Pakistan, Islamic Republic of

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Pakistan secured independence on 14 August 1947 with the breakup of the British Indian Empire into two countries, India and Pakistan. The idea behind the creation of Pakistan was to provide a separate homeland for India's Muslims, who were concentrated in the eastern and western parts of the empire. The new country consisted of two parts, separated from each other by the Indian landmass; these became known as East Pakistan and West Pakistan, respectively. The two wings had different languages, cultures, and social structures. The only binding force between them was Islam and political aspirations to seek independence from Britain and separateness from the Hindu majority in India. Founders of the new states were sanguine about their ability to create common political and economic networks that would further strengthen the idea of Muslim state and nationhood.

Constitutional and democratic processes that could have formed the foundations on which the two wings might base solidarity suffered immediately after the founder of the country, Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad ˓Ali Jinnah, died on 11 September 1948. His successors and the Muslim League, the party that he led, failed to pursue of his vision of a liberal, moderate, progressive democratic Pakistan. With repeated failure to develop understanding between East and West Pakistan on the questions of provincial autonomy and representation in the federal legislature and bureaucracy, constitution-making was delayed. It was only after nine years that, in 1956, the first constitution was promulgated. By that time much harm had been done to the tradition of parliamentary democracy, which Pakistan had inherited from the British colonial rule in India.

With the decline of political discipline in the political parties, their shifting alliances, and the failure to hold elections for the national legislature, the political influence of the civilian bureaucracy and the military increased. The military gained further influence because of the dispute with India over the state of Jammu and Kashmir, and Pakistan's entry into American-sponsored defense alliances: the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) and the Baghdad Pact (later the Central Treaty Organization, or CENTRO). After playing political games behind the scene for years, the military took direct power by declaring martial law in October 1958. General Ayub Khan introduced basic democracy, a form of local government, and a presidential constitution. His idea was that democratic participation must be guided and controlled, and that national energies must be concentrated on economic development.

Under the first military regime (1958–1969), Pakistan made substantial economic progress and achieved a high degree of modernization. During the cold war, Pakistan followed a foreign policy of alliance with the West and benefited greatly in economic and military assistance. In 1965, however, the country went to war with India over the disputed territory of Kashmir, a move which destabilized it politically and undermined its economic growth. Popular discontent and nationwide agitation against president Ayub led to a second imposition of martial law in 1969. The new military leader, General Yahya Khan, abrogated Ayub's 1962 constitution and decided to hold the first general elections on the basis of one man one vote in 1970. The mandate of this election was split between the West Pakistan and East Pakistan. The Awami League party from East Pakistan swept the elections and obtained a clear majority in the federal government. Denying the party its right to dominate led to a civil war. Military intervention by India resulted in the military defeat of Pakistan and creation of Bangladesh out of what was East Pakistan.

With this military debacle, Pakistan returned to civilian rule under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a populist and charismatic leader (1971–1977). He introduced socialist reforms and gave the country its first constitution to be drafted by elected representatives of the people. He faced agitation by the opposition parties in 1977 over disputed election results and was overthrown by the army chief of staff, General Zia ul Haq. General Zia promised fresh elections within ninety days, as stipulated by the 1973 constitution, and put the country back on the road to democracy. It took him eight years to do so. In the meantime, he used a controversial murder conviction to order the execution of former prime minister Bhutto. His rule for eleven years (1977–1988) was further marred by the bitter legacy of the Soviet war in Afghanistan: rising religious extremism, Islamic militancy, and political confrontation. Pakistan became an ally of the Western powers as a front-line state against Moscow's Afghan misadventure. It did better economically under Zia and developed nuclear capability during the Afghan war years.

Zia was the first ruler of Pakistan who tried zealously to Islamize the state and society, although the nation had taken the designation of "Islamic Republic" under its first constitution, in 1956. It is debatable whether this was the result of his personal religious beliefs, or if he was using religion as a source of political legitimation. Whatever the reason, Zia interpreted the movement for the creation of Pakistan in purely Islamic terms and asserted that Islamization was the best way to secure and stabilize Pakistani society. He took drastic measures for building Pakistan as an Islamic society. He introduced Islamic taxes like zakat and ˓ushr, and replaced centuries-old British laws relating with Islamic penalties for offenses such as theft, robbery, adultery, and false accusation of adultery. He made the drinking of alcohol by Muslims an offence punishable by six months' imprisonment and fine of 5,000 rupees. He established a separate federal Shari˓at (Islamic law) Court to hear appeals against convictions under the Islamic laws. Most of these laws and the Islamization process of the Zia regime have been controversial, but Zia's legacy in this regard lingers on.

The death of Zia in a plane crash returned the country to democracy in 1988. The elections in October of that year resulted in a divided mandate between the Pakistan Peoples Party of Benazir Bhutto and the Muslim League. Benazir became the first women prime minister of Pakistan and the first to head up a democratic government in eleven years. The Punjab, the largest province in the Pakistani federation, had a Muslim League government headed by Mian Mohammad Nawaz Sharif, a former political ally of Zia. The political confrontation between the rival political parties, and the president's willingness to use her powers to dismiss elected members of parliament, provincial assemblies, and governments at the center and in the provinces kept the country unstable. Four elected governments, two of the Pakistan Peoples Party and two of the Muslim League, were dismissed between 1988 and 1996, followed, each time, by new elections. The military continued to play a role in these dismissals from behind the scenes. Ultimately, the various political parties in the parliament closed their ranks and, in 1997, passed the thirteenth amendment to the constitution, which stripped the president of the power to dismiss future elected governments.

This collaboration between the government of Nawaz Sharif and the opposition parties didn't last very long. Sharif had a two-thirds majority in the parliament and was equipped with tremendous executive powers, and he began to act in an arbitrary manner. The opposition dubbed him as a civilian dictator. He forced a sitting president, a chief justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, and an army chief of staff to resign. When he removed General Pervez Musharraf from office in October 1999, the military took over power for a fourth time, through a bloodless coup. General Musharraf designated himself as the chief executive of the country, suspended the constitution, dismissed the central and provincial governments, and promised social and national reforms to return the country to a workable democracy. His coup, like previous ones, was endorsed by Pakistan's Supreme Court, but with the injunction that he would hold elections and hand over power to the elected assemblies within three years. National elections were set to be held on 10 October 2002, but Musharraf held a national referendum in April 2002 and got himself elected as president for a five-year term.

An image of the Badshadi mosque in Lahore, Pakistan, appears in the volume two color insert.

See alsoAwami League ; Jinnah, Muhammad ˓Ali ; South Asia, Islam in .


Afzal, M. Rafique. Pakistan: History and Politics 1947–1971. Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Rasul Bakhsh Rais