The Islamic Republic of Pakistan (اسلامی جمہوریہ پاکستان in Urdu — Islāmī Jumhūriyah Pākistān), is a federal parliamentary republic in South Asia on the crossroads of Central Asia and Western Asia. It is the sixth-most populous country with a population exceeding 197 million people. In terms of area, it is the 33rd-largest country in the world with an area covering 340,509 square miles (881,913 square kilometers). Pakistan has a 650-mile-long (1,046-km) coastline along the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman in the south and is bordered by India to the east, Afghanistan to the west, Iran to the southwest, and China in the far northeast, respectively. It is separated from Tajikistan by Afghanistan’s narrow Wakhan Corridor in the north, and also shares a maritime border with Oman.
The territory that now constitutes Pakistan is considered a cradle of civilization that was previously home to several ancient cultures, including the Mehrgarh of the Neolithic and the Bronze Age Indus Valley Civilization, and later home to kingdoms ruled by people of different faiths and cultures, including Hindus, Indo-Greeks, Muslims, Turco-Mongols, Afghans, and Sikhs. The area has been ruled by numerous empires and dynasties, including the Persian Achaemenid Empire, Alexander of Macedonia, the Indian Mauryan Empire, the Arab Umayyad Caliphate, the Delhi Sultanate, the Mongol Empire, the Mughal Empire, the Durrani Empire, the Sikh Empire, and most recently, the British Empire.
Pakistan is unique among Muslim countries in that it is the only country to have been created in the name of Islam. As a result of the Pakistan Movement led by Muhammad Ali Jinnah and the subcontinent’s struggle for independence, Pakistan was created in 1947 as an independent homeland for South Asian Muslims. It is an ethnically and linguistically diverse country, with a similarly diverse geography and wildlife. Initially a dominion, Pakistan adopted a constitution in 1956, becoming an Islamic republic. An ethnic civil war in 1971 resulted in the secession of East Pakistan as the new country of Bangladesh. In 1973 Pakistan adopted a new constitution establishing, alongside its pre-existing parliamentary republic status, a federal government based in Islamabad consisting of four provinces and four federal territories. The new constitution also stipulated that all laws were to conform to the injunctions of Islam as laid down in the Quran and Sunnah.
A regional and middle power, Pakistan has the sixth largest standing armed forces in the world and is also a nuclear power as well as a declared nuclear-weapons state, being the second in South Asia and the only nation in the Muslim world to have that status. Pakistan has a semi-industrialized economy with a well-integrated agriculture sector, and a growing services sector. The Pakistani economy is the 24th largest in the world in terms of purchasing power and the 41st largest in terms of nominal GDP (World Bank). It is ranked among the emerging and growth-leading economies of the world, and is backed by one of the world’s largest and fastest growing middle classes.
The post-independence history of Pakistan has been characterized by periods of military rule, and since 2008 a transition to democracy, amid conflicts with neighboring India. The country continues to face challenging problems such as illiteracy, healthcare, and corruption, but has substantially reduced poverty and terrorism and expanded per capita income.
The name Pakistan (پاکستان) literally means “land of the pure” in Urdu and Persian. It is a play on the word pāk meaning pure in Persian and Pashto; the suffix -stān is a Persian word meaning place of, cognate with the Sanskrit word sthāna (स्थान in Devangari). The name of the country was coined in 1933 as Pakstan by Choudhry Rahmat Ali, a Pakistan Movement activist, who published it in his pamphlet Now or Never, using it as an acronym (“thirty million Muslim brethren who live in PAKSTAN”) referring to the names of the five northern regions of the British Raj: Punjab, Afghania, Kashmir, Sindh, and Baluchistan. The letter i was incorporated to ease pronunciation and form the linguistically correct and meaningful name.
Some of the earliest ancient human civilizations in South Asia originated from areas encompassing present-day Pakistan. The earliest known inhabitants in the region were Soanian during the Lower Paleolithic, of whom stone tools have been found in the Soan Valley of Punjab. The Indus region, which covers most of present day Pakistan, was the site of several successive ancient cultures including the Neolithic Mehrgarh and the Bronze Age Indus Valley Civilization (2,800–1,800 BC) at Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro.
The Vedic Civilization (1500–500 BC), characterized by Indo-Aryan culture, laid the foundations of Hinduism, which later became well established in the region. Multan was an important Hindu pilgrimage center. The Vedic civilization flourished in the ancient Gandhāran city of Takṣaśilā, now Taxila in the Punjab. Successive ancient empires and kingdoms ruled the region: the Persian Achaemenid Empire (around 519 BC), Alexander the Great’s empire in 326 BC and the Maurya Empire, founded by Chandragupta Maurya and extended by Ashoka the Great, until 185 BC. The Indo-Greek Kingdom founded by Demetrius of Bactria (180–165 BC) included Gandhara and Punjab and reached its greatest extent under Menander (165–150 BC), prospering the Greco-Buddhist culture in the region. Taxila had one of the earliest universities and centers of higher education in the world.
At its zenith, the Rai Dynasty (489–632 AD) of Sindh ruled this region and the surrounding territories. The Pala Dynasty was the last Buddhist empire, which, under Dharmapala and Devapala, stretched across South Asia from what is now Bangladesh through Northern India to Pakistan.
The Arab conqueror Muhammad bin Qasim conquered the Indus valley from Sindh to Multan in southern Punjab in 711 AD. The Pakistan government’s official chronology identifies this as the time when the foundation of Pakistan was laid. The Early Medieval period (642–1219 AD) witnessed the spread of Islam in the region. During this period, Sufi missionaries played a pivotal role in converting a majority of the regional Buddhist and Hindu population to Islam. These developments set the stage for the rule of several successive Muslim empires in the region, including the Ghaznavid Empire (975–1187 AD), the Ghorid Kingdom, and the Delhi Sultanate (1206–1526 AD). The Lodi dynasty, the last of the Delhi Sultanate, was replaced by the Mughal Empire (1526–1857 AD).
The Mughals introduced Persian literature and high culture, establishing the roots of Indo-Persian culture in the region. From the region of modern-day Pakistan, key cities during the Mughal rule were Lahore and Thatta, both of which were chosen as the site of impressive Mughal buildings. In the early sixteenth century, the region remained under the Mughal Empire ruled by Muslim emperors. By the early eighteenth century, increasing European influence contributed to the slow disintegration of the empire as the lines between commercial and political dominance became increasingly blurred.
During this time, the English East India Company had established coastal outposts. Control over the seas, greater resources, technology, and British military protection led the Company to increasingly flex its military muscle, allowing the Company to gain control over the subcontinent by 1765 and sideline European competitors. Expanding access beyond Bengal and the subsequent increased strength and size of its army enabled it to annex or subdue most of region by the 1820s. Many historians see this as the start of the region’s colonial period.
By this time, with its economic power severely curtailed by the British parliament and itself effectively made an arm of British administration, the Company began more deliberately to enter non-economic arenas such as education, social reform, and culture. Such reforms included the enforcement of the English Education Act in 1835 and the introduction of the Indian Civil Service (ICS). Traditional madrasahs — primary institutions of higher learning for Muslims in the subcontinent — were no longer supported by the English Crown, and nearly all of the madrasahs lost their financial endowment.
The gradual decline of the Mughal Empire in the early eighteenth century enabled the Sikh Empire to control larger areas until the British East India Company gained ascendancy over the Indian subcontinent. A rebellion in 1857 called the Sepoy mutiny was the region’s major armed struggle against the British Empire and Queen Victoria. Divergence in the relationship between Hinduism and Islam created a major rift in British India that led to racially motivated religious violence in India. The language controversy further escalated the tensions between Hindus and Muslims.
The Hindu renaissance witnessed an awakening of intellectualism in traditional Hinduism and saw the emergence of more assertive influence in the social and political spheres in British India. An intellectual movement to counter the Hindu renaissance was led by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, who helped found the All-India Muslim League in 1901 and envisioned, as well as advocated for, the two-nation theory. In contrast to the Indian Congress’s anti-British efforts, the Muslim League was a pro-British movement whose political program inherited the British values that would shape Pakistan’s future civil society.
In events during World War I, British Intelligence foiled an anti-English conspiracy involving the nexus of Congress and the German Empire. The largely non-violent independence struggle led by the Indian Congress engaged millions of protesters in mass campaigns of civil disobedience in the 1920s and 1930s against the British Empire.
