In 2008, after nine years in power, General Pervez Musharraf allowed elections. Before the election, Islamic extremists assassinated one of the candidates, Benazir Bhutto, a popular former prime minister. Pakistan's new civilian government faced tough challenges. Still, when new elections were held in 2013, it marked the first time in Pakistani history that power passed from one elected government to another.
Meanwhile, support for Islamic fundamentalist groups based in Pakistan grew, especially in the northwest. In November 2008, Islamic militants from Pakistan launched terror attacks on hotels and tourists in Mumbai, India, fueling tensions between the hostile neighbors.
Islamic traditions were strong in the rugged border area between Pakistan and Afghanistan. When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, one million Afghan refugees fled into Pakistan. There, many joined Islamic fundamentalist groups to battle the invaders.
Afghan children, refugees in Pakistan, are transported by truck. Since the 1970s, millions of Afghan refugees have fled into Pakistan.
After Russia withdrew from Afghanistan, the Taliban, an extreme Islamist group, seized power with the support of Pakistan. The Taliban backed Al Qaeda, which launched terrorist attacks on the United States in 2001. When U.S. forces invaded Afghanistan and overthrew the Taliban, its supporters fled into Pakistan.
By then, Pakistan had withdrawn its support of the Taliban. Still, Taliban fighters and other Islamic extremists set up strongholds in northwestern Pakistan. The Pakistani government waged on and off again war against the militants and reluctantly accepted U.S. aid. Many Pakistanis, however, were outraged by American drone–or pilotless aircraft—attacks on suspected terrorists within its borders. Although the attacks were aimed at militants, they sometimes caused civilian casualties.
A woman walks through flooded streets in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh.
Bangladesh ranks among the world's poorest, most crowded countries. Its population, more than half as large as that of the United States, lives in an area the size of Alabama. The large population is crowded on the low-lying Ganges Delta, just a few feet above sea level. Bangladesh has suffered repeatedly from devastating tropical storms and floods. Explosive population growth has strained resources further. More than 50 million people live below the poverty level.
During its early years, Bangladesh was ruled by authoritarian military governments that controlled the economy. In the 1990s, the nation moved from military to democratic rule. The new civilian government encouraged foreign investment. Foreign companies took advantage of cheap labor costs to make clothes in Bangladesh. However, human rights group protested the widespread use of child labor and and dangerous working conditions that have led to the deaths of many workers.