|Federal Ministry of Education|
Education in Pakistan is overseen by the Federal Ministry of Education and the provincial governments, whereas the federal government mostly assists in curriculum development, accreditation and in the financing of research and development. Article 25-A of Constitution of Pakistan obligates the state to provide free and compulsory quality education to children of the age group 5 to 16 years. "The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to sixteen years in such a manner as may be determined by law".
The education system in Pakistan is generally divided into six levels: preschool (for the age from 3 to 5 years), primary (grades one through five), middle (grades six through eight), high (grades nine and ten, leading to the Secondary School Certificate or SSC), intermediate (grades eleven and twelve, leading to a Higher Secondary School Certificate or HSSC), and university programs leading to undergraduate and graduate degrees.
The literacy rate ranges from 87% in Islamabad to 20% in the Kohlu District. Between 2000 and 2004, Pakistanis in the age group 55–64 had a literacy rate of almost 38%, those ages 45–54 had a literacy rate of nearly 46%, those 25–34 had a literacy rate of 57%, and those ages 15–24 had a literacy rate of 72%. Literacy rates vary regionally, particularly by sex. In tribal areas female literacy is 9.5%. While Azad Jammu & Kashmir has a literacy rate of 74%. Moreover, English is fast spreading in Pakistan, with more than 92 million Pakistanis (49% of the population) having a command over the English language, which makes it one of the top English-speaking nations in the world. On top of that, Pakistan produces about 445,000 university graduates and 10,000 computer science graduates per year. Despite these statistics, Pakistan still has one of the highest illiteracy rates in the world and the second largest out of school population (5.1 million children) after Nigeria.
Stages of formal education
Only 87% of Pakistani children finish primary school education. The standard national system of education is mainly inspired from the British system. Pre-school education is designed for 3–5 years old and usually consists of three stages: Play Group, Nursery and Kindergarten (also called 'KG' or 'Prep'). After pre-school education, students go through junior school from grades 1 to 5. This is followed by middle school from grades 6 to 8. At middle school, single-sex education is usually preferred by the community, but co-education is also common in urban cities. The curriculum is usually subject to the institution. The eight commonly examined disciplines are:
Most schools also offer drama studies, music and physical education but these are usually not examined or marked. Home economics is sometimes taught to female students, whereas topics related to astronomy, environmental management and psychology are frequently included in textbooks of general science. Sometimes archaeology and anthropology are extensively taught in textbooks of social studies. SRE is not taught at most schools in Pakistan although this trend is being rebuked by some urban schools. Provincial and regional languages such as Punjabi, Sindhi, Pashto and others may be taught in their respective provinces, particularly in language-medium schools. Some institutes give instruction in foreign languages such as Turkish, Arabic, Persian, French and Chinese. The language of instruction depends on the nature of the institution itself, whether it is an English-medium school or an Urdu-medium school.
As of 2009, Pakistan faces a net primary school attendance rate for both sexes of 66 percent: a figure below estimated world average of 90 percent.
Pakistan's poor performance in the education sector is mainly caused by the low level of public investment. Public expenditure on education has been 2.2 percent of GNP in recent years, a marginal increase from 2 percent before 1984-85. In addition, the allocation of government funds is skewed towards higher education, allowing the upper income class to reap majority of the benefits of public subsidy on education. Lower education institutes such as primary schools suffer under such conditions as the lower income classes are unable to enjoy subsidies and quality education. As a result, Pakistan has one of the lowest rates of literacy in the world and the lowest among countries of comparative resources and socio-economic situations.
Secondary education in Pakistan begins from grade 9 and lasts for four years. After end of each of the school years, students are required to pass a national examination administered by a regional Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education (or BISE).
Upon completion of grade 9, students are expected to take a standardised test in each of the first parts of their academic subjects. They again give these tests of the second parts of the same courses at the end of grade 10. Upon successful completion of these examinations, they are awarded a Secondary School Certificate (or SSC). This is locally termed as 'matriculation certificate' or 'matric' for short. The curriculum usually includes a combination of eight courses including electives (such as Biology, Chemistry, Computer and Physics) as well as compulsory subjects (such as Mathematics, English, Urdu, Islamic studies and Pakistan Studies).