The Muslim League slowly rose to mass popularity in the 1930s amid fears of under-representation and neglect of Muslims in politics. In his presidential address of December 29, 1930, Allama Iqbal called for “the amalgamation of North-West Muslim-majority Indian states” consisting of Punjab, North-West Frontier Province, Sindh, and Balochistan. Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, greatly espoused the two-nation theory and led the Muslim League to adopt the Lahore Resolution of 1940, popularly known as the Pakistan Resolution. In World War II, Jinnah and British-educated founding fathers in the Muslim League supported the United Kingdom’s war efforts, countering opposition against it whilst working towards Sir Syed’s vision.
The 1946 elections resulted in the Muslim League winning 90 percent of the seats reserved for Muslims. Thus, the 1946 election was effectively a plebiscite in which the Indian Muslims were to vote on the creation of Pakistan, a plebiscite won by the Muslim League. This victory was assisted by the support given to the Muslim League by the rural peasantry of Bengal as well as the support of the landowners of Sindh and Punjab. The Congress, which initially denied the Muslim League’s claim of being the sole representative of Indian Muslims, was now forced to recognise the fact. The British had no alternative except to take Jinnah’s views into account as he had emerged as the sole spokesperson of India’s Muslims. However, the British did not want India to be partitioned, and in one last effort to prevent it they devised the Cabinet Mission plan.
As the cabinet mission failed, the British government announced its intention to end the British Raj in India in 1946–47. Nationalists in British India — including Jawaharlal Nehru and Abul Kalam Azad of Congress, Jinnah of the All-India Muslim League, and Master Tara Singh representing the Sikhs — agreed to the proposed terms of transfer of power and independence in June 1947 with the Viceroy of India, Lord Mountbatten of Burma.
As the United Kingdom agreed to the partitioning of India in 1947, the modern state of Pakistan was established on August 14 1947 (27th of Ramadan in 1366 of the Islamic Calendar), amalgamating the Muslim-majority eastern and northwestern regions of British India. It comprised the provinces of Balochistan, East Bengal, the North-West Frontier Province, West Punjab, and Sindh.
In the riots that accompanied the partition in Punjab Province, it is believed that between 200,000 and 2,000,000 people were killed in what some have described as a retributive genocide between the religions while 50,000 Muslim women were abducted and raped by Hindu and Sikh men and 33,000 Hindu and Sikh women also experienced the same fate at the hands of Muslims. Around 6.5 million Muslims moved from India to West Pakistan and 4.7 million Hindus and Sikhs moved from West Pakistan to India. It was the largest mass migration in human history. Dispute over Jammu and Kashmir led to the First Kashmir War in 1948.
After independence in 1947, Jinnah, the President of the Muslim League, became the nation’s first Governor-General as well as the first President-Speaker of the Parliament, but he died of tuberculosis on September 11, 1948. Meanwhile, Pakistan’s founding fathers agreed to appoint Liaquat Ali Khan, the secretary-general of the party, the nation’s first Prime Minister. With dominion status in the Commonwealth of Nations, independent Pakistan had two British monarchs before it became a republic.
The creation of Pakistan was never fully accepted by many British leaders, among them Lord Mountbatten. Mountbatten clearly expressed his lack of support and faith in the Muslim League’s idea of Pakistan. Jinnah refused Mountbatten’s offer to serve as Governor-General of Pakistan. When Mountbatten was asked by Collins and Lapierre if he would have sabotaged Pakistan had he known that Jinnah was dying of tuberculosis, he replied ‘most probably’.
Maulana Shabbir Ahmad Usmani, a respected Deobandi alim (scholar) who occupied the position of Shaykh al-Islam in Pakistan in 1949, and Maulana Mawdudi of Jamaat-i-Islami played a pivotal role in the demand for an Islamic constitution. Mawdudi demanded that the Constituent Assembly make an explicit declaration affirming the “supreme sovereignty of God” and the supremacy of the shariah in Pakistan.
A significant result of the efforts of the Jamaat-i-Islami and the ulama was the passage of the Objectives Resolution in March 1949. The Objectives Resolution, which Liaquat Ali Khan called the second most important step in Pakistan’s history, declared that “sovereignty over the entire universe belongs to God Almighty alone and the authority which He has delegated to the State of Pakistan through its people for being exercised within the limits prescribed by Him is a sacred trust”. The Objectives Resolution has been incorporated as a preamble to the constitutions of 1956, 1962, and 1973.
Democracy was stalled by the martial law that had been enforced by President Iskander Mirza, who was replaced by army chief, General Ayub Khan. After adopting a presidential system in 1962, the country experienced exceptional growth until a second war with India in 1965 that led to an economic downturn and wide-scale public disapproval in 1967. Consolidating control from Ayub Khan in 1969, President Yahya Khan had to deal with a devastating cyclone that caused 500,000 deaths in East Pakistan.
In 1970, Pakistan held its first democratic elections since independence, meant to mark a transition from military rule to democracy, but after the East Pakistani Awami League won against the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Yahya Khan and the military establishment refused to hand over power. Operation Searchlight, a military crackdown on the Bengali nationalist movement, led to a declaration of independence and the waging of a war of liberation by the Bengali Mukti Bahini forces in East Pakistan, with support from India. However, in West Pakistan the conflict was described as a civil war as opposed to a war of liberation.
Independent researchers estimate that between 300,000 and 500,000 civilians died during this period while the Bangladesh government puts the number of dead at three million, a figure that is now nearly universally regarded as excessively inflated. Some academics such as Rudolph Rummel and Rounaq Jahan say both sides committed genocide; others such as Richard Sisson and Leo E. Rose believe there was no genocide. In response to India’s support for the insurgency in East Pakistan, preemptive strikes on India by Pakistan’s air force, navy, and marines sparked a conventional war in 1971 that resulted in an Indian victory and East Pakistan gaining independence as Bangladesh.
With Pakistan surrendering in the war, Yahya Khan was replaced by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto as president; the country worked towards promulgating its constitution and putting the country on the road to democracy. Democratic rule resumed from 1972 to 1977 — an era of self-consciousness, intellectual leftism, nationalism, and nationwide reconstruction. In 1972, Pakistan embarked on an ambitious plan to develop its nuclear deterrence capability with the goal of preventing any foreign invasion; the country’s first nuclear power plant was inaugurated in that same year. Accelerated in response to India’s first nuclear test in 1974, this crash program was completed in 1979.
Democracy ended with a military coup in 1977 against the leftist PPP, which saw General Zia-ul-Haq become the president in 1978. From 1977 to 1988, President Zia’s corporatization and economic Islamization initiatives led to Pakistan becoming one of the fastest-growing economies in South Asia. While building up the country’s nuclear program, increasing Islamization, and the rise of a homegrown conservative philosophy, Pakistan helped subsidize and distribute US resources to factions of the mujahideen against the USSR’s intervention in communist Afghanistan. Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province became a base for the anti-Soviet Afghan fighters, with the province’s influential Deobandi ulama playing a significant role in encouraging and organizing the ‘jihad‘.
President Zia died in a plane crash in 1988, and Benazir Bhutto, daughter of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was elected as the country’s first female Prime Minister. The PPP was followed by conservative Pakistan Muslim League (N), and over the next decade the leaders of the two parties fought for power, alternating in office while the country’s situation worsened; economic indicators fell sharply, in contrast to the 1980s. This period is marked by prolonged stagflation, instability, corruption, nationalism, geopolitical rivalry with India, and the clash of left wing-right wing ideologies. As PML(N) secured a supermajority in elections in 1997, Sharif authorized nuclear testings as a retaliation to the second nuclear tests ordered by India, led by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in May 1998.
Military tension between the two countries in the Kargil district led to the Kargil War of 1999, and turmoil in civic-military relations allowed General Pervez Musharraf to take over through a bloodless coup d’état. Musharraf governed Pakistan as chief executive from 1999 to 2001 and as President from 2001 to 2008 — a period of enlightenment, social liberalism, extensive economic reforms, and direct involvement in the US-led war on terrorism. When the National Assembly historically completed its first full five-year term on November 15, 2007, the new elections were called by the Election Commission.
