The failure of Pakistan to develop a political system,
The failure of Pakistan to develop a political system, which best suited its policy can be safely rationalized as its most brilliant failure since its creation, nearly fifty-seven years ago. At its creation, Pakistan inherited the British legacy of a parliamentary system, even though it was ill equipped for it. parliamentary democracy pre-supposes a population that is politically aware of the issues concerning it. The fact that Pakistan was born out of the crisis of the partition and it has lurched from one crisis to another, all of its own making, it never had the opportunity to develop a political system. In many ways, Pakistan had the wrong dream to cling to the notions of parliamentary democracy. It was, and is, this stubbornness to admit to the reality, that often determined the notions of Pakistan as an inchoate state. Pakistan is not suited for a parliamentary democracy, because its political experience suggests an administrative rule of law. Pakistan is, by all accounts, more of an administrative state and its historic experience suggests that it cannot be anything else.
Parliamentary democracy in Pakistan died a quiet death, unnoticed in the mayhem of partition, when Mohammad Ali Jinnah decided to assume the office of the Governor-General in Pakistan. By being the head of the new state and the head of its government, Jinnah concentrated all the powers under him and in doing so, effectively embarked Pakistan towards the ideal of a presidential system. Jinnah assumed the mantle of the viceregal powers in his own person and such, ushered in the cult of personalized rule in Pakistan, which would emerge as the greatest obstacle to parliamentary democracy in Pakistan. Liaquat Ali Khan, Jinnah’s prime minister, was over shadowed by the personality of Jinnah and thus, his office was rendered virtually ineffective and without any real political influence. By inheriting the powers of the viceroy, Jinnah established the presidential form of government for Pakistan.
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The greatest challenge, which befell the newly created state of Pakistan, was to fashion a government, which could deal with the many problems facing it. Except for East Pakistan, which had an urban intelligentsia capable of mastering the complexities of governing a modern state, West Pakistan was totally ill prepared for such a task. The politicians of the West Pakistan were feudal landlords appointed by the British to govern their territories in the name of British Raj and the population of West Pakistan was mostly rural and it had no intelligentsia capable of taking over the political responsibility. The feudal landlords of West Pakistan had no experiencing in governing a modern state and they deeply resented the influx of the Muslim refugees from India, who were altering the timeless demographics of power in their jurisdictions. The Muslim intelligentsia, which came to Pakistan, from India, tended to settle in the cities and as they took on the responsibility of governing Pakistan, the feudal landlords saw them as a threat to their traditional power. The feudal landlords of Pakistan had wanted nothing to do with the idea of Pakistan and to them, the creation of Pakistan was a threat to their own power and they resisted the idea of Pakistan.
Jinnah was aware of this acutely and the reason he opted to control all the reins of power in himself. One reason was that politicians, who formed the constituent government in West Pakistan, had no political constituencies of their own in the new nation, as most of them were newly arrived immigrants. The second reason was that Jinnah had to create a political constituency and to do this; he had to personally dominate the feudal landlords of West Pakistan into submission. There was no politician of the stature of Jinnah in Pakistan and Jinnah realized that only he was capable of dealing with the two-pronged threat, which challenged the establishment of a federal government in Pakistan, with centralized powers. Jinnah could not leave this task to Liaquat Ali Khan, because Liaquat had no political constituency in the new nation and was thus politically handicapped.
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These problems were further compounded when Jinnah decided to establish the new administrative capital of Pakistan in Karachi. The problem was that Muslim politicians of a united India, who had struggled for Pakistan, had their roots in northern India and Bengal. This created resentment, when these Indian-Muslim émigrés started arriving in their new constituencies and started to assume power. The feudal landlords saw this as an infringement of their traditional sphere of power, which the British had guaranteed them. It must be remembered that after partition in 1947, political power was transferred to the Muslim League in Pakistan from the British and that Muslim League was traditionally based in East Pakistan, having originated in Bengal as the result of Lord Curzon’s decision to partition Bengal in 1905 and the real constituency of the Muslim League was in the east and not in the west.
Jinnah had solely concentrated power in one office, because he honestly believed that only he had the personality to bridge the divides, which confronted Pakistan. Jinnah was disposed to think in such a manner, because like the other politicians around him, he too was without a political constituency. Therefore, when Pakistan came into existence, it did so as presidential form of government even though it claimed to be a parliamentary democracy and, as all this power was concentrated in West Pakistan, which gave another reason to East Pakistan to claim that it was being denied an equal share of the powers in the new state. Hence the new government, which was created as a result of Jinnah amassing power in his person, was seen as a West Pakistani government and in doing so, Jinnah created the future seeds of political controversy which would endure, as a see-saw tussle, as Pakistan would periodically experiment between parliamentary and presidential politics. Pakistan was never destined to be a parliamentary democracy as much as it was destined to exist under the under administrative law of a presidential form of government. Having set the precedent for a presidential from of government and ruling Pakistan like a president, Jinnah died within a year of Pakistan’s independence. Upon his death, Liaquat Ali Khan aware of his own political non-importance sought to enlarge the power of the prime minister’s office and he tried to make the office of the governor-general into a ceremonial one. It was with this intention that Liaquat Ali Khan sponsored the Objectives Resolution and the constitution that Liaquat Ali Khan wanted was one that would make the office of the prime minister supreme and to ensure that his power was secured, Liaquat Ali Khan wanted to deprive the governor-general of his power to dismiss governments.
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It was the political weakness of Liaquat Ali Khan and his lack of a political constituency, which was exploited by the feudal landlords to preserve their own power and in order to preserve their own power, they opted for a parliamentary form of government. The simple reason being since they would dominate such a government, they would be in a position to thwart any policies, which would seek to undermine their political influence. The parliamentary form of government suited the provincially minded interests of the feudal aristocracy, and it was due to this aim, that they would continually deny sharing power with East Pakistan. The early political struggle in Pakistan was fought to determine, which area of the nation would emerge as the strongest; the urbanized political centers of East Pakistan or the rural dominated feudal areas of West Pakistan.
This would become a haunting theme in Pakistani politics, because Pakistani politicians to offset their lack of a legitimate political constituency would periodically make bargains, which would end up hurting the interests of Pakistan. In this sense, it can be said that the history of Pakistani politics has been a story to seek political legitimacy and to create artificial constituencies to maintain power. The reason that Pakistan finally had constitution in 1956, nine years after independence, can attributed to this struggle to determine the power of the governor-general vis-à-vis the prime minister, which delayed the process of the constitution making. It was for this reason that Pakistan saw a flurry of governments being formed and dismissed; of prime ministers being appointed and being dismissed. Therefore, Pakistani politics from the death of Liaquat Ali Khan, in 1951, to time of military coup d’ état of Iskander Mirza and Ayub Khan in 1958 was a power struggle to see who ended up as the heir apparent to the viceregal traditions of Jinnah and the right to unlimited power.
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Another development of the 1958 military coup d’état was that it created a symbiotic relationship between the military and civil service, which would determine the future of Pakistani politics. After independence, the only viable institutions that Pakistan inherited as legacy of its colonial rule, were the civil service and military and other than these two colonial institutions, Pakistan did not have a single other institution capable of governing the nation in terms of trained manpower, organizational efficiency and established political methodology. There is no denying the fact that had it not been for the selfish devotion to duty, a dauntless spirit to prevail over incredible odds and a single minded sense of purpose, which the Pakistan Civil Service showed in the early years of Pakistan, Pakistan’s existence as a nation state would not have lasted beyond a few years. The people who joined the Pakistan Civil Service had learned their skills in the Indian Civil Service under the British and it was their professionalism and enthusiasm to the task of building Pakistan, which to a significant degree compensated for Pakistan’s lack of political direction and maturity.
It was the bureaucracy, who held Pakistan together in an administrative sense while country, was embroiled in political crisis. It was the bureaucracy that ensured that the country continued to exist despite all the political incoherence, and this shaped the perception within the Pakistan Civil Service that what Pakistan needed was sound administration and not democracy. In this sense, the bureaucracy of Pakistan seemed to share Jinnah’s vision of a strong centralized federal government and it began to see itself, rather than the politicians, as the true inheritor of Jinnah’s viceregal powers. In this sense, its vision was shared by the military. The military in Pakistan was of the opinion that Pakistan could only be ruled as an administrative state and not as a democracy, because the majority of its politicians were not well educated in norms of democracy as much as they were in the British traditions of divide and conquer politics. In this sense, both the military and the civil service in Pakistan began to see themselves in the mould of a “steel ribbon”, which held the nation together and came to the conclusion that what Pakistan needed to govern itself more efficiently were trained technocrats and not politicians.
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Hence, both the military and the civil service of Pakistan felt that they were better prepared to receive Jinnah’s legacy of strong centralized power and thought that only a viceregal tradition, and not democracy, offered Pakistan a means out of its self-engineered political problems.
Consequently, the Pakistan’s first military coup d’ état was not so much as a desire on the part of the armed forces, notably the Pakistani army, to assume power, as it was to settle the controversy between the governor-general and the prime minister’s office to see who would rule in the tradition of Jinnah’s viceregal powers. Thereafter, the debate on the nature of government in Pakistan for all practical purposes ended and Pakistan existed under a presidential form of government. Jinnah’s viceregal traditions were imbued in the authority of the president and the office of the prime minister was discarded and Pakistan after having experiment with fifteen years of parliamentary democracy (1947-1962), opted for a presidential system of government. The reason why Ayub Khan’s decade of rule (1959-1969) would be celebrated as the Decade of Development was not because of any political revolutions, which improved Pakistan, but because Ayub Khan’s rule provided Pakistan what it needed most – good administration. It was also the reason, why the military and bureaucracy of Pakistan developed such a close synthesis of interests in ruling Pakistan; a synthesis that has facilitated close cooperation between the bureaucracy and military and the reason why the bureaucracy of Pakistan is more comfortable working under military rule than it is under civilian rule.
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After Ayub Khan had established the presidential form of government in Pakistan, Pakistan would continue to be ruled in the form of a presidential system, even after Ayub Khan had departed the political scene. In more ways than one, it was the issue of presidential rule versus parliamentary democracy that would antagonize relations between East and West Pakistan and ultimately cause the breakup of Pakistan. East Pakistan was of the opinion that the concentration of power in a presidential system favored West Pakistan, whereas a parliamentary system of government better protected its electoral rights based on proportional representation. It was for this reason that it was against the idea of Ayub Khan’s One Unit and felt that only parliamentary democracy was capable of equating the balance of political representation between East and West Pakistan. West Pakistan was against the idea of parliamentary democracy and favored the presidential form of government, because the feudal landlords of West Pakistan did not wish to share power with the Bengalis.
More importantly than this, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was grooming himself to replace Ayub Khan as the president of Pakistan, saw the parliamentary form of government as denying him the ultimate power in Pakistan. Bhutto realized that his political constituency of Sindh and his popularity in Punjab were incapable of upsetting Mujib-ur-Rehman’s power in East Pakistan and in any parliamentary elections Mujib would win more proportional representation than Bhutto. In the political calculus of Bhutto, it made more sense to create a situation which would cause Bhutto to win an election on the strength of his political constituency in West Pakistan minus East Pakistan and hence, Bhutto’s role in the break up of Pakistan, when seen in this light makes sense. Bhutto’s opposition to Mujib’s Six Points was strange, because he had supported Mujib and his Six Points against Ayub Khan in the 1960s and thus, his opposition to those very Six Points implies that the reason he rejected them, was because Mujib would have ended up as the next prime minister of Pakistan. The fact that Bhutto never wanted to be the prime minister of Pakistan was evident when he succeeded Yahya Khan after the separation of East Pakistan as the president of Pakistan.
Bhutto had wanted to remain as the president of Pakistan, but was forced to accept the office of prime minister by the constitution of 1973, which ended the presidential system and replaced it with a parliamentary democracy. Even though Bhutto was the prime minister of Pakistan from 1972 to 1977, he ruled as a defacto president concentrating more and more power in his hands. Bhutto had come to power in the post 1971 Pakistan on the basis of the election results of 1970, where his Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) had won the majority of seats in West Pakistan. An interesting point is the election results of 1970 were for an united Pakistan and for Bhutto to claim a popular mandate on the basis of those elections, was flawed. The reason, why Bhutto opted to come to power on the basis of a moot election results was that he wanted the power to influence the constitution, which would give him Jinnah’s viceregal powers in the guise of a presidency. Bhutto was never interested in a parliamentary form of government, as he always wanted the absolutism, which came with presidential powers in Pakistan.
The interesting fact is that since the advent of Ayub Khan’s martial law in 1958 to his becoming the president in 1962, Pakistan continued to be under the viceregal powers of Jinnah in a presidential system till the death of Zia-ul-Haq in 1988. Bhutto was more a president of Pakistan than he was a prime minister. This was also the reason, why General Zia-ul-Haq when he staged Operation Fairplay, he chose to keep the 1973 constitution as it was already assuming a presidential nature from all the amendments, which Bhutto made to give himself more viceregal powers. Upon assuming power, Zia wanted to create a diarchy of power between the president and the prime minister, with president being the more powerful of the two. Zia wanted to share power with a prime minister, but also wanted the ability to dismiss a prime minister and to have a veto over the prime minister’s power. It was only after he had created and passed the Eight Amendment to the constitution in the shape of article 58(2)B that Zia would allow a form of parliamentary representation in Pakistan, but he did so under the authority of a presidential form of government.
The parliamentary system of government, which existed in the Zia years, was exclusively designed to give Zia the legitimacy of power and though the power in Pakistan was bi-furcated, it still leaned in the president’s favor. Zia knew that he had to give up power and he kept delaying the transfer of power till he had made certain that his political position was unassailable. Zia would eventually share power with a prime minister, but would dismiss his own political power sharing system. Mohammed Khan Junejo, Zia-ul-Haq’s prime minister, started to demand that the powers of the prime minister as specified in the constitution of 1973 be fully restored. To Zia, this was unthinkable and hence, he dismissed the government and scheduled to hold another elections. Zia would die in a plane crash, but the elections would be held on schedule and Benazir Bhutto, the daughter of the first civilian martial law administrator in the world, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, would became the new prime minister of Pakistan. Once again, Pakistan would tempt to reverse the time and would become a parliamentary form of government.
The two tenures of power, which saw Benazir Bhutto became the prime minister was supposed to usher in a parliamentary form of government. However, Bhutto was not interested in a parliamentary form of democracy as she was interested in getting rid of the article 58 (2)B in the constitution. The article in question was ordained by Zia to keep a check on the powers of the prime minister and since Bhutto harbored presidential dreams; she did not take lightly towards her powers being curtailed. Bhutto wanted Pakistan to revert to a situation, where she would end up in charge of Pakistan’s viceregal traditions of power. Bhutto’s power plays against the office of the president agitated Ghulam Ishaq Khan. Ghulam Ishaq Khan did not approve of Bhutto’s intentions, because being of a bureaucratic background and having served in the Ayub Khan’s and Zia’s administrations, he felt that Pakistan should be an administrative state and not a democracy.
Ghulam Ishaq Khan was determined to avoid the repeat of the first ten years of Pakistan and he resisted giving Bhutto, what she wanted politically. To complicate matters even more, Bhutto developed a personal dislike for Nawaz Sharif, whom she blamed for denying her electoral success in Punjab. Bhutto needed to win Punjab to fully expunge the memory of Zia. Ironically, in this Bhutto was out of step with the rest of Pakistan, which wanted to forget the legacy of the dead general and move towards the future. In this sense, Bhutto faithfully kept alive the memory of Zia by dredging up his ghost and refusing to let his memory fade away. Finally tried by the personal politics of confrontation between Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, Ghulam Ishaq Khan, with the tacit approval of Mirza Aslam Baig, chief of the Pakistan army, dissolved the national assembly and called for new elections. Ghulam Ishaq Khan saw the office of the presidency as the more realistic option given Pakistani political traditions and he did not like the fact that Bhutto was determined to revive the prime minister’s powers as enjoyed by her father, which in reality were more presidential than they were prime ministerial.
As the 1980s turned into the last decade of the twentieth century, Nawaz Sharif was made the next prime minister of Pakistan. Upon assuming power, Nawaz Sharif too become seduced by the charms of Pakistan’s viceregal powers and demanded that his office be given the same spectrum of power, as enjoyed by the other parliamentary heads of government. Ghulam Ishaq Khan did not like the idea, because he thought that Pakistan’s political institutions were not mature enough to handle an all powerful prime minister. Nawaz Sharif’s idea was to rule in the guise of a president and he saw the greatest threat to his presidential ambitions from the president’s right to use article 58(2)B to dismiss and form governments. However, what changed the situation was that Mirza Aslam Baig had retired and General Asif Nawaz replaced him. General Nawaz was a professional soldier and he publicly declared his intentions to remain apolitical.
However, Nawaz Sharif did not have the time he needed, as General Nawaz would shortly die from a cardiac arrest and this was the opportunity Ghulam Ishaq Khan needed. The Nawaz Sharif’s government was dismissed. Again, Bhutto was given another opportunity, but this time it seemed as if there was a civil war within the Bhutto family herself. Bhutto had married Asif Zardari and many people in Pakistan questioned the marriage. It seemed that Bhutto had married because she needed a husband to ensure her election in a Muslim male dominated society. After marriage, it was becoming apparent that Zardari was keen on replacing the Bhutto family as the prima donnas of Sindh and Pakistani politics. This perception was only reinforced, when Murtaza Bhutto, was killed in an argument with the police right outside the Karachi residence of the Bhuttos. Some people in Pakistan, always partial to conspiracy theories, claimed that it was Zardari who had orchestrated the assassination. This incident show cased Bhutto as an ineffective leader and the fact that she was more personally interested in hounding Nawaz Sharif than ruling Pakistan, forced the president to dismiss her government once again on charges of incompetence and corruption.
Nawaz Sharif in his second reincarnation as the prime minister won with a significant electoral result and immediately set out to solidify his position. He used his parliamentary strength to revoke the Eight amendment and article 58(2)B and wanted to use his electoral majority as giving him absolutist powers. Nawaz Sharif wanted to use the viceregal powers of Pakistan as a sort of divine right to rule and he was determined to stifle any dissent against his rule. His two and a half years of power saw the curtailment of the president’s powers; the attack and the intimidation of the judiciary in Pakistan and a warning to the army not interfere in politics. Nawaz Sharif’s second term in office was devoted to the tasks, which he could not complete in the first term and that was, the consolidation of power in the office of the prime minister, with all the presidential prerogatives of the 1973 constitution. It is not clear just what Nawaz Sharif wished to achieve by implementing sharia in Pakistan, but he would use his “heavy mandate” to pass the Fifteenth amendment to bring about an Islamic form of government in Pakistan and to make himself as potentate of an Islamic theocracy. The amendment would fail in the senate and before Nawaz Sharif would recover from that set back, his government was summarily dismissed by a military coup d’ état in October 1999.
The third coup d’ état in Pakistan’s history highlighted a very peculiar aspect of Pakistani politics and in this sense; this coup traced its lineage directly to the coup of 1958 and 1977. Nawaz Sharif had set in motion events, which would bring the army back to power, when he dismissed General Pervaiz Musharraf as the chief of army staff. Nawaz Sharif had appointed one of his own supporters as the chief of army staff and in doing so; he greatly showed his ignorance of the military-civilian “gentlemen’s agreement”. Pakistani army has traditionally intervened in politics, but it did not tolerate political interventions in its domestic matters. The army in Pakistan is of the opinion that the politicians are hopeless, when it comes to ruling Pakistan, because civilian politics is petty and resolves around personalized issues and self generated crisis. The military sees itself as the only national institution in Pakistan, which is above the pettiness of provincialism. It has been the dream of the army in Pakistan to create a political system without politicians and all its political engineering, historically has been designed to this effect.
Consequently, the army in Pakistani politics has developed an opinion and a set of believes, which conveys the impression that Pakistan can only be ruled as an administrative state, with the stern paternalism of the colonial legacy. In this opinion, the army finds ready support from the other institution of colonialism that Pakistan inherited. The Civil Service of Pakistan is of a similar opinion and with the army; they consider themselves to be the “steel ribbon” which holds Pakistan together. The bureaucracy considers the politicians as conflict prone and a hindrance towards effective administration of Pakistan. This perception is further reinforced by history, because in the first decade of Pakistan, while the politicians were engaged in personal politics, it was the bureaucracy, which was governing Pakistan and making sure that the new nation did not suffocate to death by the political ineptitude of its leaders. It is due to this reason, why the bureaucracy has always co-opted to serve the various martial law regimes in Pakistan and why it does not mind the blending of retired and active military officers assuming administrative duties. The military and the bureaucracy in Pakistan have a well established and understood diarchy of ruling and sharing power and are more comfortable with one another, than they are with the civilian politicians.
This was one of the reasons; why the coup happened and the other was that the military reacted to limit political intervention in its domestic spheres. The coup of 1958, 1977 and 1999 all happened when the military foresaw a threat to its integrity. It is quite understandable that most Pakistanis will not agree to this argument and will deny it vehemently, but historic facts seen without the prism of emotionalism and idealism, portrays a very different picture. The army under Ayub Khan could have imposed martial law anytime it wanted and Ayub Khan was the commander-in-chief of the army for a number of years before he dismissed the government of Iskander Mirza.
It was Mirza who had bought Ayub Khan into the inner sanctum of power in Pakistan and Ayub Khan, even after martial law, had ceded to the authority of the president. Mirza was only dismissed and dispatched to exile in England, when he started to promote military officers and increase their salaries to offset the influence of Ayub Khan. Mirza knew that sooner or later, he would have to confront Ayub Khan for the sole power in Pakistan and if could build a support base, within the army, his task of removing Ayub Khan would be made much easy. It was only when Mirza had began to pre-empt Ayub Khan, was he dismissed and his dismissal was effected to prevent the internal cohesion of the army from being politicized. In fact, it was upon the suggestion of Zulifkar Ali Bhutto that Ayub Khan accepted the title of a field marshal, as to be head and shoulders above all the other officers promoted by Mirza. Ayub Khan’s becoming the field marshal was to reconstitute the army’s command structure and to regain the internal cohesion of the army.
In a similar sense, the coup of 1977 was made more probable by Bhutto himself, when he assumed power in 1973 as the prime minister of Pakistan. Prior to becoming prime minister, Bhutto had developed relations with the senior army officials and he would use these relations to marginalize Yahya Khan and more importantly, to argue for a military action in East Pakistan. After the separation of East Pakistan, Bhutto needed to minimize his support on the army and it was for this reason that he would engage in mass dismissals of Pakistani army officers after 1971. Also, to prevent the army from hindering his political ambitions, Bhutto would create the Federal Security Force (FSF), which was to be a parallel army devoted to the cult of Bhutto and to protect his power in Pakistan. The dismissal of generals, who had used military force in East Pakistan and who had helped Bhutto come to power in the post 1971 Pakistan, was a silent coup d’ état by Bhutto. In doing so, Bhutto made sure that the army would be subservient to his interests. Bhutto wanted to appoint military leaders who would be directly grateful to his patronage of their careers. Hence, it was this idea of Bhutto’s, which saw the promotion of many officers out of turn and it was for this reason that Bhutto picked an obscure armored corps commander by the name of Zia-ul-Haq to be the chief of Pakistan army.
Where Bhutto miscalculated was that Zia would be true to his salt and if given the option, he would act to protect the institutional interests of the army. In dismissing senior officers, Bhutto opened up chances of promotions and thus, promoted many junior officers to ranks, where they could be influential in formulating Bhutto’s removal. These officers saw the 1971 war as junior field officers and they had bitterly resented Bhutto’s role in the fermenting the crisis, which caused the break up of East Pakistan. These officers also did not like Bhutto’s intentions to use the army in Baluchistan to quell a political opposition against his rule. They had seen what had happened, when Bhutto had convinced the generals of Pakistan to open fire on their own citizens in 1971 and now they were aghast that Bhutto was repeating the same acts in Baluchistan. These junior officers, who held the ranks of colonels and majors (Pervaiz Musharraf was a colonel at the time of 1977 coup), were of the opinion that Bhutto had to be removed or he would cause the complete disintegration of what was left of Pakistan after 1971. The fact that after the elections of 1976, Bhutto wanted to use the army to resist the political opposition to his rule, forced these middle ranked officers of Pakistan army to approach Zia-ul-Haq and give the chief of army staff a demarche – it was either Bhutto or a mutiny in the army. Zia forced with serving Bhutto or risking an internal mutiny in the army, decided the army’s internal unity was more important than Bhutto and the Quide-e-Awam was duly informed that he was no longer in power.
Hence, the coup of 1999 was also similar in the sense that it was undertaken to protect the internal unity of the army from political inventions. Pakistan army has always reacted with force to secure its internal cohesion. The threat perception of the army is that greatest threat to Pakistan, and ipso facto to itself, does not come from India, but internally from politics of Pakistan. Political interventions in the affairs of the army create the impression that the politicians are attempting to unravel the “steel ribbon”, an outcome, which is totally unacceptable to the army headquarters in Rawalpindi. When the armed forces, specially the army, uses the metaphor that it is the ideological defender of Pakistan, it suggests that army thinks of itself as the only institution in the nation left intact, which is still true to Jinnah’s original vision of Pakistan; a Pakistan, which transcends provincialism. Jinnah ruled Pakistan in the viceregal traditions of a paternal, but firm colonial administrator and the army is of the opinion that Pakistan can only be administrated in the traditions of viceregalism and that the nation is not mature for a democratic system of government.
Therefore, the history of Pakistan has posed four basic questions. These four questions offer Pakistan a choice, from which it has to decide what it wants. The choices are whether to adopt a presidential or a prime ministerial form of government and the second set of choices are whether Pakistan needs to be governed as an administrative state or as a democracy. First set of questions has, to an extent, already been answered and Pakistan has existed under a presidential form of government for most of its history. The only time Pakistan was a true parliamentary democracy was the period from Jinnah’s death in 1948 to the imposition of the first martial law in 1958. From Liaquat Ali Khan to Iskander Mirza, Pakistan experimented with a prime ministerial form of government, but the inability of the Pakistani politicians to compromise resulted in the failure of parliamentary democracy in Pakistan.
From Ayub Khan to the time of Pervaiz Musharraf, Pakistan has experienced a presidential rule of power and even Pakistan’s most famous, or infamous prime minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, ruled as a president. Bhutto, after all the amendments he made to the constitution of 1973, had amassed so much power into his office that he was more of a president than a prime minister. Zia-ul-Haq’s idea of Islam based on a nizam-e-mustafa was idealized on the diarchy of a powerful caliph and a facilitating vizier, but Mohammad Khan Junejo was not forthcoming in that regard. Both Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif ruled as presidents, while making empty paeans to the parliamentary form of government.
The other question, which Pakistan needs to decide, is what type of governance it wishes. The past experience of Pakistan would suggest that Pakistan is more of an administrative state than it is suited for the tolerance of a democracy. Most Pakistanis remember the period of Ayub Khan with nostalgia not because Ayub Khan was democratic, but because he offered Pakistan a form of administrative stability, which was sorely missing in the first decade of democracy in Pakistan (1948-1958).
Even in this, Ayub Khan takes the credit, which was rightfully due to the Nawab of Kalabagh, who ruled as the governor of West Pakistan during the era of One Unit. Democracy has traditionally failed in Pakistan for a couple of reasons. One of the reasons was the early politicians of Pakistan were feudalist in their outlooks and they were more accustomed to autocracy than they were to the idea of compromise, which the sine qua non of a democratic tradition.
Secondly, these same politicians were too wedded to the idea of provincialism and to preserve their power, they tended to put their personal interests before the interests of the nation. More importantly, they were never reconciled to the idea of Pakistan. The idea of Pakistan to them meant the loss of all their political priorities, which they had assiduously secured under the British rule. It was for this reason, that the area that became Pakistan had Muslims who were against the idea of Pakistan and did not wish for Pakistan to be created. The only Muslims who really wanted Pakistan were in Bengal and after partition, the concentration of power in the west meant that East Pakistan was denied its share of power due to its egalitarian ideas of democracy and majority rule.
