Pres­i­dents of Pak­istan 1956-Present

Southasia - - Cover Story Democracy - S. G. Ji­la­nee is a se­nior po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst and the former ed­i­tor of Southa­sia Mag­a­zine.

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)

Pervez Mushar­raf

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

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