Political stability is one thing Pakistan has been desperately looking for throughout its 72-year checkered history.
The only nuclear-armed Muslim nation came into being in 1947 following the end of the British colonial era in united India in the wake of a grueling political struggle led by lawyer Mohammad Ali Jinnah.
But soon after his death in 1948, the country’s fragile political leadership and powerful military were at loggerheads.
Not long after independence, the country saw the assassination of its first premier and a close associate of Jinnah, Liaquat Ali Khan, who was shot dead at a political rally in the garrison city of Rawalpindi in 1951.
The assassination plunged the South Asian state, which has been ruled by the army for half of its history, into a bitter political tug-of-war resulting in six changes of government in less than nine years.
In 1956, the then largest Muslim state got its first constitution adopted by the Constituent Assembly under the leadership of Prime Minister Chaudhry Mohammad Ali. Ali, however, survived only a few months after that historic achievement as his government was dismissed by then Governor General Iskander Mirza with the backing of army chief General Ayub Khan. General Ayub did not wait long. He kicked out Mirza and took the country’s reins for the next 11 years in October 1958 as the first chief martial law administrator.
His 11 years turned into trying times for politicians and political parties. He introduced two controversial ordinances — the Public Offices (Disqualification) Order (PODO) and the Elective Bodies (Disqualification) Order (EBDO) — to disqualify dozens of political opponents from holding public office for up to 15 years.
He also abrogated the 1956 constitution and introduced a new one in 1962 granting executive powers to the president and abolishing the office of the prime minister. He got himself elected as president in an indirect presidential election in 1964, defeating Fatima Jinnah, the sister of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, amid widespread allegations of rigging.
General Ayub also banned one of the country’s the largest Islamic parties, Jamat-e-Islami (JI), in early 1960s, but the ban was overturned by the Supreme Court after a few years.
Many believe General Ayub sowed the seeds for the separation of then East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) as his controversial victory further exacerbated the already escalating sense of deprivation among Bengalis who supported Fatima Jinnah in the 1965 presidential election.
General Ayub found himself in hot water in 1967 when his charismatic Foreign Minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, parted ways and founded the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).
Led by Bhutto, a popular protest movement which analysts reckon had tacit backing from the army compelled General Ayub to abrogate the 1962 constitution and hand over power to army chief General Yahya Khan in 1969.
In 1970, General Yayha held the first-ever direct elections in Pakistan. Shaikh Mujeeb-ur-Rehman’s Awami League (167 seats) and Bhutto’s PPP (81 seats) swept the elections in East and West Pakistan respectively.
Much before the 1970 elections, law and order had almost collapsed in East Pakistan with clashes between locals and the army. Making things worse, General Yahya, instead of inviting Mujeeb-ur-Rehman to form a government, launched a military operation in East Pakistan which led to a full-fledged civil war.
Taking advantage of the worsening situation, India invaded East Pakistan, which resulted in the creation of Bangladesh and the surrender of Pakistan’s army in December 1971.
The army requested Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to take the reins of the remaining country as the first-ever civilian martial law administrator in 1972. Bhutto, with the help of other political parties, framed the country’s third constitution in 1973 and became the country’s first directly elected prime minister.
But his government was toppled just after four years by his handpicked army chief, General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, following rigging allegations in the 1977 elections.
Bhutto was later arrested on the charge of having his political rival murdered. In a first, he was directly tried by a high court and sentenced to death in 1979 in Rawalpindi as his conviction was also upheld by the Supreme Court with a 4-3 majority. His controversial conviction is widely seen as a “judicial murder”.
General Zia ruled the country for the next 11 years with an iron first until he died in a military plane crash in August 1988. His successor, General Mirza Aslam Baig, instead of grabbing power held general elections in November 1988 which paved the way for Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s daughter, Benazir Bhutto, to become the first female prime minister of the Muslim world.
Her government, however, was dismissed by then President Ghulam Ishaq Khan in 1990 on corruption charges.
In the wake of the 1990 elections, Nawaz Sharif became prime minister for the first term but only survived for 20 months. President Ghulam Ishaq Khan ousted him on the same corruption charges in 1992.
Benazir and Sharif also served as prime minister from 1993 to 1996 and 1997 to 1999 respectively but both could not complete their five-year terms.
The military struck again in October 1999 when then army chief General Pervez Musharraf toppled Sharif’s elected government in a bloodless military coup. Sharif was tried in a bizarre hijacking case and sentenced to a life term by an anti-terrorist court in 2000.
In 2001, he was sent into exile in Saudi Arabia on the intervention of former Saudi King Shah Abdullah bin Abdel Aziz.
Musharraf ruled the country for nearly nine years until he resigned after a coalition of the PPP and Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) threatened to impeach him in August 2008. General Musharraf, who is currently being treated in a Dubai hospital, ruled the country at a crucial time when his country decided to join the U.S.-led so-called war against terrorism in 2002 following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on Washington and New York.
In 2007, the two former premiers — Sharif and Benazir — returned to the country from exile and resumed their political activities. Only a few weeks before general elections, Benazir was killed in a terrorist attack soon after she addressed a rally in Rawalpindi’s historic Liaquat park in December 2007.
Riding a sympathy wave, her party won the 2008 elections and her widower, Asif Zardari, and the party’s vice chairman, Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani, became president and prime minister respectively.
Poor governance and ordinary economic policies preceded the party’s whitewash in 2013 elections in which Sharif’s PML(N) grabbed a two-thirds majority.
Frosty relations between the two elected governments and the army made headlines on several occasions during the combined 10 years of their stints.
Sharif, especially, had to face a series of sit-ins and protest movements mainly by cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan, who besieged parliament for four months in 2014 to protest alleged rigging in the 2013 elections. The rigging charges were later dismissed by the Supreme Court.
Sharif, 69, was disqualified from holding public office by a five-member bench of the Supreme Court in 2017 in a case stemming from the whistleblower Panama Papers scandal in 2016 in which more than 11.5 million anonymously leaked documents detailing financial improprieties of more than 200,000 offshore entities were taken from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca.
He was later sentenced to a combined 17-year jail term in two corruption cases but acquitted in a third one.
The Islamabad High Court late last year suspended his 10-year jail term and ordered his release on bail in the first corruption case. However, he is currently serving a seven-year jail term in his hometown Lahore in the second case.
Sharif, for his part, denied the corruption charges and accused the military establishment and current government of targeting him in the name of so-called accountability.
The latest target of an ongoing controversial accountability process is corruption-tainted former President Asif Zardari, who was arrested by the anti-corruption authorities in a money laundering case after the Islamabad High Court rejected his bail plea Monday.