Pakistan was created on August 14, 1947, when the British partitioned the subcontinent and handed over power to the Dominions of India and Pakistan. The new state comprised the Muslimmajority areas of Sindh, Balochistan, West Punjab, the North-West Frontier Province (as it was known at that time), and East Bengal. A thousand miles of Indian territory divided its western and eastern wings. The refugee crisis that arose from the Partition and the war with India over the disputed territory of Kashmir in 1947–48 undermined the process of democratic consolidation, as did the death of the country’s founding father, Mohammad ‘Ali Jinnah, on September 11, 1948. The country from the outset also faced unresolved questions concerning the role of Islam in its public life. These were exacerbated by the presence of a sizeable Hindu minority in its eastern wing. The Bengali population also sought national recognition of their language on par with Urdu. The initial refusal to meet this demand was a source of tension between East and West Pakistan, which increasingly acquired economic and political dimensions.
The role of Islam in public life proved equally controversial. It was a factor in the delay in establishing a constitution until 1956. The role of the shari’a in governance continued to divide liberals and conservatives. Changes in the wider Muslim world since the early 1980s and the breakaway of East Pakistan in 1971 following civil war strengthened the forces of Islamization in Pakistan. Some commentators also link this with the role of the army, which cultivated the mullahs (teachers of law) to provide a base of legitimacy but also used militant jihadist groups for strategic purposes in its regional conflict with India.
The army controlled the administration of martial law for well over 20 years of Pakistan’s existence, starting with the first military coup in 1958. At other periods, as in the 1990s and following the October 2002 elections, the military exerted a powerful influence behind the scenes. This entrenched position had negative effects on the country’s economic development and its efforts to establish normal relations with India. The military’s dominant presence reflected Pakistan’s unstable geopolitical location. Each military intervention further entrenched the military presence not only in politics but also in the economic life of the country. Successive coup leaders justified their military intervention due to the political corruption and instability that existed at the time. The impact of martial law on civil society in part perpetuated the problem the army was claiming to solve. The fact that the army had a high concentration of officers and troops from the Punjab also undermined national cohesion, as it was seen as an occupying force in such regions as Balochistan and East Bengal.
Military leaders in Pakistan have differed considerably in their attitude toward Islam. Ayub Khan (r. 1958–69) and Pervez Musharraf (r. 1999–2008) were personally liberal and modernist in their approach. In contrast, Zia-ul-Haq (r. 1977–88) emphasized a Deobandi piety. Zia’s attempt to legitimize his regime through Islamization intensified conflict with the large Shi’i minority. Zia also encouraged the proliferation of madrasas (schools); this, along with other effects of the Afghan conflict, such as the flood of weapons and Afghan refugees, profoundly affected Pakistan’s subsequent development. It was also from Zia’s time that the army, through its intelligence arm—Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI)—developed links with militant jihadist groups. This policy was reversed in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States but was a factor in the challenge to the state’s authority in the tribal areas, in some of the ambiguities in the prosecution of the “war on terror,” and in the rise of terrorist attacks within Pakistan. While Musharraf narrowly escaped assassination on a number of occasions, Benazir Bhutto was killed on December 27, 2007. She had returned from exile in a deal brokered by Musharraf in the face of considerable Western pressure.
Civilian leaders also displayed authoritarian tendencies that undermined democratic consolidation. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s populist regime (1971–77) became increasingly heavy-handed in its dealings with opponents. The use of the army to quell a tribal insurgency in Balochistan from 1973 onward enabled the army to recover from its public humiliation following defeat in the 1971 India-Pakistan War. Nawaz Sharif’s second administration (r. 1997–99) was also marked by authoritarian tendencies that formed the backdrop to Musharraf’s “reluctant” coup on October 12, 1999.
Despite hopes for democratic consolidation following the February 2008 elections and Musharraf’s stepping down from power, President Asif Ali Zardari was initially reluctant to strip his office of the powers to dissolve the assembly. His government became mired in charges of corruption and incompetency. Pakistan thus more than 60 years after its creation continues to face problems of democratic consolidation, civil-military relations, and the establishment of a culture of religious and political tolerance that have beset it from birth.
See also Bangladesh; India; Iqbal, Muhammad (1877–1938); Jinnah, Mohammad ‘Ali (1876–1948); Mawdudi, Abul al-A’la (1903–79)