After the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in 2007, the PPP secured the most votes in the elections of 2008, appointing party member Yousaf Raza Gillani as Prime Minister. Threatened with impeachment, President Musharraf resigned on 18 August 2008, and was succeeded by Asif Ali Zardari. Clashes with the judicature prompted Gillani’s disqualification from the Parliament and as the Prime Minister in June 2012. By its own financial calculations, Pakistan’s involvement in the war on terrorism has cost up to ~$118 billion, sixty thousand casualties and more than 1.8 million displaced civilians. The general election held in 2013 saw the PML(N) almost achieve a supermajority, following which Nawaz Sharif was elected as the Prime Minister, returning to the post for the third time in fourteen years, in a democratic transition.
The history of postage stamps in the region dates back to 1852, when Sir Bartle Frere of the British East India Company became the Chief Commissioner of Sind in 1851 and in 1852. Following the British example set by Rowland Hill, Frere improved upon the operations of the postal system of Sindh, introduced a cheap and uniform rate for postage (independent of distance traveled) and initiated the production of the Scinde Dawk stamps. These became the forerunners of the adhesive stamps to be used throughout India, Burma, the Straits Settlements and other areas controlled by the British East India Company.
The stamps were named Scinde Dawk after a very old postal system of runners that served the Indus Valley of Sindh, an area of present-day Pakistan. The name derives from the words “Scinde”, the British spelling of the name of the province of Sindh, and “Dawk”, the anglicized spelling of the Hindustani word “Dak” or Post. The runners were paid according to their distance of travel and the weight of their letters. This was a local Indus Valley system, inefficient and inadequate for the military and commercial needs of the British East India Company after their conquest of Sindh in February, 1843, following the Battle of Miani. In 1851, the runners were replaced with an efficient system using horses and camels, following routes through Scinde province, generally along the valley of the Indus river. The mail was carried quickly and efficiently, connecting government offices and post offices from Karachi through Kotri and Hyderabad up to Sukkur in the north.
Stamps were required for the prepayment of postage, a basic feature of the new system. These stamps, first issued on July 1, 1852, bore the Merchants’ Mark of the British East India Company in a design embossed on wafers of red sealing wax impressed on paper. Because they cracked and disintegrated, they were soon replaced by a colorless design embossed on white paper which was hard to see in a dim light. The last stamps were a blue embossing on white paper. All of these had a value of only one-half anna each, but today they rank among the rare classics of philately.
Their usage ceased with the introduction of official British Indian stamps in 1854.
After the Scinde Dawk, Colonel Forbes of the Calcutta Mint came up with an essay for a postage stamp depicting a lion and palm tree. This, and several other essays, were never printed because Forbes could not ensure an adequate supply with the limited machinery at hand. Soon after, new, lithographed stamps printed by the Survey Office appeared in several denominations valid for use throughout British India as part of sweeping postal reforms.
The British East India Company’s posts are important, because the “Great Company” held sway over so much of the world’s commerce in those days, extending across Asia and East Africa. It had its own armies, coinage, and postal service; constructed railways and public works; and acted like an imperial force long before the Empire was established.
The Indian postal system developed into an extensive, dependable and robust network providing connectivity to almost all parts of India, Burma, the Straits Settlements and other areas controlled by the British East India Company (EIC). Based on the model postal system introduced in England by the reformer, Rowland Hill, efficient postal services were provided at a low cost and enabled the smooth commercial, military and administrative functioning of the EIC and its successor, the British Raj. The Imperial Posts co-existed with the several postal systems maintained by various Indian states, some of which produced stamps for use within their respective dominions, while British Indian postage stamps were required for sending mail beyond the boundaries of these states. Telegraphy and telephony made their appearance as part of the Posts before becoming separate departments.
The first stamps valid for postage throughout India were placed on sale in October 1854 with four values: ½ anna, 1 anna, 2 annas, and 4 annas. Featuring a youthful profile of Queen Victoria, all four values were designed and printed in Calcutta, and issued without perforations or gum. All were lithographed except for the 2 annas green, which was produced by typography from copper clichés or from electrotyped plates. The 4 annas value was one of the world’s first bicolored stamps, preceded only by the Basel Dove, a beautiful local issue.