Students then enter an intermediate college and complete grades 11 and 12. Upon completion of each of the two grades, they again take standardised tests in their academic subjects. Upon successful completion of these examinations, students are awarded the Higher Secondary School Certificate (or HSSC). This level of education is also called the FSc/FA/ICS or 'intermediate'. There are many streams students can choose for their 11 and 12 grades, such as pre-medical, pre-engineering, humanities (or social sciences), computer science and commerce. Each stream consists of three electives and as well as three compulsory subjects of English, Urdu, Islamiat (grade 11 only) and Pakistan Studies (grade 12 only).
Alternative qualifications in Pakistan are available but are maintained by other examination boards instead of BISE. Most common alternative is the General Certificate of Education (or GCE), where SSC and HSSC are replaced by Ordinary Level (or O Level) and Advanced Level (or A Level) respectively. Other qualifications include IGCSE which replaces SSC. GCE and GCSE O Level, IGCSE and GCE AS/A Level are managed by British examination boards of CIE of the Cambridge Assessment and/or Edexcel International of the Pearson PLC. Generally, 8-10 courses are selected by students at GCE O Levels and 3-5 at GCE A Levels.
Advanced Placement (or AP) is an alternative option but much less common than GCE or IGCSE. This replaces the secondary school education as 'High School Education' instead. AP exams are monitored by a North American examination board, College Board, and can only be given under supervision of centers which are registered with the College Board, unlike GCE O/AS/A Level and IGCSE which can be given privately.
There is another type of education in Pakistan which is called "Technical Education", gathering technical and vocational Education. The vocational curriculum starts at grade 5 and ends on grade 10. Three boards, Punjab Board of Technical Education (PBTE), KPK Board of Technical Education (KPKBTE) and Sindh Board of Technical Education (SBTE) offering Matric Tech. course (equivalent to 10th grade) and Diploma in Associate Engineering (DAE) in technologies like Civil, Chemical, Architecture, Mechanical, Electrical, Electronics, Computer and many more. DAE is a three years program of instructions which is equivalent to 12th grade. Diploma holders are called associate engineers. Either they can join their respective field or can take admission in B.Tech. or BE in their related technology after DAE.
According to the UNESCO's 2009 Global Education Digest, 6% of Pakistanis (9% of men and 3.5% of women) were university graduates as of 2007. Pakistan plans to increase this figure to 10% by 2015 and subsequently to 15% by 2020. There is also a great deal of variety between age cohorts. Less than 6% of those in the age cohort 55-64 have a degree, compared to 8% in the 45-54 age cohort, 11% in the 35-44 age cohort and 16% in the age cohort 25-34.
After earning their HSSC, students may study in a professional institute for Bachelor's degree courses such as engineering (BE/BS/BSc Engineering), medicine (MBBS), dentistry (BDS), veterinary medicine (DVM), law (LLB), architecture (BArch), pharmacy (Pharm.D) and nursing (BSc Nursing). These courses require four or five years of study. The accreditation councils which accredit the above professional degrees and register these professionals are: Pakistan Engineering Council (PEC), Pakistan Medical and Dental Council (PMDC), Pakistan Veterinary Medical Council (PVMC), Pakistan Bar Council (PBC), Pakistan Council for Architects and Town Planners (PCATP), Pharmacy Council of Pakistan (PCP) and Pakistan Nursing Council (PNC). Students can also attend a university for Bachelor of Arts (BA), Bachelor of Science (BSc), Bachelor of Commerce (BCom) or Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) degree courses.
There are two types of Bachelor courses in Pakistan: Pass or Honors. Pass degree requires two years of study and students normally read three optional subjects (such as Chemistry or Economics) in addition to almost equal number of compulsory subjects (such as English, islamiyat and Pakistan Studies). Honours degree requires four years of study, and students normally specialize in a chosen field of study, such as Biochemistry (BSc Hons. Biochemistry).
Pass Bachelors is now slowly being phased out for Honours throughout the country.
Most of Master's degree programs require two years education. Master of Philosophy (MPhil) is available in most of the subjects and can be undertaken after doing Masters. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) education is available in selected areas and is usually pursued after earning a MPhil degree. Students pursuing MPhil or PhD degrees must choose a specific field and a university that is doing research work in that field. MPhil and PhD education in Pakistan requires a minimum of two years of study.
