A group of paramilitary forces barged into a courthouse in Islamabad and arrested the former prime minister of Pakistan Imran Khan, on multiple counts of corruption charges. The former PM alleges that the real reason behind his arrest is his critical view on the Pak Army and the officer cadre…a viewpoint that has gained the support of ordinary Pakistanis too.
And that’s probably why for the first time in its history, the country saw this type of opposition to its military by its people – Upon Khan’s arrest massive violent mobs tore through various parts of the country to protest the arrest. Dissidents took to the streets and started targeting military and government establishments, destroying military & public property, breaking into military cantonment areas and harassing families.
Imran Khan has now been released after the supreme court granted him a two-week bail. But will the situation return to normal anytime soon?
In 3 days, 40 people have died due to violent clashes between people and law enforcement officers. Various properties have been vandalised and looted. The worst and most unfortunate sufferers have been the innocent military families who were unable to make a timely escape.
Pakistan – Story of a Failed Nation
An eagle-eye view of Pakistan’s economic and political crisis concludes that this event is the consequence of interference and domination of the army over its domestic polity, via indirect and direct intervention and coups. And be sure, this wasn’t the first time Pak Army led a campaign against the country’s democratic agencies. Coups in Pakistan by the military are as old as the nation itself, let’s take a look.
History of Pak’s Military Coups
Pakistan has experienced four military coups since 1947 – in 1958, 1977, 1999 and recently in 2022. And each of these resulted in the overthrowing of civilian governments and the imposition of martial law.Pakistan has witnessed widespread allegations and cases of corruption, nepotism, mismanagement and abuse of power by civilian politicians and bureaucrats, which tarnished their reputation and credibility. These issues have been known to plague the Pak military establishments (especially related to MilBus) too, however, there is a prevalent fear among commoners which prevents them from voicing their opinions. In all four incidents of coups, there is one common factor – it always starts when these two factions lose trust and start blaming each other.
1958 coup – Military Win
The first coup in Pakistan took place on October 7, 1958, when President Iskander Mirza abrogated the constitution of 1956 and declared martial law. He appointed General Ayyub Khan as the chief martial law administrator. However, on October 27, Ayyub Khan deposed Mirza and assumed the presidency himself.The political and constitutional grounds for this coup were:
- Failure of democracy: Pakistan experienced frequent changes of governments, prime ministers and cabinets between 1947 and 1958, which created political instability and uncertainty. The constitution of 1956 was also criticized for being too centralized and for ignoring the interests of the provinces, especially East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).
- The threat of Communism: Pakistan faced internal threats from leftist movements and parties that advocated for land reforms, workers’ rights and social justice. The military claimed to defend Pakistan’s sovereignty and security from these communist influences.
- Poor Economic Policies: Pakistan faced economic challenges such as low growth, high inflation, trade deficits and foreign debt. The military argued that it could implement more effective policies and plans to boost industrialization, modernization and infrastructure.
1977 coup – Military Win
The second coup in Pakistan took place on July 5, 1977, when General Zia-ul-Haq overthrew the government of Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and imposed martial law. He suspended the constitution of 1973 and banned all political activities.
The grounds for this coup were:
- Introduction of Secular Reforms: Bhutto’s government introduced some secular and progressive reforms such as the nationalization of industries, recognition of women’s rights and promotion of cultural diversity. These reforms were opposed by some religious groups and parties that accused Bhutto of deviating from Islamic values and norms. They joined the PNA and demanded the implementation of Islamic law (Sharia) in Pakistan.
- Deterioration of Law & Order: Bhutto’s government had faced several challenges such as separatist movements in Balochistan and Sindh provinces, ethnic violence in Karachi, labour strikes in industrial areas and student unrest in universities. These challenges had resulted in bloodshed, chaos and disorder in many parts of the country. The military intervened to restore peace and stability.
- Rigging of elections: Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) had won a landslide victory in the general elections of March 1977, but the opposition parties accused him of massive electoral fraud and manipulation. They formed an alliance called the Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) and launched a nationwide protest movement to demand fresh elections.
1999 coup – Military Win
The 3rd coup in Pakistan took place on October 12, 1999, when General Pervez Musharraf ousted the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and declared a state of emergency. He suspended the constitution of 1973 and appointed himself as the chief executive of the country. He later became the president in 2001.The coup was triggered by a conflict between Sharif and Musharraf over the Kargil war with India in 1999, which Sharif had ordered to end under US pressure. Musharraf accused Sharif of trying to remove him from his post and endangering national security.The coup unfolded on October 12, 1999, when Sharif announced the appointment of General Ziauddin Butt as the new army chief, effectively dismissing Musharraf. However, Musharraf, who was returning from a visit to Sri Lanka, received word of the move and mobilized his loyalists in the army. He also contacted the pilots of his plane and asked them to land in Karachi instead of Islamabad.Meanwhile, troops loyal to Musharraf seized control of key government buildings and installations in Islamabad and other cities. They also stormed Sharif’s residence and placed him under arrest. They also shut down the state television and radio stations. The coup was completed within 17 hours, without any bloodshed or resistance.
2022 – Ousting of Imran Khan
The ousting of Imran Khan in 2022 was a political and constitutional crisis that resulted in the removal of the elected prime minister of Pakistan by a no-confidence vote in the parliament. The crisis was triggered by a conflict between Imran Khan and the military establishment over foreign policy and security issues, as well as allegations of corruption and mismanagement.The reasons behind the move were:
- Loss of confidence and support: Imran Khan had lost the confidence and support of his coalition partners, his party members and the military establishment, who had backed him to power in 2018. He faced criticism for his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, the economic crisis, the relations with the Taliban, Saudi Arab, China and the US, and the alleged interference in military appointments. He also faced corruption charges for illegally acquiring land and selling gifts from foreign leaders.
- US Pressure: It is alleged that the opposition parties along with the support of the US administration persuaded the army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, to withdraw his support for Imran Khan.
A Future of No Recovery?
These military coups of Pakistan are a reflection of political and constitutional crises. They have exposed the fragility and vulnerability of the country’s democracy. It also reveals the deep divisions and conflicts among the political parties, the military establishment, the influence of foreign powers and a deep disconnect with the common man. These coups have left Pakistan in a state of uncertainty and turmoil. The future of Pakistan’s democracy depends on how its government can address the political, economic, social and security issues that plague the country and restore the peace and tranquillity of the country before it’s too late. The next 2 weeks are important not just for Imran Khan to defend his case but also for Shehbaz Sharif’s government and General Asim Munir’s military, which has developed visible cracks since Khan’s supporters wreaked havoc in Pakistan.