Pakistan is a country located in Southern Asia. With the capital city of Islamabad, Pakistan has a population of 220,892,351 based on a recent census from COUNTRYAAH. 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.
- ABBREVIATIONFINDER: 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 care of.
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. Check best-medical-schools for more information about Pakistan.
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 East Pakistan.
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 of cheating.
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 as individuals.
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 and murder.
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 returned.
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 corruption-suspected politicians.
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 slow down.
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 been killed.
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 places.
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.