Nonformal and informal education
Out of the formal system, the public sectors runs numerous schools and training centres, most being vocational-oriented. Among those institutions can be found vocational schools, technical training centres and agriculture and vocational training centres. An apprenticeship system is also framed by the Pakistanese State. Informal education is also important in Pakistan and regroups mostly school-leavers and low-skilled individuals, who are trained under the supervision of a senior craftsman.
See also: Women's education in Pakistan
In Pakistan, gender discrimination in education occurs among the poorest households but is non-existent among rich households. Only 18% of Pakistani women have received 10 years or more of schooling. Among other criticisms the Pakistani education system faces is the gender disparity in enrollment levels. However, in recent years some progress has been made in trying to fix this problem. In 1990-91, the female to male ratio (F/M ratio) of enrollment was 0.47 for primary level of education. It reached to 0.74 in 1999-2000, showing the F/M ratio has improved by 57.44% within the decade. For the middle level of education it was 0.42 in the start of decade and increased to 0.68 by the end of decade, so it has improved almost 62%. In both cases the gender disparity is decreased but relatively more rapidly at middle level.
The gender disparity in enrollment at secondary level of education was 0.4 in 1990-91 and 0.67 in 1999-2000, showing that the disparity decreased by 67.5% in the decade. At the college level it was 0.50 in 1990-91 and reached 0.81 in 1999-2000, showing that the disparity decreased by 64%. The gender disparity has decreased comparatively rapidly at secondary school.
There is great difference in the rates of enrollment of boys, as compared to girls in Pakistan. According to UNESCO figures, primary school enrollment for girls stand at 60 per cent as compared to 84 percent for boys. The secondary school enrollment rate stands at a lower rate of 32 percent for females and 46 per cent males. Regular school attendance for female students is estimated at 41 per cent while that for male students is 50 per cent.
A particularly interesting aspect of this gender disparity is representation of Pakistani women in STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine). In 2013, the issue of women doctors in Pakistan was highlighted in local and international media. According to Pakistan Medical and Dental Council, in many medical colleges in Pakistan, as many as 80% of students are women, but majority of these women do not go on to actually practice medicine, creating a shortage of doctors in rural areas and several specialties (especially surgical fields). In 2014, Pakistan Medical and Dental Council introduced a gender-based admission policy, restricting women to 50% of available seats (based on the gender ratios in general population). This quota was challenged and subsequently deemed unconstitutional (and discriminatory) by Lahore High Court. Research indicates several problems faced by women doctors in Pakistan in their career and education, including lack of implementation of women-friendly policies (like maternity leave, breast-feeding provisions and child-care facilities), and systemic sexism prevalent in medical education and training. Pakistan's patriarchal culture, where women's work outside the home is generally considered less important than her family and household obligations, also make it difficult for women to balance a demanding career. Despite the importance of the issue, no new policies (except now-defunct-quota) have been proposed or implemented to ensure women's retention in workforce.
In Pakistan, the quality of education has a declining trend. Shortage of teachers and poorly equipped laboratories have resulted in the out-dated curriculum that has little relevance to present day needs.
Since the HEC's reforms have been carried out in 2002, HEC has received praise from the international higher education observers. Prof. Atta-ur_Rahman, founding Chairman of HEC, has received number of prestigious international awards for the remarkable transformation of the higher education sector under his leadership. German academic, Dr. Wolfgang Voelter of Tübingen University in Germany over viewed the performance of HEC under the leadership of Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman and described the reforms in HEC as "A miracle happened." After teaching and visiting in 15 universities of Pakistan, Voelter wrote that the "scenario of education, science and technology in Pakistan has changed dramatically, as never before in the history of the country. The chairperson of the Senate Standing Committee on Education recently announced the first 6 years of HEC under Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman as "Pakistan's golden period in higher education". Recently ThomsonReuters in an independent assessment of Pakistan's progress in international publications has acknowledged that in the last decade there has been a fourfold increase in international publications and a tenfold growth in highly cited papers, statistics that were better than the BRIC countries 
American academic Prof. Fred M. Hayward has also praised the reform process undertaken by Pakistan, admitting that "since 2002, a number of extraordinary changes have taken place." Hayward pointed out that "over the last six years almost 4,000 scholars have participated in PhD programs in Pakistan in which more than 600 students have studied in foreign PhD programs." The HEC instituted major upgrades for scientific laboratories, rehabilitating existing educational facilities, expanding the research support, and overseeing the development of one of the best digital libraries in the region. Seeking to meeting the international standard, a quality assurance and accreditation process was also established, of which, ~95% of students sent abroad for training returned, an unusually high result for a developing country in response to improved salaries and working conditions at universities as well as bonding and strict follow-up by the commission, Fulbright, and others."
