Buddhism took root in Pakistan some 2,300 years ago under the Mauryan king Ashoka, whom Nehru once called “greater than any king or emperor. Buddhism has a long history in the Pakistan region — over time being part of areas within Bactria, the Indo-Greek Kingdom, the Kushan Empire; Ancient India with the Maurya Empire of Ashoka, the Pala Empire; the Punjab region, and Indus River Valley cultures — areas now within the present day nation of Pakistan. Buddhist scholar Kumaralabdha of Taxila was comparable to Aryadeva, Asvaghoṣa and Nagarjuna. In 2012 the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) indicated that the contemporary Buddhist population of Pakistan was minuscule with 1,492 adult holders of national identity cards (CNICs). The total population of Buddhists is therefore unlikely to be more than a few thousand.
Buddhism in Antiquity
The majority of people in Gandhara, present day Southern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, were Buddhist. Gandhara was largely Mahayana Buddhist, but also a stronghold of Vajrayana Buddhism. The Swat Valley, known in antiquity as Uddiyana, was a kingdom tributary to Gandhara. There are many archaeological sites from the Buddhist era in Swat.
The Buddhist sage Padmasambhava is said to have been born in a village near the present day town of Chakdara in Lower Dir District, which was then a part of Oddiyana. Padmasambhava is known as Guru Rinpoche in Tibetan and it is he who introduced Vajrayana Buddhism in Tibet.
Buddhism was practiced in the Punjab region, with many Buddhist monastery and stupa sites in the Taxila World Heritage Site locale. It was also practiced in the Sindh regions.
Islam and Hinduism
Gandhara remained a largely Hindu-Buddhist land until around 10th century CE, when Sultan Mahmud conquered the region and introduced Islam. There was settlement Muslims and the emigration of Hindu-Buddhists.
Most Buddhists in Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh were in process of converting to Hinduism from 600 CE onwards. Many Buddhists converted to Islam. Buddhism was practiced by the majority of the population of Sindh up to the Arab conquest by the Umayyad Caliphate in 710 CE. These regions became predominantly Muslim during the rule of Delhi Sultanate and later the Mughal Empire due to the missionary Sufi saints whose dargahs (shrines) dot the landscape of Pakistan and the rest of South Asia.
Taliban Destruction of Buddhist Relics
The Swat Valley in Pakistan has many Buddhist carvings and stupas, and Jehanabad contains a Seated Buddha statue. Kushan era Buddhist stupas and statues in Swat valley were demolished by the Taliban and after two attempts by the Taliban; the Jehanabad Buddha's face was dynamited. Only the Bamiyan Buddhas were larger than the carved giant Buddha statue in Swat near Mangalore which the Taliban attacked. The government did nothing to safeguard the statue after the initial attempt at destroying it, which did not cause permanent harm, but when the second attack took place on the statue the feet, shoulders, and face were demolished. Islamists such as the Taliban and looters destroyed much of Pakistan's Buddhist artifacts left over from the Buddhist Gandhara civilization, especially in Swat Valley. The Taliban deliberately targeted Gandhara Buddhist relics for destruction. The Christian Archbishop of Lahore Lawrence John Saldanha wrote a letter to Pakistan's government denouncing the Taliban activities in Swat Valley including their destruction of Buddha statues and their attacks on Christians, Sikhs, and Hindus. Gandhara Buddhist artifacts were also looted by smugglers
The modern town of Taxila is 35 km from Islamabad. Most of the archaeological sites of Taxila (600 BC to 500 AD) are located around Taxila Museum. For over one thousand years, Taxila remained famous as a centre of learning Gandhara art of sculpture, architecture, education and Buddhism in the days of Buddhist glory. There are over 50 archaeological sites scattered in a radius of 30 km around Taxila. Some of the most important sites are: Dhamarajika Stupa and Monastery (300 BC - 200 AD), Bhir Mound (600-200 BC), Sirkap (200 BC - 600 AD), Jandial Temple (c.250 BC) and Jaulian Monastery (200 - 600 AD).
A museum comprising various sections with rich archaeological finds of Taxila, arranged in chronological order and properly labeled, has been established close to the site. It is one of the best and well-maintained site museums of Pakistan. The museum's opening hours in the summer are from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. with a two-hour break, and from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. without a break, in the winter. The museum remains closed on the first Monday of every month and on Muslim religious holidays. The entrance fee costs Rs.4 per person to visit the museum and Rs.4 per person for the archaeological sites. PTDC has a Tourist Information Centre and a motel with seven rooms and a restaurant, just opposite the museum. There is a youth hostel nearby, offering accommodation for members of International Youth Hostels Federation (IYHF).
Mingora, 3 km away from Saidu Sharif, has yielded magnificent pieces of Buddhist sculpture and the ruins of a great stupa. Other beauty spots worth visiting are: Marghzar, 13 km. from Saidu Sharif, famous for its "Sufed Mahal", the white marble palace of the former Wali (ruler) of Swat; Kabal, 16 km. from Saidu Sharif, with its excellent golf course; Madyan, 55 km. from Saidu Sharif, Bahrain, Miandam and Kalam.
The Lush-green valley of Swat District—with its rushing torrents, icy-cold lakes, fruit-laden orchards and flower-decked slopes—is ideal for holiday-makers intent on relaxation. It also has a rich historical past: "Udayana" (the "Garden") of the ancient Hindu epics; "the land of enthralling beauty", where Alexander of Macedonia fought and won some of his major battles before crossing over to the plains of Pakistan, and "the valley of the hanging chains" described by the famous Chinese pilgrim-chroniclers, Huain Tsang and Fa-Hian in the fifth and sixth centuries. Swat was once a cradle for major strands of Buddhism, where 1,400 monasteries flourished: Little Vehicle, Great Vehicle and the Esoteric sects. It was the home of the famous Gandhara School of Sculpture which was an expression of Graeco-Roman form in the local Buddhist tradition.