For over four thousand years, what is now Pakistan was one of the main prizes in the territorial tug-of-war between the Indian sub-continent and Central Asia. The vacuum left by the collapse of successive empires was filled by waves of princes, warriors, traders and refugees; forty-odd years after its creation, the ‘Land of the Pure; is still a country of migrants. The mohajirs who arrived from India at partition were followed by over one million Afghan refugees. Although united by a common religion, they remain fundamentally divided by their origins, languages and sects.

The ‘Great Leader’ of the new Muslim state founded of the “parting of the ways” in 1947, died before realizing his vision. Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s modern democracy: has often proved too fragile to withstand the pressures from within and without. Pakistan’s dynamism is still offset by insecurity; material progress is discounted in the light of limitations imposed by authoritarian governments. The patriarchal family structure and the purdah tradition remain strong, particularly in rural areas.

But the perpetual motion continues. And in many ways, it is this which has made the country what it is. Businessmen and laborers flock from Baluchistan and the Northwest Frontier to Karachi and Lahore; the intelligentsia moves to Washington or Geneva; the entrepreneur to anywhere in America or Europe. Until the Gulf War, millions went to make their fortunes in Saudi Arabia or Kuwait.

Map of Pakistan

In the years since its founding, however, Pakistan has also built its own industrial base. Raw materials are processed for the home market; cotton, wool, sugar, paper, tobacco and leather, with the production of chemicals, fertilizers and light engineering products broadening the palette. Mineral resources are mainly unexploited, though there are large natural gas deposits and an occasional small oil field. Irrigating the fertile low lands and terraced valleys for wheat, rice, sugar cane, pulses and oil seeds provides a living for most country-dwellers; damming the country’s rivers (at Mangla on the Jhelum, at Tarbela on the Indus) also brightens the urban landscape through hydroelectric power.

Extending from the lofty peaks of the Himalaya to the shores of the Arabian Sea, modern Pakistan encompasses massive glaciers, inhospitable deserts, silent valleys and endless plains. Historically, the region framing the mighty Indus basin and the ‘five rivers’ state of Punjab has often acted as turnstile between the civilizations of East and West. Today’s travelers crossing the Karakoram Highway are merely following in the footsteps of Marco Polo, who passed through the Khyber Pass and Peshawar along the Great Silk Road to Cathay. The cradle of ancient cultures became, too, the graveyard of many an imperialist army. Alexander the Great turned back at the River Beas; Genghis Khan’s Mongol hordes made raiding forays from China. Tamerlane brought death and destruction; the British, trains, telephones and, ultimately, independence. But despite the sojourns of all the Harappans, Aryans, Gandharans, Mauryans, Kushans and Guptas, the true conquerors of Sind were the Mughal emperors. Babur’s descendants built their forts, their mosques and their exquisitely decorated marble tombs.

Akbar and Shah Jehan also bequeathed Pakistan its decorative arts and the exquisite images of its poetry. And their legacy survives in the nation’s kitchens. The liberal use of cardamom, saffron, sesame and poppy seeds bears witness to a shared heritage with India. Religious constraints apart, the main difference between the two cuisines lies in Pakistan’s more limited use of the chili, further neutralized by liberal quantities of yoghurt (another borrowing from the Middle East). Not only the sophisticated culinary traditions of the Mughal court, but also the seafood of Karachi and the succulent fruits from Quetta will turn the simplest meal into a colorful feast.

Template by - Abdul Munir - 2008