperor.
Aurangzeb displayed great bravery even as a young boy, stopping a charging elephant that threatened the royal family. He spent the early part of his reign fighting off the continuous attacks from Persians and Central Asian Turks. He became feared and respected for his vigour and skill, and was regarded by his subjects as a good man and a good, though strict, ruler. He was highly educated and he knew the Qur’an by heart, following the Islamic law in every detail of his personal conduct. Though he was never frivolous, his wives were, some of them even drinking and tempting him to do the same. Once he reportedly tried to ban fashionable clothes and wine. One of his wives invited the wives of all the learned men to a party. They came in all the latest fashion and accepted the wine. She then showed him all these drunken wives and said, “If the wives of the scholars who decide the law are such, how can you forbid the ordinary women in the family?”
Unsurprisingly, he quickly lost the support of Hindus due to a series of unpopular measures, among them reviving the jizya and destroying Hindu temples: “The richly jewelled idols taken from pagan temples were transferred to Agra and placed beneath the steps leading to the Nawab Begum Sahib’s Mosque in order that they might ever be passed under foot by the true believers.” At the same time, he married his son to a Rajput princess and continued to employ Hindu officials. Indeed, no Mughal emperor employed more Hindu officials than Aurangzeb. He was anti-Shia, banishing Shia Muslims, prohibiting their long moustaches and appointing an officer to measure and clip their long whiskers.
Militarily, he was determined to combat the advancing Marathas in the Deccan, making the southern town of Aurangabad his capital from which he conducted operations. For the last 26 years of his life, Aurangzeb was embroiled in this conflict, which proved to be immensely costly. The financial pressure strained the whole administration. His absence while stationed in the south also prevented him from maintaining a firm grip on the north, and slowly the Empire began to crumble.
An important contributory factor was that the mansabdari system consolidated during Akbar’s reign had gradually broken down: land was no longer rotated, thus allowing local rulers to take advantage and cement their own alliances. There was less meritocracy in Aurangzeb’s reign, and he didn’t engineer loyalty towards himself as Akbar had done. He finally died in 1707. His funeral was a characteristically simple affair; it was paid for by the sale of his embroidered hats.

Emperor Aurangzeb being carried on a palanquin.
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As Aurangzeb’s reign went on, he passed more and more time in prayer and in living a simple life; he spent much of his spare time embroidering hats.
Decline and fall
Aurangzeb was the last great Mughal emperor. Though he bequeathed relatively few major artistic splendours to the Empire, his most notable achievements in this field included the magnificent Badshahi Mosque of Lahore, as well as Lahore Fort’s imposing Alamgiri Gate. The disasters of his successors show how much the Empire depended on the strength and character of the emperors. Aurangzeb’s successors were neither as charismatic nor as militarily capable of asserting themselves as their great Mughal predecessors. They spent their reigns either fighting off the Afghans, Persians, Sikhs, Rajputs and Marathas, or living lives of decadence, propped up as symbols by anyone who felt it advantageous to do so, including the British. Territory was lost: the greatest ignominy, perhaps, was the sacking of Delhi in 1739 by the Persians who rode off with Shah Jahan’s peacock throne. The Punjab and Kashmir came under the control of the Afghan Ahmad Shah Durrani and remained under Afghan control until, in the early 19th century, the Sikhs pushed the Afghans back to the Khyber Pass.
All the while, however, from small beginnings in Bengal, another power had gradually been gnawing away at everybody else’s stake in the subcontinent: the British.

The arrival of the British was to change the subcontinent forever. The Mughal Empire collapsed and a new order was rapidly imposed.

The small group of British merchants who came knocking on the door of Jahangir’s Mughal court at the beginning of the 17th century were not the first Europeans to start trading in the subcontinent. They had been beaten to it by the Portuguese as far back as 1498 when Vasco da Gama discovered a sea route to India. The Dutch had followed, and continued to set up trading colonies in the East Indies, blocking any chance of the British gaining a foothold in that part of the world. But India was big enough, and anyone stood a chance of deriving great wealth from the fabulous riches that it possessed.

