Pakistan was already a fragile state
formation at the time of its creation in 1947. Repeated
military coups and wars against India have made it
difficult for democracy to gain a foothold. Bitter power
struggles between the military and the leading
politicians, combined with an ever stronger influence
from religious extremism, have made Pakistan one of
Asia's most unstable countries.
Pakistan was proclaimed an independent state on
August 14, 1947 - the day before the creation of the
Indian Union. The division into two states was the
result of increased contradictions between the Indian
National Congress and the Muslim League (see Older
History). Muslim League leader Muhammad Ali Jinnah
became general governor - in effect head of state - and
Liaquat Ali Khan prime minister.
List of most commonly used acronyms containing Pakistan. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.
Pakistan had a difficult start. The division of India
led to mass exodus of Muslims from Hindu areas and vice
versa. At least half a million refugees, the majority of
Muslims, were murdered in the hate mood that was whipped
up. The new state had no capital, no administration (it
was largely run by Hindus and Sikhs who had fled), no
organized defense and eight million refugees to take
Pakistan was a major producer of jute and cotton, but
the processing industries were inaccessible in India.
The country consisted of two halves - West Pakistan and
East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) - between each other very
different and separated by 160 km of Indian territory.
In addition, after only a few years, a political vacuum
arose since Jinnah died in 1948 and Ali Khan was
assassinated in 1951.
War on Kashmir
One issue that has for years poisoned Pakistan-India
relations is that of Kashmir. At the split of 1947,
Kashmir's Hindu Maharaja doubted where to join his
Muslim-dominated country. The Muslims revolted and were
supported by Pakistani volunteers. To get help from
India, the maharadjan was forced to join Kashmir. Full
war broke out and went on throughout 1948. At the
ceasefire, about two-thirds of Kashmir landed in India
and the rest came under Pakistani control. Since then,
the standstill line has served as a national border
(read more about the conflict in Kashmir here).
During the 1950s, Pakistan was increasingly evolving
towards an authoritarian regime under the strong
influence of the bureaucracy and the military. The
Muslim League split and the governments succeeded. In
October 1958, the first military coup was conducted and
Commander Ayub Khan proclaimed president. A new
constitution that came into force in 1962 gave the
president great power.
Economic growth accelerated under the protection of
the military and with American assistance, but only a
small elite benefited. At the same time, the social
divisions grew and dissatisfaction grew. In order to
divert attention from the domestic political problems,
the regime undermined the dissatisfaction prevailing in
the Indian part of Kashmir and provoked a new war in
1965. After violent demonstrations, Ayub Khan in 1969
abandoned power to another general, Yahya Khan.
In East Pakistan, discontent had prevailed all the
time. The area accounted for a large part of Pakistan's
export revenue, but most of the money went to the West.
In Pakistan's administration and armed forces, West
Pakistanis dominated. The government tended to ignore
the recurring natural disasters in the east.
East Pakistan becomes Bangladesh
During Yahya Khan, in 1970, Pakistan's first free
elections were organized. Nearly all the mandates in the
east went to the Awami League, led by Mujibur Rahman and
demanded increased self-government, while the Pakistani
People's Party (PPP), formed in 1967 by Zulfikar Ali
Bhutto, won clearly in the west. Yahya Khan's and
Bhutto's unwillingness to grant Rahman government power
prompted the Awami League to advocate independence for
On March 23, 1971, the new state of Bangladesh was
proclaimed. The army was deployed to defeat the uprising
and the Bengals turned into guerrilla war. Pakistan
accused India of supporting the Bengals and after some
border disputes, India invaded East Pakistan in
November. The war spread to West Pakistan and on
December 16, 1971, the Pakistani army surrendered. The
land was divided.
After the loss of the war, Yahya Khan resigned and
Bhutto became president. A new constitution in 1973 gave
Pakistan a parliamentary system and Bhutto now became
prime minister. After taking power, he became
increasingly authoritarian, which led to the opposition
parties forming an alliance prior to the 1977 election.
PPP's grand victory was immediately met by accusations
Strikes and demonstrations erupted, opposition
leaders were imprisoned and chaos spread. About 1,000
people are believed to have been killed. On July 5,
1977, the military intervened. Political leaders were
imprisoned, laws of war were introduced and Parliament
dissolved. The coup leader, Commander-in-Chief Muhammad
Zia ul-Haq, quickly betrayed the promise of re-election
and took over the presidential post in 1978. Bhutto was
sentenced to death and executed in April 1979.
