Phases of democracy and dictatorship in Pakistan

The Return of democracy

Benazir Bhutto emerged as the first ever female Prime Minister of Pakistan in December 1988.         Benazir was seen as a symbol of resistance by all those who went through persecution during Zia’s authoritarian regime. Furthermore people in general and women in particular had great expectations from the first ever female Prime Minister. The Zia regime had infringed women’s rights thus it was believed that Benazir would take appropriate steps to restore the rights of women. Benazir during her first term in office 1988-90 was unable to come up to the expectations of the general public. Thus it was believed that finally she was taken over by her overwhelming feudal authoritarian nature. Benazir had to face harsh criticism owing to her husband Asif Ali Zardari who was said to have acquired the title Mr. Ten Percent.  Some political observers have defended Benazir owing to the pressure mounted against her which eventually hindered her from reaching the desired goals. This school of thought defends Benazir as she had to face a great deal of resistance from the agencies and the President who had made a league against her. Some political observers contend that in spite of Benazir’s massive success in the elections she had to make certain compromises in order to form government. Benazir during her first term in office had to struggle to develop rationale civil military relations.

Benazir’s government was also criticized on the economic front for being rather slow in regulating the privatization policy. The issues of poverty and unemployment were left unaddressed as the government began to practice the ‘politics of patronage’. Resultantly many PPP supporters acquired jobs in the public sector and Bureaucracy. The civilian government and the military had a tussle on policies pertaining to India and Afghanistan. Benazir wanted to establish democratic relations with states including India furthermore she wanted a political solution to the Afghan problem according to the Geneva Accord.  There was disagreement between the Prime Minister Benazir and the President over the appointment and retirement of the Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff Committee. President Ghulam Ishaq Khan using the eighth Amendment of the Constitution dismissed Benazir’s government. Benazir had allegations of corruption and inability to maintain law and order. On November 1st 1990 Nawaz Sharif was elected as the new Prime Minister. He proved to be more enthusiastic than Benazir in adopting economic liberalization but owing to financial mismanagement Sharif’s government had to face harsh criticism. Allegations were made that Sharif’s government had misused public funds which led to the collapse of the cooperative societies in Punjab hence the depositors lost Rs. 20 Billion.

Talbot a famous political observer revealed that Benazir sided with Ghulam Ishaq Khan to overthrow Sharif in return she promised to support the President in his bid for a second time. Nationalization of the Ittefaq  Foundaries by Late Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was the source of acrimony between Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto.  In addition to this it was assumed that during Benazir’s first term in office the Sharif family was victimized by the civil regime. On 17th April 1993 Sharif in his televised address to the nation criticized the President for planning to topple his government. Ghulam Ishaq Khan by using the eighth amendment of the Constitution dismissed Sharif‘s Government. A petition was filed by Sharif against his dismissal and was restraint by the Supreme Court. However both Sharif and Khan had to step down as a result of the deal struck by the Army Chief General Abdul Waheed. Nawaz Sharif during his first term in office faced the challenges of establishing a strong civil military relation and emerging as a popular leader. Nawaz Sharif’s PML (N) had made an alliance with MQM which was interfered due to the ‘Operation Clean up’ led by the Army in Karachi.

 Benazir was elected as the Prime Minister for the second time in 1993 and Mr. Farooq Leghari was elected as the President of Pakistan. The Prime minister and the President become more estranged than ever in 1996 owing to the Murder of Mir Murtaza Bhutto Benazir’s brother.  Resultantly Farooq Leghari dismissed Benazir owing to accusations of corruption, nepotism and abuse of power. Asif Ali Zardari had the allegations of stealing millions from the state coffers and plotting to kill his wife’s brother. Benazir during her second term in office managed to establish better civil military relations. Political observers contend that the factors needed for the survival of any civil government include economic management, relations with the opposition and most importantly the civil military relations.

Nawaz Sharif was again elected as the Prime Minister of Pakistan with a “heavy mandate” and a two thirds majority in 1997. This time Sharif owing to a ‘heavy mandate’ was successful in making a few amendments in the Constitution. The most striking amendment made in the Constitution was withholding President’s power to overthrow the government. However Sharif was once again removed from office as a result of the military coup on 12th October 1999 bring an end to another democratic phase in Pakistan. Political observers contend that there was a strain in the civil military relations in the latter half of Sharif’s second term. Sharif during his second term in office was extremely careful in appointing the Army Chief. General Pervez Musharraf was carefully appointed as the new Army chief as he seemed appropriate in every manner mainly on account of his Mohajir ethnicity.

Sharif during his second term became more authoritarian and appointed his relatives to some key posts and thus personalized power. In addition to this he was unable to develop strong civil military relations.  One theory suggests that one possible reason for estranged civil military relations was the resignation of General Karamat in 1998. Likewise Sharif’s constant interference in the promotions and transfers of the senior officers even Corp Commanders could be another reason. Prime Minister Sharif had already appointed General Ziauddin as the new Army Chief while Musharraf was still in Sri Lanka. However the military refused to take Nawaz Sharif’s orders in the absence of Musharraf.



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