This article was last modified on June 19, 2008.

A Brief History of Pakistan

The following is a summary of the dates and events covered in Shahid Javed Burki’s Pakistan. All direct quotations are of Burki. Additional dates and descriptions are provided by the author of this piece. As a “summary” this is not intended to give the reader a thorough understanding of Pakistan’s history or politics, but rather a general overview for the purpose of understanding their role in world events.

All criticism or requests for additions are welcome. Someday… long in the future… this will become something worthwhile.

Pakistan 1946-1999

August 11, 1947: Mohammad Ali Jinnah “presided over the first meeting of the Constituent Assembly — an assembly of fewer than seventy people entrusted with the task of drawing up a legal framework for the new country.” “His famous inaugural speech … was received with a certain amount of incredulity by his followers.” He said: “You may belong to any religion or caste or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the state … We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one state … Now, I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in the course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual but in the political sense as citizens of the state.”

August 14, 1947: “Lord Louis Mountbatten, the last viceroy of British India, administered the oath of office to Mohammad Ali Jinnah as the first governor-general of Pakistan.”

August 15, 1947: Mountbatten “was sworn in as the first governor-general of India.”

September 11, 1948: Jinnah dies and “the mantle of political leadership that finally fell on [Liaqat Ali Khan’s] shoulders was much smaller than the one Jinnah had worn.”

February 21, 1952: The Bengali Language Movement reached its peak, when police and soldiers opened fired near the Dhaka Medical College on students protesting for Bengali to receive equal status with Urdu. Several protesters were killed, and the movement gained further support throughout East Pakistan.

September 30, 1955: “West Pakistan’s many administrative units were fused to form one province.”

March 23, 1956: The Dominion was dissolved and replaced by the Islamic Republic of Pakistan with the last Governor-General, Iskandar Mirza, as the first president.

October 7, 1958: “General Ayub Khan, the army’s commander in chief, removed the prime minister and his cabinet, dismissed the National Assembly, abrogated the constitution, dissolved all political parties, banned all political activity, and set himself up as the dictator with the title of chief martial law administrator.”

October 27, 1958: General Khan “staged another coup — this time one directed against Iskander Mirza, the president of the republic, who had originally invited Ayub Khan to take some of these draconian measures.” This “marked the beginning of the era of one-man rule that was to last for several decades.” The coup “was brought about by a general feeling of political malaise, by a near consensus among the politically aware segments of the population that the politicians had somehow failed in their duty to provide the country with a workable political system. By then, the military establishment had acquired a reputation of honesty, integrity, and efficiency — precisely the three virtues that the politicians seemed to lack.”

March 23, 1962: Ayub Khan promulgates a new constitution.

September 6, 1965: India and Pakistan “fought a brisk war that lasted for seventeen days.”

January 10, 1966: The Tashkent Declaration was signed.

March 25, 1969: “Field Marshal Ayub Khan was forced out of office by General Yahya Khan, the chief of staff of the armed forces, in the second military coup d’etat in the country’s history.” Ayub Khan resigned and “General Yahya Khan took up residence in the Rawalpindi presidency.”

March 30, 1970: “A Legal Framework Order … outlined the manner in which the new National Assembly would be constituted and what its constitution-making duties would be. This assembly of 300 was to be elected directly by the people, with 162 chosen by East Pakistan and 138 by the four provinces of West Pakistan.”

November 12, 1970: A cyclone “struck East Pakistan’s coastal region … and wrought inestimable damage to life and property. It was reportedly the worst natural catastrophe in Pakistan’s recorded history.”

December 7, 1970: “Elections were held … two months later than the government had originally scheduled.” (Burki alleges this was due to the cyclone, but dates don’t add up.)

March 3, 1971: “The new National Assembly was convened to meet … but Bhutto decided to boycott the meeting, arguing that he needed to reach an understanding with Mujib on important constitutional issues before he and his associates could go to the National Assembly.”

