History of Republic of Pakistan
History of Republic of Pakistan ©Anonymous

1947 - 2024

History of Republic of Pakistan

The Islamic Republic of Pakistan was established on 14 August 1947, emerging from the partition of India as part of the British Commonwealth. This event marked the creation of two separate nations, Pakistan and India, based on religious lines. Pakistan initially consisted of two geographically separate areas, West Pakistan (current Pakistan) and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), as well as Hyderabad, now part of India.

The historical narrative of Pakistan, as officially recognized by the government, traces its roots back to the Islamic conquests in the Indian subcontinent, starting with Muhammad bin Qasim in the 8th century CE, and reaching a pinnacle during the Mughal Empire

Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the leader of the All-India Muslim League, became Pakistan's first Governor-General, while Liaquat Ali Khan, the secretary-general of the same party, became the Prime Minister. In 1956, Pakistan adopted a constitution that declared the country an Islamic democracy.

However, the country faced significant challenges. In 1971, after a civil war and Indian military intervention, East Pakistan seceded to become Bangladesh. Pakistan has also been involved in several conflicts with India, mainly over territorial disputes.

During the Cold War, Pakistan aligned closely with the United States, playing a crucial role in the Afghan-Soviet War by supporting Sunni Mujahideens. This conflict had a profound impact on Pakistan, contributing to issues like terrorism, economic instability, and infrastructure damage, particularly between 2001 and 2009.

Pakistan is a nuclear-weapon state, having conducted six nuclear tests in 1998, in response to India's nuclear tests. This position places Pakistan as the seventh country worldwide to develop nuclear weapons, the second in South Asia, and the only one in the Islamic world.

The country's military is significant, with one of the largest standing forces globally. Pakistan is also a founding member of several international organizations, including the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), and the Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition.

Economically, Pakistan is recognized as a regional and middle power with a growing economy. It is part of the "Next Eleven" countries, identified as having the potential to become among the world's largest economies in the 21st century. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is expected to play a vital role in this development. Geographically, Pakistan holds a strategic position, linking the Middle East, Central Asia, South Asia, and East Asia.

1947 - 1958
Formation and Early Years
1947 Jan 1 00:01



Pakistan's history is deeply connected to the broader narrative of the Indian subcontinent and its struggle for independence from British colonial rule. Prior to independence, the region was a tapestry of various cultures and religions, with significant Hindu and Muslim populations coexisting under British rule.

The push for independence in India gained momentum in the early 20th century. Key figures like Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru led a largely unified struggle against British rule, advocating for a secular India where all religions could coexist. However, as the movement progressed, deep-seated religious tensions surfaced.

Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the leader of the All-India Muslim League, emerged as a prominent voice advocating for a separate nation for Muslims. Jinnah and his supporters feared that Muslims would be marginalized in a predominantly Hindu India. This led to the formulation of the Two-Nation Theory, which argued for separate nations based on religious majorities.

The British, faced with growing unrest and the complexities of governing a diverse and divided population, eventually decided to leave the subcontinent. In 1947, the Indian Independence Act was passed, leading to the creation of two separate states: predominantly Hindu India and Muslim-majority Pakistan.

This partition was marked by widespread violence and one of the largest mass migrations in human history, as millions of Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs crossed borders to join their chosen nation. The communal violence that erupted during this period left deep scars on both India and Pakistan.

Creation of Pakistan
Lord Mountbatten visits Punjabi riot scenes, in a news photo, 1947. ©Anonymous
1947 Aug 14

Creation of Pakistan


On August 14, 1947, Pakistan became an independent nation, followed by India's independence the next day. This historic event marked the end of British colonial rule in the region. A key aspect of this transition was the partition of the provinces of Punjab and Bengal based on religious demographics, orchestrated by the Radcliffe Commission. Allegations arose that Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of India, influenced the commission to favor India. Consequently, the predominantly Muslim western part of Punjab became a part of Pakistan, while the eastern part, with a Hindu and Sikh majority, joined India. Despite the religious divide, both regions had significant minorities of the other faiths.

Initially, it was not anticipated that the partition would necessitate large-scale population transfers. Minorities were expected to remain in their respective areas. However, due to intense communal violence in Punjab, an exception was made, leading to a mutual agreement between India and Pakistan for a forced population exchange in Punjab. This exchange significantly reduced the presence of minority Hindu and Sikh populations in Pakistani Punjab and the Muslim population in the Indian part of Punjab, with few exceptions like the Muslim community in Malerkotla, India.

The violence in Punjab was severe and widespread. Political scientist Ishtiaq Ahmed noted that, despite the initial aggression by Muslims, the retaliatory violence resulted in more Muslim deaths in East Punjab (India) than Hindu and Sikh deaths in West Punjab (Pakistan).[1] Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru reported to Mahatma Gandhi that the Muslim casualties in East Punjab were twice that of Hindus and Sikhs in West Punjab by late August 1947.[2]

The aftermath of partition saw one of the largest mass migrations in history, with over ten million people crossing the new borders. The violence during this period, with death toll estimates ranging from 200,000 to 2,000,000,[3] has been described by some scholars as 'retributive genocide.' The Pakistani government reported that approximately 50,000 Muslim women were abducted and raped by Hindu and Sikh men. Similarly, the Indian government claimed that Muslims had abducted and raped about 33,000 Hindu and Sikh women.[4] This period of history is marked by its complexity, the immense human cost, and its enduring impact on India-Pakistan relations.