The HEC's reforms brought about by Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman were also applauded by the United NationsCommission on Science and Technology for Development (UNCSTD) which reported that the "progress made was breath-taking and has put Pakistan ahead of comparable countries in numerous aspects." In limited time, the HEC established and provided free access to scientific literature by high-speed Internet for all universities, the upgrade of research equipment accessible across the country, and the programme of establishing new universities of science and technology, including science parks attracted the foreign investors, prove the efficiency and the long-term benefits for the country enabled. The UNCSTD has closely monitored the development in Pakistan in the past years, coming to the unanimous conclusion that HEC's program initiated under the leadership of Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman is a "best-practice" example for developing countries aiming at building their human resources and establishing an innovative, technology-based economy.". A number of institutions have been named after Prof. Rahman including the “Atta-ur-Rahman Institute of Natural Product Discovery” (RIND) at Malaysia’s largest university, Universiti Teknologi Mara  and the Atta-ur-Rahman School of Applied Biosciences at National University of Science & Technology in Islamabad .
Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman has won four international awards for the revolutionary changes in the higher education sector brought in the HEC. The Austrian government conferred its highest civil award (“Grosse Goldene Ehrenzeischen am Bande") in recognition of his eminent contributions. Nature, a leading science journal, has also written a number of editorials and articles about the transformation brought about in Pakistan in the higher education sector under the HEC. In an article entitled "Pakistan Threat to Indian Science" published in a leading daily newspaper Hindustan Times, India, it has been reported that Prof. C. N. R. Rao, Chairman of the Indian Prime Minister's Scientific Advisory Council made a presentation to the Indian Prime Minister at the rapid progress made by Pakistan in the higher education sector under the leadership of Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman, Chairman, Higher Education Commission. It was reported that as result of the reforms brought about in Pakistan " Pakistan may soon join China in giving India serious competition in science". "Science is a lucrative profession in Pakistan. It has tripled the salaries of its scientists in the last few years.". Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman was conferred the highest national Award of the People's Republic of China in September 2014 for his contributions to develop strong linkages between Pakistan and China in various fields of higher education, science and technology.
Dr Javaid Laghari the next Chairman continued the reforms initiated earlier. During his 4-year tenure, the world ranking of universities declined due to budgetary cuts and other problems faced by HEC, although seven Pakistan universities were ranked among the top 250 universities of Asia according to QS World University Rankings 2013. Research output out of Pakistan increased by over 50% within three years, which was the second highest increase worldwide. According to Scimago world scientific database, if Pakistan continues at the same pace, its ranking will increase from 43 to 27 globally by 2017.
Main article: Abdus Salam
Abdus Salam was a Pakistani theoretical physicist and Nobel laureate in physics for his work on the electroweak unification of the electromagnetic and weak forces. Salam, Sheldon Glashow and Steven Weinberg shared the 1979 Nobel prize for this work. Salam holds the distinction of being the first Pakistani to receive the Nobel Prize in any field. Salam heavily contributed to the rise of Pakistani physics to the Physics community in the world.
Ayub Ommaya was a Pakistani neurosurgeon who heavily contributed to his field. Over 150 research papers have been attributed to him. He also invented the Ommaya Reservoir medical procedure. It is a system of delivery of medical drugs for treatment of patients with brain tumours.
Mahbub-ul-Haq was a Pakistani economist who along with Indian economist Amartya Sen developed the Human Development Index (HDI), the modern international standard for measuring and rating human development.
Atta-ur-Rahman is a Pakistani scientist known for his work in the field of natural productchemistry. He has over 1052 research papers, books and patents attributed to him. He was elected as Fellow of the Royal Society (London) in 2006  and won the UNESCO Science Prize in 1999.
Education expenditure as percentage of GDP
Public expenditure on education lies on the fringes of 2 percent of GDP of this nation. However, in 2009 the government approved the new national education policy, which stipulates that education expenditure will be increased to 7% of GDP, an idea that was first suggested by the Punjab government.
The author of an article, the history of education spending in Pakistan since 1972, argues that this policy target raises a fundamental question: What extraordinary things are going to happen that would enable Pakistan to achieve within six years what it has been unable to lay a hand on in the past six decades? The policy document is blank on this question and does not discuss the assumptions that form the basis of this target. Calculations of the author show that during the past 37 years, the highest public expenditure on education was 2.80 percent of GDP in 1987-88. Public expenditure on education as a percentage of GDP was actually reduced in 16 years and maintained in 5 years between 1972–73 and 2008-09. Thus, out of total 37 years since 1972, public expenditure on education as a percentage of GDP either decreased or remained stagnant for 21 years. The author argues if linear trend were maintained since 1972, Pakistan could have touched 4 percent of GDP well before 2015. However, it is unlikely to happen because the levels of spending have had remained significantly unpredictable and unsteady in the past. Given this disappointing trajectory, increasing public expenditure on education to 7 percent of GDP would be nothing less than a miracle but it is not going to be of godly nature. Instead, it is going to be the one of political nature because it has to be "invented" by those who are at the helm of affairs. The author suggests that little success can be made unless Pakistan adopts an "unconventional" approach to education. That is to say, education sector should be treated as a special sector by immunizing budgetary allocations for it from fiscal stresses and political and economic instabilities. Allocations for education should not be affected by squeezed fiscal space or surge in military expenditure or debts. At the same time, there is a need to debate others options about how Pakistan can "invent" the miracle of raising education expenditure to 7 percent of GDP by 2015.
Main article: Rankings of universities in Pakistan
According to the Quality Standard World University Ranking for 2014, QAU, PIEAS, AKU, NUST, LUMS, CIIT, KU, Punjab University, UAF and UET Lahore are ranked among top 300 universities in Asia.
Religion and education
Education in Pakistan is heavily influenced by religion. For instance, one study of Pakistani science teachers showed that many rejected evolution based on religious grounds. However, most of the Pakistani teachers who responded to the study (14 out of 18) either accepted or considered the possibility of the evolution of living organisms, although nearly all Pakistani science teachers rejected human evolution because they believed that ‘human beings did not evolve from monkeys.’ This is a major misconception and incorrect interpretation of the science of evolution, but according to the study it is a common one among many Pakistani teachers. Although many of the teachers rejected the evolution of humans, " all agreed that there is ‘no contradiction between science and Islam’ in general".
Literacy rate (Census)
From census to census the definition of literacy has been undergoing changes, with the result that the literacy figure has vacillated irregularly during the last 5 censuses. A summary of the censuses is as follows:
|1951 (West Pakistan)||17.9%||21.4%||13.9%||N/A||N/A||One who can read a clear|
print in any language
|1961 (West Pakistan)||16.9%||26.1%||6.7%||34.8%||10.6%||One who is able to read with|
understanding a simple letter in any language
|Age 5 and above|
|1972||21.7%||30.2%||11.6%||41.5%||14.3%||One who is able to read and|
write in some language with understanding
|Age 10 and Above|
|1981||26.2%||35.1%||16.0%||47.1%||17.3%||One who can read newspaper|
and write a simple letter
|Age 10 and Above|
|1998||43.92%||54.81%||32.02%||63.08%||33.64%||One who can read a newspaper|
and write a simple letter, in any language
|Age 10 and Above|
|2017 (awaiting census results)||“Ability to read and understand simple text in any language from a newspaper or magazine, write a simple letter and perform basic mathematical calculation (ie, counting and addition/subtraction).”|
Literacy rate by Province
Literacy rate of Federally Administered Areas
Youth literacy rate (2012)
|Country||Youth literacy rate||Male||Female|
As of January 2015, the International Schools Consultancy (ISC) listed Pakistan as having 439 international schools. ISC defines an 'international school' in the following terms "ISC includes an international school if the school delivers a curriculum to any combination of pre-school, primary or secondary students, wholly or partly in English outside an English-speaking country, or if a school in a country where English is one of the official languages, offers an English-medium curriculum other than the country's national curriculum and is international in its orientation." This definition is used by publications including The Economist.
- ^Riazul Haq. "Education woes: Pakistan misses UN target with 58% literacy rate". The Express Tribune.
- ^ abcd"Ministry of Education, Pakistan"(PDF). Archived from the original(PDF) on 2011-10-02.