If the politicians of West Pakistan had to given into the demands of East Pakistan, they would have seen the end of their power and to them, it was more beneficial to see Pakistan break up than lose their own power base. It was for this reason, why Bhutto and the Punjabi bureaucrats and the army objected to sharing power with East Pakistan and why Pakistan’s constitution making process was so delayed and tortured. In hindsight, though there is no substitute for democracy, Pakistan is not prepared for democracy, because politics in Pakistan are based on the principles of negativism. Politics in Pakistan and the route to political legitimacy in Pakistan is predicated on the idea of denouncing the opposition instead of seeking grounds, which compliment compromise, Pakistani politics are confrontational and prone to rigidity. Also, Pakistani politics are divisive and inclined towards political apartheid. This political exclusion can be seen in Pakistani politics and its historic divisions of separate electorates. There can be no truly inclusive democracy in Pakistan, as long as its majority persists in creating a political apartheid and of classifying its citizens according to their religious beliefs.
It was the issue of separate electorates, which to a large degree alienated East Pakistan, because West Pakistan was afraid to contest power on the basis of proportional representation. One Unit was nothing more an elaborate form of a separate electorate and the reason, why East Pakistan broke away, was because West Pakistani politicians were incapable of understanding democracy – that power comes from consensus and not its denial to others. These same politicians and these same ideas still dominate, what is the left of the rump state of Jinnah’s Pakistan. They do not seem to have learned from their mistakes. Even though this will be galling to many, Pakistan is incapable of having a democracy, because it is still fixated on a rule of law based on the idea of colonial paternalism. As long as the Pakistanis think of themselves as a collection of people instead of one people, they will be incapable of creating a democracy. These questions have to be answered and the only question still left unanswered is whether the Pakistanis have the courage to admit that they have not been able overcome their petty differences. It is the lack of resolution to the petty differences in Pakistani politics, which have unfortunately given credence to the internal perceptions of the military and the bureaucracy about the efficacy of the “steel ribbon”.
This is not to suggest that Pakistan will remain a dismal failure as far as democracy is concerned, but it does suggest that democracy in Pakistan will be a failure. The reason democracy will be a failure in Pakistan is, because democracy has historically been seen as a route to autocratic power in Pakistan. Unless, the people of Pakistan and all who rule Pakistan are willing to disabuse this notion and reinvest a sense of legitimacy into the idea, democracy will be seen as nothing more than a pathetic excuse in the Pakistani political lexicon.
The parliamentary system outlined in the 1956 constitution required disciplined political parties, which did not exist. The Muslim League–the one political party that had appeared capable of developing into a national democratic party–continued to decline in prestige. In West Pakistan, Sindh and the North-West Frontier Province resented the political and economic dominance accorded Punjab and were hostile to the “One Unit Plan” introduced by the Constituent Assembly the year before. The One Unit Plan merged the western provinces of Balochistan, the NorthWest Frontier Province, Punjab, and Sindh into a single administrative unit named West Pakistan, which in the new Legislative Assembly was to have parity with the more populous province of East Pakistan.
In 1956 Suhrawardy formed a coalition cabinet at the center that included the Awami League and the newly formed Republican Party of the West Wing, which had broken off from the Muslim League. Suhrawardy was highly respected in East Pakistan, but he had no measurable political strength in West Pakistan. By taking a strong position in favor of the One Unit Plan, he lost support in Sindh, the North-West Frontier Province, and Balochistan.
Societal violence and ethnic unrest further complicated the growth and functioning of parliamentary government. In West Pakistan, chief minister Khan Sahib was assassinated. In the North-West Frontier Province, Khan Sahib’s brother, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, of the National Awami Party, turned his back on national politics and said he would work for the attainment of a separate homeland for the Pakhtuns. And in Balochistan, the khan of Kalat again declared his independence, but the Pakistan Army restored Pakistani control.
On October 7, 1958, President Mirza, with the support of the army, suspended the 1956 constitution, imposed martial law, and canceled the elections scheduled for January 1959. Mirza was also supported by the civil service bureaucracy, which harbored deep suspicions of politicians. Nonetheless, on October 27 Mirza was ousted and sent into lifetime exile in London. General Ayub Khan, the army commander in chief, assumed control of a military government.