Asia is home to forms of religion in all its forms. The major religions Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism and Shintoism originated here. Christianity, Islam and Buddhism spread over large parts of the world, while others, such as Hinduism and Confucianism, grew mighty within their own cultural spheres. In addition to the major religions, numerous tribal religions are represented in Asia.
Christianity and Islam have deep roots in Judaism. Apart from smaller Jewish communities in different parts of Asia, the Jews living in Asia live in Israel.
Christianity is worldwide and globally the most comprehensive of the major religions. Although Asian in its origins, it spread to the west. Reminiscences from the Christian ancient church make up the small communities in the Middle East that belong to the Syrian church, as well as the so-called Thomas Christians in Kerala in southern India. The other Christian congregations scattered throughout most of Asia – often as prominent minorities – are the result of Catholic or Protestant missionary activity emanating from the West.
From the 1500’s. began an extensive mission from the Roman Catholic side. The first Protestant missionary work in India was due to a Danish initiative, as Frederik IV in 1705 sent two missionaries to the Danish colony Tranquebar. During the 1800’s. increased the Protestant mission, especially in India, China, and Japan. As the only country in Asia, the Philippines has a Christian majority, with almost 95% of the population being Christian – of which 84% are Roman Catholic.
Islam is the religion in Asia that has the most followers (about 800 million). After the founding in the early 600-t. Islam spread rapidly from the Arabian Peninsula to the entire Middle East and further across Central Asia to China and through South Asia to Indonesia. Islam is the state religion in several Middle Eastern states as well as in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Malaysia. Indonesia is home to over 120 million. Muslims and thus have more than any other country. In India, Muslims make up a significant minority group (around 75 million). The majority of Asian Muslims are Sunnis, but in Iran and Iraq the Shiites are in the majority, and Shia Islam is the state religion in Iran (as the only place).
Buddhismemerged in northern India as a reform movement around 500 BC. The Buddha would neither recognize the Brahmins, the clergy, as a privileged spiritual upper class, nor the ancient Vedic scriptures as the supreme religious authority. Three major directions developed over the centuries in Buddhism: hinayana, mahayana and vajrayana. For more than a millennium, Buddhism flourished in India, but Hinduism and Islamic expansion gradually supplanted it from the motherland. Buddhism disappeared, so to speak, from Indian territory around 1200 AD, but in turn became an important religious factor in other parts of Asia. The only survivor of the ancient hinayana schools is theravada. It lives on in Buddhism in Sri Lanka and in large parts of Southeast Asia. The other two directions, Mahayana and Vajrayana, are the basis of Buddhism in Bhutan, Tibet, Mongolia and East Asia. Buddhism has recently had a renaissance in India, with over three million. casteless Hindus have converted to Buddhism due toBR Ambedkar’s movement against social injustice against the casteless.
Hinduism is a mixture of the religion of the Indian indigenous people and the ancient Vedic religion, which the Aryan tribes brought with them to India when they between 2000 and 1500 BC. invaded the country. It is India’s dominant religion, with more than 80% of the population being Hindus. In Nepal, which as the only country has Hinduism as its state religion, almost 90% are Hindus. There are also significant Hindu groups elsewhere, for example in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Bali.
Jainism originated in India at about the same time as Buddhism. Its teachings are heretical like those of Buddhism. Mahavira, the founder of Jainism, could recognize the ideals of the Vedic religion as little as the Buddha. It has approximately three million followers. Sikhism is a reform movement founded in the 1500’s. It contains elements from both Hinduism and Islam. There live about 13 million. Sikhs in India. Finally, approximately 120,000 Parsis, followers of Parsism, the contemporary version of Zarathustra’s ancient Iranian religion.
China’s two major traditional religions, Confucianism and Daoism, originated in 500 BC. The thoughts of Confucianism built on ancient Chinese ideals and beliefs. Daoism redefined the inherited concepts from a mystical, natural-philosophical worldview and became a movement directed towards the existing order. Both have been of great importance to religion and culture throughout East Asia. In the 1st century AD. the first Buddhist monks arrived in China. Here developed from the 500-t. a special Buddhist meditation school, chan. It spread in the 700’s. to Japan, where in the following centuries it was further developed into the zen school. Shintoism, Japan’s national religion, has always worked closely with Buddhism.
The so-called primitive or tribal religions are found especially in India, Nepal, Southeast Asia and Indonesia. They usually have no written tradition. We encounter shamanism in North and Central Asia, South Korea and Japan.
From around the mid-1960’s, many Westerners have felt attracted to thoughts and ideas emanating from Asian religions. Various forms of yoga are popular in many circles in the Western world, which has led to the existence of yoga schools in most major cities and in many places meditation centers. In the Hare Krishna movement, Western followers closely follow the rituals of a Bengali, Vishnuite sect. The Buddhists also run missions in the West. One or more Buddhist organizations are based in the majority of Western countries.
Pakistan’s foreign policy
Pakistan’s foreign policy has been dominated by relations with India, and this has often also been crucial to Pakistan’s relations with other countries. Other key countries in Pakistan’s foreign policy are Afghanistan and the United States.
Since the split of British India in 1947, when Pakistan and India became independent countries, Pakistan has felt its existence threatened by the much larger and more resourceful India. The contradictions have historical, religious and ethnic dimensions.