Founding Years of Pakistan
Jinnah announcing the creation of Pakistan over All India Radio on 3 June 1947. ©Anonymous
1947 Aug 14 00:02 - 1949

Founding Years of Pakistan


In 1947, Pakistan emerged as a new nation with Liaquat Ali Khan as its first Prime Minister and Muhammad Ali Jinnah as the Governor-General and Speaker of Parliament. Jinnah, rejecting Lord Mountbatten's offer to be Governor-General for both India and Pakistan, led the country until his death in 1948. Under his leadership, Pakistan took steps towards becoming an Islamic state, notably with the introduction of the Objectives Resolution by Prime Minister Khan in 1949, emphasizing Allah's sovereignty. The Objectives Resolution declared that sovereignty over the entire universe belongs to Allah Almighty.[5]

The early years of Pakistan also saw significant migration from India, particularly to Karachi,[6] the first capital. To strengthen Pakistan's financial infrastructure, his Finance Secretary Victor Turner implemented the country's first monetary policy. This included establishing key institutions like the State Bank, the Federal Bureau of Statistics, and the Federal Board of Revenue, aimed at enhancing the nation's capabilities in finance, taxation, and revenue collection.[7] However, Pakistan encountered significant issues with India. In April 1948, India cut off the water supply to Pakistan from two canal headworks in Punjab, exacerbating tensions between the two countries. Additionally, India initially withheld Pakistan's share of assets and funds from United India. These assets were eventually released under pressure from Mahatma Gandhi.[8] Territorial problems arose with neighbouring Afghanistan over the Pakistan–Afghanistan border in 1949, and with India over the Line of Control in Kashmir.[9]

The country also sought international recognition, with Iran being the first to recognize it, but faced initial reluctance from the Soviet Union and Israel. Pakistan actively pursued leadership within the Muslim world, aiming to unite Muslim countries. This ambition, however, faced skepticism internationally and among some Arab nations. Pakistan also supported various independence movements in the Muslim world. Domestically, language policy became a contentious issue, with Jinnah declaring Urdu as the state language, which led to tensions in East Bengal. Following Jinnah's death in 1948, Sir Khawaja Nazimuddin became the Governor-General, continuing the nation-building efforts in Pakistan's formative years.

Indo-Pakistani War of 1947–1948
A Pakistan Army convoy advances in Kashmir ©Anonymous
1947 Oct 22 - 1949 Jan 1

Indo-Pakistani War of 1947–1948

Jammu and Kashmir

The Indo-Pakistani War of 1947-1948, also known as the First Kashmir War, was the first major conflict between India and Pakistan after they became independent nations. It was centered around the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Jammu and Kashmir, before 1815, comprised small states under Afghan rule and later under Sikh dominance after the decline of the Mughals. The First Anglo-Sikh War (1845-46) led to the region being sold to Gulab Singh, forming the princely state under the British Raj. The partition of India in 1947, which created India and Pakistan, led to violence and a mass movement of populations based on religious lines.

The war began with Jammu and Kashmir State Forces and tribal militias in action. The Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir, Hari Singh, faced an uprising and lost control of parts of his kingdom. Pakistani tribal militias entered the state on October 22, 1947, attempting to capture Srinagar. Hari Singh requested help from India, which was offered on the condition of the state's accession to India. Maharaja Hari Singh initially chose not to join either India or Pakistan. The National Conference, a major political force in Kashmir, favored joining India, while the Muslim Conference in Jammu favored Pakistan. The Maharaja eventually acceded to India, a decision influenced by the tribal invasion and internal rebellions. Indian troops were then airlifted to Srinagar. After the state's accession to India, the conflict saw the direct involvement of Indian and Pakistani forces. The conflict zones solidified around what later became the Line of Control, with a ceasefire declared on January 1, 1949.

Various military operations like Operation Gulmarg by Pakistan and airlifting of Indian troops to Srinagar marked the war. British officers in command on both sides maintained a restrained approach. The UN's involvement led to a ceasefire and subsequent resolutions that aimed at a plebiscite, which never materialized.

The war ended in a stalemate with neither side achieving a decisive victory, although India maintained control over the majority of the contested region. The conflict led to a permanent division of Jammu and Kashmir, laying the foundation for future Indo-Pakistani conflicts. The UN established a group to monitor the ceasefire, and the area remained a point of contention in subsequent Indo-Pakistani relations. The war had significant political repercussions in Pakistan and set the stage for future military coups and conflicts. The Indo-Pakistani War of 1947-1948 set a precedent for the complex and often contentious relationship between India and Pakistan, particularly regarding the region of Kashmir.

Pakistan's Turbulent Decade
Sukarno & Pakistan's Iskander Mirza ©Anonymous
1951 Jan 1 - 1958

Pakistan's Turbulent Decade


In 1951, Pakistan's Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan was assassinated during a political rally, leading to Khawaja Nazimuddin becoming the second Prime Minister. Tensions in East Pakistan escalated in 1952, culminating in the police firing on students demanding equal status for the Bengali language. This situation was resolved when Nazimuddin issued a waiver recognizing Bengali alongside Urdu, a decision later formalized in the 1956 constitution.

In 1953, anti-Ahmadiyya riots, incited by religious parties, resulted in numerous deaths.[10] The government's response to these riots marked the first instance of martial law in Pakistan, beginning a trend of military involvement in politics.[11] The same year, the One Unit Program was introduced, reorganizing Pakistan's administrative divisions.[12] The 1954 elections reflected ideological differences between East and West Pakistan, with a communist influence in the East and a pro-American stance in the West.

