Pakistan was carved out of Hindu-majority India by the British in 1947. The Muslim majority in the west of India was referred to as West Pakistan. Nearly 1,000 miles away, on the eastern side of India, the British also carved out East Pakistan.
The partition and the creation of Pakistan were never clear-cut. India and Pakistan fought two wars over the disputed territory of Kashmir. A third war was fought in 1971, in which India supported the Bengali insurgency in East Pakistan. The end of the war saw Pakistan break into two countries: Bangladesh on the east and Pakistan on the west.
For much of its independent existence, Pakistan has been ruled by military regimes that came to power through coups that overthrew democratic governments. The last coup took place in 1999, when the then head of army, Pervez Musharraf, became the chief executive of Pakistan. In 2001, Musharraf became the president and was reelected to that post in October 2007. He then stepped down as army chief.
During his tenure, Musharraf sided with the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. But after September 2001, Pakistan became an important ally of President George Bush's war against terrorism.
General elections were held in February 2008, resulting in a new coalition government made up of the Pakistan People's Party and the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz). In August 2008, Musharraf resigned as the president of Pakistan, after it became clear that the ruling coalition was set to impeach him.
Pakistan's nuclear ambitions have been tied to India's nuclear plans, with the two countries conducting tests in 1998. Tensions with India have resulted in a nuclear arms race in the subcontinent.
With decades of military rule and rising Islamic extremism, Pakistan hasexperienced a decline in education and health services. Religious extremist groups play an important role in providing education and other services to the poor, which has led to further radicalization in the parts of the country.
Last updated: August 19, 2010
Sources: BBC, International Crisis Group, CIA World Factbook.