Chapter IX

The Fourth Republic

Page 1


The military regime of General Ziaul Haq came to an abrupt end when he was killed in a mysterious aircrash on August 17, 1988.[1] Major crisis in Pakistan in the past had brought chaos but the sudden removal of Zia from power did not create any confusion and the country witnessed its first ever peaceful transition of power. General Aslam Beg became the Army Chief of Staff since General Akhtar Abdul Rehman perished along with 27 top military officers on board the C-130 plane that came down in flames near Bhawalphur. US Ambassador to Pakistan Arnold Raphel and the US Military Attache Brig. General Herbert Wassom were also killed in the crash.

Senate Chairman, Ghulam Ishaq Khan, took over as the acting President, in accordance with the constitution. He announced that the general elections would be held as scheduled in November. The election results were not surprising. No political party won an outright victory but the Pakistan People's Party emerged as the largest party with 92 seats while Islamic Jamhouri Alliance -- a conglomerate of nine mainly rightist parties hastily arranged by the Inter-Services Intelligence [2] - bagged 56 seats in the 207 seat National Assembly. Mohajir Qaumi Movement (MQM) secured 13 seats and emerged as the third large party. In the provincial assembly elections the IJI secured majority in Punjab with 108 seats in the 240-seat assembly while the PPP won 94 seats. The PPP secured clear victory in the Sindh province with 67 out of the total 100 seats. In the North West Frontier Province, the IJI won 28, the PPP 20 and the National Awami Party 12 out of the total 77 seats. In Baluchistan's 34-seat assembly, the PPP won only 3 seats, while IJI and Jamiat-ul-Ulama-e-Islam (Fazal Group) each won 8 seats and other seats went to a number of parties and independent candidates.

Benazir Bhutto, Co-Chairperson of the PPP, took oath on Dec. 2, 1988 as the Prime Minister while the PPP governments were formed in Sindh and the NWFP provinces. However, Mian Mohammad Nawaz Sharif formed the IJI government in Pakistan's most populous province, Punjab. Similarly, the IJI was able to form a coalition government in Baluchistan. This was not the first time in the history of Pakistan that opposition parties have formed governments in provinces. Governments of opposition parties were formed in the NWFP and Baluchistan provinces in 1973 but were soon dissolved by Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. However, Benazir's government soon came into clash with the antagonistic Nawaz government in the Punjab and the differences could not be resolved as long as she remained in power. In Baluchistan, Governor Retired General Mohammad Musa dissolved the assembly in December 1988. However, the Baluchistan High Court restored the assembly amid public condemnation of Governor's move that was believed to be taken with the consent of the President and Prime Minister.

In her first press conference after taking oath as the Prime Minister, Benazir pledged to abrogate the 8th amendment which meant curtailment of powers of the president. Naturally, President Ghulam Ishaq Khan did not like to become another Chaudhry Fazle-Ilahi [3] and became suspicious about the government's intentions. With time the gulf between the President and the Prime Minister widened. Her government was unable to pass any significant piece of legislation while the battle against Nawaz Sharif raged on. The President refused to sign ordinances, saying that a democratic government should instead pass laws through parliament.

The first major clash with the President came in the summer of 1989, when Benazir made an attempt to remove Admiral Sirohey from his position as chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Defense Secretary, the senior bureaucrat in the Defense Ministry, informed the President of her intentions before she could summon Sirohey. The president insisted that according to the Constitution, dismissing as well as appointing Generals was his prerogative. Benazir argued that she could dismiss them, and for weeks the battle raged on in the press, the President and the government both using journalists in their pay to push their line. The army feared that if Benazir got away with this act, a precedent would be set by which she would move out all those officers, whom she was suspicious of.

The following year, she tried to secure an extension of office for Lt. General Alam Jan Mahsud, the Lahore corps commander, to push him up to be a full General and Deputy Chief of the army. Clearly the PPP were hoping that their own appointee would replace General Beg when he retires in August 1991, rather than Beg's choice, who could be one of their enemies such as Generals Hamid Gul or Asif Nawaz. General Beg, simply ignored Benazir's machinations and posted a new corps commander in Lahore, leaving Mahsud with no option but to retire on July 18, and worsened relations between the army and the PPP.

