Democracy under the shadow of military rule 

It appears that the people of Pakistan now have no tolerance towards their nincompoop democracy.  As a result, in no time they have declared their verdict on  their  favourite cricketer tThe Fall of the dictatorurned premier of Pakistan, Imran Khan. His tall claims of “Naya Pakistan” have been thrashed as farcical and a mere eye wash. It would not be wrong to say that Imran Khan self inflicted this verdict by jumping the gun and setting deadlines for his new government. Little did he realise that he had a herculean task of curing a nation, which over a period of time was fighting many ailments – a failing democracy, debt ridden economy, lawlessness  etc.  almost akin to a patient surviving on  a life support system.

Delusional ‘Naya Pakistan’

Imran Khan’s  miscalculation, disabled him to bridge the gap between promises and reality and so the public backlash. This is another low for the democracy in Pakistan.

So when  “Naya Pakistan”  is trying to find a grip, insiders suggest that a “coup is knocking” is the mantra it is quietly dispersing for its own benefit. Creating panic in the name of a coup to stay in power even when the reign is encumbered with feeble governance and mismanagement.

Power sharing tussle between the polity, military and civil is a open secret in Pakistan. Who actually runs the state is known to all. So in such a scenario where decision-making is usually in limbo and the populace is upset with the shaky progress of political affairs such ‘rumours’ of a ‘coup’ take no time in quickly translating into reality.

Pakistan’s powerful military says it has “no direct role” in political affairs, but a history of coups and dictatorships  permanently casts fears over the balance of power in civil-military relations.

Here is a brief overview of Pakistan’s troubled path to democracy under the shadow of military rule.

Chaos and the first coup

Pakistan is created as a homeland for Muslims in 1947 as the subcontinent gains independence from Britain.

But its founder, the venerated Mohammad Ali Jinnah, dies one year later. Over the next decade, some seven prime ministers come and go before the military finally has enough of the chaos, with General Ayub Khan launching the country’s first military coup in 1958.

He is succeeded by General Yahya Khan in 1969 in the face of mass unrest, but Pakistan does not come back under civilian leadership until a disastrous civil war sees East Pakistan splinter away to form Bangladesh in 1971. Khan hands over the presidency to Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto that same year.

Bhutto’s hanging and the second coup

Bhutto, the founder of the populist Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), appoints a new army chief in 1976 – General Zia-ul-Haq – a surprise promotion that some say reflected the prime minister’s view that Zia was no threat.

If so, it proves a wild miscalculation. Not only does Zia depose Bhutto in the country’s second coup in 1977, he jails the prime minister and, two years later, has him hanged.

Zia’s totalitarian rule sees him impose Islamic laws and organize sham elections. He remains in power until he is killed in 1988 when his Hercules C-130 aircraft mysteriously crashes in Pakistan.

Benazir, Nawaz, and the third coup

Zia’s death ushers civilian rule back in under the leadership of his old nemesis Bhutto’s daughter, Benazir, who becomes the first female leader of any Muslim country.

She leads from 1988 until 1990 when she is ousted on corruption charges that she insinuates were fuelled by the military.

She is replaced by Nawaz Sharif, in the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader’s first stint as prime minister, setting in place a paradigm of revolving leadership between the two politicians that continues until the army, once again, loses patience.

By 1999, the relationship between Sharif in his second stint as premier and then-army chief General Pervez Musharraf is rapidly deteriorating. PML-Qousts Sharif in the country’s third coup.

Bhutto assassinated, eliminated ?

From Musharraf into democracy?

Musharraf names himself president in 2001 while remaining head of the army. He allows parliamentary and provincial elections in 2002, with his Pakistan Muslim League Quaid-i-Azam (PML-Q) winning a majority amid allegations of massive vote fraud.

General elections are finally held in 2008, weeks after Benazir Bhutto is assassinated. Musharraf concedes defeat and the PPP eventually forms a coalition government with Yousaf Raza Gilani as prime minister.

Gilani is not allowed to complete his term, ousted in 2012 over contempt of court charges, and is replaced by Raja Pervaiz Ashraf.

The 2013 elections represent Pakistan’s first ever democratic transfer of power. Nawaz Sharif, who went into exile after the 1999 coup but returned to the country in 2007, wins the contest in his most stunning comeback yet, becoming prime minister for the third time.

Nawaz versus a ‘silent coup’

Sharif again clashes with the military, this time over his efforts to seek better relations with arch-rival India. He is ousted by the Supreme Court following a corruption investigation in 2017, and banned from politics for life. He denies the allegations and loudly claims he is being targeted by the military.

An election is called for July 25. Sharif is sentenced to 10 years in prison for corruption and later arrested.

No Pakistani PM has ever completed their full term of five years



Transparency and accountability are two fundamental columns of good governance, yet in Pakistan both are practised halfheartedly or used to tyrannise political opponents. Historically, accountability has been marred by the ruling elite’s preferences and ineffective institutions. Additionally, the politicisation of the bureaucracy and cronyism have enormously affected the professionalism of civilian institutions and therefore civil servants serve political interests instead of the state.

The deterioration of the civil services is also a reason behind military involvement in Pakistani politics, since people believe that the armed forces are professional and act based on state priorities. Likewise, public opinion tends to place military men ahead of politicians when it comes to advocating for accountability, since the masses believe military pursues accountability without political interests.

In a democracy, these imperfections and deficiencies debilitate the social, political, and economic milieus and decelerate development.  Meanwhile, coups cause a lack of military professionalism, trample on human rights, and encourage a one man show at the top stage of politics.

The denial of reality has become deeply ingrained in the psyche of an average Pakistani, who considers the Army as panacea of all ills and cannot look beyond that. The Army does not want to lose its self-prescribed role of the saviour and continues to remain the fulcrum of Pakistan as a nation.

Even after 71 years, hope for deliverance from these issues is missing from the manifestos of political parties therefore the coups will keep knocking.


19 Nov 18/Monday                                   Written by Afsana