In 1956, Pakistan was declared an Islamic republic, with Huseyn Suhrawardy becoming Prime Minister and Iskander Mirza as the first President. Suhrawardy's tenure was marked by efforts to balance foreign relations with the Soviet Union, the United States, and China, and the initiation of a military and nuclear program.[13] Suhrawardy's initiatives resulted in the establishment of a training program for the Pakistani armed forces by the United States, which faced considerable resistance in East Pakistan. In response, his political party in the East Pakistan Parliament threatened to secede from Pakistan.

Mirza's presidency saw repressive measures against communists and the Awami League in East Pakistan, exacerbating regional tensions. The centralization of the economy and political differences led to friction between the leaders of East and West Pakistan. The implementation of the One Unit Program and the centralization of the national economy following the Soviet model encountered significant opposition and resistance in West Pakistan. Amidst growing unpopularity and political pressure, President Mirza faced challenges, including public support for the Muslim League in West Pakistan, leading to a volatile political climate by 1958.

1958 - 1971
First Military Era
1958 Pakistani Military Coup
General Ayub Khan, the Commander-in-Chief of the Pakistan Army in his office in 23 January 1951. ©Anonymous
1958 Oct 27

1958 Pakistani Military Coup


The period leading up to Ayub Khan's declaration of martial law in Pakistan was marked by political instability and sectarian politics. The government, perceived as failing in its governance, faced issues like unresolved canal water disputes affecting the agriculturally reliant economy, and challenges in addressing the Indian presence in Jammu and Kashmir. In 1956, Pakistan transitioned from a British Dominion to an Islamic Republic with a new constitution, and Major General Iskander Mirza became the first President. However, this period saw significant political turmoil and a rapid succession of four prime ministers within two years, further agitating the populace and the military.

Mirza's controversial use of power, particularly his One Unit scheme merging Pakistan's provinces into two wings, East and West Pakistan, was politically divisive and difficult to implement. This turmoil and Mirza's actions led to a belief within the military that a coup would be supported by the public, paving the way for Ayub Khan to assume control.

On October 7, President Mirza declared martial law, abrogated the 1956 constitution, dismissed the government, dissolved legislative bodies, and outlawed political parties. He appointed General Ayub Khan as Chief Martial Law Administrator and proposed him as the new Prime Minister. Both Mirza and Ayub Khan viewed each other as competitors for power. Mirza, feeling his role was becoming redundant after Ayub Khan had taken over the majority of the executive authority as the chief martial law administrator and prime minister, tried to reassert his position. Conversely, Ayub Khan suspected Mirza of plotting against him. Reportedly, Ayub Khan was informed about Mirza's intention to arrest him upon his return from Dhaka. Ultimately, it is generally believed that Ayub Khan, with the support of loyal generals, compelled Mirza to step down.[14] Following this, Mirza was initially taken to Quetta, Baluchistan's capital, and then exiled to London, England, on November 27, where he lived until his passing in 1969.

The military coup was initially welcomed in Pakistan as a respite from unstable governance, with hopes for economic stabilization and political modernization. Ayub Khan's regime received support from foreign governments, including the United States.[15] He combined the roles of President and Prime Minister, forming a cabinet of technocrats, military officers, and diplomats. Ayub Khan appointed General Muhammad Musa as the new army chief and secured judicial validation for his takeover under the "Doctrine of necessity."

Great Decade: Pakistan under Ayub Khan
Ayub Khan in 1958 with H. S. Suhrawardy and Mr. and Mrs. S. N. Bakar. ©Anonymous
1958 Oct 27 - 1969 Mar 25

Great Decade: Pakistan under Ayub Khan


In 1958, Pakistan's parliamentary system ended with the imposition of martial law. Public disillusionment with corruption in the civil bureaucracy and administration led to support for General Ayub Khan's actions.[16] The military government undertook significant land reforms and enforced the Elective Bodies Disqualification Order, barring H. S. Suhrawardy from public office. Khan introduced "Basic Democracy," a new presidential system where an electoral college of 80,000 selected the president, and promulgated the 1962 constitution.[17] In 1960, Ayub Khan won popular support in a national referendum, transitioning from a military to a constitutional civilian government.[16]

Significant developments during Ayub Khan's presidency included relocating the capital's infrastructure from Karachi to Islamabad. This era, known as the "Great Decade," is celebrated for its economic development and cultural shifts,[18] including the rise of the pop music, film, and drama industries. Ayub Khan aligned Pakistan with the United States and the Western world, joining the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO) and the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO). The private sector grew, and the country made strides in education, human development, and science, including launching a space program and continuing the nuclear power program.[18]

However, the U2 spy plane incident in 1960 exposed secret U.S. operations from Pakistan, compromising national security. The same year, Pakistan signed the Indus Waters Treaty with India to normalize relations.[19] Relations with China strengthened, particularly after the Sino-Indian War, leading to a boundary agreement in 1963 that shifted Cold War dynamics. In 1964, the Pakistani Armed Forces suppressed a suspected pro-communist revolt in West Pakistan, and in 1965, Ayub Khan narrowly won the controversial presidential election against Fatima Jinnah.

Decline of Ayub Khan and the Rise of Bhutto
Bhutto in Karachi in 1969. ©Anonymous

In 1965, Pakistan's Foreign Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, at the UN General Assembly and with atomic scientist Aziz Ahmed present, declared Pakistan's determination to develop a nuclear capability if India did so, even at great economic cost. This led to expanded nuclear infrastructure with international collaborations. However, Bhutto's disagreement with the Tashkent Agreement in 1966 led to his dismissal by President Ayub Khan, sparking mass public demonstrations and strikes.

Ayub Khan's “Decade of Development” in 1968 faced opposition, with leftist students labeling it a “Decade of Decadence",[20] criticizing his policies for fostering crony capitalism and ethnic-nationalist suppression. Economic disparities between West and East Pakistan fueled Bengali nationalism, with the Awami League, led by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, demanding autonomy. The rise of socialism and the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), founded by Bhutto, further challenged Khan’s regime.

In 1967, the PPP capitalized on public discontent, leading major labor strikes. Despite repression, a widespread movement emerged in 1968, weakening Khan's position; it is known as 1968 movement in Pakistan.[21] The Agartala Case, which involved arresting Awami League leaders, was withdrawn following uprisings in East Pakistan. Facing pressure from the PPP, public unrest, and declining health, Khan resigned in 1969, handing over power to General Yahya Khan, who then imposed martial law.

Second India–Pakistan War
Azad Kashmiri Irregular Militiamen, 1965 War ©Anonymous
1965 Aug 5 - 1965 BCE Sep 23

Second India–Pakistan War

Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Ind

The Indo-Pakistani War of 1965, also known as the Second India–Pakistan War, unfolded over several stages, marked by key events and strategic shifts. The conflict originated from the longstanding dispute over Jammu and Kashmir. It escalated following Pakistan's Operation Gibraltar in August 1965, designed to infiltrate forces into Jammu and Kashmir to precipitate an insurgency against Indian rule. The operation's discovery led to increased military tensions between the two countries.

The war saw significant military engagements, including the largest tank battle since World War II. Both India and Pakistan utilized their land, air, and naval forces. Notable operations during the war included Pakistan's Operation Desert Hawk and India's counter-offensive on the Lahore front. The Battle of Asal Uttar was a critical point where Indian forces inflicted heavy losses on Pakistan's armored division. Pakistan's air force performed effectively despite being outnumbered, particularly in defending Lahore and other strategic locations.

The war culminated in September 1965 with a ceasefire, following diplomatic intervention by the Soviet Union and the United States and the adoption of United Nations Security Council Resolution 211. The Tashkent Declaration subsequently formalized the ceasefire. By the end of the conflict, India held a larger area of Pakistani territory, mainly in fertile regions like Sialkot, Lahore, and Kashmir, while Pakistan's gains were primarily in desert regions opposite Sindh and near the Chumb sector in Kashmir.

The war led to significant geopolitical shifts in the subcontinent, with both India and Pakistan feeling a sense of betrayal by the lack of support from their previous allies, the United States and the United Kingdom. This shift resulted in India and Pakistan developing closer relationships with the Soviet Union and China, respectively. The conflict also had profound effects on the military strategies and foreign policies of both nations.

In India, the war is often perceived as a strategic victory, leading to changes in military strategy, intelligence gathering, and foreign policy, particularly a closer relationship with the Soviet Union. In Pakistan, the war is remembered for the performance of its air force and is commemorated as Defence Day. However, it also led to critical evaluations of military planning and political outcomes, as well as economic strains and increased tensions in East Pakistan. The war's narrative and its commemoration have been subjects of debate within Pakistan.

Martial Law Years
General Yahya Khan (left), with US President Richard Nixon. ©Oliver F. Atkins
1969 Jan 1 - 1971

Martial Law Years


President General Yahya Khan, aware of Pakistan's volatile political situation, announced plans for nationwide elections in 1970 and issued the Legal Framework Order No. 1970 (LFO No. 1970), leading to significant changes in West Pakistan. The One Unit program was dissolved, allowing provinces to revert to their pre-1947 structures, and the principle of direct balloting was introduced. However, these changes did not apply to East Pakistan.

The elections saw the Awami League, advocating the Six Points manifesto, win overwhelmingly in East Pakistan, while Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) gained significant support in West Pakistan. The conservative Pakistan Muslim League (PML) also campaigned across the country. Despite the Awami League winning a majority in the National Assembly, West Pakistani elites were reluctant to transfer power to an East Pakistani party. This led to a constitutional deadlock, with Bhutto demanding a power-sharing arrangement.

Amidst this political tension, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman initiated a non-cooperation movement in East Pakistan, paralyzing state functions. The failure of talks between Bhutto and Rahman resulted in President Khan ordering military action against the Awami League, leading to severe crackdowns. Sheikh Rahman was arrested, and the Awami League leadership fled to India, forming a parallel government. This escalated into the Bangladesh Liberation War, with India providing military support to the Bengali insurgents. In March 1971, Major General Ziaur Rahman declared East Pakistan's independence as Bangladesh.

1971 - 1977
Second Democratic Era
Bangladesh Liberation War
Signing of Pakistani Instrument of Surrender by Pakistan's Lt.Gen. A. A. K. Niazi and Jagjit Singh Aurora on behalf of Indian and Bangladesh Forces in Dhaka on 16 Dec. 1971 ©Indian Navy
1971 Mar 26 - Dec 16

Bangladesh Liberation War


The Bangladesh Liberation War was a revolutionary armed conflict in East Pakistan that led to the creation of Bangladesh. It began on the night of March 25, 1971, with the Pakistani military junta, under Yahya Khan, initiating Operation Searchlight, which started the Bangladesh genocide.

The Mukti Bahini, a guerrilla resistance movement comprising Bengali military, paramilitary, and civilians, responded to the violence by waging a mass guerrilla war against the Pakistani military. This liberation effort saw significant successes in the initial months. The Pakistan Army regained some ground during the monsoon, but the Bengali guerrillas, including operations like Operation Jackpot against the Pakistan Navy and sorties by the nascent Bangladesh Air Force, fought back effectively.

India entered the conflict on December 3, 1971, following preemptive Pakistani air strikes on northern India. The ensuing Indo-Pakistani War was fought on two fronts. With air supremacy in the east and rapid advances by the Allied Forces of Mukti Bahini and the Indian military, Pakistan surrendered in Dhaka on December 16, 1971, marking the largest surrender of armed personnel since World War II.

Throughout East Pakistan, extensive military operations and air strikes were conducted to suppress civil disobedience following the 1970 election stalemate. The Pakistan Army, supported by Islamist militias like the Razakars, Al-Badr, and Al-Shams, committed widespread atrocities, including mass murder, deportation, and genocidal rape against Bengali civilians, intelligentsia, religious minorities, and armed personnel. The capital Dhaka witnessed several massacres, including at Dhaka University. Sectarian violence also erupted between Bengalis and Biharis, leading to an estimated 10 million Bengali refugees fleeing to India and 30 million internally displaced.

The war significantly altered South Asia's geopolitical landscape, with Bangladesh emerging as the world's seventh-most populous country. The conflict was a key event in the Cold War, involving major powers like the United States, the Soviet Union, and China. Bangladesh was recognized as a sovereign nation by the majority of United Nations member states in 1972.

Bhutto Years in Pakistan
Bhutto in 1971. ©Anonymous
1973 Jan 1 - 1977

Bhutto Years in Pakistan


The separation of East Pakistan in 1971 profoundly demoralized the nation. Under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's leadership, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) brought a period of left-wing democracy, with significant initiatives in economic nationalization, covert nuclear development, and cultural promotion. Bhutto, addressing India's nuclear advancements, initiated Pakistan's atomic bomb project in 1972, involving notable scientists like Nobel laureate Abdus Salam.

The 1973 Constitution, created with Islamist support, declared Pakistan an Islamic Republic, mandating that all laws align with Islamic teachings. During this period, Bhutto's government faced a nationalist rebellion in Balochistan, suppressed with Iranian assistance. Major reforms were implemented, including military reorganization and economic and educational expansion. In a significant move, Bhutto yielded to religious pressure, leading to the declaration of Ahmadis as non-Muslims.

Pakistan's international relations shifted, with improved ties to the Soviet Union, Eastern Bloc, and China, while relations with the United States deteriorated. This period saw the establishment of Pakistan's first steel mill with Soviet assistance and intensified efforts in nuclear development following India's nuclear test in 1974.

Political dynamics changed in 1976, with Bhutto's socialist alliance crumbling and opposition from right-wing conservatives and Islamists growing. The Nizam-e-Mustafa movement emerged, demanding an Islamic state and societal reforms. Bhutto responded by banning alcohol, nightclubs, and horse racing among Muslims. The 1977 elections, won by the PPP, were marred by allegations of rigging, leading to widespread protests. This unrest culminated in General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq's bloodless coup, overthrowing Bhutto. After a controversial trial, Bhutto was executed in 1979 for authorizing a political murder.

1977 - 1988
Second Military Era and Islamization
Decade of Religious Conservatism and Political Turmoil in Pakistan
Portrait of former President of Pakistan and Army Chief, Gen. Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq. ©Pakistan Army

From 1977 to 1988, Pakistan experienced a period of military rule under General Zia-ul-Haq, characterized by the growth of state-sponsored religious conservatism and persecution. Zia was committed to establishing an Islamic state and enforcing Sharia law, setting up separate Sharia courts and introducing Islamic criminal laws, including harsh punishments. Economic Islamization included changes like replacing interest payments with profit-loss sharing and imposing a Zakat tax.

Zia's rule also saw the suppression of socialist influences and the rise of technocracy, with military officers occupying civilian roles and capitalist policies being reintroduced. The Bhutto-led leftist movement faced brutal repression, while secessionist movements in Balochistan were quelled. Zia held a referendum in 1984, gaining support for his religious policies.

Pakistan's foreign relations shifted, with deteriorating ties to the Soviet Union and stronger relations with the United States, especially after the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. Pakistan became a key player in supporting anti-Soviet forces, while managing a large influx of Afghan refugees and facing security challenges.

Tensions with India escalated, including conflicts over the Siachen Glacier and military posturing. Zia used cricket diplomacy to ease tensions with India and made provocative statements to deter Indian military action. Under U.S. pressure, Zia lifted martial law in 1985, appointing Muhammad Khan Junejo as prime minister, but later dismissed him amid growing tensions. Zia died in a mysterious plane crash in 1988, leaving behind a legacy of increased religious influence in Pakistan and a cultural shift, with a rise in underground rock music challenging conservative norms.

1988 - 1999
Third Democratic Era
Return to Democracy in Pakistan
Benazir Bhutto in the US in 1988. Bhutto became the first female prime minister of Pakistan in 1988. ©Gerald B. Johnson
1988 Jan 1 00:01

Return to Democracy in Pakistan


In 1988, democracy was reestablished in Pakistan with general elections following President Zia-ul-Haq's death. These elections led to the return of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) to power, with Benazir Bhutto becoming the first female Prime Minister of Pakistan and the first female head of government in a Muslim-majority country. This period, lasting until 1999, was characterized by a competitive two-party system, with the centre-right conservatives led by Nawaz Sharif and the centre-left socialists under Benazir Bhutto.

