An estimated 400,000 infant and 16,500 maternal deaths occur annually in Pakistan. These translate into an infant mortality rate and maternal mortality ratio that should be unacceptable to any state. Disease states including communicable diseases and reproductive health (RH) problems, which are largely preventable account for over 50% of the disease burden. The analysis of Pakistan's maternal and child health (MCH) and family planning (FP) policy covers the period 1990-2002, and focuses on macroeconomic influences, priority programs and gaps, adequacy of resources, equity and organizational aspects, and the process of policy formulation. The overall MCH/FP policy is well directed. MCH/FP has been a priority in all policies; resource allocation, although unacceptably low, has substantially increased during the last decade; and there is a progressive shift from MCH to the reproductive health (RH) agenda. Areas in need of improvement include greater use of evidence as a basis for policy; increased priority to nutrition programs, measures to reduce neonatal and perinatal mortality, provision of emergency obstetric care, availability of skilled birth attendants, and a clear policy on integrated management of childhood illnesses. Enhanced planning capacity, development of a balanced human resource, improved governance to reduce staff absenteeism and frequent transfers, and a greater role of the private sector in the provision of services are some organizational aspects that need the governments' consideration. There are several lessons to be learnt: (i) Ministries of Health need sustained stewardship and well-documented evidence to protect cuts in resource allocation; (ii) frequent policy announcement sends inappropriate signals to managers and weakens on-going implementation; (iii) MCH/FP policies unless informed by evidence and participation of interest groups are unlikely to address gaps in programs; (iv) distributional and equity objectives of MCH/FP be addressed while setting overall national goals; (v) institutional capacity is a vital ingredient in translating MCH/FP policies into effective services. The suggested strategic directions emphasize, among others, the need for a comprehensive MCH/FP framework; strengthened stewardship in ministry of health, cost-effective strategies to address the gaps identified and doubling of the public sector resource allocation to MCH/FP over the next 5 years. The ability to ensure delivery of quality health services remains the biggest challenge in the Pakistani health sector. Unless sound policies are backed by well-functioning programs they are likely to become a victim of poor implementation.