Pakistan country brief

Political overview

National government

On 11 May 2013, Pakistan successfully held general elections, marking the first transfer from one democratically elected government to another in Pakistan’s history. The PML-N won an outright majority of 185 seats in the 342 seat National Assembly. On 5 June, 2013, Mr Muhammad Nawaz Sharif was sworn in as Pakistan’s Prime Minister, and on 6 June 2013 his cabinet was sworn in.

On 8 September 2013, PML-N candidate Mr Mamnoon Hussein was inaugurated as President for a five year term, replacing Mr Asif Ali Zardari. The Prime Minister heads the Cabinet and the President chairs the National Security Council, which comprises military chiefs and cabinet members.

Main political organisations

The present government is led by the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) (PML-N), which holds a majority of seats (189) in Pakistan’s National Assembly.

Other major parties include: Pakistan People’s Party (PPP); Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI); Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM); Awami National Party (ANP); Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid) (PML-Q); Balochistan National Party; Jamaat-i-Islami (JI); Jamiat Ulema-e –Islam-Fazl (JUI-F)

National legislature

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 104 senators. In the Senate, 23 senators are elected by each of the four provincial assemblies, eight are FATA representatives and 4 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. An election for one-half (i.e. 50 senators) of the seats in the Senate was held in March 2015. The next Senate elections are due to be held in 2018.

Provincial and other sub-national governments

The Islamic Republic of Pakistan includes four provinces — Sindh (capital, Karachi), Punjab (capital, Lahore), Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (formerly the North-West Frontier Province) (capital, Peshawar) and Balochistan (capital, Quetta).

All four provinces have their own elected provincial assemblies and governments. A Chief Minister heads each provincial government. Each province has a Governor, who is appointed by the President of Pakistan. Elections for provincial assemblies were held in May 2013 at the time of the National Assembly election.

Islamabad is a special 'Federal Capital Territory'. In addition, the Federal Government administers seven tribal agencies (Bajaur, Khyber, Mohmand, Kurram, Orakzai, South and North Waziristan) and six frontier regions. Collectively these 13 administrative units are known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

Pakistan also administers approximately one-third of the area of the former princely states of Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan — also known as the 'Northern Areas' of Pakistan — which have a quasi-provincial status and are not represented in the national parliament (legislature). They have their own elected parliaments and governments.

Economic overview

Pakistan's economy

Pakistan's economy is made up of the services sector (53.6 per cent), industry/manufacturing (21.3 per cent) and agriculture (25.1 per cent). Agriculture is a mainstay of the economy, accounting for up to 25.1 per cent of total Gross Domestic Product (GDP), with around half of the country's population depending directly or indirectly on agriculture for their livelihood. Manufacturing is concentrated around the Karachi-Hyderabad region and Lahore. Industrial production is being severely impacted by chronic energy shortages; Pakistan relies on imported oil for more than a quarter of its energy production, which is increasingly difficult to finance and a key contributor to Pakistan's growing deficits. According to the US Energy Information Administration, in 2013, Pakistan produced 36% of its electricity from oil, 29% from natural gas, 29% from hydroelectricity and 5% from nuclear.

During the period 2004-2009, Pakistan experienced strong economic expansion due to growth in the manufacturing and services sectors, with GDP growth approximately seven per cent in 2004 and 2005. The onset of the global financial crisis caused Pakistan's GDP growth to fall sharply and in late 2008 Pakistani authorities embarked on a stabilisation program, supported by an International Monetary Fund (IMF) US$7.6 billion loan under a 23 month Stand-By Arrangement. In August 2009, the IMF extended the program to 25 months and raised its support to US$11.3 billion to help address increased risks and financing needs. In July 2013 Pakistan and the IMF reached staff-level agreement on a further three year, US$6.6 billion Extended Fund Facility, last reviewed in March 2015.

There is renewed optimism on the direction of the Pakistan economy. In March 2015, the IMF said that “progress [had] been made in restoring economic stability, improving growth prospects, and reducing crisis risks.” They continued, stating that “fiscal consolidation is underway through efforts to broaden the tax base and reduce costly and inefficient electricity subsidies,” but that scope remained “to increase tax compliance and enforcement and further reduce energy subsidies.” The IMF has estimated GDP growth of between 4.3 per cent for the 2014-15 financial year.


Globally, Pakistan's merchandise exports stood at US$25.2 billion and imports at US$41.4 billion in 2013, resulting in a trade deficit of roughly US$16 billion. Pakistan's major exports in 2013 were cotton cloth (11.3 per cent of total); cotton yarn (9.0 per cent); knitwear (8.5 per cent); and rice (8.3 per cent). Pakistan's major imports in 2013 were petroleum products (22.1 per cent of total); crude petroleum oils (13.6 per cent); and palm oil (4.6 per cent). Pakistan's leading export markets in 2013 were the United States (13.7 per cent), China (11.6 per cent), the United Arab Emirates (9.7 per cent), and Afghanistan (8.5 per cent)  

Bilateral relationship

Australia and Pakistan enjoy a long-standing strong and growing relationship underpinned by deepening people-to-people links. Australia established diplomatic relations with Pakistan after its 1947 partition from India and has had 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.

Political relations

The Australian Government has intensified its engagement with Pakistan since 2008 in the areas of security cooperation (including defence and law enforcement training), economic reform, development and democratic governance.

There continues to be a range of high-level engagement activities between Australia and Pakistan. The Foreign Minister, Ms Julie Bishop, travelled to Islamabad and Lahore on 6-7 May 2015. Former Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Senator the Hon Brett Mason, visited Pakistan in November 2013, one of his first visits in the role. The Pakistan Minister for Food Security and Research, Mr Sikander Bosan, visited Australia in March 2015, accompanied by the Chief Minister of Balochistan, Dr Abdul Malik Baloch. 

There is also an active program of officials’ level dialogue and engagement. The Secretary of DFAT, Peter Varghese visited Pakistan in May 2014 for Senior Officials Talks. The Pakistani Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif visited Australia in August 2014. In February 2015, Pakistan hosted a 1.5 track strategic dialogue which was attended by the CDF, Air Chief Marshal Binskin, and DFAT Deputy Secretary, Mr Ric Wells. In March 2015, the Secretary of DFAT, Mr Peter Varghese, hosted his Pakistani counterpart, Mr Aizaz Chaudhary, for senior officials talks in Canberra. Officials also continue to meet under the Pakistan-Australia Joint Working Group on Border Management and Transnational Crime.

People-to-people links

Australia and Pakistan enjoy a common heritage and shared interests. Both countries are members of the Commonwealth and are federations with bicameral legislatures. Our people share a passion for sports and the arts, and our strong people to people links centre on an active and successful Pakistani community in Australia.

The Pakistani community in Australia is significant. According to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, there were 41,500 Pakistan-born people living in Australia as of July 2013. Australian educational institutions received 14,733 enrolments by Pakistani students in 2014. In addition, in 2014 there were 58 Pakistani students studying in Australia on long-term scholarships under the Australia Awards program. These awards promote knowledge, education links and enduring ties between Australia and Pakistan.

Links between our tertiary sectors institutions are gaining ground under the New Colombo Plan, which offers Australian undergraduate students the opportunity to undertake study and work placements in Pakistan from 2015.

Development cooperation

More information on development assistance to Pakistan.

Foreign Minister media release: New development assistance to Pakistan. 7 May 2015.

Economic and trade relations

Australia-Pakistan total two-way merchandise trade in 2013-14 was $609 million. Currently, Australian exports to Pakistan consist primarily of food products, cotton and fertilizers. Australia's major imports from Pakistan are textiles and rice. An Australia-Pakistan bilateral trade agreement has been in force since 12 July 1990. The agreement commits both parties to "facilitate, strengthen and diversify" trade. The Australia and Pakistan Joint Trade Committee, which met most recently in Australia in September 2014, is the primary forum for discussion of bilateral trade and investment cooperation issues. A Memorandum of Understanding on Strengthening Bilateral Trade and Economic Co-operation between Australia and Pakistan was signed at the September 2014 Australia and Pakistan Joint Trade Committee meeting.

Austrade has three locally engaged Business Development Managers in Pakistan, one in each of Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi. Country management for Pakistan is the responsibility of Austrade's Regional Senior Trade and Investment Commissioner, who is based in New Delhi.

Australia and Pakistan are actively exploring avenues to expand trade and investment, particularly through agribusiness and agricultural science linkages. There are prospects for growth in trade and investment, particularly in:

  • education (tertiary, vocational and corporate training);
  • agribusiness (dairy, crop production, quality issues, storage and handling);
  • mining equipment, technology and services (METS)
  • 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);
  • medical technologies; and
  • infrastructure investment (including airport design and construction)

With extensive natural resources, including oil and natural gas reserves, sizeable coal reserves and prospects for hydropower and renewable energy, Pakistan offers potential opportunities for Australia's mining and energy expertise.

Security cooperation

Cooperation to combat transnational crime, such as terrorism financing and illegal migration, has been strengthened through the Pakistan Australia Joint Working Group on Border Management and Transnational Crime. The Australian Federal Police has a 25 year relationship with Pakistan law enforcement. Working together, Australian and Pakistan agencies have disrupted a significant amount of transnational crime, for example, through drug seizures. Through the provision of training programs and the supply of specialist training equipment, Australia is assisting Pakistan to build capacity to counter serious and sophisticated crime.

In 1907, the Australian Defence Force sent its first student to Quetta Command and Staff College, and has regularly filled a place there since. The Australia-Pakistan defence relationship has grown significantly in recent years. In addition to the position at Quetta, the Australian Defence Force now sends a student to the National Defence University in Islamabad each year, conducts an annual counter-insurgency exchange between the Australian Command and Staff College and Quetta Command and Staff College, and Defence personnel periodically attend specialised courses in Pakistan. In 2014, Australia provided places for up to 120 members of the Pakistan Armed Forces to attend a range of training courses in Australia. Defence has also established a post-graduate scholarship program for Pakistan in areas such as intelligence and counter-terrorism, logistics, maritime security policy and aerospace engineering.

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, the 1.5 track dialogue has been held regularly, bringing together senior leaders from respective militaries, government agencies and think tanks to discuss issues of mutual interest. 

Human Rights

The Australian Government remains concerned about the human rights situation in Pakistan, including the use of capital punishment and the treatment of minorities. Australia has raised its universal opposition to the death penalty and urged the Pakistan Government to address human rights concerns.

Australia's Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan

In December 2014, Mr Ric Wells was appointed as Australia's Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, demonstrating the Government's commitment to coordinated and effective regional and international diplomacy. Mr Wells replaced Australia’s former Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Mr Paul Grigson, who served in the role from 2013-2014.

Last Updated: 24 January 2014