During her tenure, Bhutto steered Pakistan through the final stages of the Cold War, maintaining pro-Western policies due to a shared distrust of communism. Her government witnessed the Soviet troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. However, the discovery of Pakistan's atomic bomb project led to strained relations with the United States and the imposition of economic sanctions. Bhutto's government also faced challenges in Afghanistan, with a failed military intervention leading to the dismissal of intelligence service directors. Despite efforts to revitalize the economy, including the Seventh Five-Year Plan, Pakistan experienced stagflation, and Bhutto's government was eventually dismissed by the conservative President Ghulam Ishaq Khan.

Nawaz Sharif Era in Pakistan
Nawaz Sharif, 1998. ©Robert D. Ward
1990 Jan 1

Nawaz Sharif Era in Pakistan


In the 1990 general elections, the right-wing conservative alliance, the Islamic Democratic Alliance (IDA) led by Nawaz Sharif, gained enough support to form a government. This marked the first time a right-wing conservative alliance assumed power under a democratic system in Pakistan. Sharif's administration focused on addressing the country's stagflation by implementing policies of privatization and economic liberalization. Additionally, his government maintained a policy of ambiguity regarding Pakistan's atomic bomb programs.

During his tenure, Sharif involved Pakistan in the Gulf War in 1991 and initiated a military operation against liberal forces in Karachi in 1992. However, his government faced institutional challenges, particularly with President Ghulam Khan. Khan attempted to dismiss Sharif using similar charges that he had previously leveled against Benazir Bhutto. Sharif was initially ousted but was restored to power following a Supreme Court judgment. In a political maneuver, Sharif and Bhutto collaborated to remove President Khan from office. Despite this, Sharif's term was short-lived, as he was eventually compelled to step down due to pressure from the military leadership.

Second Term of Benazir Bhutto
At the 1993 meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation in Cyprus. ©Lutfar Rahman Binu

In the 1993 general elections, Benazir Bhutto's party secured a plurality, leading to her forming a government and selecting a president. She appointed all four chiefs of staff – Mansurul Haq (Navy), Abbas Khattak (Air Force), Abdul Waheed (Army), and Farooq Feroze Khan (Joint Chiefs). Bhutto's firm approach to political stability and her assertive rhetoric earned her the nickname "Iron Lady" from opponents. She supported social democracy and national pride, continuing economic nationalization and centralization under the Eighth Five-Year Plan to combat stagflation. Her foreign policy sought to balance relations with Iran, the United States, the European Union, and socialist states.

During Bhutto's tenure, Pakistan's intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), was actively involved in supporting Muslim movements globally. This included defying the UN arms embargo to aid Bosnian Muslims,[22] involvement in Xinjiang, the Philippines, and Central Asia,[23] and recognizing the Taliban government in Afghanistan. Bhutto also maintained pressure on India regarding its nuclear program and advanced Pakistan's own nuclear and missile capabilities, including securing Air-independent propulsion technology from France.

Culturally, Bhutto's policies spurred growth in the rock and pop music industries and revitalized the film industry with new talent. She banned Indian media in Pakistan while promoting local television, dramas, films, and music. Both Bhutto and Sharif provided substantial federal support for science education and research due to public concerns about the education system's weaknesses.

However, Bhutto's popularity declined following the controversial death of her brother Murtaza Bhutto, with suspicions of her involvement, though unproven. In 1996, just seven weeks after Murtaza's death, Bhutto's government was dismissed by the president she had appointed, partly due to charges related to Murtaza Bhutto's death.

Pakistan’s Nuclear Era
Nawaz in Washington D.C., with William S. Cohen in 1998. ©R. D. Ward
1997 Jan 1

Pakistan’s Nuclear Era


In the 1997 elections, the conservative party secured a significant majority, enabling them to amend the constitution to reduce checks and balances on the Prime Minister’s power. Nawaz Sharif faced institutional challenges from key figures like President Farooq Leghari, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee General Jehangir Karamat, Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Fasih Bokharie, and Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah. Sharif successfully countered these challenges, resulting in the resignation of all four, with Chief Justice Shah stepping down after the Supreme Court was stormed by Sharif's supporters.

Tensions with India escalated in 1998 following Indian nuclear tests (Operation Shakti). In response, Sharif convened a cabinet defense committee meeting and subsequently ordered Pakistan’s own nuclear tests in the Chagai Hills. This action, while internationally condemned, was popular domestically and heightened military readiness along the Indian border. Sharif's strong response to international criticism following the nuclear tests included condemning India for nuclear proliferation and criticizing the United States for its historical use of nuclear weapons in Japan:

The World, instead of putting pressure on [India]... not to take the destructive road... imposed all kinds of sanctions on [Pakistan] for no fault of her...! If Japan had its own nuclear capability...[the cities of]...Hiroshima and Nagasaki would not have suffered atomic destruction at the hands of the... United States

Under his leadership, Pakistan became the seventh declared nuclear-weapon state and the first in the Muslim world. In addition to nuclear development, Sharif’s government implemented environmental policies by establishing the Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency. Continuing Bhutto's cultural policies, Sharif allowed some access to Indian media, marking a slight shift in media policy.

1999 - 2008
Third Military Era
Musharraf Era in Pakistan
US president George W. Bush and Musharraf address the media in Cross Hall. ©Susan Sterner
1999 Jan 1 00:01 - 2007

Musharraf Era in Pakistan


The presidency of Pervez Musharraf from 1999 to 2007 marked the first time liberal forces held significant power in Pakistan. Initiatives for economic liberalization, privatization, and media freedom were introduced, with Citibank executive Shaukat Aziz taking control of the economy. Musharraf's government granted amnesty to political workers from liberal parties, sidelining conservatives and leftists. Musharraf significantly expanded private media, aiming to counter India's cultural influence. The Supreme Court ordered general elections by October 2002, and Musharraf endorsed the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Tensions with India over Kashmir led to a military standoff in 2002.