Islamization of society
During Zia ul-Haq there was a strong Islamization of
society. The political parties were not allowed to work
openly because, according to him, the party system was
Islamic. When the long-delayed parliamentary elections
were held in February 1985, the candidates had to stand
Zia ul-Haq also passed a series of constitutional
amendments, which gave the President great power to
dissolve Parliament and dismiss or appoint the Prime
Minister. After getting Parliament to retroactively
approve all decisions made by the military regime, Zia
ul-Haq repealed the exception laws in December 1985.
After many years in prison, house arrest and escape,
Ali Bhutto's daughter Benazir started a campaign against
Zia ul-Haq in 1986. However, no political opening was
given until the president was killed in an air crash in
August 1988. The Supreme Court decided that the parties
could openly stand in it elections announced until
November of that year.
The election gave PPP a scarce victory and Benazir
Bhutto formed government with the support of several
other parties. She was dismissed in August 1990 by
President Ghulam Ishaq Khan after being accused of
corruption and abuse of power and for failing to
maintain law and order.
Political power struggle
In the October 1990 general election, a conservative
alliance prevailed and Muslim League leader Nawaz Sharif
became prime minister. Disputes between Sharif and the
president in April 1993 led to this government being
dismissed as well but reinstated by the Supreme Court.
Oppositions continued and fears of a military coup
escalated before the crisis was resolved by the July
commander persuading both of them to resign.
The new elections in October 1993 made Benazir Bhutto
prime minister for the second time. Her second term as
head of government was marred by political violence in
the province of Sindh, which was severely defeated by
the army. At the same time, a violent conflict raged
between Sunni and Shia extremists.
The violence harmed the country's economy. Bhutto was
also involved in a power struggle with the Supreme Court
over the right to appoint higher judges. Her decision to
appoint her husband Asif Ali Zardari as Minister of
Investment spurred the allegations of corruption. In
November 1996, Bhutto was dismissed by the President.
After the February 1997 election, Nawaz Sharif became
prime minister for the third time. He now started what
can be described as a legal vendetta against Bhutto. In
April 1999, she was sentenced to five years in prison,
ten years of political bans and soaring fines. Bhutto
had, however, in good time sat down to safety abroad.
In the fall of 1997, a power struggle broke out
between Sharif, the President of the Supreme Court and
the President. The crisis ended with the resignation of
the President and the President of the Supreme Court
dismissed by his own judges. But in October 1999, when
Sharif tried to dismiss the commander-in-chief, General
Pervez Musharraf, he was instead deposed, imprisoned and
eventually forced into exile in Saudi Arabia.
Musharraf takes power
The coup maker Musharraf was ordered by the Supreme
Court to reinstate civil rule by October 2002. He
obeyed, but still maintained power by anticipating the
general elections on several points. He made himself
president with strengthened powers and had the
appointment confirmed in a questionable referendum,
secured the military's influence over politics by
creating a national security council and building his
own party - called the Muslim League-Quaid-in-Azam
(PML-Q) - with perfectly loyal politicians.
The work opportunities of the former dominant parties
were limited. By contrast, the Islamist parties, which
previously had weak support in the elections, were able
to hold mass meetings under the guise of religious
gathering or the like. Rapid radicalization of Islamists
took place under the protection of the military regime.
At the same time, the country was politically isolated
after the nuclear explosions in 1998 and the military
coup in 1999.
The economy deteriorated rapidly. The terrorist
attacks against the United States in September 2001 and
the subsequent US-led attack on the Taliban-ruled
Afghanistan therefore came as a gift from above for the
country. By standing on the US side, Pakistan received
extensive financial support.
In the October 2002 parliamentary elections, the
presidential PML-Q won a clear majority. But Musharraf
had a difficult balance to go between his support for
the United States and the need to stay well with those
who supported the Afghan Taliban. Following an attack on
the Indian Parliament in December 2001, Musharraf was
also hard pressed by Indian forces to strike against
Kashmiri separatists, who were able to engage in
terrorist activities from hiding places in Pakistan. A
number of extremist movements were banned and hundreds
of their members were imprisoned. Nevertheless,
Musharraf did not get in the way of the radical
Islamists. Many of the movements resurfaced and several
assassination attempts were directed at the president.
