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Allama Iqbal
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Political Transitions and Instability in Pakistan

The political affairs of Pakistan have constantly been in a state of flux since inception. Our sixty year political history is marred with intrigues, intolerance, illegitimate use of power, and persistent interference in politics by both civil and military establishment. The perpetual disruption of democratic rule and overthrowing of elected governments has enormously weakened the political institutions, marginalized their effectiveness and alienated the masses from the political process. The convenience with which force and illegitimate power has been “successfully” exercised again and again, against democratic forces, has significantly contributed to the formation of corrupt attitudes and assumptions which is now making the above interventions even more effortless and readily acceptable. After all, each illegitimate action is backed by a reservoir of historic precedents, sanctioned LEGITIMATE by gagged judiciary, bureaucracy and other corrupt and at times, irrelevant political entities.

Democratic culture and political maturity do not emerge accidentally. And the kind of environment required to nurture democracy is not the one as characterized in the above description.

To appreciate the volatility of the political process in Pakistan, an analysis of political transitions is presented below which summarizes regime change from Khawaja Nazim-ud-Din in 1948 to General Pervez Musharaf in 1999. The analysis also highlights the share of military in the current affairs of Pakistan, which is too significant to absolve it from corruption and decay of the current political system. A comparative analysis between military and democratic rule clearly demonstrates the limited leverage enjoyed by civil governments as compared to military regimes. Simply put, democratic governments have hardly ever been allowed to complete their constitutional tenure and have never been able to transition “normally” from one democratic government to another. This is a significant factor behind the political mess that has evolved over the past decades and must be addressed in order to have any hope of a mature and healthy political and social order.

A Comparative Summary of Democratic and Military Rule in Pakistan

Note: In the analysis below, military rule includes periods of pseudo-democracies. Pseudo-democracy may be defined in the Pakistani context as comprising a civil government and elected parliament formed as a result of a controversial and unfair elections (in violation to the principles and parameters defined in the 1973 constitution), and having a military dictator as the de facto center of power.

Type of RuleNo. of
Tenure of Regimes in Years
Military Rule432.42.711.18.153.8%
Democratic Rule1927.

A Summary of Political Transitions in Pakistan

FromToDictator / Heads of Govt.Type of RuleTotal ReignRemarks
15-Aug-194716-Oct-1951Governor General, M. A. Jinnah (after Jinnah's death Khawaja Nazim-ud-Din)

Prime Minister, Liaqat Ali Khan

16-Oct-195117-Apr-1953Governor General, Ghulam Muhammad

Prime Minister, Khwaja Nazim-ud-Din

Democratic 1.518.0Liaqat Ali Khan Assassinated on Oct 16, 1951
17-Apr-195324-Oct-1954Governor General, Ghulam Muhammad

Prime Minister, Muhammad Ali Bogra (the Ambassador to USA)

Democratic 1.5 18.2Khawaja Nazim-ud-Din dismissed on Apr 17, 1953
24-Oct-195406-Aug-1955Governor General, Ghulam Muhammad

Prime Minister, Muhammad Ali Bogra

Democratic0.89.4Ghulam Muhammad dissolved the constituent assembly on Oct 24, 1954 and Bogra formed new govt. without parliament
06-Aug-195512-Sep-1956Governor General, Major General Iskander Mirza

Prime Minister, Chaudhry Muhammad Ali

Democratic1.113.2Iskander Mirza dismissed Muhammad Ali Bogra on Aug 08, 1955

Iskander Mirza sworn-in as the first President under the 1956 Constitution

12-Sep-195612-Oct-1957President, Iskander Mirza

Prime Minister, Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy

Democratic 1.113.0
12-Oct-195716-Dec-1957President, Iskander Mirza

Prime Minister, I. I. Chundrigar

Democratic0.22.1Hussain Shaheed Suharwardy loses support of Rupublican Party and resigns on Oct 12, 1957
16-Dec-195707-Oct-1958President, Iskander Mirza

Prime Miniser, Malik Feroz Khan Noon

Democratic0.89.7Malik Feroz Khan Noon replaces Prime Minister I. I. Chundrigar on Dec 16, 1957
07-Oct-195825-Mar-1969 Chief Martial Law Administrator and later the President, General Ayub Khan Military10.5125.7Iskander Mirza abrogated the constitution on Oct 07, 1958. General Ayub Khan became the Chief Martial Law Administrator.

Ayub Khan arrested Iskander Mirza on Oct 27, 1958 and exiled him to Britain

25-Mar-196920-Dec-1971Chief Martial Law Administrator, General Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan Military2.732.9Ayub Khan transfers power to Yahya Khan
20-Dec-197105-Jul-1977President and later Prime Minister, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto

President Fazal Ilahi

Democratic5.566.5Bhutto takes over power from Yahya Khan and becomes the civilian Chief Martial Law Administrator and the President of Pakistan

Bhutto is elected Prime Minister on August 14, 1973, under the 1973 constitution and Fazal Ilahi becomes the new President

05-Jul-197717-Aug-1988General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq Military11.1133.5General Zia overthrows Bhutto's Govt. and imposes Martial Law
17-Aug-198802-Dec-1988President, Ghulam Ishaq Khan Democratic0.33.5Interim govt.
02-Dec-198806-Aug-1990President, Ghulam Ishaq Khan

Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto

Democratic1.720.1Benazir is elected as Prime Minister
06-Aug-199001-Nov-1990President, Ghulam Ishaq Khan

Prime Minister, Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi

Democratic0.22.9Ghulam Ishaq Khan dissolved the Assemblies on August 6, 1990 and formed a caretaker Government
01-Nov-199019-Apr-1993President, Ghulam Ishaq Khan

Prime Minister, Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif

Democratic2.529.6Mian Nawaz Sharif is elected as Prime Minister
19-Apr-199326-May-1993President Ghulam Ishaq Khan

Prime Minister, Mir Balakh Sher Khan Mazari

Democratic0.11.2Ghulam Ishaq Khan dissolved the Assemblies on April 19, 1993 and formed a caretaker government
26-May-199318-Jul-1993President, Ghulam Ishaq Khan

Prime Minister, Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif

Democratic0.11.7On May 26, 1993, the Supreme Court revoked the Presidential Order and reinstated Nawaz Sharif as the Prime Minister
18-Jul-199319-Oct-1993President, Wasim Sajjad

Prime Minister, Moin Qureshi

Democratic0.33.1Nawaz Sharif and Ghulam Ishaq Khan were "forced to" resign on July 18, 1993. Moin Qureshi a World Bank official, was an unknown entity in Pakistan
19-Oct-199305-Nov-1996President, Farooq Ahmad Khan Leghari

Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto

Democratic3.036.6Farooq Leghari becomes President on Nov 13, 1993
05-Nov-199617-Feb-1997President, Farooq Ahmad Khan Leghari

Prime Minister, Malik Meraj Khalid

Democratic0.33.4Farooq Leghari dismissed Benazir Bhutto's Government in Nov 1996
18-Feb-199712-Oct-1999President Farooq Ahmad Khan Leghari and later Rafiq Tarar

Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif

Democratic2.631.8Farooq Leghari resigned on Dec 02, 1997. Rafiq Tarar becomes President on Jan 01, 1998
12-Oct-199928-Oct-2007Self-proclaimed "Chief Executive", General Pervez Musharaf Military8.096.6General Pervez Musharaf overthrows Nawaz Sharif


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