Musharraf's 2002 referendum, deemed controversial, extended his presidential term. The 2002 general elections saw liberals and centrists winning a majority, forming a government with Musharraf's backing. The 17th Amendment to Pakistan's Constitution retroactively legitimized Musharraf's actions and extended his presidency. Shaukat Aziz became Prime Minister in 2004, focusing on economic growth but facing opposition for social reforms. Musharraf and Aziz survived several assassination attempts linked to al-Qaeda.

Internationally, allegations of nuclear proliferation tarnished their credibility. Domestic challenges included conflicts in tribal areas and a truce with the Taliban in 2006, though sectarian violence persisted.

Kargil War
Indian soldiers after winning a battle during the Kargil War ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1999 May 3 - Jul 26

Kargil War

Kargil District

The Kargil War, fought between May and July 1999, was a significant conflict between India and Pakistan in the Kargil district of Jammu and Kashmir and along the Line of Control (LoC), the de facto border in the disputed Kashmir region. In India, this conflict was known as Operation Vijay, while the Indian Air Force's joint operation with the Army was called Operation Safed Sagar.

The war began with the infiltration of Pakistani troops, disguised as Kashmiri militants, into strategic positions on the Indian side of the LoC. Initially, Pakistan attributed the conflict to Kashmiri insurgents, but evidence and later admissions by Pakistan's leadership revealed the involvement of Pakistani paramilitary forces, led by General Ashraf Rashid. The Indian Army, supported by the Air Force, recaptured most of the positions on their side of the LoC. International diplomatic pressure eventually led to a withdrawal of Pakistani forces from the remaining Indian positions.

The Kargil War is notable as a recent instance of high-altitude warfare in mountainous terrain, presenting significant logistical challenges. It also stands out as one of the few instances of conventional warfare between nuclear-armed states, following India's first nuclear test in 1974 and Pakistan's first known tests in 1998, shortly after a second series of tests by India.

1999 Pakistani coup d'état
Pervez Musharraf in army uniform. ©Anonymous
1999 Oct 12 17:00

1999 Pakistani coup d'état

Prime Minister's Secretariat,

In 1999, Pakistan experienced a bloodless military coup led by General Pervez Musharraf and the military staff at the Joint Staff HQ. On October 12, they seized control from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's civilian government. Two days later, Musharraf, as Chief Executive, controversially suspended the Constitution of Pakistan.

The coup was driven by escalating tensions between Sharif's administration and the military, particularly with General Musharraf. Sharif's attempt to replace Musharraf with Lieutenant-General Ziauddin Butt as army chief was met with resistance from senior military officials and led to Butt's detention. The coup's execution was rapid. Within 17 hours, military commanders had seized key government institutions, placing Sharif and his administration, including his brother, under house arrest. The military also took control of critical communication infrastructure.

Pakistan's Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Irshad Hassan Khan, validated the martial law under a "doctrine of necessity," but limited its duration to three years. Sharif was tried and convicted for endangering lives aboard an aircraft carrying Musharraf, a decision that sparked controversy.

In December 2000, Musharraf unexpectedly pardoned Sharif, who then flew to Saudi Arabia. In 2001, Musharraf became President after forcing President Rafiq Tarar to resign. A national referendum in April 2002, criticized as fraudulent by many, extended Musharraf's rule. The 2002 general elections saw a return to democracy, with Musharraf's PML(Q) forming a minority government.

Fourth Democratic Era
2008 Electoral Turnaround in Pakistan
Yousaf Raza Gillani ©World Economic Forum

In 2007, Nawaz Sharif attempted to return from exile but was blocked. Benazir Bhutto returned from an eight-year exile, preparing for the 2008 elections but was targeted in a deadly suicide attack. Musharraf's proclamation of a state of emergency in November 2007, which included sacking Supreme Court judges and banning private media, led to widespread protests.

Sharif returned to Pakistan in November 2007, with his supporters detained. Both Sharif and Bhutto filed nominations for the upcoming elections. Bhutto was assassinated in December 2007, leading to controversy and investigations into the exact cause of her death. The elections, initially scheduled for January 8, 2008, were postponed due to Bhutto's assassination.

The 2008 general elections in Pakistan marked a significant political shift, with the left-leaning Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the conservative Pakistan Muslim League (PML) gaining a majority of seats. This election effectively ended the dominance of the liberal alliance that had been prominent during Musharraf's rule. Yousaf Raza Gillani, representing the PPP, became the Prime Minister and worked to overcome policy deadlocks and lead a movement to impeach President Pervez Musharraf. The coalition government, spearheaded by Gillani, accused Musharraf of undermining Pakistan's unity, violating the constitution, and contributing to an economic impasse. These efforts culminated in Musharraf's resignation on August 18, 2008, in a televised address to the nation, thereby ending his nine-year rule.

Pakistan under Gillani
Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani during a working meeting in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. ©Anonymous
2008 Mar 25 - 2012 Jun 19

Pakistan under Gillani


Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani led a coalition government representing parties from all four provinces of Pakistan. During his tenure, significant political reforms transformed Pakistan's governance structure from a semi-presidential system to a parliamentary democracy. This change was solidified with the unanimous passage of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan, which relegated the President to a ceremonial role and significantly enhanced the powers of the Prime Minister.

Gillani's government, responding to public pressure and in cooperation with the United States, launched military campaigns against Taliban forces in the northwest of Pakistan between 2009 and 2011. These efforts were successful in quelling Taliban activities in the region, though terrorist attacks persisted elsewhere in the country. Meanwhile, the media landscape in Pakistan was further liberalized, promoting Pakistani music, art, and cultural activities, especially in the wake of banning Indian media channels.

Pakistani-American relations deteriorated in 2010 and 2011 following incidents including a CIA contractor killing two civilians in Lahore and the U.S. operation that killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, close to the Pakistan Military Academy. These events led to severe U.S. criticism of Pakistan and prompted Gillani to review foreign policy. In response to a NATO border skirmish in 2011, Gillani's administration blocked major NATO supply lines, leading to strained relations with NATO countries.

Pakistan's relationship with Russia saw improvement in 2012 after a secret visit by Foreign Minister Hina Khar. However, domestic challenges continued for Gillani. He faced legal issues for not complying with Supreme Court orders to investigate corruption allegations. Consequently, he was charged with contempt of court and ousted from office on April 26, 2012, with Pervez Ashraf succeeding him as Prime Minister.

From Sharif to Khan
Abbasi with members of his cabinet and the Chief of Army Staff Qamar Javed Bajwa ©U.S. Department of State
2013 Jan 1 - 2018

From Sharif to Khan


For the first time in its history, Pakistan saw its parliament complete a full term, leading to the general elections on May 11, 2013. These elections significantly altered the country's political landscape, with the conservative Pakistan Muslim League (N) securing a near supermajority. Nawaz Sharif became Prime Minister on May 28. A notable development during his tenure was the initiation of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor in 2015, a significant infrastructure project.

However, in 2017, the Panama Papers case led to Nawaz Sharif's disqualification by the Supreme Court, resulting in Shahid Khaqan Abbasi taking over as Prime Minister until mid-2018, when the PML-N government was dissolved after completing its parliamentary term.

The 2018 general elections marked another pivotal moment in Pakistan's political history, bringing the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) to power for the first time. Imran Khan was elected Prime Minister, with his close ally Arif Alvi assuming the presidency. Another significant development in 2018 was the merger of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas with the neighboring Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, representing a major administrative and political change.

Imran Khan's Governance
Imran Khan speaking at the Chatham House in London. ©Chatham House
2018 Jan 1 - 2022

Imran Khan's Governance


Imran Khan, after securing 176 votes, became the 22nd Prime Minister of Pakistan on August 18, 2018, overseeing significant reshuffles in key government positions. His cabinet choices included many former ministers from the Musharraf era, with some defections from the left-wing People's Party. Internationally, Khan maintained a delicate balance in foreign relations, especially with Saudi Arabia and Iran, while prioritizing ties with China. He faced criticism for his remarks on sensitive issues, including those related to Osama bin Laden and women's attire.

In terms of economic policy, Khan's government sought an IMF bailout to address the balance of payments and debt crisis, leading to austerity measures and a focus on tax revenue increase and import tariffs. These measures, along with high remittances, improved Pakistan's fiscal position. Khan's administration also made notable progress in improving Pakistan's ease of doing business ranking and renegotiated the China–Pakistan Free Trade Agreement.

In security and terrorism, the government banned organizations like Jamaat-ud-Dawa and focused on addressing extremism and violence. Khan's comments on sensitive topics sometimes led to domestic and international criticism.

Socially, the government made efforts to restore religious sites of minorities and instituted reforms in education and healthcare. Khan's administration expanded Pakistan's social safety net and welfare system, though some of Khan's comments on social issues were controversial.

Environmentally, the focus was on increasing renewable energy production and halting future coal power projects. Initiatives like the Plant for Pakistan project aimed at large-scale tree plantation and expanding national parks.

In governance and anti-corruption, Khan's government worked on reforming the bloated public sector and launched a vigorous anti-corruption campaign, which recovered significant amounts but faced criticism for allegedly targeting political opponents.

Shehbaz Sharif Governance
Shehbaz with his elder brother Nawaz Sharif ©Anonymous
2022 Apr 10

Shehbaz Sharif Governance


In April 2022, Pakistan experienced significant political changes. Following a vote of no confidence amidst a constitutional crisis, opposition parties nominated Sharif as the candidate for Prime Minister, leading to the ousting of incumbent Prime Minister Imran Khan. Sharif was elected as Prime Minister on April 11, 2022, and took the oath of office the same day. The oath was administered by Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani, as President Arif Alvi was on medical leave.

Sharif's government, representing the Pakistan Democratic Movement, faced a severe economic crisis, considered the worst since Pakistan's independence. His administration sought relief through a deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and aimed to improve relations with the United States. However, the response to these efforts was limited. Meanwhile, Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang expressed concerns about Pakistan's internal instability, despite China's continued economic support for Pakistan, reflecting the complexities and challenges of Sharif's tenure in navigating economic difficulties and international relationships.

In 2023, Kakar was selected to be the Caretaker Prime Minister of Pakistan, a decision agreed upon by both the outgoing opposition leader and Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif. President Arif Alvi ratified this nomination, officially appointing Kakar as Pakistan's 8th Caretaker Prime Minister. His oath-taking ceremony coincided with Pakistan's 76th Independence Day on August 14, 2023. On this notable day, Kakar also stepped down from his Senate position, and his resignation was promptly accepted by Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani.

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Pervez Musharraf

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Abdul Qadeer Khan

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Zulfikar Ali Bhutto

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Liaquat Ali Khan

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