- ^"VU Solution". VU Solution.
- ^Peter Blood, ed. (1994). "[https://edupk.pk/ Pakistan - EDUCATION]". Pakistan: A Country Study. GPO for the Library of Congress. Retrieved 1 April 2010.
- ^"Archived copy"(PDF). Archived from the original(PDF) on November 13, 2010. Retrieved September 28, 2010.
- ^"Figure 7.7"(PDF). Retrieved 2014-08-03.
- ^"Archived copy"(PDF). Archived from the original(PDF) on 2011-08-16. Retrieved 2010-09-03.
- ^Dr Pervez Tahir. "Education spending in AJK". The Express Tribune.
- ^List of countries by English-speaking population
- ^InpaperMagazine. "Towards e-learning".
- ^"Literacy Rate in Pakistan Province Wise | Pakistan Literacy Rate". Ilm.com.pk. 2010-09-28. Retrieved 2013-12-10.
- ^ abc"Youth and skills: putting education to work, EFA global monitoring report, 2012; 2013"(PDF). Retrieved 2014-08-03.
- ^Stuteville, Sarah (August 16, 2009). "seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2009670134_pakistanschool16.html". The Seattle Times.
- ^ abUNESCO Institute for Statistics. "Adjusted net enrolment ratio in primary education". UNESCO. Retrieved 19 September 2011.
- ^ abRasool Memon, Ghulam (2007). "Education in Pakistan: The Key Issues, Problems and The New Challenges"(PDF). Journal of Management and Social Sciences. 3 (1): 47–55. Retrieved 19 September 2011.
- ^ abc"Vocational education in Pakistan". UNESCO-UNEVOC. Retrieved 4 August 2014.
- ^ abGlobal Education Digest 2009(PDF). UNESCO Institute for Statistics. 2009.
- ^Archived September 12, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
- ^ abKhan, Tasnim; Khan, Rana Ejaz Ali (2004). "Gender Disparity in Education - Extents, Trends and Factors"(PDF). Journal of Research (Faculty of Languages & Islamic Studies). Retrieved 2009-03-08.
- ^Zakaria, Rafia (2013-07-26). "The doctor brides". DAWN.COM. Retrieved 2017-08-17.
- ^ ab"Are Pakistan's female medical students to be doctors or wives?". BBC News. 2015-08-28. Retrieved 2017-08-17.
- ^"Pakistan sees high rate of female medical students, but few doctors". Women in the World in Association with The New York Times - WITW. 2015-08-30
A while ago I emailed a Pakistani news editor, introducing myself and pitching a column. He replied promptly saying that while we hadn’t met, he was well acquainted with my work. In fact, when his Australian girlfriend had asked him to recommend a book to help her understand Pakistani society better, he’d handed her my comic satire, The Diary of a Social Butterfly. The relationship, he wrote, had ended soon after. He neglected to mention whether he deemed my book culpable but, for the record, he did not offer me that column.
I had better luck with my Indian editor. Travelling with her American boyfriend, she gave him my second novel Duty Free as a useful guide to the lives and loves of desi society. He spent a good part of the holiday, she recounted, reading my novel and chuckling to himself. They are now happily married. I cannot claim that my book played a decisive role in sealing that relationship but let me just say I was invited to their wedding.
Suggesting a work of fiction by way of an introduction to a country or society is always going to be a subjective business. But on the eve of the first ever Karachi literary festival in London, I’ve drawn up my highly personal list of 10 works of fiction about Pakistan.
1. Mottled Dawn By Saadat Hasan Manto
When, in August 1947, the subcontinent was partitioned, millions of Hindus and Sikhs left their ancestral homes in what had become Pakistan and trudged toward India, while Muslims made the opposite journey. The partition was scarred by an eruption of unspeakable sectarian violence. Hindus and Muslims, amicable neighbours for centuries, fell upon each other in an orgy of rape and bloodletting. Manto, then an urbane scriptwriter in cosmopolitan Bombay, saw the savagery up close. Migrating to Lahore in 1948, he channelled his rage and despair into a stream of Urdu short stories that are among the finest ever written in any language. On the 70th anniversary of Pakistan’s cataclysmic birth, there can be no more important or sobering read.