March 7, 1971: “Mujib-ur-Rahman laid down new conditions for participating in the deliberations of the National Assembly.”

March 27, 1971: Major Ziaur Rahman, a Bengali war-veteran of the East Bengal Regiment of the Pakistan Army, declared the independence of East Pakistan as the new nation of Bangladesh on behalf of Mujib.

December 20, 1971: Discredited by defeat, General Yahya Khan resigned and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was inaugurated as president and chief martial law administrator, “a strange combination of offices for a civil politician who had campaigned for half a decade against military rule”.

January 2, 1972: “The government nationalized thirty-one large industrial enterprises and commercial banks.”

January 16, 1972: “The managing agency system was abolished and the management of the newly nationalized enterprises was put into the hands of the bureaucracy.”

February 10, 1972: “The government introduced labor reforms affecting not only the large manufacturing sector but also small industries that had begun to develop rapidly during the Ayub period.”

March 19, 1972: “The government nationalized life insurance companies.”

April 4, 1972: “Bhutto convened the National Assembly to meet in Islamabad.”

July 2, 1972: The Simla Agreement was signed. “Pakistan had demonstrated for the first time its ability to look after its interests without any outside assistance.”

October 20, 1972: “A constitutional accord was signed by the leaders of the different political parties.”

April 12, 1973: “The constitution was authenticated by President Bhutto.”

August 14, 1973: Pakistan’s third constitution “came into force” and “created a parliamentary form of government”.

February 12, 1974: “The government of Balochistan was dismissed on charges of having incited the people of that province to rebel against central authority.”

May 24, 1974: “An amendment in the constitution gave the executive the authority to declare illegal any political party found ‘operating in a manner prejudicial to the sovereignty or integrity of the country.'”

January 7, 1977: “Zulfikar Ali Bhutto announced the intention of his government to hold general elections for the national as well as the provincial assemblies.”

January 11, 1977: The Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) was launched. The PNA “was a collection of political parties raning from Jamaat-i-Islami on the right to the National Democratic Party (previously called the National Awami Party) on the left.”

March 8, 1977: “Of the 192 seats contested, only 36 (or 18.8 percent) went to the PNA.”

July 5, 1977: “Bhutto was ousted from power by the military, which took control once again not out of political ambition but because of the tensions generated by Bhutto’s treatment of other political leaders, their parties, and their platforms.” “Although forced out of power … Bhutto continued to dominate Pakistan’s politics for another twenty-one months.” “Zia’s coup d’etat … surprised Bhutto and most political observers in Pakistan.”

July 17, 1977: “Bhutto addressed a large meeting of his followers on the lawn of his improvised prison.”

March 19, 1978: The Lahore Court announced its verdict … finding [Bhutto] to be an ‘arch culprit’ in the ambush of November 1974. The purpose of that ambush had been to kill Ahmad Raza Kasuri, a one-time political protege turned opponent. The court then ordered Bhutto’s execution.”

March 31, 1979: Pakistan’s “Supreme Court refused to review their earlier verdict” on Bhutto.

April 4, 1979: “Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was hanged at the Rawalpindi jail.”

August 30, 1979: “The Political Parties Act of 1962 was amended by a presidential ordinance requiring all existing political parties to register with the Election Commission, to publish formal manifestos, and to submit their accounts for audit.”

December 27, 1979: “Soviet troops entered Afghanistan and Pakistan was designated the “front line” state by the foreign-policymakers in Washington.”

March 24, 1981: “General Zia, on his own authority as chief martial law administrator, promulgated a Provisional Constitutional Order.” The order “gave the president the power to dissolve any such organization or group that in his opinion ‘has been formed or is operating in a manner prejudicial to the sovereignty, integrity, or security of Pakistan.'” (Compare this to the constitutional amendment of May 1974.)

August 12, 1983: Zia announced “a detailed blueprint for the restoration of democracy.” Zia “expressed a firm intention to move towards some form of democratization without indicating what form that democratization would ultimately take.” … “This announcement … did not, of course, satisfy the established political forces, particularly those from the province of Sindh [Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s home].”

November 30, 1984: “To a somewhat surprised nation, General Zia announced his decision to hold a national referendum.”

December 19, 1984: Voters were asked to approve the following question: “Whether the people of Pakistan endorse the process initiated by General Mohammad Zia ul-Haq, the President of Pakistan, for bringing [the] laws of Pakistan [into] conformity with the inunction of Islam as laid down in the Holy Quran and Sunnah of the Holt Prophet (Peace be upon him) and for the preservation of the ideology of Pakistan, for the continuation and consolidation of that process and for the smooth and orderly transfer of power to the elected representatives of the people.”… “According to the results announced by the government, President Zia received the mandate he had sought.”

December 1985: “Junejo persuaded Zia to lift martial law … and accept a form of government in which executive powers were shared between the president and the prime minister.”

December 9, 1985: “The Political Parties Act was passsed by the National Assembly.”

December 30, 1985: General Zia ul-Haq sent “the armed forces back to the barracks … indicating — or so it seemed then — the end of the third and longest period of military rule in the country’s thirty-nine-year history.” “The changes introduced … contained one other surprise: President Zia announced taht he was staying on as chief of staff of the army.” “A civilian government headed by Prime Minister Mohammed Khan Junejo was sworn into office the same day.”

January 8, 1986: “Prime Minister Junejo announced the revival of the Pakistan Muslim League, a political party with a long and checkered history.”

January 28, 1986: “Ushered into office … was a new cabinet in which a number of technocrats (among whom Mahbub ul Haq, the finance minister in the martial law government, was the most prominent) lost their jobs.”

February 5, 1986: “Held at Lahore … was the first political rally to be organized by the opposition, at which a number of politicians opposed to General Zia’s political order reiterated their determination to restore the 1973 constitution in its unamended form.”

April 11, 1986: “A large ammunition dump at Ojhri, an army camp in the suburb of Rawalpindi, blew up, raining scores of missiles and projectiles on the city and neighboring Islamabad.”

February 21, 1987: “President Zia ul-Haq, using a long-standing invitation by the cricket authorities of India to visit their country, flew to New Delhi to watch a test match betwee nthe national teams of the two countries.”

March 1, 1987: “An Indian journalist published an interview with Abdul Qadeer Khan, head of Pakistan’s nuclear research program. In the interview, Khan claimed that Pakistan had succeeded in enriching uranium to a weapon-grade level and now possessed a nuclear bomb.”

May 29, 1988: “Junejo returned to Islamabad … and while he was addressing a press conference at the airport, another batch of journalists were on their way to hear Zia’s proclamation dismissing the prime minister and his cabinet.” Zia’s “dismissal of Junejo … was the first step toward the establishment of a presidnetial form of government, which he would have introduced had he lived.”

August 17, 1988: General Zia died in a plane crash. “[Lt. General Akhtar Abdul] Rahman was with Zia in the air force plane that crashed … killing the president and several of his senior military associates.” “Ghulam Ishaq Khan became acting president.”

November 1988: Benazir Bhutto is elected prime minister.

November 17, 1988: “The elections … produced three surprises. One, Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan’s People’s Party did less well than expected. It obtained 37.4 percent of the total vote cast and won 92 of the 204 seats contested. Two, a new party, the Muhajir Quami Mahaz, swept the polls in Karachi and parts of Hyderabad city. It captured eleven out of thirteen seats in Karachi and another two seats in Hyderabad. Three, the Islami Jamhoori Itehaad was unable to win any seat in Sindh.”

December 2, 1988: “Benazir Bhutto was sworn in as prime minister … The oath was administered by Acting President Ghulam Ishaq Khan in the presence of the entire military high command.”

December 31, 1988: “Indian Priem Minister Rajiv Gandhi … held private talks with Benazir Bhutto. The talks resulted in three agreements between the two governments: on cultural relations, taxation, and safeguarding the two countries’ nuclear installations.”

August 6, 1990: “President Ghulam Ishaq Khan ended the period of uncertainty that surrounded the government of Benazir Bhutto by dismissing the prime minister and her cabinet, dissolving the national and provincial assemblies, and appointing caretaker administrations in Islamabad and the four provinces.”

October 1990: During elections, “the PPP was soundly defeated by a coalition of political parties sympathetic to Zia and his legacy.”

November 1990: Mian Nawaz Sharif is sworn in as prime minister.

November 19, 1990: “In a letter published in The Nation … Ambassador Robert Oakley said that the U.S. executive and legislative branches were agreed that ‘the fact of possession … applies to components of a nuclear device, not only to an assembled device.'”

March 20, 1993: “The Supreme Court issued its decision in what came to be known as the ‘judges case’. The court told the administration that in appointing judges, the administration was required to obtain the consent of the chief judges of the superior courts.”

September 20, 1993: “Bhutto’s position was weakened further … when Mir Murtaza Ali Bhutto, the prime minister’s estranged brother, was gunned down, along with a number of his followers, outside his residence in Karachi.” (Was Bhutto prime minister at this point?)

October 17, 1993: “Benazir Bhutto was sworn in as prime minister … for the second time in five years.”

November 1995: The Egyptian embassy in Islamabad was bombed.

November 5, 1996: “President Farooq Leghari moved against Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.” Leghari “issued an order detailing at considerable length the misdeeds of the government headed by Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.”

April 1997: “The thirteenth amendment … took away the president’s power to dissolve the National Assembly and dismiss the prime minister.”

December 2, 1997: President Farooq Leghari resigned.

May 28, 1998: Pakistan conducts a nuclear test.

May 30, 1998: Pakistan conducts a nuclear test.

August 7, 1998: “Terrorist bombs placed outside the U.S. Embassy in Kenya and in Tanzania killed nearly three hundred persons, including twelve Americans. On the same day, Pakistan arrested Muhammad Siddique Odeh, a young Palestinian, at the airport in Karachi whiel o nhis way from Nairobi to Peshawar. During interrogration, Odeh linked the bombings to Osama bin Laden.”

August 29, 1998: The government introduced the fifteenth amendment, which authorized the “federal government … to take steps to enforce the Shariah, to establish salat [the form of prayer], to administer zakat [Islamic taxes], to promote amr bil ma’roof and nahi anil munkar [to prescribe what is right and forbid what is wrong], to eradicate corruption at all levels and to provide substantial socio-economic justice, in accordance with the principles laid down in the Holy Quran and Sunnah.”

August 30, 1998: An editorial in Dawn, the English-language Pakistani paper, proclaimed: “The formula is a tired and tested one: when in trouble, mount the rooftops and in front of a disbelieving world raise the constitutional Amendment which seeks to manner of Islam. By tabling the Fifteenth Cons ke the Quran and the Sunnah the supreme law of the country, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has set out on the same slippery road, oblivious of the fact that other Pakistani rulers when beset by troubles which they could not handle, did the same but without obtaining what they had hoped to achieve.”

Pakistan 1999-2008

As Burki’s book was written in 1999, the remaining entries are dates in the following decade I feel are important to bring the reader up to speed on current events in Pakistan. Keep in mind this is a broad overview — Pakistan is a turbulent country and events change from day to day. Once this article is posted, updates will be few and far between.

October 12, 1999: Sharif attempted to dismiss army chief Pervez Musharraf and install ISI director Khwaja Ziauddin in his place, but senior generals refused to accept the decision. Musharraf, who was out of the country, boarded a commercial airliner to return to Pakistan. Sharif ordered the Jinnah International Airport to prevent the landing of the airliner, which then circled the skies over Karachi. In a coup, the generals ousted Sharif’s administration and took over the airport. The plane landed with only a few minutes of fuel to spare, and General Musharraf assumed control of the government. He arrested Sharif and those members of his cabinet who took part in this conspiracy.

