Past Presidents of Pakistan
By YesPakistan.com Staff Writer
Whatever their accomplishments or faults, we need to remember our past leaders.
By studying them and discussing and debating their policies, the nation as a
whole can learn a great deal.
This article will focus on three presidents who together ruled Pakistan for
about 27 years: Mohammad Ayub Khan (October 27, 1958 – March 25,1969);
Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (December 20, 1971 – August 13, 1973); and Mohammad
Zia-ul-Haq (September 16, 1978 – August 17, 1988). All three have passed
away. May God reward them for their good deeds and forgive their sins and shortcomings.
Pakistan has had four Governor Generals since it gained independence on August
14, 1947. After Pakistan was declared a republic on March 23, 1956, it had 12
Presidents including the current President. Pakistan has also had 20 prime ministers,
including the current Prime Minister. Five of these leaders were from the armed
forces who first started as Chief Marshal Law Administrators.
Mohammad Ayub Khan
Mohammad Ayub Khan was first nominated president and elected twice. He remained
in power from October 27, 1958 to March 25, 1969.
He was born on May 14, 1907 in Rehana village, near Haripur, Hazara, Pakistan.
He studied at the prestigious Aligarh Muslim University, where his teachers
encouraged him to join the army of the British colonial powers. He joined the
army in 1926, and fought in World War II as a commissioned officer, attaining
the rank of brigadier general by the time Pakistan was created in 1947. In 1950,
Prime Minister Liaqat Ali Khan asked Khan to become the first Pakistani to lead
the army as its commander-in-chief.
The first ten years of Pakistan’s existence were marked by worsening
political turmoil, during which there were five prime ministers within three
years, a lot of instability, and a near collapse of civilian authority. The
army took control of the country in 1958 and appointed General Ayub Khan the
Chief Marshal Law Administrator. Soon after, Ayub had himself declared president.
A tremendous amount of goodwill accompanied Khan's assumption of political
power and motivated him to institute deep structural changes in Pakistan’s
society, economy, and political structure. Older Pakistanis still remember the
beginning of his era as a time when trains ran on time, shops were clean, and
corruption was punished. His initiatives like the system of Basic Democracies,
the Constitution of 1962, the Land Reforms of 1959, the Family Laws Ordinance
of 1961, and the launching of the Second Five Year Plan in 1960 were all significant
departures from the way political and economic business had been conducted in
Pakistan in the first post-independence decade. Rapid economic growth was the
consequence of these changes.
As part of his green revolution, high yielding variety seeds like Mexi-Pak
wheat, Irri-Pak rice, and Nayab 78 cotton were developed and popularized, along
with the Pakistan's favorite citrus fruit: the Kinno. Three multipurpose dams,
Warsak, Mangla, and Tarbela were built, the last being the largest is earth-filled
dam in the world at the time of its establishment. Khan’s land reforms
were practically sabotaged by the country’s feudal lords, who controlled
the local revenue officers responsible for implementing them. Nonetheless, the
agrarian reforms did deliver for the people of Pakistan.
In the realm of political participation, Khan introduced the system of "basic
democracies" in 1960. It consisted of a network of local self-governing
bodies that provided a link between the government and the people. Primary governing
units were set up to conduct local affair and their members were elected by
constituencies composed of 800 to 1,000 Pakistanis. A national referendum among
all those elected confirmed Khan as president. He was reelected under this system
in 1965, against a strong challenge from an opposition united behind Fatima
Jinnah, sister of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Pakistan’s founder. Khan was victorious
despite the fact that all religious and opposition parties supported and campaigned
for Jinnah. Many suspected that the more than 80,000 "basic democrats"
were simply a tool in the hands of the incumbent to deliver the votes he needed
When the United States began to rearm India after China's invasion of northern
India in 1962, Khan established close relations with and received substantial
military aid from China. The dispute with India over Jammu and Kashmir worsened,
culminating in a two-week war in 1965. The failure to gain Kashmir, combined
with student unrest, led him to announce in late 1968 that he would not stand
for reelection. Riots continued, and he resigned his office on March 26, 1969.
The period of Khan's government is called the 'decade of development.' Since
then, no such spurt of development has been witnessed in Pakistan. Although
President Ayub Khan's agrarian reforms did result in higher agrarian yield,
and his industrialization efforts resulted in the growth of capital, he was
criticized for making "the rich richer and the poor poorer."
