Early and medieval age
Some of the earliest ancient human civilisations in South Asia originated from areas encompassing present-day Pakistan. The earliest known inhabitants in the region were Soanian during the Lower Paleolithic, of whom stone tools have been found in the Soan Valley of Punjab. The Indus region, which covers most of Pakistan, was the site of several successive ancient cultures including the NeolithicMehrgarh and the Bronze Age Indus Valley Civilisation (2800–1800 BCE) at Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro.
The Vedic Civilization (1500–500 BCE), characterised by Indo-Aryan culture, laid the foundations ofHinduism, which would become well established in the region. Multan was an important Hindu pilgrimage centre. The Vedic civilisation flourished in the ancient Gandhāran city of Takṣaśilā, now Taxilain Punjab. Successive ancient empires and kingdoms ruled the region: the Persian Achaemenid Empirearound 519 BCE, Alexander the Great‘s empire in 326 BCE and the Maurya Empire founded byChandragupta Maurya and extended by Ashoka the Great until 185 BCE. The Indo-Greek Kingdomfounded by Demetrius of Bactria (180–165 BCE) included Gandhara and Punjab and reached its greatest extent under Menander (165–150 BCE), prospering the Greco-Buddhist culture in the region. Taxila had one of the earliest universities and centres of higher education in the world.
The Medieval period (642–1219 CE) is defined by the spread of Islam in the region. During this period, Sufi missionaries played a pivotal role in converting a majority of the regional Buddhist and Hindu population to Islam. The Rai Dynasty (489–632 CE) of Sindh, at its zenith, ruled this region and the surrounding territories. The Pala Dynasty was the last Buddhist empire that under Dharampala and Devapala stretched across Indian subcontinent from what is now Bangladesh through Northern India to Pakistan and later to Kamboj region in Afghanistan.
The Arab general Muhammad bin Qasim conquered Sindh and Multan in southern Punjab in 711CE. The Pakistan government’s official chronology identifies this as the point where the “foundation” of Pakistan was laid. This conquest set the stage for the rule of several successive Muslim empires in the region, including the Ghaznavid Empire (975–1187 CE), the Ghorid Kingdom and the Delhi Sultanate (1206–1526 CE). The Lodi dynasty, the last of the Delhi Sultanate, was replaced by the Mughal Empire (1526–1857 CE). The Mughals introduced Persian literature and high culture, establishing the roots of Indo-Persian culture in the region.