Pakistan Table of Contents

In early 1994, the population of Pakistan was estimated to be 126 million, making it the ninth most populous country in the world. Its land area, however, ranks thirty-second among nations. Thus Pakistan has about 2 percent of the world's population living on less than 0.7 percent of the world's land. The population growth rate is among the world's highest, officially estimated at 3.1 percent per year, but privately thought to be closer to 3.3 percent per year by many planners involved in population programs. Pakistan's population is expected to reach 150 million by 2000 and to account for 4 percent of the world's population growth between 1994 and 2004. Pakistan's population is expected to double between 1994 and 2022.

These figures are estimates, however, because ethnic unrest led the government to postpone its decennial census in 1991. The government felt that tensions among Punjabis, Sindhis, muhajirs (immigrants or descendants of immigrants from India), Pakhtuns, and religious minorities were such that taking the census might provoke violent reactions from groups who felt they had been undercounted. The 1991 census had still not been carried out as of early 1994. The 1981 census enumerated 84.2 million persons.

Population Distribution and Density

Pakistan's people are not evenly distributed throughout the country. There is an average of 146 persons per square kilometer, but the density varies dramatically, ranging from scarcely populated arid areas, especially in Balochistan, to some of the highest urban densities in the world in Karachi and Lahore.

About 68 percent of the population lived in rural areas in 1994, a decrease of 7 percent since 1970. In contrast, the number of people living in urban areas has risen substantially, resulting in an urban growth rate of 4.6 percent between 1980 and 1991.

More than half of Pakistan's population is below the age of fifteen; nearly a third is below the age of nine. For cultural reasons, enumerating the precise number of females has been difficult--and estimates of the percentage of females in the population range from 47.5 percent in the 1981 census to 48.3 percent in the 1987-88 Labour Force Survey. Pakistan is one of the few countries in the world with an inverse sex ratio: official sources claim there are 111 men for every 100 women. The discrepancy is particularly obvious among people over fifty: men account for 7.1 percent of the country's total population and women for less than 5 percent. This figure reflects the secondary status of females in Pakistani society, especially their lack of access to quality medical care.

Population Planning Policies and Problems

Pakistan's extremely high rate of population growth is caused by a falling death rate combined with a continuing high birth rate. In 1950 the mortality rate was twenty-seven per 1,000 population; by 1990 the rate had dropped to twelve (estimated) per 1,000. Yet throughout this period, the birth rate was fortyfour per 1,000 population. On average, in 1990 each family had 6.2 children, and only 11 percent of couples were regularly practicing contraception.

In 1952 the Family Planning Association of Pakistan, an NGO, initiated efforts to contain population growth. Three years later, the government began to fund the association and noted the need to reduce population growth in its First Five-Year Plan (1955-60). The government soon combined its population planning efforts in hospitals and clinics into a single program. Thus population planning was a dual effort led by the Family Planning Association and the public sector.

In the mid-1960s, the Ministry of Health initiated a program in which intrauterine devices (IUDs) were promoted. Payments were offered to hospitals and clinics as incentives, and midwives were trained to treat patients. The government was able to attract funding from many international donors, but the program lost support because the targets were overly ambitious and because doctors and clinics allegedly overreported their services to claim incentive payments.

The population planning program was suspended and substantively reorganized after the fall of Mohammad Ayub Khan's government in 1969. In late December 1971, the population was estimated at 65.2 million. In an attempt to control the population problem, the government introduced several new programs. First, the Continuous Motivation System Programme, which employed young urban women to visit rural areas, was initiated. In 1975 the Inundation Programme was added. Based on the premise that greater availability would increase use, shopkeepers throughout the country stocked birth control pills and condoms. Both programs failed, however. The unmarried urban women had little understanding of the lives of the rural women they were to motivate, and shopkeepers kept the contraceptives out of sight because it was considered mannerless to display them in an obvious way.

Following Zia ul-Haq's coup d'état in 1977, government population planning efforts were almost halted. In 1980 the Population Division, formerly under the direction of a minister of state, was renamed the Population Welfare Division and transferred to the Ministry of Planning and Economic Development. This agency was charged with the delivery of both family planning services and maternal and child health care. This reorganized structure corresponded with the new population planning strategy, which was based on a multifaceted community-based "cafeteria" approach, in cooperation with Family Welfare Centres (essentially clinics) and Reproductive Health Centres (mostly engaged in sterilizations). Community participation had finally became a cornerstone of the government's policy, and it was hoped that contraceptive use would rise dramatically. The population by 1980 had exceeded 84 million.

In preparing the Sixth Five-Year Plan (1983-88), the government projected a national population of 147 million in the year 2000 if the growth rate were to be a constant at 2.8 percent per year, and of 134 million if the rate were to decline to the desired 2.1 percent per year by then. By the Seventh Five-Year Plan (1988-93) period, the multipronged approach initiated in the 1980s had increased international donor assistance and had begun to enlist local NGOs. Efforts to improve maternal and child health were coupled with education campaigns. Because of local mores concerning modesty, the government avoided explicit reference to contraceptive devices and instead focused its public education efforts on encouraging couples to limit their family size to two children.

The key to controlling population growth, according to activists in the women's movement, lies in raising the socioeconomic status of women. Until a woman's status is determined by something other than her reproductive capabilities, and especially by the number of sons she bears, severe impediments to lowering population growth rates will persist.

Migration and Growth of Major Cities

Pakistan's cities are expanding much faster than the overall population. At independence in 1947, many refugees from India settled in urban areas. In the 1950s, more than one-half of the residents of several cities in Sindh and Punjab were muhajirs. Some refugee colonies were eventually recognized as cities in their own right.

Between 1951 and 1981, the urban population quadrupled. The annual urban growth rate during the 1950s and 1960s was more than 5 percent. This figure dropped slightly in the 1970s to 4.4 percent. Between 1980 and early 1994, it averaged about 4.6 percent. By early 1994, about 32 percent of all Pakistanis lived in urban areas, with 13 percent of the total population living in three cities of over 1 million inhabitants each--Lahore, Faisalabad, and Karachi.

The key reason for migration to urban areas has been the limited opportunity for economic advancement and mobility in rural areas. The economic and political control that local landlords exercise in much of the countryside has led to this situation.

The urban migrant is almost invariably a male. He retains his ties with his village, and his rights there are acknowledged long after his departure. At first, the migration is frequently seen as a temporary expedient, a way to purchase land or pay off a debt. Typically, the migrant sends part of his earnings to the family he left behind and returns to the village to work at peak agricultural seasons. Even married migrants usually leave their families in the village when they first migrate. The decision to bring wife and children to the city is thus a milestone in the migration process.

As cities have grown, they have engulfed surrounding villages, bringing agriculturists into the urban population. Many of these farmers commute to urban jobs from their original homes. The focus of these individuals' lives remains their family and fellow villagers. Similarly, migrants from rural areas who have moved to the cities stay in close touch with relatives and friends who have also moved, so their loyalties reflect earlier patterns. The Pakistani city tends to recreate the close ties of the rural community.

Pakistani cities are diverse in nature. The urban topology reflects the varied political history within the region. Some cities dating from the medieval era, such as Lahore and Multan, served as capitals of kingdoms or small principalities, or they were fortified border towns prior to colonial rule. Other precolonial cities, such as Peshawar, were trading centers located at strategic points along the caravan route. Some cities in Sindh and Punjab centered on cottage industries, and their trade rivaled the premier European cities of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Under colonial rule, many of the older administrative cities declined. Where the British located a trading post (factory) near an existing administrative center, the city was typically divided into old and new, or European, sections. New towns and cities also emerged, especially in the expanding canal colonies, Faisalabad (formerly Lyallpur) is such a city. The town of Karachi expanded rapidly to become a center of rail and sea transport as a consequence of British rule and as consequence of the opening of massive irrigation projects and the increase in agricultural exports. Thus, Pakistan's two largest cities, Karachi and Lahore, illustrate how differing regional and sociocultural histories have shaped the variations among Pakistan's cities.

Karachi absorbed tens of thousands of muhajirs following independence in 1947, grew nearly two and one-half times from 1941 to 1951, and nearly doubled again in the following decade. Karachi is by far Pakistan's largest city and is still rapidly growing. In the early 1990s the population exceeded 10 million.

Karachi's rapid growth has been directly related to the overall economic growth in the country. The partition of British India into the independent states of Pakistan and India prompted an influx into Pakistan of Muslim merchants from various parts of the new, Hindu-majority India. These merchants, whom sociologist Hamza Alavi refers to as salariat, had money to invest and received unusual encouragement from the government, which wanted to promote the growth of the new state.

Karachi at first developed in isolation. Relatively few people from outlying areas were engaged in running its factories, and the city had little impact on Pakistan's cultural fabric. But when the economies of southern Sindh and parts of Punjab began to expand, large numbers of migrants flooded the city in search of work (generally low-paying jobs), and Karachi become the hub of the nation's commerce. The city, however, also has serious problems. It has the poorest slums in the country, and it suffers from serious interethnic conflict as a consequence of the influx of many competing groups. It was the site of considerable violence in the late 1980s as muhajirs solidified their local power base vis-ŕ-vis the Pakhtuns and native Sindhis.

Lahore, Pakistan's second largest city, contrasts markedly with Karachi. With just under half the population of Karachi, it is regarded as the cultural nucleus of Punjab. Residents of Lahore take special pride in their city's physical beauty, especially in its Mughal architecture, which includes the Badshahi Mosque, Shalimar Gardens, Lahore Fort, and Jahangir's tomb. In the earliest extant historical reference to the city, in A.D. 630 the Chinese traveler Xuan Zang described it as a large Brahmanical city. A center of learning by the twelfth century, Lahore reached its peak in the sixteenth century, when it became the quintessential Mughal city--the "grand resort of people of all nations and a center of extensive commerce."