East Pakistanis, (now Bangladeshis) felt their part of Pakistan was not becoming
as industrialized as West Pakistan. This fueled an increasing sense of deprivation
Khan has also been criticized for heavy dependence on foreign aid.
Delegations from other countries, including South Korea, used to visit Pakistan,
among other countries to learn from its industrialization and democratic experience.
It is said that had the systems set in motion by Khan been allowed to continue,
they may have evolved into strong foundations for the country's development.
Khan was a secular leader in terms of his policies. He died in Pakistan on
April 19, 1974.
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto served between 1971 to 1977 as Pakistan’s President.
He was also the country’s Chief Martial Law Administrator (1971-73) and
later Prime Minister (1973-77).
Bhutto was born on January 5, 1928, near Larkana, Sindh in Pakistan. He was
the only son of Sir Shahnawas Bhutto, who was one of Sindh’s biggest landlords.
Bhutto studied law at the University of California, Berkeley in the US and Christ
Church, Oxford University in the UK. He started his practice in Karachi in 1953.
In 1958, when Bhutto was 30, President Mohammad Ayub Khan made him commerce
minister, making him the country’s youngest cabinet minister. Bhutto then
held other cabinet posts, including that of foreign minister (1963-66). As foreign
minister, against the openly expressed unhappiness of Washington, Bhutto developed
close ties with the People's Republic of China. Pakistan and China negotiated
a border agreement, established commercial airline operations between the two
countries, and increased the flow of trade. He resigned from President Khan's
government over a public dispute on the signing of the Tashkent Declaration.
In December 1967, Bhutto founded the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) in opposition
to Khan’s regime, which he denounced as a dictatorship. He was also imprisoned
for four months between 1968 and 1969 for his criticism.
After Khan’s resignation, the PPP won a sweeping victory in West Pakistan
in Pakistan’s December 1970 elections. However, the biggest winner was
the East Pakistan-based Awami League. Bhutto refused to form a government with
the League, causing a nullification of the election. The country slid into civil
war. Taking advantage of the situation, India attacked, conquering East Pakistan.
This led to the emergence of independent Bangladesh.
The timing of Bhutto's entry into politics was extremely opportune. The Pakistani
army was generally perceived as victorious in the 1965 war with India. Therefore,
Pakistanis felt that Pakistan's position in Kashmir was weakened as a result
of Tashkent Declaration and the nation was restless. The people felt that Bhutto
had resigned on the basis of sound principles, and was therefore considered
an instant hero. He was able to garner further support through the organized
structure of the labor forces disgruntled with Khan's rapid industrialization
policies which favored capitalism at the cost of labor rights, such as the right
to strike, as well as the student movement, which opposed adding another year
to the country’s bachelor’s degree programs.
Bhutto dressed in Shalwar Kameez, Pakistan’s national dress. With his
sleeves rolled up and his collar opened, he spoke to the people as if he were
one of them, promising them "roti, kapra, makaan" (bread, clothes,
and butter). This approach popularized a style of politics that the common man
understood and related to. He used the term Islamic socialism while leftist
workers and intellectuals rallied in his support.
Until 1974, Bhutto pursued a socialist program, nationalizing industry, private
schools and colleges, and capturing for the government all the commanding heights
of the economy. After the 1974 dismissal of leading socialist ministers, Bhutto
himself took control of the economy which resulted in economic disruption. The
rate of growth of Pakistan’s gross domestic product declined.
Foreign policy was Bhutto's major strength, where he proved to be an imaginative
and flexible manager. He negotiated the Simla Accord with Indira Gandhi in 1972,
which resulted in 93,000 Pakistani prisoners being released from India. Bhutto
hosted the second summit of the Organization of the Islamic Conference at Lahore
in 1974, where he recognized Bangladesh as an independent state. In keeping
with the approach he had advocated during the Ayub Khan’s period, he realigned
Pakistan's foreign relations away from a close dependence on the United States.
Bhutto proclaimed the departure of Pakistan from the British Commonwealth as
well as the American-led SEATO and CENTO, which were formed to "contain
Although Bhutto removed 43 high-ranking military officers from service to keep
the armed forces in check, he was not irresponsible in his defense policies.
When in 1974 India tested a nuclear device, Pakistan's security became an instant
issue considering that India had just defeated Pakistan three years earlier
in the war that resulted in the establishment of Bangladesh. Bhutto declared
"We will eat grass but make the atomic bomb." He recruited Abdul Qadeer
Khan, the founder of Pakistan's atomic bomb program, to start the work on the
Kahuta project which led to Pakistan's nuclear deterrence program.
Bhutto is also architect of Pakistan's Afghan policy. He courted the professors
and student leaders who left Afghanistan due to the oppressive pro-communist
regime. He was the first to train Gulbuddin Hikmatyar and his party the Hizb-e-Islami
Afghanistan. This enabled them to become the largest group fighting the Soviet
Union after it invaded Afghanistan in 1979.
Bhutto's policy of developing close personal relations with Middle Eastern
leaders provided additional capital to Pakistan, which was essential in view
of his desire to keep Pakistan free from dependence on America. He made acquiring
a Pakistani passport so easy that it would take only a day to get a passport
as opposed to years, as was the case previously. That allowed masses of Pakistanis
to take advantage of employment opportunities that resulted from the oil boom
in the Gulf, thus opening up foreign remittance as a major source of Pakistan's
revenue. This income also allowed a large number of Pakistanis to build proper
houses (Pakka Ghar).
Although the PP enjoyed a three-quarter majority in the National Assembly,
Bhutto worked with all opposition parties to adopt a new constitution for Pakistan
in 1973. The constitution was passed by the National Assembly unanimously on
February 2, 1973 and became effective on August 14 the same year. This constitution
still remains in effect and represents a consensus in Pakistan society. Later
amendments to it were not popular consensual efforts. When Pakistan's new constitution
made the presidency largely ceremonial, Bhutto stepped down from it and was
elected prime minister. Chaudhry Fazal Illahi was then appointed the President
Some of Bhutto's passionate rhetoric for the country’s poor probably
had some personal roots. One of his socialist friends who later suffered imprisonment
under the president’s rule said that Bhutto used to cry when he mentioned
his mother and her previous plight. His mother was a Hindu of a lower social
status who converted to Islam when she married Bhutto's father. Whereas his
first land reform had a level of success in the redistribution of land, the
second set of reforms went unimplemented. There was an almost instant fall in
productivity as Bhutto nationalized industries while workers continued to agitate
for ever more favorable terms. To bring back previous productivity levels, Bhutto
enforced strict laws, which the workers felt were against their interests. In
the later years of his leadership, however, he behaved more like a stereotypical
feudal lord, using heavy- handed techniques to deal with the very groups of
socialists, labors, and students who formed the core of his support base. He
not only used police and personal employees, but also, a semi-military force
called FSF to deal with his opposition and former allies. It was the murder
of one of his former friend's father with the help of the FSF which landed him
a death sentence from the Punjab High court. This murder report was filed by
his own former ally while Bhutto was still ruling. The case began being prosecuted
once he was no longer in power.
He announced elections in March 1977. These elections gave the PPP a large
majority, but riots and charges of fraud followed. The PPP probably would have
won anyway, but its legitimacy was undermined by plausible widespread charges
of election fraud. Bhutto was forced to negotiate with the united opposition
parties. Both sides had agreed to the continuity of the democratic process.
Both sides were about to sign the negotiated settlement in the morning when
they took a break for a few hours. That gave Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mohammad
Zia-ul-Haq enough time to seize power on July 5, 1977. Soon afterward, Bhutto
was imprisoned, along with the rest of the opposition leaders.
Bhutto was a populist and secular leader of Pakistan. He partnered with socialists
to come into power, allowed feudal lords to join the party once in power, and
yet developed a consensus in the National Assembly to declare Ahmadis/Qadianis
non-Muslims, declared Friday as a holiday, banned liquor sales in the country
when he faced strong religious opposition.
The very politics of street force which Bhutto used to displace Ayub Khan was
used against Bhutto.
Bhutto was sentenced to death on March 18, 1978 on the charge of having ordered
the assassination of Ahmed Raza Qasuri, a former ally-turned-political opponent
in 1974. After a failed appeal to the Supreme Court, Bhutto refused to appeal
to president Zia for clemency and was hanged on April 4, 1979 in Rawalpindi
and buried in his home town Larkana.
Muhammad Zia ul-Haq
Muhammad Zia ul-Haq was born in Jullundur, India in 1923. He was educated
at St. Stephen's College in Delhi. He jointed the British Indian Army in 1943.
He opted for service in Pakistan army after the country’s establishment
in 1947. He received training in the United States, served as an advisor to
the government of Jordan in 1974-75, and was promoted to the rank of lieutenant
general in 1975.