In clan-controlled areas along the Afghan border, the
army fought bloody battles with local militia suspected
of protecting Afghan and other foreign terrorists.
The red mosque is stormed
In March 2007, Musharraf dismissed Supreme Court
President Iftikhar Chaudhry for "abuse of power" since
he criticized the lack of legal security in the country.
Around Chaudhry, then, a regime-critical movement was
gathered, which became a growing problem for the
president. In July of that year, the Supreme Court
annulled the dismissal of Chaudhry.
That same month, security forces surrounded the Red
Mosque (Lal Masjid) in Islamabad, where
hundreds of militant Islamists had entrenched
themselves. After just over a week, the mosque was
stormed and dozens of people shot dead.
Islamists and foreign terrorist groups now called for
a fight against the government. A few days later, about
100 people, most of the army soldiers and police, were
killed in attacks in the clan area of North Waziristan
and the Northwest Border Province (today Khyber
Pakhtunkhwa). The clans in North Waziristan canceled a
peace treaty signed with the government in 2006.
During protests from the opposition, Musharraf was
allowed to stand in the presidential election in October
2007, despite having failed to promise to resign as
commander-in-chief. However, the Supreme Court's final
decision would not come until one month after the
election. By proposing a division of power with Benazir
Bhutto, he persuaded the PPP not to join the boycott of
Parliament's vote, after which Musharraf won clearly. He
had also issued a broad amnesty for hundreds of
corruption-suspected politicians and officials to pave
the way for cooperation with, above all, the PPP.
Benazir Bhutto is murdered
With the help of dictatorial exception laws,
Musharraf got his re-election approved by the Supreme
Court, which now had only regime-loyal members. He then
announced his new election until January 8, 2008. On
November 28, 2007, Musharraf resigned as
commander-in-chief and the day after he was installed at
the presidential post. On December 16, the exception
laws were repealed.
Benazir Bhutto was assassinated on December 27 after
an election in Rawalpindi. Her 19-year-old son Bilawal
was appointed new chairman of the PPP, but until then
his father Asif Ali Zardari came to lead the party.
Zardari, however, was contentious and had been
imprisoned for eleven years for corruption, blackmail
The murder triggered bloody riots. Both in Pakistan
and abroad, demands were made for an international
investigation of the attack. A UN report, completed in
2010, accused the authorities of failing to protect
Bhutto. The police were also criticized for making a
lousy investigation of the attack.
The unrest caused the election to be postponed just
over a month to February 2008. PPP and PML-N won big and
together formed a government with the support of a few
smaller parties. PPP's Yusuf Raza Gilani was appointed
Prime Minister. Already in May 2008, however, the PML-N
left the government after disagreement with the PPP
about the judges dismissed by Musharraf with the help of
the exception laws the year before. The PML-N considered
that the judges would regain their positions in the
Supreme Court, while the PPP wanted to limit their
power. It was presumed that Zardari was afraid that
corruption cases would resume if the previous judges
Struggles in the Swat Valley
Faced with an urgent threat from Parliament to face
trial by the Constitution for violating the
Constitution, Musharraf resigned from the presidential
post in August of that year. In September, Asif Ali
Zardari was elected as his successor.
In March 2009, the government agreed that the judges
dismissed by Musharraf get their seats back in the
Supreme Court. HD then determined that the state of
emergency declared by Musharraf in 2007 was illegal. The
judges also annulled Musharraf's amnesty for
Meanwhile, Pakistan was drawing ever closer to a
civil war. Islamists, gathered within Tehrik-i-Taliban
Pakistan (Pakistani Taliban Movement, TTP), carried out
more and more attacks. TTP leader Baitullah Mehsud was
one of those suspected of the murder of Benazir Bhutto.
Swat Valley in the north was dominated by a
Taliban-like militia since 2008. In February 2009, the
government agreed to a local peace agreement that in
practice recognized the Taliban as rulers and admitted
that Islamic law, sharia, would be applied there. When
the Islamists almost immediately broke the peace treaty
and tried to expand their territory, the army went
against the offensive. The fighting drove at least 1.5
million civilians in a short time.
