Pakistan’s Political and Democratic Evolution – 1947 To 2018

By Saeed Khan Wazir.

This topic is included in the new syllabus for the Central Superior service(CSS) by the FPSC  civil service reform in  2016. The tawdry, checkered plot of Pakistani democracy has been alternating between incompetent civil political leaders and a perennially intrusive military-cum-judicial combine. This battle of titans is aided and abetted by domestic conglomerate of anti-democratic elements and regional players.

Before elaborating in different phases of the turbulent journey, let me explain some crucial concepts.

Political Evolution-This refers to both  civilian dispensations and military regimes.

Democratic Evolutions- This refers to democratically elected govts.

Martial law- is the imposition of the highest-ranking military officer as the military governor or as the head of the government, thus removing all power from the previous executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. It is usually imposed temporarily when the government or civilian authorities fail to function effectively (e.g., maintain order and security, or provide essential services).

Under martial law, Parliament and the courts are scrapped. The police answer to the military, which has ultimate control. They may implement the usual civilian laws, but it’s soldiers that do so.

Martial law has also been imposed during conflicts, and in cases of occupations, where the absence of any other civil government provides for an unstable population.

Emergency rule – is where the president seizes ultimate authority; the military is no more in control than before. In this case, the courts, the police, the bureaucracy and the parliament continue. The constitution is partially in abeyance; the president claims the authority to unilaterally rewrite bits of it and reinstate it. Much of the constitution remains in effect. A number of basic rights–assembly, press, speech, equality before the law (take that to mean “equal and due process”), plus some others–are suspended

Parliamentary government – is a democratic form of government in which the political party that wins the most seats in the legislature or parliament during the federal election forms the government. This majority party chooses a leader to be the Prime Minister or Chancellor, and other high-ranking members of the party make up the cabinet. The minority party forms the opposition, and its job is to challenge the majority party. If no party is able to win a majority in the election, a coalition government will be formed with a few political parties cooperating together.

A presidential systemis a system of government where an executive branch is led by a president who serves as both head of state and head of government. In such a system, this branch exists separately from the legislature, to which it is not responsible and which it cannot, in normal circumstances, dismiss. Presidents take more direct personal charge of policy than the cabinet does in a parliamentary system. The majority party and the cabinet are a team in a parliamentary system. But the president is directly elected by the people. Unlike parliamentary cabinets, the presidential cabinet does not contain party notables. The president is also the head of the army and directly responsible for foreign policy.

Timeline of Pakistan’s Democracy  as a Culture and a Process

August 14, 1947 – Muslim League leader Mohammad Ali Jinnah, known as Quaid-e-Azam (Father of the nation), is sworn in as the first governor-general of Pakistan after British India is divided into two independent states – the Muslim majority Pakistan (comprising East and West wings) and Hindu-majority India. Liaquat Ali Khan becomes the first prime minister.

Muhammad Ali Jinnah sits on a dais during ceremonies following his swearing-in as president of the Assembly and governor-general of the new Dominion of Pakistan at Karachi on August 14, 1947.

October 16, 1951 – Liaquat Ali Khan, who drafted the Objectives Resolution – a preamble to the current constitution – is assassinated in Rawalpindi.

1951-1954 Several prime ministers are sacked over drafting the constitution and defining the role of various institutions for governance.

March 23, 1956 – Military strongman Iskander Mirza, who played an important role in ousting of Governor-General Sir Malik Ghulam, is sworn in as the first president and approves Pakistan’s first constitution.

In this October 28, 1957 file photo, President Iskander Mirza of Pakistan (C) after he arrived in London with his wife Begum Mirza. Lord Harold Alexander of Tunis (L) welcomes them. (AP)

October 7, 1958 –  Iskander Mirza declares martial law.

October 27, 1958 Army Commander General Ayub Khan dismisses Mirza in the first successful coup of the country.

January 2, 1965 – Ayub Khan defeats Fatima Jinnah, sister of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, and is re-elected as president in an election that is marred by allegations of political rigging by the powerful military.

In this December 7, 1959 file photo, US President Dwight D Eisenhower, accompanied by Pakistan’s President Mohammed Ayub Khan, waves to crowd as they ride into Karachi from the airport.

March 25, 1969 – Ayub hands over power to Army Chief General Yahya Khan, who imposes martial law for the second time and dissolves all assemblies, after protests led by politician Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

December 7, 1970 – First general elections are held with victory of East Pakistani leader of the Awami League, raising tensions with the country’s West wing.

March 26, 1971 Pakistan military experiences one of the heaviest setbacks after tensions between East Pakistan and West Pakistan over the outcome of the election lead to a war. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who founded Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), assumes power as country’s only civilian martial law administrator after Indian intervention in Bangladesh results in separation.

In this February 17, 1969 file photo, former Pakistan foreign minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto speaks to supporters at the mausoleum of the Quaid-e-Azam, in Karachi.

December 20, 1971 – Zulfikar Ali Bhutto is elected president

August 14, 1973 – New constitution comes into effect, giving the power of decision-making to the prime minister and rendering the president as a figurehead. Bhutto, who formulated the constitutional change, becomes the prime minister and Fazal Ellahi president.

March 7, 1977 – General elections see a victory for Bhutto’s party amid rigging allegations.