Zia ul-Haq was commanding the army corps and stationed in Multan when Prime
Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto appointed him Chief of Army staff. From Bhutto's
perspective, it was a safe appointment, because of Zia's reputation of professionalism
and his lack of any large following in the army. This was attributed to the
fact that he was a refugee to Pakistan from Indian-held Punjab. Traditionally,
recruits to the Pakistani army come from the country’s North Western Punjabi
districts or are Pathans. Ethnically, General Zia was from a line of Arains,
who do not have much presence in the army, unlike Ayub Khan and Yahya Khan who
were Pathans. Pathans are well represented in Pakistan’s armed forces.
Following a long and bitter confrontation between Bhutto and the Pakistan National
Alliance (PNA), the united opposition, Bhutto’s grip on power was largely
shaken. While the opposition and Bhutto were in negotiation, elements of the
opposition, namely Asghar Khan, were developing grassroots pressure against
the President. Through public statements and letter-writing campaigns, they
called on the army to take over due to some opposition leaders’ mistrust
of Bhutto. Just hours before the opposition leadership and Bhutto were about
to sign an agreement which would have ensured continued democracy, the army,
under the leadership of General Zia, intervened. It assumed control on July
5, 1977 but did not abrogate the constitution as Generals Ayub Khan and Yahya
Khan had done in 1958 and 1969, respectively. The constitution of 1973 was,
nevertheless, suspended. The army's main objective for intervening was to create
an environment in which fair general elections could be organized. The army
set a limit of 90 days for the completion of this intervention, known as Operation
Zia and his fellow army commanders might have stuck to this schedule had Bhutto
not responded with such belligerence towards the leadership of the armed forces.
Once allowed to address public meetings, Bhutto promised full legal consequences
for those responsible for the coup d'etat which was punishable with death according
to the 1973 constitution. The army did not want to allow that. Zia cancelled
the elections promised for November 1979 and later organized a national referendum
in December 1984 to award him five more years as president.
As the son of an Imam, Zia was a practicing Muslim. Once faced with the leadership
of the government, he strove to develop an Islamic constituency for himself.
This was not a far-fetched idea, considering that the opposition to Bhutto had
rallied under the slogan of “Nizam e Mustafa” (The government of
the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him). Zia’s prominence
also came at a time when Pakistanis were well aware of Bhutto’s whose
un-Islamic personal life, which was a part of the public record.
Zia embarked upon an Islamization program in the country that incorporated
a number of initiatives aimed at making Pakistan a more Islamic country.
Zakat used to be collected by the government in the early days of Islam and
distributed among the poor. Zia called upon Pakistan’s economists and
Islamic scholars to devise a program that would use Zakat as a vehicle to deal
with poverty in the nation. After a year of discussion, the Zakat and Ushr Ordinance
of 1979 was promulgated on June 20th 1980. Under this order, a five-tiered structure
was formed to take care of Zakat, starting from the Central Zakat Council at
the federal level to a local Zakat committee for each compact block of 3,000
to 5,000 persons. On all savings accounts, a 2.5 percent per annum Zakat was
instituted. Despite some problems, Zakat was nevertheless collected and through
the system of citizens’ committees, it was distributed among the poor
and needy. According to a Gallup Pakistan survey, 80 percent of the Pakistanis
surveyed felt that the system was relatively corruption-free. It was said it
was the first time a modern government coded Zakat into law and implemented
On Zia's call, several leading economists and Islamic scholars worked together
to develop an applicable set of models and laws for the implementation of Islamic
Economics. Several international conferences were held and an Institute of Islamic
Economics was established. Interest-free banking was partially introduced and
an implementation program was developed to see how Pakistan's economy could
be transformed. The resulting momentum regarding Islamic economics continues
to reverberate across the globe today, as hundreds of Islamic banks have popped
up worldwide. American icon Fannie Mae, along with some leading banks, have
invested in Islamic models of financing. The Dow Jones has also come up with
an Islamic Index.
Zia's introduction of Hudood laws failed despite their popularity because of
the absence of mass education, deep corruption in Pakistan's judicial-legal
system, and the absence of a desire in the prevailing system to understand the
whole new system and to apply it with the level of piety and caution it was
applied at the time of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him.
