Pakistan has the world's third highest national number of newborn deaths (194 000 in 2010). Major national challenges over the past decade have affected health and development including several large humanitarian disasters, destabilizing political insurgency, high levels of poverty and an often hard-to-reach predominately rural population with diverse practices. As part of a multi-country analysis, we examined changes for newborn survival between 2000 and 2010 in terms of mortality, coverage and health system indicators as well as national and donor funding. Neonatal mortality declined by only 0.9% per annum between 2000 and 2010; less than the global average (2.1%) and less than national maternal and child mortality declines. Coverage of newborn care interventions increased marginally, with wide socio-economic variations. There was little focus on newborn health until 2000 when considerable policy change occurred, including integration of newborn care into existing community-based maternal and child packages delivered by the Lady Health Worker Programme and national behaviour change communications strategies and programmes. The National Maternal, Newborn and Child Health Programme catalyzed newborn services at both facility and community levels. Civil society and academics have linked with government and several research studies have been highly influential. Since 2005, donor funding mentioning the term 'newborn' has increased more for Pakistan than for other countries. The country faces ongoing challenges in reducing neonatal mortality, and in much of Pakistan, societal norms discourage care-seeking and many women are unable to access care for themselves or their children. The policy advances and existing delivery platforms offer the potential to substantially accelerate progress in reducing neonatal deaths. The recent decision to dismantle the national Ministry of Health and devolve responsibility for health sector management to the provincial level presents both challenges and opportunities for newborn health.