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 Mian 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 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 2012. The next Senate elections are due to be held in 2015.

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.

Distribution of seats across political parties

National Assembly
Party Seats
Total 342
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) 184
Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) 41
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) 30
Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) 23
Jamiat Ulema-e Islam-Fazal (JUI-F) 12
Pakistan Muslim League-Functional (PML-F) 5
Other smaller parties 20
Independent members 8
Party Seats
Total 104
PPP 41
PML-N 14
ANP 12
National Party (NP)-Balochistan 1
FATA/Independent 12

Economic overview

Pakistan's economy

Pakistan's economy is made up of the services sector (50 per cent), industry/manufacturing (25 per cent) and agriculture (25 per cent). Agriculture, is a mainstay of the economy, accounting for up to 24 per cent of total Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 57 per cent of export earnings, with 44 per cent 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 35 per cent of its energy production, which is increasingly difficult to finance and a key contributor to Pakistan's growing deficits. 57 per cent of Pakistan's energy is produced domestically, principally in the form of gas from the east of the country, and hydro-electricity from dams at Tarbela and Mangla.

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 package.

The IMF has noted that Pakistan's economy faces significant challenges, stating in October 2012 that economic growth will need to accelerate in order to absorb the growing labour force and that a growing budget deficit, along with high inflation was undermining macroeconomic stability. The IMF noted that reducing the budget deficit will require higher revenue through tax reform to broaden the tax base, in addition to expenditure-side measures including reducing subsidies and energy sector reform. Reform of Pakistan's electricity sector remains a major challenge. The IMF has estimated GDP growth of between 3-3.5 per cent for the 2012-13 financial year.


Globally, Pakistan's merchandise exports stood at US$25.3 billion and imports at US$43.6 billion in 2011, resulting in a trade deficit of roughly US$18 billion. Pakistan's major exports in 2011 were linen (11.2 per cent of total); rice (8.1 per cent); and cotton yarn (7.9 per cent). Pakistan's major imports in 2011 were non-crude petroleum oils (20.6 per cent of total); crude petroleum oils (11.9 per cent); and palm oil (5.4 per cent). Pakistan's leading export markets in 2011 were the European Union (25 per cent of total), United States (15.1 per cent), Afghanistan (10.5 per cent) and the United Arab Emirates (7.6 per cent).

Bilateral relationship

Australia and Pakistan enjoy long-standing friendly and growing relations underpinned by 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 confront 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. Former Prime Minister Gillard met with then Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf at the 9th Asia-Europe Meeting Summit in Vientiane, Laos in November 2012. Ms Gillard also met bilaterally with Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari at the Chicago NATO/ISAF summit on Afghanistan in May 2012. Former Foreign Minister Carr met with his then counterpart, former Foreign Minister Ms Hina Rabbani Khar at the Tokyo Conference on Afghanistan in July 2012. Ms Rabbani Khar and then Prime Minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, visited Australia in 2011 to attend CHOGM. Former Foreign Minister Rudd visited Pakistan in 2010 to visit flood affected areas.

There is also an active program of official's level dialogue and engagement. In June 2012, Pakistan's Foreign Secretary Mr Jalil Jilani visited Australia for senior officials talks on the Australia-Pakistan relationship. AusAID senior officials met with Pakistani counterparts at the inaugural annual dialogue of the Australia Pakistan Development Partnership, in Islamabad in March 2012. The Defence-led Australia-Pakistan 1.5 Track Security Dialogue was held in Canberra in November 2012. Australia and Pakistan sought opportunities to further trade ties at Australia-Pakistan Joint Trade Committee meetings in Canberra in March 2012 and Islamabad in June 2013. Australia’s Special Envoy for Asylum Seekers, Air Chief Marshal (Retd.) Angus Houston, visited Pakistan in March 2013, as did Australia’s Ambassador for Counter-Terrorism, Mr Bill Fisher, in April 2013. A range of officials also continue to meet under the Pakistan-Australia Joint Working Group on Border Control 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, with around 33,000 people claiming Pakistani ancestry. In 2012 there were 11,000 Pakistani students enrolled in Australia’s universities, colleges and education facilities – an increase of 17 per cent on 2011. In addition, Pakistan was awarded 207 Australia Awards in 2011-12. These awards promote knowledge, education links and enduring ties between Australia and Pakistan.

