Thanks to its geographical position, Pakistan, a natural transit region between the Iranian highlands and the fertile valley of the Ganges, has attracted man since the most remote times. In the upper Paleolithic it was the background of brilliant civilizations of hunters, testified among other things by the finds from the Sohan valley, near Rāwalpindi; in the Neolithic the Indus basin, like Mesopotamia, was the scene of an ancient civilization with an urban base dedicated to agriculture, which left its greatest testimonies to Mohenjo Daro and Harappā (see Indus civilization). In historical times the major invasions that contributed to determining the anthropic characteristics of the Pakistani region occurred through the easiest western passes and had the Indoari as protagonists, whose descent led to the population of the whole of India. The Indus plain, however, was also open to other invasions, some violent, others constructive, by different peoples coming mostly from that forge of people that has always been Central Asia: they came from there, among others, Arabs, Iranians, the Mongols of Genghis Khān and Tamerlane, mostly through the famous Khyber pass. Basically the Pakistani population, formed from this extraordinary amalgam, is quite similar to the Indian, albeit with more marked Indo-Indian components and more modest Dravidian traces, which instead are relevant in India. However, on the edge of the Indus plain there are ethnic groups representing more ancient stocks, which have remained isolated in their particular environments. Thus in Baluchistan, where populations of Iranian origin predominate, a Dravidian language is spoken; but it is in the mountains of the North that the ethnic fabric presents surprising varieties and crystallizations due to an isolated environment (which among other things has also always made these people rebel to central power). According to localtimezone, there are ancient Indo-Indian populations; others, like the people of Dardistan, represent a mixture of Indo – Aryan and Iranian; still others, such as the peoples of Baltistan, are of Tibetan origin. The demographic dynamic is very active and reflects a pattern generally common to Asian countries with recent economic development. The population grew rapidly until the end of the century. XX and then stabilized in the early 2000s at lower growth rates. Since the 1980s, about 5 million Afghan refugees have arrived in Pakistan, mainly in the North West Frontier province and, to a lesser extent, in Punjab and Baluchistan; according to the UNHCR, which collaborated with the Pakistani government for on-the-ground management and the repatriation of refugees, in 2002 there were just over 2 million left.
In addition, Pakistan has a high number of emigrants: following the development of trade relations with oil-producing countries there has been a strong Pakistani migratory current towards the Middle East, in particular towards Iran, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates. Arabs. Despite the government-sponsored birth control campaigns, population growth is the most serious problem, likely to frustrate any economic effort: the country is young and more than a third of the population is under the age of 15. Furthermore, socio-economic indicators indicate a low index of human development: life expectancy is also very low for the Asian continent. The population density appears relatively low (205 residents / km²), but Pakistan ranks fourth in the Asian panorama for number of residents. Furthermore, the data does not take into account the very different and dependent distribution – more than elsewhere – on physical data and on ancient and recent historical events. Thus, while the demographic veil of desert and semi-desert areas, such as Baluchistan and Sind, has remained almost unchanged, elsewhere there has been intense dynamism, accompanied by great mobility. In Punjab and in the Peshāwar valley, extensive irrigation has favored high agricultural densities, to which has been added a consistent flow of refugees in the aftermath of the separation of India. Overall, the province of Punjab hosts more than half of the population, while the western provinces of Baluchistan, the tribal areas and the North-West Frontier, which together cover an area equal to more than double the territory of Punjab, welcome just one fifth. The residents live mainly in the countryside (just under two thirds of the population), although masses of peasants have moved to the major cities. The most widespread traditional village is made up of a compact nucleus of clay houses enclosed within high clay fences, according to concepts that date back to the most ancient Indus civilizations. The new rural centers move away from this type of village, especially in Punjab, where the enhancement of irrigated agriculture has given rise to a form of regular, functional settlement on the geometric fabric of the fields. Nomadism is widespread in Baluchistan: it is also home to the large Paṭhāne tribes who migrate with their black Arab-type tents between the Indus plain and the other Afghan lands (the political division has broken the unity of this traditional territory of pastoral migration, the so-called Pashturistan).
In the North, the mountain tribes live in villages on the valley floors or on the low slopes, with wooden or stone houses according to the environmental conditions. More than a real urban fabric, supported by an organic network of economic relations, Pakistan has some populous cities, developed especially during the twentieth century. Typical English creation, for whose colonial empire was an important port outlet, is Karāchi, capital of the province of Sind. Among the major Asian metropolises, Karāchi has retained the function of the only major maritime opening in the country; it is, above all, a very important economic center, revitalized by the role of capital, which it played since independence until 1959, and by its function as an international airport. The other major cities generally follow the course of the Indus or its tributaries. Second metropolis is Lahore, located on the Rāvi River almost on the border with India. Capital of Punjab, it is a very ancient city, formerly the capital of the great Muslim kingdoms and still the greatest center of the region; today it is home to various industries (railway material, electrical engineering, etc.) and is an agricultural market, which is surrounded by various large agricultural centers such as Gujrānwāla, Sargodha and above all Faisalābād, which developed after the great agricultural development works in the area. In the course of this century, Rāwalpindi has assumed an important function in the upper Punjab, situated in a key position in Pakistani geography, equipped with a military base by the British and today an industrial center; close to it the new capital, Islāmābād, was founded, a city less chaotic than the other large centers and still in the process of strong expansion. On the same piedmont axis there is also Peshāwar, the capital of the North-West Frontier, an ancient and always active commercial city, in the center of a basin on the road that leads to the Khyber pass and for centuries a very lively center of caravan traffic. Another border center with Afghanistan is Quetta, the capital oasis of Baluchistan, one of the most desolate lands in South Asia; it is an essentially administrative creation, the only one of a certain importance in the middle of the mountains, the starting point of the caravans of road hauliers that cross the Afghan territory, often in the direction of Central Asian countries. Going down instead into the Indus valley, we find the other major cities of Pakistan: Multān, near the Chenāb river, recently developed in the center of a vast area of irrigation and agricultural enhancement, and above all, at the beginning of the Indus delta plain, Hyderābād, the ancient capital of Sind, with various industrial activities.