The economy and the population expanded greatly in the 1980s in a number of other cities. The most important of these are Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Wazirabad, and Sialkot in Punjab; Hyderabad in Sindh; and Peshawar and Mardan in the North-West Frontier Province.

The nation's capital was situated in Karachi at independence. General Mohammad Ayub Khan, who assumed power in 1958, aspired, however, to build a new capital that would be better protected from possible attack by India and would reflect the greatness of the new country. In 1959 Ayub Khan decided to move the capital to the shadow of the Margalla Hills near Pakistan's third largest city, Rawalpindi. The move was completed in 1963, and the new capital was named Islamabad (abode of Islam). The population of Islamabad continues to increase rapidly, and the official 1991 estimate of just over 200,000 has probably been much exceeded.

Impact of Migration to the Persian Gulf Countries

Pakistan had a severe balance of payments deficit in the 1970s. To deal with this deficit, as well as to strengthen ties with the Islamic states in the Middle East, the government of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto encouraged both skilled and unskilled men to work in the Persian Gulf countries. The government set up a program under the Ministry of Labour, Manpower, and Overseas Pakistanis to regulate this migration and also seconded military troops to many of the Gulf states.

By the mid-1980s, when this temporary migration was at its height, there were estimated to be more than 2 million Pakistanis in the Persian Gulf states remitting more than US$3 billion every year. At the peak, the remittances accounted for almost half of the country's foreign-exchange earnings. By 1990 new employment opportunities were decreasing, and the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War forced many workers to return quickly to Pakistan. Workers have only slowly returned to the Gulf since the war ended.

The majority of the emigrants are working-class men, who travel alone, leaving their wives and children behind with their extended families in Pakistan. These men are willing to sacrifice years with their families for what they see as their only chance to escape poverty in a society with limited upward mobility. A study in the old quarter (the inner walled city) of Lahore in 1987 suggested that half of all working-class families had at least one close relative working in the Gulf. Families generally use the remittances for consumer goods, rather than investing in industry. The wage earner typically returns after five to ten years to live at home.

Although this migration has had little effect on Pakistan demographically, it has affected its social fabric. While a man is away from his family, his wife often assumes responsibility for many day-to-day business transactions that are considered the province of men in this traditional male-dominated society. Thus for the women involved, there is a significant change in social role. Among the men, psychologists have identified a syndrome referred to as "Dubai chalo" ("let's go to Dubai"). This syndrome, which manifests itself as disorientation, appears to result from social isolation, culture shock, harsh working conditions, and the sudden acquisition of relative wealth. Men often feel isolated and guilty for leaving their families, and the resultant sociopsychological stress can be considerable.

Repercussions of the War in Afghanistan

The presence of large numbers Afghan refugees has had a weighty impact on the demographics of Pakistan. After the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in December 1979, refugees began streaming over the borders into Pakistan. By 1990 approximately 3.2 million refugees had settled there, a decrease of about 90,000 from 1989. Previously uninhabited areas of the North-West Frontier Province and Balochistan had been settled by refugees during the 1980s. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that in 1990 there were 345 Afghan refugee villages. Of these, 68.5 percent were in the North-West Frontier Province, 26.0 percent in Balochistan, and 5.5 percent in Punjab. Each village housed an average of 10,000 people, and women and children accounted for 75 percent of the refugee population.

The influx of refugees has had profound social consequences, and the population of desert areas has also had an effect on the environment. Initially, Pakistanis wanted to help their neighbors in a time of need, but difficulties slowly led many to think that their friendship had gone far enough. Among the problems were inflation, a dearth of low-paying jobs because these were taken by refugees, and a proliferation of weapons, especially in urban areas. The escalation of animosity between refugees and Pakistanis, particularly in Punjab, caused the government to restrict the refugees' free movement in the country in the mid1980s .

To assist Pakistan in preventing conflict by keeping the refugees separate from the local population, the UNHCR placed restrictions on disbursements of food and other goods in its refugee camps in the North-West Frontier Province and in Balochistan. Since the 1989 end of the Soviet occupation in Afghanistan, the UNHCR, the Pakistan government, and an array of NGOs have encouraged the refugees to return home, but until internecine fighting in Afghanistan stops, many will elect to remain in Pakistan. In early 1994, the number of Afghan refugees still residing in Pakistan was estimated at 1.4 million, according to Amnesty International. More than 2 million Afghan refugees also remained in Iran.

Traditional Kinship Patterns
Linguistic and Ethnic Groups

For more recent population estimates, see Facts about Pakistan.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress