From Jinnah to Khan
The story of Pakistan retold
Hassaan Bin Zubair
The creation of Pakistan was a catalyst to the largest demographic movement in recorded history. Nearly seventeen million people—Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs—moved in both directions between India and the two wings of Pakistan (the Eastern wing is now Bangladesh). As many as 60 million of the 95 million Muslims on the Indian Subcontinent became citizens of Pakistan at the time of its creation. Subsequently, 35 million Muslims chose to stay in India, making it the largest Muslim minority in a non-Muslim state. Scarred from birth, Pakistan’s quest for survival has been as compelling as it has been uncertain.
Despite the shared religion of its overwhelmingly Muslim population, Pakistan has been engaged in a precarious struggle to define a national identity, and evolve a political system for its linguistically-diverse population. Pakistan is known to have over twenty languages and over 300 distinct dialects, Urdu and English are the official languages but Punjabi, Sindhi, Pashtu, Balochi, and Saraiki are considered main languages. This diversity caused chronic regional tensions and successive failures in forming a constitution. Pakistan has also been burdened by full-scale wars with India, a strategically exposed northwestern frontier, and series of economic crises. It has difficulty in allocating its scarce economic and natural resources equitably. All of Pakistan’s struggles underpin the dilemma of reconciling the goal of national integration with the imperatives of national security.
The region of Pakistan was one of the cradles of civilization. Stone-age hunter-gatherers lived on the Potohar plateau and in the Soan Valley in northern Punjab 300,000 or more years ago. Excavations on the Balochistan plateau show a more advanced culture which flourished from 4000 to 2000 BC. At Kot Diji in the Khairpur district, an early Bronze Age culture developed in this period. These early civilizations reached their peak in the Indus valley cities, of which Harappa is the most notable. These societies had mastered town planning and pictographic writing. In 327 BC, Alexander the Great invaded with his Macedonian army. Later, Mauryans from India ruled the northern Punjab area, to be replaced by Bactrian Greeks from Afghanistan and central Asian tribes. Different religions prevailed in turn: Buddhism (under the Mauryans), Hinduism, and, with the Arab conquest in the eighth century, Islam. Two main principalities emerged under Arab rule, that of al-Mansurah and that of Multan. The Ghaznavid sultans gained ascendancy in Punjab in the 11th century. The subsequent ascendancy of the Mughals, who originated in Central Asia, lasted from 1536 to 1707; their rule lingered nominally until 1857.
They established a sophisticated imperial administration and left a rich legacy of forts and walled cities, gardens and gateways, mosques, and tombs. In the early 17th century European traders arrived on the subcontinent. Through the East India Company, the British became the dominant force. After the unsuccessful uprising against Britain of 1857, the British took direct control. Slowly a national Muslim identity emerged, championed by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan (1817-89). The All India Muslim League was founded in 1907. As the subcontinent moved towards independence, it became clear that Hindu and Muslim interests could not be reconciled. The campaign to establish an independent Muslim state came to prominence in the 1920s and 30s. It was led by the philosopher and poet Mohammad Iqbal and Mohammad Ali Jinnah.
Pakistan was created, as an Islamic state, out of the partition of Britain’s Indian Empire, at independence in August 1947. It originally consisted of two parts, West Pakistan (now Pakistan) and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), separated by 1,600 km of Indian territory. Partition was followed by a war with India over Kashmir and the mass migration of Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs to resettle within the new borders, an upheaval which led to violence, financial loss, and death on a large scale. With the arrival of Indian Muslims and the departure of Pakistan’s Hindus and Sikhs, Pakistan became an almost entirely Muslim society. Jinnah, who is honored as the Quaid-i-Azam, or great leader, died in 1948. In 1956, Pakistan became a federal republic. It has been under military rule for long periods. Its first Prime Minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, was assassinated in 1951. In 1958, martial law was declared and political parties abolished. General (later Field Marshal) Ayub Khan became President in 1960 and allowed a form of guided ‘basic democracy’. However, failure to win the 1965 war against India and accusations of nepotism and corruption undermined his position. In the east, the Awami League of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman voiced the grievances of the Bengali population.
In the aftermath of the 1965 war with India, mounting regional discontent in East Pakistan and urban unrest in West Pakistan helped undermine Ayub Khan’s authority, forcing him to relinquish power in March 1969. Ayub Khan resigned in 1969 and power was taken over by General Yahya Khan, who in December 1970 held the first national elections in independent Pakistan. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and the Awami League won an electoral majority in Pakistan’s general election on a platform demanding greater autonomy for East Pakistan. At the same time, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) gained a majority in the West. Despite Mujib’s victory, he was prevented by the Pakistan authorities from becoming Prime Minister of the combined state and the Awami League then issued their plans for a new constitution for an independent state in the East. As a result of the military intervention that ensued, civil war broke out in the eastern region in 1971; the Indian army intervened in support of the Bengalis; Pakistan forces withdrew and Bangladesh became an independent state. In 1972 Pakistan withdrew from the Commonwealth but rejoined in 1989. Under a new constitution introduced in 1973, Bhutto became Prime Minister. He undertook agrarian reform and the nationalization of large sections of industry and the financial sector. In July 1977 the army, under General Zia ul-Haq, intervened in the urban unrest. Zia declared martial law and arrested Bhutto who was convicted, after a controversial trial, of conspiring to murder a political opponent. Despite international appeals, he was hanged in April 1979. Zia promised elections within 90 days but ruled without them until his death. He assumed the presidency and embarked on a program of Islamisation. Martial law and the ban on political parties were lifted in 1985, Bhutto’s daughter Benazir returned from exile to lead the PPP and Zia died in a plane crash in August 1988.
