Pakistan is the world’s second largest Muslim majority country with an estimated Muslim population of 96 per cent (around 75-80 per cent Sunni and 15-20 per cent Shia). Created as a homeland for the Muslims of British India, Islam came to play a prominent role in Pakistan’s politics and society soon after independence in 1947. But it was Pakistan’s involvement in the  Afghan jihad against the Soviets in the 1980s that led to a growing Islamicization of Pakistani politics and society.  

Although formally a democracy since 2008, Pakistan has been under military government for more than half its independent history. Long periods of militarized authoritarian government have intensified ethnic divisions, undermined civil society, and weakened moderate political parties. Since the 1990s, the Pakistani military has also used Islamist militant groups as tools of foreign policy in Indian-administered Kashmir, which has empowered and emboldened some of these groups to violently challenge the state.      

Even as the country struggles with growing religious extremism and violence, Pakistan’s next parliamentary elections are scheduled for 2013 and will be crucial for establishing civilian democratic rule and ensuring internal stability, especially if they result in the peaceful transfer of power from one civilian government to another.


This profile was conceived and supervised by Dr. Jocelyne Cesari.

The research was conducted by Bushra Asif.

Bushra Asif is a PhD candidate in Political Science at the University of Chicago where she is writing her dissertation on the politics of gender law adoption and reform in Pakistan. She has previously worked at the Conflict Prevention and Peace Forum of the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) and the South Asia Program of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).