May 12, 2000: The Supreme Court of Pakistan ordered the Government to hold general elections by October 12, 2002.

August 2001: Musharraf strengthened his position by issuing a Legal Framework Order which established the constitutional basis for his continuance in office.

April 30, 2002: In an attempt to legitimize his presidency and assure its continuance after the impending elections, Musharraf held a controversial national referendum, which extended his presidential term to a period ending five years after the October elections.

October 2002: The general elections were held and the centrist, pro-Musharraf PML-Q won a majority of the seats in Parliament.

December 2003: The deadlock ended when Musharraf and some of his parliamentary opponents agreed upon a compromise, and pro-Musharraf legislators were able to muster the two-thirds majority required to pass the Seventeenth Amendment, which retroactively legitimized Musharraf’s 1999 coup and many of his subsequent decrees.

January 1, 2004: In a vote of confidence, Musharraf won 658 out of 1,170 votes in the Electoral College of Pakistan, and according to Article 41(8) of the Constitution of Pakistan, was elected to the office of President.

March 2004: Heavy fighting broke out at Azam Warsak, near the South Waziristan town of Wana, between Pakistani troops and an estimated 400 militants holed up in several fortified settlements. It was speculated that bin Laden’s deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri was among those trapped by the Pakistani Army.

September 5, 2006: A truce was signed with the militants (who call themselves the Islamic Emirate of Waziristan) in which the rebels were to cease supporting cross-border jihadist attacks on Afghanistan in return for a general ceasefire and a hand-over of border patrol and check-point responsibilities formerly handled by the Pakistan Army.

September 10, 2007: Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif attempted to return from exile but was arrested on corruption charges after landing at Islamabad International Airport. Sharif was then put on a plane bound for Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, whilst outside the airport there were violent confrontations between Sharif’s supporters and the police.

October 18, 2007: The Sharif return incident did not deter another former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, from returning after an eight year exile in Dubai and London, to prepare for the parliamentary elections to be held in 2008. However, on the same day, two suicide bombers attempted to kill Bhutto as she traveled towards a rally in Karachi. Bhutto escaped unharmed but there were 136 casualties and at least 450 people were injured.

November 3, 2007: General Musharraf proclaimed a state of emergency and sacked the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Choudhry along with other 14 judges of the Supreme Court. Lawyers launched a protest against this action but they were arrested. All private media channels were banned including foreign channels.

November 25, 2007: Nawaz Sharif made a second attempt to return from exile, this time accompanied by his brother, the former Punjab chief minister, Shahbaz Sharif. Hundreds of their supporters, including a few leaders of the party were detained before the pair arrived at Lahore International Airport. The following day, Nawaz Sharif filed his nomination papers for two seats in the forthcoming elections whilst Benazir Bhutto filed for three seats including one of the reserved seats for women.

November 28, 2007: General Musharraf retired from the Army and the following day was sworn in for a second presidential term.

December 27, 2007: Benazir Butto was leaving an election rally in Rawalpindi when she was assassinated by a gunman who shot her in the neck and set off a bomb, killing 20 other people and injuring several more.

February 18, 2008: A General Election was held in Pakistan according to the revised schedule. Pakistan’s two big and main opposition parties, the Pakistan Peoples Party and the Pakistan Muslim League won the majority of seats in the election, although the Pakistan Muslim League actually was second in the popular vote.


Burki, Shahid Javed. Pakistan: Fifty Years of Nationhood, Third Edition. Westview Press, 1999.

Also try another article under Historical / Biographical
or another one of the writings of Gavin.

2 Responses to “A Brief History of Pakistan”

  1. Pakistan Laws Says:

    An interesting and Knowledgeable article.

  2. Bilal Sarwari Says:

    I really respect Shahbaz Sharif efforts, and I appreciate his work in Pakistan in last year, its not my own comments, Shahbaz Sharif work very hard in last year, and people feel its true feelings regarding nation, now he is under one political game, I hope that he will come back to serve Pakistan

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