A Crossroads Of Civilizations

By Liz Goldner

On a visit to his native Pakistan in July, 2006, Kalim Farooki graciously collected soil for Common Ground 191. After arriving in that country, he traveled 100 kilometers (60 miles) from Karachi to Thatta, now a tourist destination.

Thatta is just west of the Indus River and near the Arabian Sea coast. The city has a rich, cultural history going back more than 2,000 years, as historians believe that Alexander the Great visited the town before the Christian era. Much later, in the 16th and 17th centuries, Thatta was a center for Islamic arts.

During its many centuries of cultural life, citizens of the town built numerous tombs, mausoleums and mosques. Many of these are in good condition and are tourist destinations.

The Makli Hill near Thatta is the world largest graveyard spread over 15.5 square kilometer. Buried here are kings, queens, scholars, philosophers and soldiers, leaders of a city that was once known for its culture and learning.

The surrounding region includes the barren and rocky Kohistan area where the chief crop is sugarcane and camel breeding is an important industry.

In Thatta, centuries of deterioration from environmental factors have caused decay of the still-standing monuments. Kalim explains that the soil he collected comes from an area that is rich with these artifacts. He adds that it is likely that the soil he collected for Common Ground contains particles from these monuments.

Populous Country

Pakistan is the sixth most populous country in the world and the second most largest with a Muslim majority. Persians and Greeks conquered most of the country in the 1st millennium BCE. Later arrivals included the Arabs, Afghans, Turks, Baloch and Mongols. The territory was incorporated into the British Raj in the nineteenth century. Since its independence, the country has experienced significant military and economic growth, along with periods of instability, particularly the secession in 1971 of East Pakistan (present-day Bangladesh). Pakistan is a declared nuclear weapons state.

The name "Pakistan" means "Land of the Pure" in Urdu, Sindhi, and Persian. It was coined in 1934 as "Pakstan" by Choudhary Rahmat Ali.

Pakistan was formed on August 14,1947, with two Muslim-majority wings in the eastern and northwestern regions. Following this formation, there were riots across India and Pakistan with millions of Muslims moving to Pakistan and millions of Hindus and Sikhs moving to India. Disputes arose over several states including Jammu and Kashmir. Economic and political dissent in East Pakistan led to violent political repression and tensions, escalating into civil war.

Civilian rule resumed from 1972 to 1977 under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, until he was deposed and later sentenced to death. In 1988, Benazir Bhutto was elected as the first female Prime Minister of Pakistan. Over the next decade, she alternated power with Nawaz Sharif, as the country's political and economic situation worsened. Pakistan sent 5,000 troops to the 1991 Gulf War as part of a US led coalition. Military tensions in the Kargil conflict with India were followed by a Pakistani military coup d'état in 1999 in which General Pervez Musharraf assumed executive powers. In 2001, Musharraf named himself President after the forced resignation of Rafiq Tarar. After the 2002 parliamentary elections, Musharraf transferred executive powers to newly elected Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali, who was succeeded in the 2004 Prime-Ministerial election by a professional banker Shaukat Aziz, followed by a brief stint in the seat by Chaudhy Shuja'at Hussain.


Pakistan is a rapidly developing country, having faced many challenges on political and economic fronts. Despite being a very poor country in 1947, its economic growth rate has been better than the global average during the subsequent four decades, Recently, wide-ranging economic reforms have resulted in a stronger economic outlook and accelerated growth especially in the manufacturing and financial services sectors. There has been great improvement in the foreign exchange position and rapid growth in hard currency reserves. The 2005 estimate of foreign debt was close to US$40 billion. However, this has decreased in recent years with assistance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and significant debt-relief from the United States. Pakistan's GDP growth rates have steadily increased over the last five years.

The Karachi Stock Exchange has soared, along with most of the world's emerging markets. Large amounts of foreign investments have been made into several industries. The top industries in Pakistan are telecom, software, automotives, textiles, cement, fertilizer, steel, ship building, and aerospace.

Pakistan has accomplished many engineering feats such as construction of the world’s largest earth filled dam Tarbela, the world's twelfth largest dam Mangla, as well as the world’s highest international road: the Karakoram Highway. There are also half a dozen additional dams planned such as Kalabagh Dam,

In its June 2006 Economic Survey, global finance giant Morgan Stanley listed Pakistan on its list of major emerging markets in the world economy, placing it on a list of 25 countries displaying continued moderate to strong growth over a sustained period of time. The report noted, "its economy has been growing quickly in recent periods and corporate direct investors have taken notice.”
In late March 2007, the Asian Development Bank "Outlook 2007" report predicted that strong growth would continue in 2007 and 2008 with growth rates of 6.5 to 7 percent, with manufacturing, exports and consumer expenditure leading the way.

Sandy Beaches to Icy Peaks

Pakistan covers 803,940 square kilometers, approximately the size of France and the United Kingdom combined. Its land ranges from sandy beaches, lagoons, and mangrove swamps of the southern coast to moist temperate forests and the icy peaks of the Himalaya, Karakoram and Hindu Kush mountains in the north. There are an estimated 108 peaks above 7,000 metres (23,000 ft) high, covered in snow and glaciers.

To the west of the Indus are the dry, hilly deserts of Balochistan; to the east are the rolling sand dunes of the Thar Desert. The Tharparkar desert in the southern province of Sindh, is the only fertile desert in the world. Most areas of Punjab and parts of Sindh are fertile plains where agriculture is of great importance.

The climate varies as much as the scenery, with cold winters and hot summers in the north and a mild climate in the south, moderated by the influence of the ocean. The central parts have extremely hot summers with temperatures rising to 113 °F, followed by very cold winters.

The national dress, called Shalwar Qamiz, of Central Asian origin, is today worn in all parts of Pakistan. The sari is worn by some women in Sindh and other parts of Pakistan. Women wear brightly colored shalwar qamiz, while men often wear solid-colored ones. In cities, western dress is also popular among the young and business people.

Pakistani music ranges from diverse, provincial folk music and traditional styles such as Qawwali and Ghazal Gayaki to modern forms fusing traditional and western music. The county is also home to many famous folk singers such as the late Alam Lohar, who is also well known in the Indian Punjab. Hip-Hop is also becoming popular.

The arrival of Afghan refugees in the western provinces has rekindled Pashto and Persian music and established Peshawar as a hub for Afghan musicians and a distribution centre for Afghan music abroad.

Tourism is a growing industry in Pakistan, based on its diverse cultures, peoples and landscapes. The variety of attractions range from the ruins of ancient civilizations such as Mohenjo-daro, Harappa and Taxila, to the Himalayan hill stations, which attract those interested in field and winter sports. The northern parts of Pakistan have many old fortresses and towers.

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