Geography, ethnicity and political structure
History before independence
The area now known as Pakistan has been settled for thousands of years, as Indus river valley civilizations prospered along trans-Asiatic trade routes.
The Indus valley has been a jewel in numerous empires, including the Achaemenid dynasty under Cyrus, the Prince of Persia who conquered the area around Peshawar in 530 B.C. His sons conquered Sindh, Punjab and Baluchistan.
In 326 B.C. when Alexander the Great reached the Indus, he believed was near the eastern edge of the world. It is said that Alexander's army introduced the opium poppy to the area, where it has stubbornly remained.
Before Pakistan became a single nation, it was a collection of city-states on the frontier of mainly nomadic tribes living in the Central Asian highlands to the north and west.
The main sections before the British absorbed them into British India were Sindh, (largest cities Karachi and Hyderabad), Baluchistan along the Afghan frontier, Punjab on the southeastern side and Kashmir, whatever portion you might call Pakistan.
History after independence
Part of Pakistan's national narrative, founding myth if you will, is that the word "Pakistan" itself is derived from the names of the provinces/regions that would make up the proposed state: The 'P' stands for Punjab, the 'A' for Afghan territories, the 'K' for Kashmir, and "Stan" from Balochistan. (See  for details.) This is a helpful reminder.
Pakistan and India were formed from Britain's dominions in India in 1947. A violent mass migration resulted, which killed hundreds of thousands of people as Hindus fled to India and Muslims fled to Pakistan. In 1971, Pakistan split into Pakistan and Bangladesh in a civil war.
Rivalry with India
Pakistan and India have been bitter rivals for decades which is of particular concern world wide because both have Weapons of Mass Destruction (in particular Nuclear Weapons). They also have a continuing dispute over Kashmir a border region which is home to Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs.
Cold War Role
Pakistan was a member of SEATO and CENTO and then a critical player in the original "Afghan Jihad", the struggle against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Pakistan's Inter-Service Intelligence agency (ISI) provided weapons and supplies to the rebel groups, and developed personal ties to key mujhadeen leaders. It was famously on a Pakistan Air Force C-130 that Kissinger went to China.
The most recent civilian ruler, Nawaz Sharif who was the leader of the Muslim League was removed in a 1999 coup that left Nawaz Sharif in prison for life and put General Pervez Musharraf in power. The most important opposition group is the MMA - an alliance of Islamic parties.
On October 14, 2006, the government foiled a coup attempt led by Al-Qaeda in Waziristan. (Source: NoQuarter blog). There have been at least two assination attempts against President Musharraf since 1999.
In January, 2006, a Predator drone launched missiles at a house in Bajaur, near the border with Afghanistan, killing several Al-Qaida leaders, and 18 civilians. This attack caused anti-American riots throughout Pakistan.
Northern Pakistan (particularly including Pakistan-Administered Kashmir) and adjoining areas of India (specifically Indian-Administered Kashmir) were hit by a 7.6 earthquake on the morning of October 8th, 2005. Quake resources can be found here.
Sanctuary for Taliban and Al-Qaeda
Pro-Taliban militants signed a peace deal with Pakistan. As part of the deal, the Taliban agreed not to launch attacks into Afghanistan, and Pakistan agreed to remove its border checkpoints (See no evil ...). Also, Major General Shaukat Sultan Khan told ABC News in a telephone interview that if he is in Pakistan, bin Laden "would not be taken into custody, as long as one is being like a peaceful citizen." – ABC News, Sept. 5, 2006. (Source: Pakistan and Taliban Sign Pact)
- Pervez Musharraf, Army General, military dictator and current President
- Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri Foreign Minister
- Basharat Raja, Punjab Law Minister Raja Basharat
- Qazi Hussain Ahmed, head of the Islamist Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA)
- Fazal-ur-Rehman, fiery orator for the Islamist Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA)
- Oneworld.net Country Guides: Pakistan
- DailyKos Diary by Soj
- The REAL Reason for Secret Tribunals? Pakistan Terrorism Timeline - Pakistani links to terrorist attacks since 1993.
- Pakistan: A Strategic Conundrum