Ethnic and Religious Groups in Pakistan: Status and Position

Published November 15th, 2021 - 12:07 GMT
Pakistan is a country of rich heritage and great diversity. It holds several ethnic and religious groups as part of its demographic.  
The Badshahi Mosque (Badshahi Masjid) is a Mughal-era congregational mosque in Lahore, capital of the Pakistani province of Punjab, Pakistan. The mosque is located west of Lahore Pakistan.

By Farzad Ramezani Bonesh

Pakistan is a country of rich heritage and great diversity. It holds several ethnic and religious groups as part of its demographic.  

Major ethnic groups


Punjabis are the largest group in 2009 with 44% of Pakistan's population. The ethnic-national group has been dominant and has maintained political dominance in the federal government since 1947. Punjabis are the most powerful and privileged ethnic group in the government and other structures of Pakistan. Punjabis are mostly in Punjab province. The majority is Sunni Muslims and a smaller number are Hindus, Christians and Buddhists.


Pashtuns make up 15% of the country's population and the vast majority of Pashtuns live in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, a significant number of Pashtuns have settled in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Baluchistan. 

There are probably more than one million Pashtuns living in Karachi. Pashtuns are the majority of Sunni Hanafi Muslims. Pashtuns have a significant presence in the army. The Pashtunistan movement has cross-border ties to the Afghan Pashtuns and fears of the dominant Punjabi elite. The Pakistani government has succeeded in controlling Pashtun nationalism. Pashtun nationalism poses no significant threat to the Pakistani government.

The Baloch

The Baloch are the indigenous people of Balochistan. The majority of Baluchis live in Balochistan province. Balochistan is the largest state and makes up two-fifths of the country. The Baloch population in Pakistan is estimated at 8.2 million, or 4 percent. Baloch nationalists claim that the government's deliberate policies have led to an underestimation of the number of indigenous peoples.

The Baluchis are not homogeneous but are mainly Sunni and Hanafi. Aside from civil strife, Baloch discontent over economic deprivation and major insurgencies against the Pakistani government in recent decades has led to a continuation of separatist tendencies among them.


The Sindh province is Pakistan's southeastern province, borders the Arabian Sea to the south. The capital of the province is Karachi. Sindh's population is mainly Sunni and makes up 14% of the total population. Sindhi is the historical language of Sindh and its people. It is an Indo-Aryan language.

The Sindhi language has received influences from Baluchi and Urdu. Extensive and continuous migration to this province has created a multi- ethnic population. A significant portion of the population is now Indian immigrants .


The massive population shift during the break-up of India is a fact of Pakistan's demographic history. About eight million Mohajirs came from India and brought their language (mainly Urdu), culture and identity. Most of them settled in Sindh province. Urdu-speaking Mohajirs (Muslims who left India in 1947) make up an important group in Pakistan with about 8%.

Mohajirs consider themselves the creators of Pakistan. Mohajirs made up about fifty percent of the population of the major urban areas of Sindh and about twenty-two percent of the whole of Sindh.

The Saraiki

Syriac-speaking people are a distinct identity group in Pakistan, making up about 8 percent of Pakistan's population. They make up about 15 percent of the population of Punjab and are located between Punjab and northern Sindh. Saraikis are a group of the Punjab people who speak the Saraiki dialect. The majority of them are Muslims and Christians are a minority.

Major religious groups

Sunni Muslims

Sunni Muslims make up the bulk of Pakistan's population. The Sunnis include 3 categories. Brailves make up about 50 percent of Pakistan's total Muslim population. The Brailve s are ‘flexible’ and often follow the Hanafi and do not consider other sects infidels. Many of them belong to the Pakistani state of Punjab. The Deobandis are assertive and strict and seem extremists. About 65% of religious schools are run by Deobandis and have many representatives in government institutions such as the military. The Deobandis are mostly in the tribal areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The Ahle Hadith are a large group of other Sunni Muslims in Pakistan. This group is stricter than other sects. Some of their followers are found in Lashkar-e-Taiba, Pakistan Companions Corps, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan.


Shiites make up about 10 to 15 percent of Pakistan's Muslim population. They include different ethnicities and are found all over the country. Among the Shiites, a few smaller sections of the Ismailia (followers of the Aga Khan) of the Khojas are also significant. Shiites play a prominent role in Pakistan. They are still considered apostates by some extremist groups and Sunnis. Attacks on Shiites in Pakistan have been widespread since 1978 under General Zia-ul-Haq.

The Companions Corps (SSP) and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) have openly called for the killing of Shiites in Pakistan. The most vulnerable Shiites are the Hazara population of Quetta. Targeted killings, sectarian bombings, violent attacks, shootings and other attacks against Shiites and Hazaras are frequent.


Pakistani Hindus make up a small minority of the total population (only 3.5 million people and 1.73% of the population). They live in rural parts of Sindh. There are also small groups of Hindus in Balochistan and Punjab. Extremists in Pakistan society often see India as the fifth pillar.

The constitutional amendments by General Zia-ul-Haq, the tense political relations between India and Pakistan, and the rise of religious extremism have had a negative impact on the status of the Hindu minority. In recent decades, we have witnessed the continued migration of Hindus from Pakistan.


Christians make up the largest religious minority in the country (1.27%). Most Pakistani Christians live in Karachi, Lahore, Faisalabad and many small communities in the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Extremists consider Christians as the fifth-pillar of the west because of their faith.

Smaller groups

According to the constitution, minorities such as Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Zoroastrians and Kalash are represented in the Pakistan National Assembly's minority commission. In addition, the Pakistani Shidi community is home to less than 1 million East African descendants in southern Pakistan. Most Shidis are Muslims.

The Ahmadiyya religious movement is a religious sect that originated in India and is in many ways compatible with Islam. Some prominent personalities and politicians were originally from Ahmadiyya.  Many still consider Ahmadiyya non-Muslims. Smaller communities of Persians and Sikhs, Tajiks, Chitrals, and Kalash also live in this country.

The relationship of different groups

In fact, Pakistan is influenced by Indo-Arabic-Persian culture, and the cultures of Pakistan's specific regions also present a picture of rich diversity. About eighty languages ​​are spoken in Pakistan. But Urdu is the national language of the country.

Ethnic divisions or ethnic militancy, plague Pakistani politics. Many of Pakistan's ethnic-national conflicts are rooted in the past. For example, since the division of India, Karachi has been a mixture of groups with a high epidemic of sectarian violence in the city. Despite federalism, some smaller ethnic groups are dissatisfied and violent riots threaten Balochistan.

The issue of enforced disappearances is not a new phenomenon across Pakistan, and opponents estimate that about 1,000 young Hindu and Christian women are forced to change their religion each year. Some opponents have accused successive Pakistani governments of pursuing slow genocide against minorities.

Meanwhile, the structure of religious schools affiliated with extremists has turned the country into a center of global terrorism and is a threat to the country and the destruction of cohesion and integrity. Over the time a part of the Brailves community has also become extremist

Government and the groups

In the 2017 census, the Pakistan’s population increased to 207 million and the Muslim population to 96.47%. But religious minorities have become smaller. In the 2018 Pakistani elections, Imran Khan of the Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) political party pledged to "protect the civil, social and religious rights of minorities". In fact, the government has taken steps to protect religious groups, and sectarian groups are under pressure. But opponents say real support for various religious minority groups has changed virtually nothing.

Shiite Muslims, for example, are not considered a minority under Pakistan's constitution, but violence against them is widespread. So the way to protect minorities from violence is through law reform and efforts to deradicalize.

Looking at minorities plays an important role in the government's external relationship and the view of other actors on them. ‏The issue has forced Pakistan to rebuild the Sikh sanctuary. But the Indian government claims that this will be used as an attempt to provoke the Khalistan movement in India.   India also has passed laws to accept Pakistani minorities.

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