Presidents of Pakistan 1956-Present
Even before the country came under a full military dictatorship in 1958, it had been difficult to define its political profile. As the saying goes, it was “neither fish, nor flesh nor a good red herring.” It started as a British dominion with a governor-general at its head. It was neither truly parliamentary nor presidential. In 1956, it declared itself a republic. With the departure of Mr. Jinnah, a wrestling match for power amongst the leaders was launched. Pakistan saw four governors-general between 1947 and 1956. The last GG, Iskander Mirza, transited from governor-general to become Pakistan’s first president. But it was the coming and going of prime ministers in quick succession that looked like a game of musical chairs. There were seven prime ministers in the first eleven years of Pakistan’s history. Mostly they lasted for two years. Chaudhry Mohammad Ali and H.S. Suhrawardy each had a oneyear stint. I.I. Chundrigar served for two months and Nurul Amin for only thirteen days.
From 1958 until the end of 1971, Pakistan was ruled by military dictators Ayub and Yahya Khan. The climate was too unfavorable for democracy to sustain and the sapling withered.
With Bhutto taking charge of the residual Pakistan after East Pakistan seceded, hopes for democracy resurged because he was a duly elected leader. A consensus constitution was promulgated. It looked like Pakistan’s politics had at last turned the corner. But the euphoria was short-lived. While anti-democratic forces were already at work to topple the edifice, Bhutto himself contributed to it with his arrogance and reckless actions.
The result was another lethal blow to democracy as Gen. Ziaul Haq overthrew him and took over the reins of government. Feigning deference to democracy he took Mohammad Khan Junejo as prime minster, but his dictatorship revealed itself when he fell out with Mr. Junejo and summarily dismissed him. With Ziaul Haq’s demise, though elected governments came to power, alternating between Benazir Bhutto and Mian Nawaz Sharif, they were removed one after the other due to misrule. Nawaz
Sharif in his second stint was toppled by then Army Chief, Gen. Pervez Musharraf in 1999.
Musharraf also tried to lend a façade of democracy to his rule. Elections were held and prime ministers appointed. But Musharraf’s rule, despite being legitimized by the apex court, lacked authenticity.
It was in 2008, therefore, that democracy in its true form was installed in the country with the PPP in the saddle. The journey on the road to democracy has not been easy. Indeed, often it seemed like the boat would sink. With corruption at its peak, near total breakdown of law and order, ineffective governance, executive and judiciary in a state of perpetual standoff and the America factor to queer the pitch further, it would have invited some self-styled savior to step in and take charge. But, this time history did not repeat itself. The army chief betrayed no inclination to step in and opted to stay back in his GHQ to the frustration of those who thrive under dictatorship.
Opinions are divided as to whether democracy was better suited for the country or dictatorship. Dictator Ayub Khan invoked the people’s “genius” in his support; Zia called it “psyche.” Where Pakistan’s future is concerned, a perpetual debate on whether the system of government should be parliamentary or presidential also exists. The issue of democracy being un-Islamic has however been settled once and for all, since religious parties have reconciled to democracy and are playing a prominent role in it. The JUI (F) is even a coalition partner of the ruling party. This is a good augury for the country’s future.
Believers in democracy are looking forward to the next five years of democracy in the hope that they will be spared the sufferings they had to endure during the five Zardari years.
As for the present, it is a time to celebrate. So long only military dictatorships had lasted for long years. But this time an elected government has also completed its full term, weathering all storms.
Iskander Mirza March 23, 1956 -October 27, 1958 Republican Party
Ayub Khan October 27, 1958 -June 8, 1962 Pakistan Armed Forces June 8, 1962 -March 25, 1969. Pakistan Muslim League (C)
Yahya Khan March 25, 1969 -December 20, 1971 Pakistan Armed Forces
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto December 20, 1971August 13, 1973 Pakistan People’s Party
Fazal Ilahi Chaudhary August 14, 1973September 16, 1978 Pakistan People’s Party
Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq September 16, 1978
August 17, 1988 Pakistan Armed Forces
Ghulam Ishaq Khan August 17, 1988 -July 18, 1993
Farooq Leghari November 14, 1993
December 2, 1997 Pakstan People’s Party
Muhammad Rafiq Tarar January 1, 1998 -June 20, 2000 Pakistan Muslim League (N)
June 20, 2001 -October 6, 2007 Pakistan Armed Forces October 6, 2007 -August 18, 2008 Pakistan Muslim League (Q)
Asif Ali Zardari September 9, 2008
Incumbent Pakistan People’s Party