At the time of independence in August 1947, the country inherited a divided (east and west) postal system established by the British rulers. The new system started operating under the modified Post Office Act no VI of 1898. The post office was part of the joint Department of Posts and Telegraph of the Ministry of Communications. Though the Office of the Postmaster General became operational at Lahore from August 15, 1947, the newly formed government was too preoccupied with establishing itself, therefore British Indian stamps continued to be used without an overprint as was the practice in other countries.
On October 1, 1947, the government released its first stamps, being from the 1940s British India series of King George VI stamps overprinted with the word Pakistan. Known as the Nasik Overprints, after the place near Mumbai, India, where they were overprinted, this set consists of 19 stamps. These Nasik overprints were also used in some Gulf states, both officially and unofficially. At the time of independence, the postal system of some of these areas was run from Karachi, and therefore, they became the responsibility of the new government. Officially these stamps were used in Muscat and Oman and its protectorate of Gwadar (on Pakistan’s Baluchistan coast) and Dubai. Muscat used these stamps for a period of only three months from December 29, 1947 to March 31, 1948. Gwadar used this issue and various other commemorative ones until 1958. Dubai used these stamps from October 1947 until the end of March 1948.
In November 1947, Pakistan joined the Universal Postal Union as its 89th member. Nine months later on July 9, 1948, the government released its first commemorative set for the country’s first anniversary which consisted of four stamps. The stamps were inscribed “15 August 1947” because of the prevailing confusion as to which date was Pakistan’s actual date of independence. It wasn’t until early 1949, that this confusion was cleared by declaring August 14 as Independence Day. The first day cancellation for this issue was the country’s first special pictorial postmark.
August 14, 1948, saw the release of the first definitive set consisting of 20 stamps. The centenary of Scinde Dawks was commemorated in 1952 with the release of a set of two stamps. These depicted the actual stamps plus advances in transportation since their release.
In 1961, the government decided to introduce decimal currency into the country. This necessitated the surcharging of stamps to reflect this change. Six stamps were chosen from various issues and overprinted with the following denominations: 1 paisa, 2 paisas, 3 paisas, 7 paisas, 13 paisas.. Their printing was divided between two local printers, both based in Karachi: Pakistan Security Printing Corporation (PSPC) and Time Press, Karachi. Times Press used many plates for printing which resulted in varieties and shifts. Service stamps with decimal surcharges were also printed by the same printers. Forgeries in this issue exist in such numbers that they make the average person think that there are more errors and varieties than in fact.
In July 1962, the government bifurcated the old department and independently placed the postal service under the Ministry of Communications. In 1972, the eastern portion of Pakistan was lost. However, the post office continued to use three languages on stamps until the end of the year.
In January 1988, 5 digit postcodes were introduce in the country to facilitate delivery. To improve and expedite the transmission and delivery of international mail, a new office was constructed in Islamabad which started working in December 1990. This helped to reduce pressure on the office in Karachi.
Since Pakistan’s independence in 1947. Pakistan Post has issued more than 600 sets and singles totaling more than 1300 stamps.
In preparing for today’s article on Pakistan, I realized that I didn’t have a large variety as all of the stamps in my collection were either of two designs in the 1961-1970 definitive series (Scott #129-144, #129b-140a, #200-203) or the 1961-1978 official stamps which used the same designs only overprinted with the word SERVICE (Scott #076-088). While I am interested in the stamps, I’ve never cared much for the design (dating from my childhood, probably). As I opened my copy of Volume 5 of the Scott catalogue and flipped to the Pakistan section to check the numbers, I noticed a familiar-looking stamp on the first page of the section: A scan of Scott #63 had sat in my “Unidentified Stamps” folder since January 2015. I really like it when an identification happens by accident rather than working at it! (BTW, only four stamps remain in that particular folder; I might take another stab at them this week….)
Scott #52-53 were released on August 14, 1952, commemorating the centenary of the Scinde Dawk stamps as well as the fifth anniversary of Pakistan’s independence. While the stamp does include other inscriptions in English, the country name isn’t among them. Most of Pakistan’s other stamps have included its name inscribed in English; a few examples that didn’t include Scott #23 (first anniversary of independence, 1948) and Scott #84-86 (map of East Pakistan, 1956). Scott #52 is a three anna stamp depicting a camel train in the desert with three airplanes flying overhead. It was recess printed in olive green on citron-colored paper, perforated 13.