President Ghulam Ishaq Khan and Prime Minister Benazir also clashed in 1989, over the appointment of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the Chief Election Commissioner. President's plea was that under article 177 of the constitution, the president was empowered to appoint the chief justice and other judges with the consultation of the chief justice. However, the Prime Minister argued that under article 48 of the constitution, the president was bound to accept the recommendations of the cabinet and Prime Minister. In order to end the dispute, the President decided to file a reference on the matter in the Supreme Court. However, the dispute was resolved on December 9, when Benazir agreed to the appointment of Mohammad Afzal Zullah as Chief Justice. Similarly, the President insisted that Justice Naeemuddin Ahmed would continue as the Chief Election Commissioner.

Law and order situation deteriorated in the country as battle raged between the central and provincial governments in the Punjab which witnessed bomb blasts from January 1989 to July 1990, claiming heavy tolls. By the end of 1989 the security situation was so bad in Karachi that provides nearly three-quarters of government revenues, that business was down to 50 per cent. Chamber of Commerce officials said Karachi was losing $48 million per day because violence in the most populated areas prevented workers reaching factories. Leading business organizations brought in kidnap experts from the United States and Italy after more than eighty businessmen had to pay ransoms in six months in 1990.

It was over control of the worsening law and order situation in Sindh more than any other issue that uneasy relations between Benazir and the military finally came to a head. The army maintained that the PPP's inaction reflected a lack of will to come down on members of its own party who were believed to be providing protection to dacoits as well as its student wing, which had long been involved in bloody clashes with the MQM. Under pressure to take action before the army finally took things into their own hands, a 'clean-up operation' was planned, with joint lists of suspected terrorists prepared by both military and police. The army list of suspected terrorists supposedly included the names of five provincial ministers.

On February 11, 1990, the army oversaw the messy business of exchange of 27 political workers captured by both the MQM and the PPP sides in tit-for-tat abductions. The exchange followed talks at the military headquarters at the instructions of Karachi Corps Commander Lt. General Asif Nawaz Janjua.

When Benazir called on the military to restore peace to the riot-torn cities of Karachi and Hyderabad in May 1990, they asked as quid pro quo that they be allowed into interior Sindh to carry out operations, as well as power to set up military courts under Article 245 [4] of the constitution. She was aware that if Article 245 was granted, the army would start arresting their own people. She refused, at the cost of final destruction of civil-military relations, knowing that Sindh was her support base and main card and that the Sindhis would never forgive her if she let the army in.

On 27 May 1990, the Sindh government launched a crackdown in Hyderabad, the bastion of the MQM power. Shoot-on-sight curfew was imposed, and a police house-to-house search began. There were conflicting reports over what happened next but, in what became known as the Pucca Qila massacre, crowds of Mohajirs emerged from Hyerdabad fort, fronted by women and children holding the Holy Quran over their heads. The PPP claimed that behind them were snipers who began shooting at the police, while the MQM claimed that the police, unprovoked, brutally began firing at the women. Thirty-one women and children were killed, sparking off as usual a chain reaction in Karachi. According to some reports, the final death toll was 70 in Hyderabad and more than 250 elsewhere.

Finally the army intervened, quickly restoring peace and welcomed by banners calling for martial law. Iqbal Haider, an adviser to the Sindh Chief Minister, said that the army's intervention caused confusion because neither the federal nor the provincial government had called on their support. President Ghulam Ishaq Khan denounced the Pucca Qila operation and pointed out that the terrorists were present in all the parties, and should be eliminated without discrimination.