2. The Wandering Falcon by Jamil Ahmed
The eponymous “falcon” is Tor Baz, the love child of a chieftain’s daughter and her father’s servant, who witnesses the brutal murder of his parents for daring to infringe tribal laws. Set in the region that forms the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan – today’s “Af-Pak”, in US state department speak – these interconnected stories chart the uncompromising code of honour that shape the lives of the tribes who have inhabited this harsh land for centuries. Once a civil servant, Ahmed served here for in the 1950s and his spare, unsentimental stories have the unmistakable ring of truth.
3. Shame by Salman Rushdie
Sandwiched between his two most famous books, Midnight’s Children and The Satanic Verses, Shame is a neglected gem. Depicting a country that Rushdie says “is and is not Pakistan”, it charts the fateful clash between its democratically elected leader and his obsequious, pious general and eventual hangman. It is an astute, gleeful, political tale in which Rushdie dazzles with his prodigious gift for satire.
4. The Crow Eaters by Bapsi Sidhwa
Freddy Junglewallah, an ambitious, quick witted Indian villager, bundles his wife, infant daughter and mother-in-law into a bullock cart and – in quest of fame and fortune – heads for cosmopolitan Lahore. Once there, Freddy’s rise to prosperity and prominence is swift. His ambitions for his children, however, come a cropper. Bawdy, poignant and funny, this is a charming saga of a Parsi family.
5. A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif
In August 1988, General Zia ul-Haq, Pakistan’s dictator and loyal American ally, met an abrupt end when his plane exploded in mid-air. Conspiracy theories abound, but the cause of the crash remains a mystery. In his 2008 satire, Hanif offers an explanation. It involves Ali Shigri, an air-force pilot who is seeking revenge for his father’s murder, it also features smooth CIA spooks, saturnine generals, blind prisoners – and a tender love story between two cadets. So convincing is Hanif on detail – he is a former air-force pilot – that retired army officers have often taken him aside and whispered: “Son, who are your sources?”
6. In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin
Attended to by his domestic staff, the elderly KK Harouni, retired civil servant and landowner, has withdrawn into his decaying mansion in Lahore. Meanwhile, income from his extensive, once profitable landholdings slowly declines under the management of a corrupt overseer. In these haunting stories of the characters that people Harouni’s world – his land agent, his mistress, wealthy relatives, servants, farmhands – Mueenuddin skilfully examines the intersections of class and power and the destruction of a feudal order by forces of modernity.
7. Moth Smoke by Mohsin Hamid
Hamid is known for addressing urgent global issues in his fiction. But Moth Smoke, his debut novel, is rooted in his native soil and focuses on ordinary Pakistanis. Dara and Ozi, though divided by a gulf of wealth and privilege, are old friends. When Dara loses his job, experiments with hard drugs and starts a disastrous love affair with Ozi’s wife, his life spirals out of control. Sexual love, friendship and betrayal are played out in a criminally unequal society where the rich feel entitled to trample the poor.
Discontent and Its Civilizations – Pakistan’s place in the world
8. Meatless Days by Sara Suleri
A memoir in a list of fiction, Meatless Days demands inclusion through its virtuosity of style and depth of enquiry. In nine, elegiac stories that grapple with memory, love and loss, Suleri sketches an intimate portrait of her family – her Pakistani father, the noted journalist ZA Suleri, Welsh mother and five siblings – against the backdrop of Pakistan’s turbulent history. The sections about her gorgeous elder sister, Ifat, who died tragically young, are searing in their intensity. This is a book that resonates long after the last page has been turned.
9. Home Boy by HM Naqvi
Narrated with great verve by Chuck (real name Shehzad), a Pakistani immigrant and graduate of NYU, this novel unfolds not in Pakistan but in cosmopolitan New York. In the wake of 9/11, three young friends – flamboyant, confident, swaggering – embark on an innocent, high-spirited caper. When it goes disastrously wrong they discover the folly of their optimistic assumptions about their adopted homeland. A deft exploration of “otherness”.
Top 10 megacities in fiction
10. Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie
Shamsie grapples with the changed realities of a post-9/11 world in this vast novel, which spans continents, generations and two cataclysmic upheavals that have defined recent history. Opening in Nagasaki on 6 August 1945 with Hiroko, a Japanese woman, slipping on a silk kimono, this confident, intricately plotted novel ends in Guantánamo Bay with her naked son, Raza, about to don that notorious orange jumpsuit.