Pakistan is large (twice the size of California), populous (145 million people) and poor. The South Asian nation's coastline rests on the Arabian Sea, and it borders India, Afghanistan, Iran and China.
The Muslim state of Pakistan was carved into two sections from largely Hindu India when the British withdrew in 1947. A war between India and Pakistan in 1971 led to the secession of East Pakistan, which became Bangladesh.
An ongoing conflict over the sovereignty of the majority-Muslim region of Kashmir has kept Pakistan and India at loggerheads.
Cooperation With West Carries Risk
Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, pledged his nation's "full support" to the United States in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
But cooperation carries risks for the leadership. Anti-Western sentiment is strong in Pakistan, where many of its top military commanders formerly were sympathetic to the Taliban, which ruled Afghanistan before the U.S.-led offensive began in October 2001.
Pakistan has provided staging areas for the U.S. military in its war against Taliban and al Qaeda forces in neighboring Afghanistan.
In exchange for its pledge to provide intelligence and logistical support to the United States in its war on terrorism, President Bush agreed to waive economic sanctions imposed after Pakistan tested nuclear weapons in 1998.
Pakistan's economy has been hobbled by a crushing foreign debt. And one-quarter of the country's income is devoted to the military.