Corruption in any government is not uncommon in Pakistan, but under the Benazir government it was undoubtedly more blatant. According to the Newsline, Karachi August 1990 report, 'since the Benazir government came into power twenty months ago, the DFIs and NCBs have approved loans totaling billions of rupees for projects whose chief merit seems to be the political connections of their sponsors. 294 million rupees for a textile mill to a federal minister who probably wouldn't recognize a bobbin if he tripped over it, 900 million for a paper making plant based on twelve-year-old second hand machinery from Britain, 2,300 million for a cement plant to a federal minister's son barely out of his wholesale has become the plunder that in the words of a former DFI chief executive, "the whole financial sector appears to be in danger of collapsing".

The Public Accounts Committee, under the chairmanship of Hakim Ali Zardari, Benazir's father-in-law and one of her MPs, a job traditionally held by an opposition member for scrutinizing government accounts, instead concentrated on those of the opposition, producing lists of unpaid bank loans. Journalists walked out of his press conference in disgust when he asked them to print lists of names of allegedly corrupt IJI members but was unable to produce evidence. Benazir's husband, Asif Ali Zardari, became known as Mr. Ten Percent, for his alleged rake-offs in deals.

The government tried to force the Ittefaq Foundry -- owned by Sharif Group -- out of business by instructing Pakistan Railways to refuse to cart scrap, imported from the US, from Karachi to Lahore. Unfortunately, it is often the common man who suffers in these wranglings. Sharif group's Ittefaq Foundry laid off 3,500 workers in summer 1989.

The US ship MB Jonathan, which arrived in Karachi on 14 June 1989, was carrying 28,000 tons of steel scrap to be molten in Lahore. Ittefaq claimed to have had a contract since 1980 with Pakistan Railways, to be provided 1,200 wagons every forty days and was their biggest private customer. This time, the railways said the carriages were needed for 'items of national priority.' Shehbaz Sharif, however, argued that more than 1,200 carriages were lying idle in Karachi, and some of his workers blocked passengers lines in protest, causing chaos.

Despite a Supreme Court ruling that the carriages must be provided, eleven months later the ship still had not docked, amassing demurrage charges of more than $2.5 million. Not only did it cost Ittefaq in lost production but, Sharif pointed out, also meant a considerable loss in revenue to the country and was not looked on kindly by the US. The US ambassador in Islamabad wrote to the President and Prime Minister expressing his concern at the behest of the US supplier concerned, who was ultimately responsible for the charges.

Benazir's 20-month stint witnessed worst kind of horse trading when the federal government as well as provincial governments used money and perks to keep them in power. The horse trading started in the NWFP, where the PPP had won less seats than the IJI but formed a coalition government with the support of the National Awami Party and independent members. Later, 10 members of the IJI were lured to join the government side. The opposition claimed that the federal government bought the loyalty of the MPAs, by paying Rs five million and four land plots to each of them.

On August 6, 1990, President Ghulam Ishaq Khan dismissed Benazir's government, dissolved the national and provincial assemblies, and announced new elections to be held in October. This was the second time that the elected assemblies were dissolved, under the Eighth Amendment to the 1973 constitution, introduced by General Zia. Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, an opposition leader, was appointed as caretaker Prime Minister.

The long list of the President's charges of corruption and official misconduct against the Benazir government included:

  • a. Rampant corruption and nepotism through the misuse of authority.
  • b. Misuse of resources and government agencies and banks for political ends and for personal gains.
  • c. Failure of the National Assembly to legislate.
  • d. Massive civil disturbances in the province of Sindh.
  • e. Ridiculing the Senate and higher judiciary.
  • f. Usurping the authority of the provinces resulting in discord and confrontation between the federal government and the provinces.

Two days after her dismissal, addressing a press conference in Karachi on August 8, Benazir blamed the Military Intelligence and the Military General Headquarters for the dismissal of her government. She said that both of them pressurized the President to dissolve the assemblies otherwise the army would take over. She also accused the army of backing a no-confidence move in the parliament in November 1989. Later in an interview with the BBC, Benazir demanded that the role of army and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) should be outlined clearly and the interference of army in politics should be ended. [5]


The October 1990 elections brought the Islamic Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) into power.[6] In addition to a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly, the alliance acquired control of all the four provincial assemblies and enjoyed the support of the military and the President. Mohammad Nawaz Sharif, as leader of the Pakistan Muslim League, the most prominent party in the IJI, was elected Prime Minister by the national assembly. He emerged as the most secure and powerful Pakistani Prime Minister since the mid-1970s.

