Pakistan country brief
The Islamic Republic of Pakistan is situated between Central Asia and the Persian Gulf, at the strategically important mouth of the Strait of Hormuz. Pakistan shares its borders with China, India, Afghanistan and Iran. Formed following the partition with India in 1947, Muslim-majority Pakistan is today the world’s fifth most populous country and projects an active voice in the South Asia region and within the Islamic world. Pakistan counts China as a security, trade and regional partner. The territorial dispute over Kashmir continues to challenge its relationship with India. As international military forces withdraw from Afghanistan, Pakistan will remain a key player in Afghanistan’s peace process. Pakistan continues to host a significant Afghan refugee community (around 1.4 million registered under the UN Refugee Agency and about 1.3 million unregistered Afghan migrants).
Australia enjoys long-standing and growing ties with Pakistan, underpinned by deepening people-to-people links. Diplomatic relations were established after Pakistan’s 1947 partition from India, and Australia has maintained a resident mission in the country since 1948. Australia is committed to supporting Pakistan as a partner in its efforts to address security threats, build economic prosperity and enhance development.
The Australian Government engages with Pakistan in the areas of security cooperation (including defence and law enforcement training), human rights, economic reform and development, including through an active program of official level dialogue and engagement.
Australia and Pakistan enjoy a common heritage and shared interests. Our strong people-to-people links centre on an active and successful 90,000-strong Pakistani community in Australia that continues to enrich Australia through academia, cultural exchange, commerce and sport.
Australia hosts a sizeable Pakistani international student cohort, including those on long-term scholarships under the Australia Awards program to support Pakistan to achieve sustainable development with particular focus on the empowerment of women and girls, water security, agriculture, infrastructure and inclusive economic development.
Both countries are members of the Commonwealth and are federations with bicameral legislatures.
Australia has a longstanding development assistance relationship with Pakistan. Our 70-year development cooperation has contributed to building Pakistan's long-term economic prosperity, stability and resilience, and maintained a focus on gender equality and water security across a broad range of investments. Following the end of the bilateral program in 2019-20 Australia has continued to invest in Pakistan through regional and global ODA funds, targeting the most vulnerable in areas where we can have the greatest impact.
In 2019-20, key achievements of Australian's aid program to Pakistan included:
- supporting the procurement of essential medical equipment, including ventilators and Personal Protective Equipment, to assist with pandemic response efforts
- providing food and cash assistance to refugees, host communities and vulnerable households along the border areas with Afghanistan
- supporting strengthened awareness raising on COVID-19 health mitigation measures and enhancing access to water, sanitation and hygiene facilities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Economic and trade relations
Australia-Pakistan two-way trade in goods and services was worth $1.84 billion in 2019-20. Australia's major goods exports to Pakistan are pulses and oilseed, along with fertilizer and scrap metals. Education services exports formed the majority of Australia's $880 million services exports to Pakistan (2019-20). Around 12,000 Pakistanis were enrolled to study with Australia as of July 2021. Major imports from Pakistan are textiles, petroleum and rice.
The Australia and Pakistan Joint Trade Committee (JTC), which met most recently in Islamabad in 2019, is the primary forum for discussing bilateral trade and investment.
Both countries are exploring avenues to expand trade and investment, particularly in education and agribusiness. Austrade has a locally engaged Business Development Manager in Islamabad. Country management for Pakistan is the responsibility of Austrade's Dubai-based Regional Senior Trade and Investment Commissioner.
There are reasonable prospects for growth in trade and investment, particularly in:
- education (tertiary, vocational and corporate training);
- agribusiness (dairy, livestock, and crop production);
- processed foods; and
- IT and communications products and services.
Future sectors that may provide opportunities for Australian trade and investment include:
- clean energy technologies (including clean coal, wind and renewables); and
- water management.
The Pakistan-Australia Joint Working Group on Border Management and Transnational Crime Cooperation is strengthening cooperation to combat transnational crime, such as terrorism financing and illegal migration. The Australian Federal Police has a decades-long relationship with Pakistan law enforcement and cooperation between counterpart agencies has successfully disrupted transnational crime. Through the provision of training programs and specialist equipment, Australia is building Pakistan’s capacity to counter serious and sophisticated crime.
The unique and long-standing relationship between the Australian Defence Force and Quetta Command and Staff College, dating back to 1907, underpins the Australia-Pakistan defence relationship. Pakistan has been a partner on joint maritime security in the Western Indian Ocean, to combat piracy and smuggling through the Combined Task Forces. In addition to a student at Quetta, the Australian Defence Force sends a student to the National Defence University in Islamabad, and Defence personnel periodically attend specialised courses in Pakistan.
Many of the Pakistan military's senior officers have visited Australia for Talks, and some for training earlier in their careers. Australia and Pakistan hold regular Chief-to-Chief dialogues. Since 2010, there have been regular 1.5 track dialogues that bring together senior leaders from respective militaries, government agencies and think tanks to discuss issues of mutual interest.
Imran Khan was sworn-in as prime minister of Pakistan on 18 August 2018 following his party's victory in national elections on 25 July. Prime Minister Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party won 149 of the 342 seats in the National Assembly, short of the 172 seats required to rule in its own right. However, with the support of minor parties, PTI controls 180 votes on the floor. Khan won the election on an anti-corruption platform and promising to reduce poverty among Pakistan's 208 million Muslim-majority population.
Pakistan's electoral college – comprising the senate, national and provincial assemblies – elected Dr Arif Alvi as the new President of Pakistan on 4 September 2018. The Presidency is primarily a ceremonial position. The Prime Minister heads the Cabinet and the President chairs the National Security Council, which comprises military chiefs and cabinet members. Dr Alvi was a founding member of Imran Khan's PTI party.
Pakistan has a federal system of government with a bicameral legislature: the National Assembly and the Senate.
The National Assembly (the lower house) has 342 seats. The majority of lower house seats are elected on a first-past-the-post basis, with 60 seats reserved for women and 10 for non-Muslim minorities. The reserved seats are allocated on the basis of proportional representation to parties that win more than 5 per cent of the directly elected seats.
The current Senate (the upper house) consists of 100 senators. In the Senate, 23 senators are elected by each of the four provincial assemblies, four are from the former Federally Administered Tribal Areas (they will continue to serve until 2024 when the Senate will reduce to 96) and four are Federal Capital Territory (Islamabad) representatives from the lower house. Under the 18th Constitutional Amendment (passed in February 2010) four seats are allocated to non-Muslim minorities. The last elections were held in March 2021 for half the Senate seats, with Prime Minister Khan’s PTI party becoming the largest in the Senate, winning 18 of the 48 seats up for election. The next election will be held in 2024.
Provincial and other sub-national governments
Pakistan includes four provinces – Sindh (capital, Karachi), Punjab (capital, Lahore), Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (formerly the North-West Frontier Province and now including the former Federally Administered Tribal Areas) (capital, Peshawar) and Balochistan (capital, Quetta). Islamabad has its own status as a 'Federal Capital Territory'.
All four provinces have their own elected provincial assemblies and governments. A Chief Minister heads each provincial government. Each province also has a Governor, who is appointed by the President of Pakistan.
The Kashmir region is disputed with India. Pakistan-administered Kashmir comprises Azad Jammu Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan.
Pakistan has the second largest economy in South Asia, after India.
Pakistan was forced to enter into a USD6 billion loan agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 2019 (trade imbalances, foreign debt, budget deficits and low reserves had carried Pakistan to the IMF on 21 previous occasions). The IMF program, which included expenditure cuts and tax increases, lessened the pressure on Pakistan’s current account and reserves, but also led to a significant downturn in economic growth. The impact of the IMF program was overshadowed by a contraction of 1.5 per cent in GDP in 2020 due to COVID-19 containment measures. Pakistan’s economy is forecast to grow by 1.3 per cent in 2021.
Pakistan's economy is made up of the services sector (60%), industry/manufacturing (21%) and agriculture (19%). While declining as a proportion of GDP, agriculture still contributes one-fifth of Pakistan's wealth and almost half the population depends directly or indirectly on agriculture for their livelihoods. Manufacturing is concentrated around the Karachi-Hyderabad region and Lahore.
China is Pakistan's main economic partner, accounting for 46 per cent of FDI inflows. The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) comprises an estimated USD62 billion in infrastructure investment, including the establishment of nine special economic zones by 2030. The United States remains Pakistan's top destination for exports, followed by China, Britain, Germany and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The top import countries are China, the UAE, the United States, Indonesia, and Saudi Arabia.
In 2019-20, Pakistan's exports totalled US22.3 billion, just more than half the value of its imports (USD43 billion). Pakistan's major commodity exports in 2019-20 were textiles, leather and sporting goods, rice and chemicals. Pakistan's major imports were petroleum and related products, machinery and transport equipment, agricultural and other chemicals and food.
The United States remains Pakistan's top destination for exports, followed by China and the UK. The top import countries are China, the UAE, and the United States.
The Australian Government remains concerned about the human rights situation in Pakistan, including the use of capital punishment, the rights of women and girls, the treatment of ethnic, religious and sexual minorities, and freedom of expression. Australia has raised its universal opposition to the death penalty, continues to promote inter-faith harmony and has consistently urged the Pakistan Government to address human rights concerns through both bilateral and multilateral representations.