Pakistan: PM’s post has always been jinxed

Given the tailspin Pakistan's polity is in today, it is fair to cast doubts about the longevity of Shehbaz’s tenure.
Keywords: Pakistan, Elections, Shehbaz, Politics, Nawaz Sharif, Iran Khan, Military, Rule
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Shehbaz Sharif of PML-N will soon be Pakistan’s Prime Minister, heading a minority government dependent on outside PPP support. Asif Zardari of PPP will be President and his party will get some other top positions too. PPP’s non-participation in the government at Islamabad makes this a shaky government unlikely to complete its tenure.

Incidentally, Shehbaz is expected to carry forward the tradition of no PM in Pakistan ever completing his/her tenure till date. Only three elected assemblies have completed their five-year terms in the 75-year history of the nation.

As we look back, we find that Pakistan has had 30 Prime Ministers (Caretaker PMs included) so far since August 1947 when it came into being. But none of them was able to complete his/her tenure. Shehbaz, who will take oath as PM for the second time, is unlikely to beat this entrenched tradition. By all available indications and past trends, he will not last a full five-year term till March 2029. A couple of years from now, there may be a change of guards due to one reason or the other. Given the tailspin Pakistan’s polity is in today, it is fair to cast doubts about the longevity of Shehbaz’s tenure.

In the past, some Pakistan PMs were removed from the office on corruption charges (allegedly trumped up). At least three PMs were sent packing in direct military coups and others were forced to resign. Its first PM Liaqat Ali Khan was assassinated in October 1951 during a public meeting at Rawalpindi. Since then, truncated tenures for Pakistan PMs have become a congenital tradition, or call it a habit if you like, without a single exception. In between the regular elected PMs, the country also had some PMs who functioned as caretakers for overseeing elections (as Anwaar ul Haque Kakar was at the time of the February 8 polls) or stepped in to finish a dismissed PM’s tenure.

Of all the PMs till date, Nurul Amin had the shortest tenure of just 13 days from December 7 to 20, 1971. He was made PM by Yahya Khan in the midst of the war (December 3-16) with India which had created Bangladesh. The longest uninterrupted single tenure of four years and 68 days was that of Yousuf Raza Gillani of PPP who was disqualified by the Supreme Court for contempt of court.

Nawaz Sharif, being projected to become PM for the 4th time before the elections, has served as the PM of Pakistan for the longest period of nine years and 215 days. But this time was punctuated by dismissals and three terms. After becoming the 12th PM of Pakistan in November 1990, Nawaz was dismissed by President Ghulam Ishaq Khan in April 1993. Nawaz became PM in February 1997 again but was deposed in October 1999 by General Pervez Musharraf. He became the PM of Pakistan for the third time in June 2017 but was dismissed from office by the Supreme Court for allegedly concealing his assets.

The case in which Nawaz was convicted is known as the Avenfield corruption case regarding his properties in London. After his dismissal for the third time, Nawaz, an elected PM, was handcuffed before being lodged in Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat jail. Presently, former PM Imran Khan is in Adiala jail of Rawalpindi from where he guided his party in the February 8 polls.

Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) leader late Benazir Bhutto also remained PM of her country twice but could not complete her tenures on both occasions. In her first tenure, she was the PM from December 1988 to August 1990. President Ghulam Ishaq Khan dismissed Bhutto’s government and declared a state of nationwide emergency. He said Bhutto’s dismissal was necessary as her government was corrupt and failed to maintain law and order!

In her second tenure, she became the PM in October 1993 but was dismissed by President Farooq Leghari in November 1996. The grounds for her dismissal were cited as corruption and incompetence’’, eerily similar to those that had been leveled against her earlier too. Leghari, a Baloch, was made President by Benazir just as General Zia ul Haq was made the Army chief by her father Zulfikar Bhutto. Incidentally, General Ayub Khan had, in 1958, accused civilian leadership of being incompetent and corrupt’’ before taking over the reins of the nation. In their heydays, Yahya Khan, Zia ul Haq and Pervez Musharraf, military chiefs all, gave more doses of military rule as an antidote & panacea to the Pakistan nation as per Ayub’s prescription.

The Pakistan Army has always played an important role in this entrenched trend of no PM ever completing his/her tenure till date. Even when not involved directly as an institution in the game of musical chairs played for the PM’s office, it has always overshadowed the connected events. In Pakistan society, the results of the present National Assembly elections are largely being attributed to Army Chief General Asim Munir.

It is common knowledge that the Pakistan Army’s actions had not only led to Imran’s ascension to power in the 2018 elections but also his ouster in April 2022. Whatever be the popularity of a democratic party among the masses, their real masters are invariably the Generals. That is why most Pakistani governments have been hybrid in a unique way, with elected politicians front office managers, and Army Generals as the real owners.

The dismissals of Nawaz Sharif as also Benazir Bhutto, besides the ouster of Imran Khan, were all orchestrated by the army chiefs of the day. Disqualification of ex-PMs from electoral politics and calibrated adverse court verdicts also happen in Pakistan politics on a regular basis.

Shehbaz had become PM first by ousting his predecessor Imran in a vote of no confidence in April 2022 with the Army’s blessings. By that time, Imran was in the office for over three years and Shehbaz’s tenure was less than two years. How long will Shehbaz’s tenure be in his second innings as PM is anybody’s guess!

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Sant Kumar Sharma

Sant Kumar Sharma is a Jammu based journalist.

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