The relations between the newly-elected Prime Minister and President Ghulam Ishaq Khan were, to begin with, very cordial. The background of this cordiality was disclosed in 1993 by General Aslam Beg, who was Chief of Army Staff from 1988 to 1991. He said that during the election campaign for the 1990 elections, he had received a sum of Rs. 14 crores from the head of one of the nationalized banks, and he had divided this money between Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the President's Election Cell. The payment for Rs. 14 crores to the General was later confirmed by Younis Habib, Chief of the failed Mehran Bank.

However, despite his majority in the parliament and complete confidence of the civil and military establishment, Nawaz Sharif could not survive more than two and a half year. When he became the first Punjabi prime minister of Pakistan, he was naive enough to believe that the two-thirds majority would automatically ensure him a full five years in power. He ignored to compromise with the reality that the Prime Minister was expected to play, happily and voluntarily, a subordinate if not servile role allowing President Ghulam Ishaq Khan to administer the affairs of the Federation without advice or assistance from the Federal Cabinet and any control by the parliament.[7]

His political strategy centered around his economic policy of privatization, which he thought would not only reflate the stagnant economy of Pakistan but also create in this process a considerable sector of political support. The main weakness of his overall political strategy was, that he expected that the growing middle class, consisting of some of the upper level civil servants, lawyers and above all, traders, merchants, and growing number of industrialists, would be adequate by itself to provide him the main nucleus of a political movement.[8] With his strong desire to be an effective Chief Executive, Nawaz Sharif began to take an aggressive position and a confrontationist course with the President, the architect of his government. Consequently he had to face the wrath of his antagonized benefactor.[9]

He did not enjoy a smooth sailing with the army. The Chief of Army Staff, General Asif Nawaz had begun to feel upset at many of Sharif's moves, most significant of them being his attempts to create rifts within the Army. Chaudhry Nisar Ahmad and Brig. Imtiaz, the former ISI chief, were even accused by the late General of threatening to turn him into another Gul Hasan, the army chief who was sacked by Z.A. Bhutto and bundled into a car by Ghulam Mustafa Khar and taken to Lahore by road. It is said that just when General Mirza Aslam Beg was about to topple Nawaz Sharif at the fag end of his tenure in 1991, President Ghulam Ishaq Khan agreed to name General Asif Nawaz as the new COAS, three months before he was to take over. Just when General Asif Nawaz was getting seriously worried about the Nawaz Sharif government, he died quite suddenly in January, 1993.[10]

The first clash between the President and Prime Minister came into public on the appointment of the Chief of Army staff after the sudden death of General Asif Nawaz Janjua in January 1993. Nawaz Sharif wanted to place his own candidate in the vacant position, against the wishes of both the army and the president. Considering Sharif's intentions a direct threat to his political authority, President Ghulam Ishaq Khan used his constitutional privilege effectively to place his candidate, General Abdul Waheed Kakar, as commander-in-chief. Nawaz Sharif reportedly threatened "not to let the new COAS work". Within 24 hours of a statement by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that the appointment of the new COAS would take some time, President Ghulam Ishaq Khan had named General Abdul Waheed as the COAS on Jan. 11. What is more, Nawaz Sharif was told about the new appointment just a few minutes before the ceremony. It was the first public setback to the Prime Minister, but he would not give up easily.

Despite this set back, Nawaz Sharif intensified his political confrontation with the President. He appealed for the abrogation of the 8th constitutional amendment, which conferred upon the President the power to dismiss the government and dissolve elected assemblies. The President, hopeful for a second five-year term, argued that the Eighth Amendment was an important barrier to the ambitions of the prime minister. If Nawaz Sharif had succeeded in doing away with the Eighth Amendment or managed to do away with Article 58(2) introduced by it, which gave the president powers to dissolve the National Assembly without the advice of the Prime Minister, a stronger Federal Government and Prime Minister would have emerged.