Upon assuming power General Zia banned all political parties and expressed his determination to recast the Pakistani state and society into an Islamic mold. In April 1979 Bhutto was executed on murder charges and the PPP’s remaining leadership was jailed or exiled. By holding nonparty elections and initiating a series of Islamization policies, Zia sought to create a popular base of support in the hope of legitimizing the role of the military in Pakistani politics. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979 caused Zia’s regime to receive international support as a stable government bordering Soviet territory. Although Pakistan had now formally disentangled itself from both SEATO and CENTO and joined the nonaligned movement, was regarded by the West as an important front-line state and is a major recipient of American military and financial aid. Despite a string of statistics advertising the health of the economy, murmurs of discontent, though muffled, continued to be heard. On December 30, 1985, after confirming his position in a controversial “Islamic” referendum, completing a fresh round of nonparty elections of the provincial and national assemblies, and introducing a series of amendments to the 1973 constitution, Zia finally lifted martial law and announced the dawn of a new democratic era in Pakistan.
Elections in November 1988 brought the PPP to power in coalition with the Mohajir Qaumi Movement (MQM). However, in October 1989 the MQM left the coalition and in August 1990 Bhutto was dismissed by President Ghulam Ishaque Khan and charged with corruption. The National Assembly was dissolved and a caretaker leader installed until Islami Jamhoori Ittihad led by Nawaz Sharif won a decisive election victory in October 1990. Sharif pursued economic reforms and privatization and instituted Sharia (Islamic) law until 1993 when President and Prime Minister resigned under pressure from the military, making way for fresh elections which brought Benazir Bhutto back to power by a small majority. In November 1996, President Sardar Farooq Khan Leghari, prompted by the army high command and opposition leaders, used the eighth amendment to the constitution, and dissolved the National Assembly, bringing down the Bhutto government and alleging corruption, financial incompetence, and human rights violations. New elections were held in February 1997. Sharif was able to gain the PPP’s support to achieve the two-thirds majority necessary to repeal the eighth amendment, ending the President’s ability to dissolve the National Assembly. He also took over from the President the power to appoint Supreme Court judges and military chiefs-of-staff.
In October 1999, Sharif ordered the dismissal of Army Chief of Staff General Pervez Musharraf and refused permission to land for the commercial aircraft in which he was returning to Karachi (from an official visit to Sri Lanka). The army countermanded the Prime Minister’s orders and immediately seized power, dismissing the government and arresting Sharif. Musharraf justified his actions as necessary to restore both the economy and the deteriorating political situation. Pending the restoration of democracy the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) suspended Pakistan from the councils of the Commonwealth. The dispute with India over Kashmir escalated sharply in 1999 when militants with Pakistani military support crossed the Line of Control at Kargil and engaged in major battles with Indian forces. More than 1,000 people were killed in the fighting. In July 1999, Pakistan finally agreed to withdraw from Indian-controlled territory, but the state of tension, which had been heightened by the nuclear testing of 1998 (India had detonated five nuclear devices on 11 and 13 May 1998 and Pakistan responded with six on 28 and 30 May), persisted. At the invitation of Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, in 2001 President General Pervez Musharraf attended a summit in India, focusing on their dispute over Kashmir. Although there was no substantive outcome, this first face-to-face meeting between leaders of the two countries since 1999 was characterized by a new interest on both sides in seeking a resolution to this long-standing problem. However, by May 2002 India had mobilized a vast army along the Line of Control and the two countries were again on the brink of war. Tension eased considerably in October 2002 when India reduced its number of troops along the Line of Control; diplomatic relations were restored in August 2003 and a ceasefire along the Line of Control was agreed and took effect from 26 November 2003. Peace talks between India and Pakistan began in 2004, marking a historic advance in relations between the two countries. The talks led to the restoration of communication links and a range of confidence-building measures, including coordinated relief efforts in the aftermath of the October 2005 earthquake. In 2008, Pervez Musharraf left the charge of the country as a president and the brutal accidental killing of Benazir Bhutto brought the sympathy vote for PPP and Asif Ali Zardari became the president of the country. Elections 2013 brought PML-N in power and Nawaz Sharif became the Prime Minister of Pakistan.
Pakistan’s 70th year saw the disqualification of three-time premier Nawaz Sharif from holding public office. This occurred as a result of the Panama Papers leaks, which revealed that the Prime Minister’s family owned properties in London that could not be explained in terms of how the money for the acquisitions was earned. Although Nawaz Sharif was disqualified for life from holding public office and stepped down from the premiership after the Supreme Court decided against him, the PML- N went on to complete a full term under Abbasi’s leadership, with the transition to the next elected government proceeding by the Constitution. With elections held as scheduled on 25 July 2018, Pakistan has marked a decade of electoral democracy. Pakistan crisis over Kashmir, have been few and far between. It does not, at this stage, appear that the PTI government has the wisdom or ability to deliver on its promise of meaningful change and address the existential challenges that Pakistan faces.
Mohammad Ali Jinnah had always envisioned a democratic Pakistan and many of his successors have struggled towards this goal, but not more than maintaining their platforms of power. Ironically, such political instability plagues a country whose number one objective of its leaders is to secure their power. Maybe it is time for a new equation. The actions of both civil and military leaders have exhaustively tried the Pakistani people and their struggle as a nation. Pakistan faces the unenviable task of setting government priorities by the needs of its diverse and unevenly developed constituent units. Regardless of the form of government civilian or military, Islamic or secular solutions of the problem of mass illiteracy and economic inequities on the one hand, and the imperatives of national integration and national security will also determine the degree of political stability or instability, that Pakistan faces in the decades ahead. But the people and the nation persevere offering the world great cultural, religious, and intellectual traditions.