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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 to win.

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 and alienation.

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 communism."

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 of Pakistan.

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 Fairplay.

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 it.

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 eyes.

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 leaders.

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 before.

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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