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    Pakistan extends along either side of the historic Indus River, 
following its course from the mountain valleys of the Himalayas down 
to the Arabian Sea. Bordering on India, China, Afghanistan and Iran, 
it is strategically located astride the ancient trade routes between 
Asia and Europe. Pakistan's 796,095 square kilometers of territory 
include a wide variety of landscapes, from arid deserts to lush, 
green valleys to stark mountain peaks.
    
    Geographically, Pakistan can be divided into three regions: the 
lowlands along the Indus in the south and east, the arid plateau of
Baluchistan in the southwest, and the mountains of the north. The 
provinces of Punjab and Sindh, in the east and south, are well 
irrigated by the Indus and its tributaries. The land is fertile and 
produces most of Pakistan's food. This area, which includes the 
cities of Karachi, Islamabad (the capital), Lahore and Rawalpindi, 
is the most densely-populated in the country.
    
    The southwestern province of Baluchistan covers almost half 
Pakistan's territory. The land consists of a stony plateau, sparsely 
populated and very dry. Outside of the provincial capital of Quetta, 
travel in Baluchistan is extremely restricted. 
    
    Pakistan's mountainous north contains the second tallest peak on  
Earth , K2 (28,250 ft., 8611 m), and over 300 glaciers. Three great 
mountain ranges stretch across this part of the country:the Himalayas,
the Karakorams and the Hindu Kush. The region's  topography is  
constantly changing, as frequent earthquakes help the  mountains grow
at the remarkable rate of 7 mm (1/4 inch) a year. Pakistan's climate 
varies according to elevation. April through September are the most 
pleasant months in the mountains, although they bring oppressive heat
to the low-lying plains of the Indus Valley, where midday temperatures
can exceed 40 degrees Celsius (100 degrees F). December through 
February are the coolest months, as lowland temperatures drop to 
between 10-25 degrees C (50-77 degreesF) and the air in the mountains
falls below freezing. Monsoons reach the southern areas of the country 
in late summer, although precipitation is minimal in Baluchistan and 
in the north and limited in most of the interior.
           
History and People

   While Pakistan as a country is relatively new, the Indus River 
region is known as a cradle of civilization. Archaeologists have 
found fossils of Homo sapiens in the area which date back 50,000 
years. An urban society known as the Indus Civilization developed 
around 3,000 BC and flourished for a period of about fifteen hundred 
years. One of the reasons for the rise and the prosperity of the 
Indus Civilization was its situation right along a natural trade 
route between central Asia and the Indian subcontinent. While this 
position encouraged the rise of an urban trading society, it also 
encouraged wave after wave of invasion, making Pakistan's history a 
mind-boggling tapestry of successive conquests. 
   
   The first of these incursions was that of the Aryans, who arrived 
from Central Asia around 1,700 BC, displacing the Indus Civilization 
and bringing Hinduism to the region. Twelve hundred years later, the 
Aryans yielded in turn to the armies of Cyrus the Great, and the 
Indus region became a part of his Achaemenid Persian empire. The 
next conqueror to arrive was Alexander the Great, who passed through 
the Khyber Pass in 326 BC, built a fleet of ships, and sailed down 
the Indus to conquer what is now the Punjab state. It was in the 
Punjab that Alexander's soldiers refused to go any further east, 
prompting an enormously difficult march homeward through the harsh 
desert regions of Baluchistan, Afghanistan, and Iran. 
   
   Alexander's successors, the Seleucids, survived for about a century, 
until they capitulated to Ashoka, emperor of the great Mauryan 
empire of India. It was Ashoka who, in an act of remorse for the 
suffering caused by his many conquests, brought Buddhism to Pakistan 
(and to much of Asia). The Mauryans were then succeeded by the 
Bactrians, the Saka (Scythian nomads), the Parthians, and, in the 
2nd century AD, by the Kushans. Kanishka, the greatest of the Kushan 
kings, ruled from Peshawar over an empire that stretched across much 
of India. As the Kushan empire declined, various Hindu kingdoms 
based in India asserted their power, dividing up the territory 
between them. Islam was introduced in the 8th century and quickly 
spread throughout the region. The Turkish rulers of Afghanistan 
invaded Pakistan as they began their conquest of India. Pakistan 
then passed under the control of the Muslim sultans of Delhi. 
Early in the 16th century, Pakistan became part of the Mughal 
Empire. Under the emperors Akbar, Jahangir and Shah Jahan, art and 
architecture flourished. By the early 19th century, the Sikhs had 
consolidated their power and declared Lahore their capital. Within a 
few decades, however, the Sikhs were defeated in battle by the 
English, and Pakistan became part of the British Raj. When India 
prepared for independence from the British in the 1940s, Muslim 
Indians pushed for their own independent state, and the republic of 
Pakistan came into being on August 14, 1947 as a Muslim homeland. 
Unfortunately, the birth of both Pakistan and India was marked by 
massive bloodshed, when violence broke out between Muslims and 
Hindus migrating from one country to the other. About 500,000 people 
are believed to have died.
    
    Pakistan's population of 128 million is one of the fastest-rowing 
in Asia. The two largest ethnic groups are the Punjabis, an 
Indo-Aryan people who dominate political and business life, and the 
Pashtuns, who work mainly as herders and farmers. The northern areas 
are home to many distinct ethnic groups, whose eclectic heritage is 
the result of intermarriage between local peoples and invaders from 
elsewhere in Europe and Asia. The official language is Urdu, and 
English is used extensively in business.



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