After the Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud was killed
in August 2009 in a US rocket attack, TTP took a bloody
revenge. From October to the end of 2009, around 600
people were killed and throughout 2009, 3,021 people
were victims of terrorist attacks. Pakistan had become
one of the world's most dangerous countries.
Presidential power is diminished
During the first half of 2010, the terrorist act
continued with the same intensity. Only when Pakistan
was hit by severe floods in the summer after unusually
heavy monsoon rains did the wave of terror temporarily
In 2010, the United States stepped up its rocket
attacks from unmanned aircraft, "drones," to suspected
Taliban or al-Qaeda detention in the Northwest clan
areas. A large number of people were reported to have
In April 2010, the Parliament passed a constitutional
amendment which eliminated many of the amendments to the
constitution that former dictators made to increase
their own power. Pakistan became a parliamentary
democracy (see Political system).
After a period of power struggle between the
government, the military and the judiciary, Prime
Minister Gilani was convicted of court strife in April
2012. Parliament appointed Raja Pervez Ashraf of the
PPP. His PPP-dominated government ruled Pakistan until
March 2013, when, according to the rules, it handed over
to an unpolitical government ahead of the parliamentary
elections in May. For the first time in Pakistan's
history, a democratically elected government could have
sat for a full term.
Democratic change of power
In the spring of 2013, the country's first democratic
power change took place. In March, the PML-N won the
parliamentary elections over the PPP. After a violent
electoral movement, including Taliban attacks on secular
parties, the PML-N received almost a third of the vote,
which converted into a mandate gave the party nearly
half of the seats in the National Assembly.
With the support of a few small parties, PML-N
chairman Nawaz Sharif was able to take up as prime
minister for the fourth time and form a stable
government. Later in the year, PML-N consolidated its
strong position when the party's candidate Mamnoon
Hussain was elected president.
The PPP went back heavily in the elections, getting
only a quarter as many seats as the PML-N and just a few
more seats than Pakistan's Justice for Justice (PTI),
led by former cricket star Imran Khan.
Sharif set as its two most important goals to
strengthen the country's economy and increase security.
While the first goal seemed to be achieved, things went
worse with the second. The attempts to start a peace
dialogue with the Taliban within TTP were difficult.
Even as the dialogue was being prepared in September
2013, hundreds of people were killed in a series of
blast attacks blamed on the Taliban by the government.
Instead of sending out negotiating troops, the
government formed a special military force against
terrorism in the area around the big city of Peshawar.
Offensive against clan areas
On a visit to Washington that fall, Sharif failed to
make an American pledge to stop drone strikes, which,
during the "war on terror," claimed the lives of a large
number of civilian Pakistanis. Shortly thereafter, TTP
leader Hakimullah Mehsud was killed in a drone attack in
North Waziristan. A new Taliban leader was appointed a
notorious mule from Swat Valley, Fazlullah.
The plans for peace talks were not revived until
February 2014. The United States, on the government's
appeal, then temporarily halted drone flights to
facilitate the talks. However, attempts to get
negotiations started were interrupted by new attacks,
which in some cases were attributed to outbreak groups
that wanted to sabotage the peace chances. In April, the
government side launched air raids against South
Waziristan and North Waziristan and the Taliban
responded with new assaults.
In June 2014, TTP split when the formerly dominant
Mehsud clan formed its own phalanx based in South
Waziristan. The clan pointed out that TTP has become
increasingly "Islamic" through methods such as
blackmail, kidnappings and explosive attacks in public
That same month, the United States resumed the drone
attacks, at the same time as the Pakistani Air Force
resumed bombing Taliban mounts in the northwest. Shortly
thereafter, the army launched a major ground offensive
against North Waziristan. Soon, 800,000 people were
reported to have fled their homes and the army claimed
to have taken over the territory's main place of
Miranshah. In December, the army said that at least
1,600 people, most militant Islamists, had been killed
during the offensive and that a few hundred army
soldiers had fallen.
After a massacre of 132 children and 16 adults at a
school in Peshawar in December 2014, the authorities
appeared to take the fight against extremism in a
seriously scarcely observed way before. They set up
military courts with the power to try civilians for
terrorist offenses. The death penalty was introduced for
terrorists. When the military courts' term of office
expired in January 2017, 274 had been charged with
terrorist offenses, 161 had been sentenced to death and
twelve had been executed by hanging.