Pakistan: The Martial Democracy

Is another military coup in Pakistan is on the card? The recent turn of events unfolding in Pakistan suggest so. Jamiat Ulema Islam – Fazl (JUI-F) Chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, leading the Azadi March is not budging from his demand of Resignation of Prime Minister Imran Khan. He has even warned other “Nationalist Organisations” to withdraw support from the incumbent government, clearly pointig finger at Pakistan Army and urging it to stay away from the protest. He has further said, “We do not want conflict with our Institution, but we also want to see them to stay neutral. We give two days to the institution also to decide if they will continue to support this government. After that, we will decide what opinion we should have about them.” On the other hand Pakistan’s powerful military said it supports the country’s elected government and the constitution. Major General Asif Ghafoor, military spokesman said, “We believe in the law and the constitution and our support is with the democratically elected government, not with any party.”

Earlier the rumours of cancellation of the leave of the 111 Brigade had been viral on social media. A viral tweet stated that “all leave of personnel of 111 Infantry Brigade cancelled. All personnel to report back for duty by last light 04/10/19”. It is to be recollected that 111 Brigade was the same brigade which was involved in General Ayub Khan’s coup d’etat against Iskander Mirza, General Zia-ul-Haq’s coup against Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s government and in Pervez Musharraf’s coup against the Nawaz Sharif regime. It is presently responsible for the security of the Prime Minister and the Islamabad region. A noted Pakistani writer, Anas Malik writes that “Brigade 111 is notorious because it is well-positioned to detain civilian leaders and take over the federal government’s administrative centers as a coup unfolds.”

Baggage from the Past

Since its independence in 1947, the political scenario in Pakistan has largely been influenced and even defined by its military leadership. The constitution of Pakistan was drafted and adopted in 1956 which turned it into an “Islamic Republic”. The fledgling constitution only lasted for about two years when the then President Iskander Mirza (also a retired Major General) carried out a coup d’etat suspending the constitution and declaring martial law on October 7, 1958. Mirza appointed General Ayub Khan as his Commander-in-Chief of the Army only to be overthrown by the latter soon. President and General Ayub Khan won the confidence of the United States by assuring them of opposing the soviet communist designs in the Middle East and Pesian Gulf. It was at this juncture in the history of Pakistani Politics, that the Army Generals got a flavour of dictatorship and the military leadership seized the opportunity of deciding the internal as well as foreign policies of Pakistan. These policies were framed keeping in mind a long term perspective the fruits of which are still  reaped by the Pakistan Army.

The extent of Military dictatorship had reached new pinnacles. The first democratic elections were held in 1970 (23 years after independence) where the difference in ideologies of people of West Pakistan and East Pakistan emerged. The Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rehman led Awami League won majority in East Pakistan where as the Zulfikar Ali Bhutto led Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) won majority in West Pakistan. Both leaders came to an arrangement and decided to form a coalition government. The ridiculous power bestowed upon the military leadership of Pakistan ensured that no coalition government was actually formed. General Ayub Khan ordered the arrest of both Mub-ur-Rehman and Bhutto and ensured that no session of the parliament could be convened. East Pakistani masses felt bereaved and betrayed and displayed stiff resistance. Following this, the war of 1971 broke out which led to a humiliating Pakistani defeat due to lack of coordination and command and control among various wings of its armed forces.

After over two decades of pseudo democracy, finally the martial law was uplifted and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was a legitimately elected head of state of Pakistan who formulated a new constitution and reverted Pakistan into a parliamentary form of government. Visible development was seen in defence procurements, healthcare, education and various sectors of the Pakistan economy under Bhutto only to be overthrown by his personally appointed Chief of Army Staff General Zia-ul-Haq. After winning the general elections in 1977, the Pakistan Army backed public unrest initiated by the opposition sparked fire in Pakistan. The Military dictator having achieved his goal suspended the constitution, which through these many years since independence has been a mockery in Pakistan, and re-declared martial law. He was sworn in as President and got Bhutto executed after having been found guilty of “conspiracy to murder”. This incident is testimony to the condition of the helpless political leadership and its public in Pakistan. It was only after the death of Zia-ul-Haq in a plane crash in 1988 that democracy breathed in Pakistan. Assembly elections resulted in the PPP wining under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s daughter Benazir Bhutto. Benazir’s government lasted for only two years. It is widely accepted that Nawaz Sharif, who became Prime Minister in 1990, was groomed under Zia-ul-Haq and that the military overthrew the Benazir Bhutto government on charges of incompetence.

Politico – Military Battle for Supremacy Continued

The political battle of Nawaz Sharif and Bhutto  continued from 1990-1999 which saw the general masses suffering to the extent that an internal military operation was also launched to neutralize political workers and activists thorough a bloodbath in Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi. After the defeat of the Pakistan Army in the Kargil War in 1999, the military encashed by spreading in the masses that PM Nawaz Sharif was responsible for the retreat under US pressure. Nawaz Sharif attempted to dismiss his own appointed General Parvez Musharraf after which the funniest drama of civil-military politics unveiled in Pakistan. General Musharraf’s aircraft was not allowed to land in Karachi which resulted in the airport being taken over and PM Nawaz Sharif being put under house arrest and later exiled. Such is the political drama in Pakistan that martial law was declared again in 1999 which was accepted by its masses too. The general public in Pakistan has witnessed the death of democracy in the form of a slow extinction from apathy and indifference. Till date, the Pakistan Army has been successful in moulding democratic sentiments of the general public in its favour. General Musharraf’s reign continued and he instituted multiple amendments in the constitution. The masses had enough of dictatorship when the General dismissed the Chief Justice of the Supreme  Court Iftekhar Muhammad Chaudhary promoting a nationwide protest for his re-instatement. Under the military rule of General Musharraf the so called National Assembly completed its term of five years for the first time in Pakistan’s history. Benazir Bhutto was also killed in a bomb blast in 2008 in Islamabad under the rule of General Musharraf when she started campaigning nationwide.

Ray of Hope

Sense prevailed in the public in Pakistan and as has been the trend throughout its history, the “democratic” era began in Pakistan. Initially it was under the rule and supervision of President Musharraf, but a series of scams and intense corruption led to the downfall of the Musharraf backed government. The judiciary had a vital role in restoring the essence of democracy in Pakistan, if only for a small time. Succeeding President Asif Ali Zardari and PM Yusuf Raza Gilani were replaced by PPP government which went on to become the first democratically elected civilian led government to complete its five years term.


In spite of brave front put by Nawaz Sharif against the all powerful Pakistan Army, it was the Army which emerged winner, this time through Political ‘Military Coup’ by rigging the elections. The general elections of 2018 saw Imran Khan led PTI emerging out of nowhere to become the ruling party. It is widely believed that Imran Khan’s part was aided by the Pakistan Military in a allegedly “rigged” election in 2018. The fact that DG ISPR is the face of government decision and the parallel economy run by the military are authentication to the belief that Pakistan politics is still governed by the military. To assert its power, the military has instated a new “Puppet” leader who defeated stalwarts in provinces where the PTI had absolutely no reach. The delay in the declaration of results, all opposition parties expressing concern, and the rift between Nawaz Sharif and the military hegemony over foreign and domestic policies during his tenure all indicate towards a military backed election result. The recent escalation with India and the pride with which the Pak military have falsified facts to the world and its own people has further strengthened their image in the general masses. The problems with democracy and politics in Pakistan are deep rooted and complex. The influence of foreign powers like US, Russia and China on the political scenario in Pakistan also can not be ruled out. The crux of the issue is that any democratically elected government with a vision for actual development and which is against the idea of feudalism will never sustain in Pakistan. No government will ever improve ties with India as that would put the position and control of the military in question. Democracy in Pakistan has been found only as an interval between the next military regimes. After seventy plus years of independence, feudalism and age old traditions prevail in Pakistan which is responsible for the weakness of democratic politics in Pakistan. True democracy, if at all Pakistan ever wants it, can only be achieved when democratic practices are allowed to prevail under the supremacy of an unchanged constitution. The irony is, the constitution of Pakistan has been a mockery in itself and has been changed by military dictators to their fancies.

06 Nov 2019/Wednesday              Written by: