Excavations have shown that an advanced civilisation was flourishing in the Indus Valley at least 4,000 years ago. Around 1500 BC the region was conquered by Indo-Aryans who established the Vedic civilisation. The region was occupied first by the Persians in the fifth century BC and then by the Greeks under Alexander the Great. However, it was around 712 AD, when the Arabs landed and were to rule the lower half of the region for the next two centuries, that Islam took root and with it, much of the culture and traditions that we recognise today.

The Mughal Empire spread throughout the Indian subcontinent and was at its most powerful from the late 17th to the early 18th centuries; gradually declining after that and giving way to a Sikh empire. With the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1839 internal divisions allowed British expansion through the British East India Company. British rule of the Indian subcontinent was to last until 1947.

The concept of a separate Muslim province had been raised in 1930 by Sir Muhammad Iqbal in his famous speech to the All India Muslim League. Other activists, such as Muhammad Ali Jinnah, also advocated safeguarding the rights of Muslims within a united India, but by 1940 the Muslim League, now led by Jinnah, were calling for a separate Muslim state.

Pakistan became a sovereign state on 14 August 1947, when the British Indian Empire was partitioned into two independent states. It initially consisted of the two regions where Muslims were in the majority – in the east and north-west and was separated by Hindu-majority India. It consisted of the regions of Punjab, North-West Frontier Province (or Afghan Province), Kashmir, Sindh and Baluchistan. From this came the acronym PAKSTAN, a term originally coined by Choudhary Rahmat Ali in 1933 in his pamphlet ‘Now or Never’. The letter i was added to this and Pakistan literally means ‘Land of the Pure’ in Urdu.

Muhammad Ali Jinnah became Pakistan’s first Governor-General from independence until his death just over a year later. He is revered in Pakistan as the Father of the Nation and that period in office was spent formulating the policies and government of the new state, as well as personally supervising the refugee camps for the millions of Muslims who had emigrated from India.

Pakistan was a Dominion in the Commonwealth of Nations from independence until 1956 when it became a republic. The country was under military rule until 1972, although it held its first democratic elections in 1970. The Awami League of East Pakistan won 160 of the 300 seats in the election, but West Pakistan refused to cede power. Violent repression led ultimately to the secession of East Pakistan and the formation of the new state of Bangladesh in 1971.

Civilian rule in Pakistan resumed in 1972 and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto became Prime Minister, having previously been President from 1971 to 1973. Bhutto was also the founder of the centre-left Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), an influential party that his family still dominates. In the general election of 1977 a ballot took place to elect 200 parliamentarians in the two house of Parliament. The elections were marred by mass protests and civil disobedience, but the PPP won 155 of the 200 seats, amidst accusations of vote rigging. The Pakistan National Alliance (PNA), a nine party alliance of all the opposition parties and formed to overthrow Bhutto, received 36 seats. The PNA had boycotted the election in Balochistan due to military operations taking place there. On 5 July 1977, with negotiations between Bhutto and the PNA having lapsed, a military coup took place and General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq took power, later claiming that he would not have done so had an agreement been reached. Bhutto was imprisoned and, in 1979, the Supreme Court controversially tried and executed him for authorising the murder of an opponent.

Elections were held on 28 February 1985, but were on a non-party basis and turnout was 52.93%. Three years later General Zia died in a plane crash and in the elections that took place on 16 November 1988, the Pakistan People’s Party won the majority of the seats in the National Assembly and Senate. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s daughter, Benazir, was elected Pakistan’s first female prime minister having been leader in exile of the PPP. The Islamic Democratic Alliance (IDA), a right-wing alliance of nine parties led by Nawaz Sharif and formed to oppose the PPP in the elections, received 56 of the National Assembly seats.

In the election which took place on 24 October 1990 the position was reversed and the IDA won the majority of seats. The PPP ran in the election in coalition with 3 smaller parties as the People’s Democratic Alliance. The liberal United National Movement (MQM) emerged as the third party in the elections. In the 1993 elections the PPP again took the majority of seats, although the centre-right Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N), which had been part of the Islamic Democratic Alliance and was now led by Nawaz Sharif, won the largest number of votes. Benazir Bhutto became prime minister once more.

The election of 3 February 1997 took place following the dismissal of the Bhutto government by President Farooq Leghari, amidst allegations of involvement by Benazir Bhutto and her husband Asif Ali Zardari in the death of her brother Murtaza Bhutto and also due to the economic situation at the time. The Pakistan Muslim League-N and Nawaz Sharif won the election with a landslide and Sharif became prime minister once more.

Military tension with India led to the Kargil War and this in turn led to a military coup in 1999, when General Pervez Musharraf assumed executive powers. In 2001 Rafiq Tarar resigned and Musharraf replaced him as president, transferring executive power to the new prime minister, Zafarullah Khan Jamali, following the election of 10 October 2002. Around 70 parties contested this election, with six achieving significant popular support: the centre-nationalist Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid-e-Azam), the PML-N breakaway group which won 126 seats; the PPP which won 81 seats, the United Council of Action, a coalition of religious and theocratic parties, which won 63 seats; the Pakistan Muslim League-N with 19 seats, the MQM with 17 seats and a National Alliance with 16 seats. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party of Imran Khan, which had first contested elections in 1997, gained one seat in this ballot. For the first time since independence, Pakistan had a multi-party system.

In November 2007 elections were called for the following year and it was while campaigning in Rawalpindi in December that Benazir Bhutto was assassinated as she left a rally. The election had already been postponed by General Musharraf and it was now postponed a further time, but finally took place on 18 February 2008. The Pakistan People’s Party won 97 of the 270 elected seats, with the Pakistan Muslim League-N coming second with 71 seats; together they formed a new coalition government with Yosaf Raza Gillani as prime minister.

General Musharraf was threatened with impeachment and resigned as president in August 2008 and was succeeded by Benazir Bhutto’s widower, Asif Ali Zardari. Gillani was found guilty of contempt of court for refusing to reopen the corruption case again Zardari and ultimately ousted as prime minister and disqualified from holding parliamentary office in June 2012. He was replaced as prime minister by Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, who was elected by a 211–89 vote in the National Assembly. As the government’s term of office came to an end, Ashraf was expected to stay on as prime minister until elections in May 2013. However he is facing charges of accepting kickbacks from rental power plants and Pakistan currently has a caretaker prime minister, Mir Hazar Khan Khoso, who was appointed by the Electoral Commission in March 2013.

The President is elected by secret ballot through an Electoral College comprising the members of the Senate, National Assembly and the provincial assemblies for a five year term.

The bicameral parliament has a Senate with 100 members, indirectly elected by provincial assemblies and the territories’ representatives in the National Assembly to serve six year terms. Half are elected every three years. The National Assembly has 342 seats of which 272 members are elected by popular vote, 60 seats are reserved for women and 10 seats reserved for non-Muslims. Members serve five year terms.

The Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2016 places Pakistan at joint 116th out of 176 countries with a CPI 2016 score of 32 (where 100 is least corrupt).