The last viceroy & vicereine of India, 1947.
Trading places
From their first enclaves in Bengal, the merchants of the East India Company could not have imagined that British presence in India would come to mean anything more than peaceful trading. But the French arrived in the middle of the 17th century, signalling the beginning of militarisation: the situation in Europe was such that the two sides inevitably ended up fighting on Indian soil. Within 100 years the French were a spent force and the British possessed the most efficient military machine in the subcontinent, as demonstrated by Robert Clive at the Battle of Plassey in 1757.
As Mughal power declined, British influence increased. The British advanced by making alliances with Indian rulers who very often preferred them to neighbours with whom they may well have been warring for years. Any resistance was easy to crush; there were no problems in defeating the undisciplined ranks of Indian cavalry.
In 1775 the Company was found to be corrupt and a regulating act gave the government control over Company officials. In 1784 the India Act left the Company solely in charge of commerce. India was given a governor general with almost exclusive control, and British policy often reflected the beliefs of this man. Thus, as per the time-honoured imperial traditional, the British began to annex states, offering troop protection against aggressive neighbours in return for loyalty and sizable subsidies. By 1818, Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, and a tract of land north of the Ganges running up to Delhi were firmly in British hands.

Robert Clive.
Two hundred years after their arrival in the subcontinent the British were well placed to begin playing their strategic games. Eyes turned northwest to the frontiers of Afghanistan, where it was feared that the Russian bear would advance out of Central Asia. Afghanistan was thus rendered an important buffer state, while further to the east the British began to determine the future of Pakistan.
However, any attempt to secure the frontier had to take into account the Punjab and its powerful Sikh ruler Ranjit Singh. The role of the Sikhs in the power struggle in northern India at the time of the British advance had such deep implications for the region’s development that no history of Pakistan would be complete without describing how the Sikhs had become such a dominant force.
Ranjit Singh in the Punjab
The Punjab had been the home of the Sikhs since the late 15th century, their religion based on the teachings of Guru Nanak. He was followed by a succession of nine other living Gurus. The first five gurus were all noted poets, whose works were collected to form the basis of the Sikh holy book – the Adi Granth . According to one tradition, it was Akbar who granted the daughter of the third Guru an area of land in Amritsar on which the Sikhs built their temple in 1577.
Gradually the Sikhs came into increasing conflict with local governors, becoming increasingly militarised. The Gurus bore arms and were accompanied by armed retainers, mercenaries and the trappings of state. The ninth Guru, Teg Bahadur, was executed by Aurangzeb. His son Govind Rai founded an order called the Khalsa which was to become the basis of modern orthodoxy. Govind “borrowed” the Rajput title of Singh in an attempt to increase the status of the Sikhs. He was murdered in 1708 by a Pathan horse trader.
Thereafter one of his friends, a curious holy man called Banda Bahadur (Banda = slave; Bahadur = brave), led what was effectively a peasant revolt in the Punjab, marking the beginnings of the chaos and confusion, violence and bloodshed that were to continue all the way through the 18th century. Internal difficulties were largely a result of uprisings inspired by the Sikhs, but the local governors also had to contend with invasions from the outside. Apart from Nadir Shah’s Persians in 1739, there were a series of nine invasions by the Afghan Durrani between 1747 and 1769, causing havoc in the province and making it more or less impossible to govern at all. The best that the local governors could do was to try to make alliances wherever they could. Sometimes they would attempt to pacify the Sikhs, sometimes they would persecute them, and sometimes they managed to do both simultaneously.
Throughout the 18th century, Sikh warlords emerged. They spent most of their time fighting each other, but also fought governors or Afghans where the need arose. At the end of the century, when many of these warlords were either very old or dead, one young man emerged to unite Sikh power in the Punjab, enlisting a combination of strategic marriage alliances and clever schemes to defeat the aged Sikhs. His name was Ranjit Singh. He was not an especially handsome man (smallpox had left his face pitted and taken away the sight of one eye), but by 1799 he had taken Lahore, where he was pronounced Emperor. Ludhiana followed in 1806, Multan and Kashmir fell in 1818 and 1819, Ladakh in 1833 and Peshawar in 1834. With such a strong presence in the northwest of India, the British could sit back and let Ranjit Singh do their work for them; a ready-made buffer state was in place.

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