July 5, 1977  Bhutto is deposed by then army chief General Ziaul Haq and arrested on charges of authorising a murder of a political opponent. Zia declares martial law.

April 4, 1979 – Bhutto is hanged in Rawalpindi after a controversial trial on charges of corruption and extrajudicial killings.

In this December 7, 1982 file photo, US President Ronald Reagan (L) poses with Pakistani Military Dictator Mohammad Ziaul Haq in the Oval Office of the White House, Washington after a meeting.

February 28, 1985 General elections are held on a non-party basis. Zia becomes president as Muhammad Khan Junejo is appointed prime minister. The new national assembly ratifies Zia’s actions over the last eight years.

August 17, 1988 Zia dies, along with 31 others, including the US ambassador, in a plane crash.

In this August 19, 1988 file photo, Pakistani army honor guards carry the coffin containing the remains of late president Muhammad Ziaul Haq at Bahawalpur Airport for Islamabad in Pakistan. (AP)

November 16, 1988 Benazir Bhutto, daughter of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, wins elections, becoming the country’s first female prime minister.

August 6, 1990 President Ghulam Ishaq Khan sacks Benazir’s government on charges of corruption.

In this November 10, 1988 file photo, Chairperson Benazir Bhutto waves to crowd at a big rally organised by the workers in Rawalpindi, Pakistan.

October 24, 1990 – Nawaz Sharif becomes prime minister after the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) – a coalition of religious parties and the Pakistan Muslim league widely believed to have been engineered by the military – wins the elections.

April 19, 1993 – Ghulam Ishaq Khan dismissed Sharif’s government on charges of corruption.

In this December 29, 1988 file photo, Indian leader Rajiv Gandhi (L) arrives in Pakistan to attend a summit in Islamabad as Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto (R), and President Ghulam Ishaq Khan (C) welcome him.

July 18, 1993 – Ghulam Ishaq Khan and Sharif resign.

October 6, 1993 – Benazir is elected prime minister once again.

November 14, 1993 – Farooq Leghari is elected president.

November 5, 1996 – Leghari dismisses Benazir’s government on corruption charges.

In this September 23, 1991 file photo, Diana, the Princess of Wales, and Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif are seen at the Prime Minister’s house in Islamabad.

February 3, 1997 – Sharif becomes the prime minister for the second time after his party wins a landslide in general elections.

October 12, 1999 – Chief of Army Staff General Pervez Musharraf stages a coup to topple the civilian government of Sharif.

May 13, 2000 – Supreme Court justices who take their oath under a Provisional Constitutional Order validate the military coup in the country.

In this December 15, 1999 file photo, Pakistan’s army ruler General Pervez Musharraf addresses the nation in a televised speech in Islamabad.

June 20, 2001 General Musharraf becomes president while holding the post of chief of army staff.

April 30, 2002 – Musharraf holds a referendum on staying on as president for another five years. He wins the majority.

October 10, 2002 – General elections are held under Musharraf’s military government. The Pakistan Muslim League-Q wins most seats. Zafarullah Khan Jamali is sworn in as prime minister.

August 28, 2004 Shaukat Aziz, then the finance minister, replaces Jamali as prime minister.

October 18, 2007 – Bomb blast targets a PPP reception rally for Benazir as she returns to the country for an election bid after a reconciliation deal with Musharraf following an eight-year exile.

December 27, 2007 Benazir is assassinated in a gun and bomb attack after addressing a campaign rally in Rawalpindi.

In this December 28, 2007 file photo, Asif Ali Zardari, in black clothes and white cap, touches the coffin of his wife. Pakistan’s former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto during her burial at her family’s mausoleum in Garhi Khuda Bakhsh near Larkana, Pakistan.

February 18, 2008 Yousuf Raza Gilani is elected prime minister as the PPP wins general elections.

September 6, 2008  Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of Benazir Bhutto, is elected president.

April 8, 2010 – Zardari hands over power to dissolve assemblies to the prime minister shifting the country from a semi-presidential system to a complete parliamentary system.

June 19, 2012 Pakistan Supreme Court disqualifies Gilani from his post after finding him in contempt of court.

June 22, 2012 – Raja Parvez Ashraf of the PPP is sworn in as prime minister.

May 11, 2013 General elections are held and Sharif becomes prime minister after his PML-N wins the polls.

July 28, 2017 – Sharif resigns from office after the Supreme Court disqualifies him over a corruption case related to ownership of luxury flats in London.

In this October 20, 2017 file photo, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) and Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi (R) shake hands during D-8 Summit meeting in Istanbul.

August 1, 2017 PML-N’s Shahid Khaqan Abbasi becomes the new prime minister.

July 14, 2018 – Sharif and daughter Maryam Nawaz are arrested after their return to Lahore from London, where they were tending to an ailing wife and mother Kulsoom Nawaz.

July 25, 2018 – Elections to be held in Pakistan.

July-August  2018 May be the PTI supremo take an oath as prime minister of Pakistan.

WE pray to Allah Almighty to steer Pakistan out of the looming,brewing crises .

About Author:
The writer contributes to different English Dailies and Magazines. He specializes in English Linguistics and Literature and teaches CSS and PMS English Essay and Précis papers at CSS PMS Knowledge Builders, a well-reputed forum for competitive exams students. He can be reached at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *