Asia

Pakistan – The Governments of Benazir Bhutto

From the secession of the Bangla Desh to the bases of the Afghan resistance

Despite a slight improvement in the early 1960s, the country’s economic situation remained difficult; growing discontent resulted in a wave of unrest that overwhelmed Ayyub Khan, who was replaced in March 1969 by General Yahya Khan; the latter, after having suppressed the protest, called elections by direct universal suffrage for a national assembly with constituent powers. The success of the progressive Pakistani People’s Party (PPP), led by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, in western Pakistan, was matched, in eastern Pakistan, by the victory of the autonomous Awami League (LA) which obtained an absolute majority of seats in the National Assembly. The political crisis that followed, with Yahya Khan and the PPP himself opposed to the formation of an LA government, led to a radicalization of the latter’s politics, who adopted a separatist position. In March 1971, Bengal unilaterally proclaimed independence as a republic of Bangla Desh. The Pakistani attempt to repress the secession failed in the face of the intervention of the Indian Union in support of Bengali independence. The military defeat led to the fall of Yahya Khan, who was succeeded as president by Ali Bhutto. The separation of the Bangla Desh from Pakistan was recognized by the latter in 1974.

After the launch of a new Constitution (1973) which established four federated provinces and a parliamentary regime, Bhutto acquired the post of prime minister, while continuing to enjoy extensive powers. The launch of a policy of modernization of social and economic structures (agrarian reform and nationalization of large industrial and commercial companies) did not eliminate the serious imbalances in the country, arousing opposition from the more conservative sectors. The crisis erupted in 1977 following the protest, by the opposition coalitions in the Pakistani National Alliance (PNA), of the results of the March elections, which had registered a landslide victory for the PPP. The PA launched a civil disobedience campaign; the growing tension in the following months triggered the intervention of the military who arrested Bhutto in July, they dissolved Parliament, suspended the Constitution and proclaimed martial law, while general Zia ul-Haq assumed power. Accused of organizing an attack on a political opponent in which his father was killed, Bhutto was sentenced to death and hanged. The politics of Zia (president since 1978) proved increasingly authoritarian and repressive; political parties were dissolved and martial law strengthened; some prescriptions of Islamic law (sharia) were adopted in the legal and economic fields. Despite this, the strategically important role assumed by Pakistan after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan led Western countries to provide, during the 1980s, huge economic and military aid to the government of Islamabad. The Afghan resistance established its own bases in Pakistan, while over 3 million refugees (mostly Pashtuns) found refuge in the country.

The governments of Benazir Bhutto

According to ehotelat, the campaign for the return to democracy, promoted by the main opposition parties, failed to seriously threaten the stability of the regime. In 1985, the re-establishment of the 1973 Constitution (with an amendment that attributed broad powers to the president) was followed by the reappointment of Zia as president by a parliament elected on a non-party basis. The following months registered a cautious political liberalization: the state of emergency, in force continuously since 1969, was revoked and party activity was again permitted, albeit with severe limitations. In April 1986, the return from exile of Benazir Bhutto, daughter of Zulfikar Ali, gave new impetus to the activities of the opposition, while the country was crossed by a resurgence of inter-ethnic tensions, which mainly pitted Pashtun and Muhajir (Muslim refugees who came from India after 1947). When Zia died in a plane crash, a state of emergency was imposed again; the President of the Senate was provisionally appointed President of the Republic and, after the removal of the last restrictions on party activities, the legislative elections of November 1988 saw a good success for the PPP. With the abolition of the state of emergency, Benazir Bhutto was appointed prime minister of a coalition government between the PPP and the National Muhajir Movement (MNM). The weakness of the government agreement, the lack of stable majorities in the provincial governments and the institutional disagreements with the president progressively weakened the Bhutto government, which failed to carry out its own program of democratic reform of the country. The re-explosion of inter-ethnic tensions, fueled by the persistence of regional imbalances, is superimposed on the increase in episodes of violence, also linked to the spread of the illegal drug and arms trade, a legacy of the war in Afghanistan. In August 1990, the president resigned the Bhutto government, dissolving the National Assembly and declaring a state of emergency. In subsequent consultations (October 1990) the PPP was defeated by the conservative Islamic Democratic Alliance, which also included the old LM. Its leader, Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, was elected prime minister, but internal tension did not improve significantly: popular protests over Pakistan’s participation in the war against Iraq were superimposed on the continuation of the inter-ethnic unrest. A serious institutional conflict that arose between the Prime Minister and the President of the Republic ended with an agreement imposed by the Armed Forces which led to the simultaneous resignations of both. After the elections of October 1993, Benazir Bhutto returned to the leadership of a coalition government between the PPP and some smaller parties, while Ahmed Khan Leghari took over the presidency of the Republic.

In the second half of the 1990s Pakistan continued to be affected by repeated episodes of severe political, religious and inter-ethnic violence, and by growing social protest fueled by worsening economic conditions. Political instability was also exacerbated by the institutional conflict between President Leghari and Prime Minister Bhutto, whose popularity declined even within his own party. On November 5, 1996, Leghari dismissed Bhutto for abuse of power and maladministration; at the same time, Asif Ali Zardari, husband of Benazir Bhutto and minister of investments, was arrested on corruption charges. The early elections of February 1997 sanctioned the overwhelming victory of the Muslim League of Pakistan, led by Nawaz Sharif, who thus returned to the leadership of the executive.

Pakistan - The Governments of Benazir Bhutto