The corrupt police simply used the presence of three laws, leftover criminal
laws that were a legacy of the British on the subcontinent, martial law, and
Shariah law to extract a higher level of bribery. Thankfully, no innocent person
was hurt and no punishment actually awarded. However, the Zia regime’s
punishment of its PPP opposition with public flogging, in accordance with martial
law, was used to give Hudood laws a bad name in the Pakistani public’s
Zia's other Islamization institutions are still alive, such as the Sharia Court
and the International Islamic University in the nation’s capital, Islamabad.
Zia's educational reforms were substantial. The nationalization of schools
under the Bhutto era was reversed. Nationalized schools and colleges were returned
to their owners and private schools were encouraged. The privatization of schools
under Zia’s government, along with the desire of overseas Pakistani workers
to give priority to the education of their children, led to an ongoing education
revolution. For the first time since the establishment of Pakistan, the literacy
rate has increased by 12 percent despite a tightening of the literacy criteria
and a reduction in the education budget in the last ten years. An “Iqra
(Read) Tax” was imposed, and educational books were revised to include
more culturally suitable material.
Zia himself was a practicing Muslim and used to encourage others personally
to pray. He encouraged religious symbolism in government offices, along with
providing workers with places to pray on the job. His personal piety influenced
a lot of people. His humbleness in meetings earned him respect. His funeral
was the largest funeral the country had seen after the demise of its founding
The entry of Soviet troops in Kabul, Afghanistan in December 1979 brought with
it an influx of three million Afghan refugees into Pakistan. Subsequently, the
country became a “front-line state” in the fight against communism,
in the eyes of the world’s anti-communist force.
Zia embraced this status to not only support the Afghan freedom struggle, but
also, to reequip Pakistan's army with modern technology. This also allowed him
to support Sikhs in India and renew contacts with Kashmiri freedom fighters.
The United States began to rearm Pakistan and to supply military training and
material support to Afghan Mujahideen fighting the war against the Soviets from
camps and sanctuaries in Pakistan. China and Saudi Arabia also supported Pakistan
in this effort. The Mujahideen succeeded not only in limiting Soviet influence
to major cities, but they also inflicted a heavy economic loss on the Soviet
Union, which it was unable to sustain for long. Although there was almost national
consensus on Zia's Afghan policy and it was by and large successful, two of
its negative side effects are still haunting Pakistan.
The first is that many of the Afghans who came to the country sold arms to
Pakistani criminals and political groups. This resulted in an increased criminality
and culture of violence between sectarian and ethnic group that still plagues
the country today.
The second was the skyrocketing of the drug trade in Pakistan. As the border
between Afghanistan and Pakistan evaporated further, Afghan drug crops and their
Pakistani traders smuggled drugs into Pakistan with an ease and speed not witnessed
In a world where even leading Western countries complain about taking in refugees,
Pakistan's acceptance and support of three to four million Afghan refugees was
an extra-ordinary act of humanity which has gone largely unrecognized.
Zia's major apprehension was with the political parties. He remained skeptical
of the party system, declaring it un-Islamic despite the fact that most of the
country’s religious organizations and their political wings considered
it Islamic. Unlike Ayub Khan, he did not form his own political party and pleaded
for non-party elections. Zia developed a close relationship with forces that
totally opposed the PPP and Bhutto. This strategy paid off. The PPP decided
to boycott the elections of 1985 which gave Zia the opportunity to put in place
a civilian government that he could trust. Thus began the Zia-Junejo era on
March 23, 1985 which lasted for over three years. Zia and Muhammad Junejo felt
confident enough to lift martial law on December 30th, 1985. But Zia decided
to stay on as the Chief of Army staff, thus ensuring a role for the military.
On May 29th 1988, Zia dismissed the prime Minster and dissolved the National
Assembly. Extreme incompetence, growing corruption, and the failure to further
the process of Islamization were offered as the reasons for his decision. In
actual fact, however, Zia had been long resentful of the efforts Junejo was
distancing himself from the president and many of his policies.
Zia was criticized for destroying the democratic process, forcing changes in
the constitution, for being too close to American interests, for giving Islam
a bad name, and for being merciful towards Bhutto.
Zia's death on August 17, 1988 in a plane crash near the city of Bahawalpur
also destroyed the political experiment he was developing. He was traveling
with a number of senior army generals and some Americans including the American
ambassador to Pakistan, who were all killed. The cause of the crash was not
known. For some mysterious reasons, even the American government, whose ambassador
and generals were also killed in the crash, decided not to pursue an investigation
into the matter.
Date/Time Last Modified: 8/5/2003 1:14:53 PM
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