Development cooperation

Pakistan has made progress towards meeting some of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals but not others, notably those in relation to extreme hunger and poverty, primary education, and maternal and child health. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) estimates that more than one fifth of the population live on less than US$1.25 a day. The maternal mortality rate is high, with around 260 out of 100,000 mothers dying during child birth. Child health and nutrition are a particular concern, with two out of every five children malnourished and one in eleven children dying before the age of five. According to the UNDP, nearly half of Pakistan's adult population is illiterate. Only two thirds of primary school-aged children are enrolled in school, of which almost a third will drop out before reaching secondary school. Pakistan ranked 146 out of 187 countries in the 2012 United Nations Human Development index.

Development cooperation is an important component of Australia's bilateral relationship with Pakistan. Australia's total official development assistance to Pakistan has grown substantially over the last six years, increasing from $18.2 million in 2006-07 to $85.7 million in 2012-13.

Australia's aid program to Pakistan is guided by the Australia – Pakistan Development Partnership, signed by the foreign ministers of both countries in October 2011. The Partnership forms the basis of ongoing engagement with the Government of Pakistan (GoP) on development issues, and sets out the principles, mutual commitments and priorities for development cooperation between Australia and Pakistan. The current Partnership agreement is in the process of being re-negotiated with the newly elected government.

The overall aim of Australian development assistance is to work with the Government of Pakistan towards a stable, secure and democratic country through equitable social and economic development and poverty reduction in line with the Millennium Development Goals. The bilateral development cooperation program focuses on three primary sectors: opportunities for all (education), saving lives (health) and sustainable economic development (agriculture productivity and livelihoods). The Australian Government also supports good governance and provides humanitarian and post-disaster assistance as requested.

Australia's development cooperation program is helping Pakistani communities. For example, in 2012 Australia supported the improvement of education through teacher training and the provision of materials in 573 schools benefiting over 117,000 children. In 2012-13, Australia supported 55 Pakistani students to undertake postgraduate studies in Australia, 45 per cent of whom are women. This includes eight students undertaking studies in the agriculture sector.

Australia also responded quickly to Pakistan government requests for assistance following the 2010 and 2011 floods. In response to the 2010 floods, Australia provided more than $75 million for humanitarian response and early recovery activities and provided medical assistance to over 11,000 people through a joint civilian-military medical facility in Punjab . In 2012-13, Australia supported the World Food Programme to provide emergency food rations for up to 975,000 people displaced by conflict in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

More information on Australia's development assistance to Pakistan

Economic and trade relations

Australia-Pakistan total two-way trade in 2012 was $879 million, compared with $703 million in 2010 and $600 million in 2008. Currently, Australian exports to Pakistan consist primarily of food products, coal and cotton. 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 Pakistan in June 2013, is the primary forum for discussion of bilateral trade and investment cooperation issues.

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 (including oil and gas exploration and development) and mining equipment, technology and services (METS)
  • processed foods, and
  • IT and communications products and services.
  • Further 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 over the past five 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. Australia has also increased the number of training positions offered to the Pakistan military in Australia from 70 positions in 2009 to over 140 in 2012. Defence has also established a post-graduate scholarship program for Pakistan with 13 places offered in 2012, 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. Importantly, this has facilitated development of 'Chief-to-Chief' relations. Defence leaders engage through regular bilateral dialogue and, since 2010 the 1.5 Track Security Dialogue, which brings together senior leaders from respective militaries, government agencies and think tanks to discuss issues of mutual strategic interest.

Australia's Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan

In May 2013, Prime Minster Gillard appointed Mr Paul Grigson as Australia's Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, demonstrating the Government's commitment to coordinated and effective regional and international diplomacy. Mr Grigson replaced Australia’s former Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Mr Ric Smith AO PSM, who served in the role from 2009-2013.

Last Updated: 24 January 2014