WHEN BRITISH ARCHAEOLOGIST Sir Mortimer Wheeler was commissioned in 1947 by the government of Pakistan to give a historical account of the then new country, he entitled his work Five Thousand Years of Pakistan. Indeed, Pakistan has a history that can be dated back to the Indus Valley civilization (ca. 2500-1600 B.C.), the principal sites of which lay in present-day Sindh and Punjab provinces. Pakistan was later the entryway for the migrating pastoral tribes known as Indo-Aryans, or simply Aryans, who brought with them and developed the rudiments of the religio-philosophical system of what later evolved into Hinduism. They also brought an early version of Sanskrit, the base of Urdu, Punjabi, and Sindhi languages that are spoken in much of Pakistan today.

Hindu rulers were eventually displaced by Muslim invaders, who, in the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth centuries, entered northwestern India through the same passes in the mountains used earlier by the Indo-Aryans. The culmination of Muslim rule in the Mughal Empire (1526-1858, with effective rule between 1560 and 1707) encompassed much of the area that is today Pakistan. Sikhism, another religious movement that arose partially on the soil of present-day Pakistan, was briefly dominant in Punjab and in the northwest in the early nineteenth century. All of these regimes subsequently fell to the expanding power of the British, whose empire lasted from the eighteenth century to the midtwentieth century, until they too left the scene, yielding power to the successor states of India and Pakistan.

The departure of the British was also a goal of the Muslim movement championed by the All-India Muslim League (created in 1906 to counter the Hindu-dominated Indian National Congress), which in turn wanted both political independence and cultural separation from the Hindu-majority regions of British India. These objectives were reached in 1947, when British India received its independence as two new sovereign states. The Muslim-majority areas in northwestern and eastern India were separated and became Pakistan, divided into the West Wing and East Wing, respectively. The placement of two widely separated regions within a single state did not last, and in 1971 the East Wing broke away and achieved independence as Bangladesh.

The pride that Pakistan displayed after independence in its long and multicultural history has disappeared in many of its officially sponsored textbooks and other material used for teaching history (although the Indus Valley sites remain high on the list of the directors of tourism). As noted anthropologist Akbar S. Ahmed has written in History Today, "In Pakistan the Hindu past simply does not exist. History only begins in the seventh century after the advent of Islam and the Muslim invasion of Sindh."


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