Relations with India worsened significantly when India conducted three underground nuclear test blasts in the Thar Desert, southwest of New Delhi on May 11, 1998, and a day later followed with two new blasts. Pakistan’s response came in the form of a series of five similar blasts from May 28 of the same year in the desert of Baluchistan, about 50 miles from Islamabad, near the big city of Quetta. Both countries’ blasts were sharply criticized by the outside world.
The Kashmir conflict has been central, and gained new intensity in the 1990s. The two countries have fought limited wars in Kashmir (1947-1948) and Rann of Kutch (1965), and major wars in 1965 and 1971. In 1999, open conflict again broke out between India and Pakistan in Kashmir (see Kashmir’s history).
The Cold War
In the 1950s, Pakistan was allied with the United States through the SEATO Pact 1954 and the Baghdad Pact (CENTO) 1958. In the 1960s, Pakistan also aligned itself with China. During the wars of 1965 and 1971, Pakistan was only supported by China and some Islamic nations.
In the 1970s, Pakistan withdrew from the United States and became a member of the alliance-free group. Following the Soviet Union’s intervention in Afghanistan in 1979, Pakistan gained strategic importance in the Cold War East-West conflict. The United States opened up for extensive assistance, while relations with the Soviet Union became very strained. During the Afghanistan war, Pakistan welcomed over three million Afghan refugees. The resistance movement in Afghanistan also operated from bases in Pakistan. After the 1988 Soviet retreat, Pakistan became less important to the West.
The war on terror
In the internal conflict in Afghanistan, Pakistan has mainly supported fundamentalist factions, since 1994 also by contributing to the building of the far-flung Taliban militia. Islamabad hoped the Taliban would create stable conditions in the country, thus opening the way to new markets in former Soviet Central Asia. After September 11, 2001, the United States exerted pressure on Pakistan to make active efforts in the ” war on terror “. The army has repeatedly attacked al-Qaeda and Taliban supporters in the autonomous tribal areas along the Afghan border. In return, Pakistan has received considerable financial support.
Pakistan and India have for many years been competing for influence in Afghanistan, while the Pakistani authorities have rarely concealed their dissatisfaction with what they perceived as Afghan-Indian cooperation with stalemate against Pakistan. Former President Pervez Musharraf confirmed in an interview with The Guardian newspaper in February 2015 that his government sought to thwart Hamid Karzai and his government. The backdrop was an experience that Pakistani authorities accused Karzai of “destroying Pakistan” and assisting India in “falling back on Pakistan”.
Musharraf further stated that the change of president in Afghanistan has created a new situation and he advocated a strong cooperation with President Ashraf Ghani and his government. He also asked the Pakistani authorities to suspend their support for various “deputy” militant groups in Afghanistan. The latter was not least relevant in relation to repeated Afghan claims that Pakistani institutions, and in particular the intelligence agency Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), support Taliban factions in Afghanistan.
For decades, Pakistan was host to many millions of Afghans fleeing civil war and Soviet occupation. As the Taliban movement carried out its strictly religious regime towards the end of the 1990s, a further hundreds of thousands of Afghans fled across the border. In 2001, it was estimated that Pakistan housed the most refugees in the world. At year-end 2005/2006, about 1.5 million Afghans still lived as refugees in Pakistan. At the same time, some 20,000 Pakistani refugees were living in exile, mainly in western countries, due to alleged human rights violations and religious persecution.
2004 brought an international startling scandal: Nuclear physicist Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, “Pakistani nuclear bomb father”, has admitted to selling advanced nuclear technology to Libya, North Korea and Iran. This must have happened on its own, without the government’s consent. Khan was criticized and placed under house arrest, but not otherwise punished. In February 2009, a court formally lifted the house arrest, and in September of that year, remaining restrictions on his freedom of movement, such as foreign travel, were also lifted.
Most connections to India were broken in December 2001 after a Pakistani jihad group attacked India’s National Assembly. In 2004, a cautious peace process started again. The hope was eventually to come to a solution to the core problem of Kashmir itself. India claims that since 1990, Pakistan has waged a “deputy war” in Kashmir with the help of militant jihad groups; Pakistan only grants moral and political support. So far, most symbolic measures have been taken during the peace process, such as cricket matches. For the two countries’ top leaders, a “hotline” was adopted in 2004 to reduce the risk of war between the two fresh nuclear powers. The so-called Friendship Express – train service twice weekly Lahore-Delhi – got started again in 2004. In 2005, a regular weekly bus service was opened between Muzaffarabad and Srinagar in shared Kashmir.
The peace process was repeatedly put to the test, for example in February 2007 when 68 people, mostly Pakistanis, were killed by bombs on the Friendship Express. The biggest hit by jihad groups came in November 2008 when 179 were killed during a coordinated raid on several targets in Mumbai.
Pakistan’s political closeness to the United States following the September 11, 2001 attacks provided the country with significant resources, both financially and militarily. However, widespread domestic political protests against the community contributed to a gradual weakening of the alliance, and the execution of Osama bin Laden in May 2011 caused many politicians and military in the United States to question the credibility of Pakistan as a partner. Bin Laden was found in Bilal Town, about 100 kilometers north of Islamabad, and it was taken for granted that the Pakistani authorities must have known about his many years of residence there.