An active element of anti-Western sentiment exists in Pakistan. Foreigners, British and U.S. citizens, in particular, have been advised against traveling to the country unless absolutely essential, and then only if their security can be assured.
Life in Pakistan for expatriates includes some restraints in addition to concerns over security. The role of women differs from the Western experience. The expatriate community is supportive, however, and the business community is friendly, welcoming Western business and investment. English is widely spoken among educated Pakistanis and even by most retail and service persons.
A glimpse of Pakistan
All avenues of Pakistani life are governed by the Islamic faith and practice. Religion permeates every detail of life, and Pakistanis believe that their destiny is preordained according to the will of Allah. Islam structures life, both socially and in business, calling men to prayer five times a day and structuring the daily routines of business. The family is also a central source of strength for Pakistanis.
Officially, Pakistan is a parliamentary democracy with a president, a prime minister and a bicameral legislature. The Constitution provides for a Senate and National Assembly. The members of the legislature and members of the provincial assemblies elect the president. The prime minister is nominated by the president and elected by the National Assembly.
The Senate is comprised of 100 seats, while the National Assembly has 342 members. Both legislative bodies have seats reserved for women and religious minorities. The largest political parties in Pakistan include the center-right Pakistan Muslim League (Quta), or PML-Q, the hardline religious Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), and the liberal Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). However, several parties hold multiple seats in the National Assembly, with many more having a single seat.
For much of its history, however, Pakistan has been ruled by the military. The country abruptly returned to military control on October 12, 1999, when a successful coup against the elected Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, was engineered by Army Chief General Parvez Musharraf. The general led a military coup in which the prime minister and many of his cabinet were arrested. In June 2001, just prior to a meeting with India's Prime Minister on the Kashmir problem, Musharraf dissolved the National Assembly, dismissed the president and named himself to that office. Musharraf promised elections to return Pakistan to democratic rule by October 1, 2002, but in April of that year Musharraf won a further five years in office in a highly criticized referendum. Musharraf once again won a controversial reelection in 2007, and then resigned under pressure in August of 2008. Asif Ali Zardari won that office the following month.
In December of 2007, the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto just ahead of the January 2008 National Assembly elections once again disrupted the political climate of Pakistan, forcing elections to be delayed until February 2008. The elections were a success for opposition parties, including the PPP and the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), or PML-N. Musharraf's PML-Q emerged with the third most seats.
Pakistan has been home to a number of Muslim extremist groups whose literal interpretation of the Koran and tendency towards acts of violence is a cause for concern for the current government and the rest of the world.
After the September 11 attacks, Musharraf pledged to support the United States in its war on terror, by locating and shutting down terrorist training camps within its borders and banning militant groups to curb religious extremism. Despite this official policy, many Pakastanis continued to support the radical Islamic movement, and elements of extremist groups operate inside Pakistan, particularly along the Afghanistan border.
News of Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Ladin's death during an American strike on his Pakistani compound on May 1, 2011 brought jubilation from around the world, tempered with questions about his harboring.
Economic growth is a primary goal in Pakistan, where most people struggle to earn a modest living by farming. The government has actively pursued a program of economic reform by encouraging privatization and foreign investment. This program leaves most industry to private investment in order to save public funds for energy, water, health, and education. While poverty rates are still high, they have decreased significantly in the last decade, and the economy continues to grow steadily. Though it faces serious challenges, accentuated by the military coup, and the continued confrontations with India, Pakistan is rich in skilled labor and untapped resources, and is at the center of a region that could enjoy rapid growth over the next few decades if peace can be restored to the region.