Prime Minister Imran Khan’s career as a professional cricketer ended in glory. However, his political one has gone in a different direction altogether. Khan, who has served as Pakistan’s Prime Minister since 2018, was due to face a no-confidence vote on April 3rd which he would probably have lost. Instead, he ducked the ballot, called on the President to dissolve the Parliament and told the country to prepare for elections.
However, political uncertainties and prime ministers having abdicated their seats are not new to the country. Since Pakistan became an independent country in 1947, not one of its prime ministers has completed a full term in office and this has often been accentuated by the fact that the military has controlled the main levers of power, dominated foreign policy and dictated security priorities.
Pakistan has experienced four military coups, with at least as many unsuccessful attempts, and spent more than three decades under military rule. But even under civilian governments, the country’s generals have wielded enormous power and set the agenda for Pakistan’s foreign policy and tolerance of extremist groups, like the Taliban in neighbouring Afghanistan. The pattern of instability that has plagued Pakistan’s politics has often come down to the relationship between the governing party — specifically the prime minister — and the military.
Here is a list of how Pakistan’s prime ministers fared in the last 75 years:
Liaquat Ali Khan
A doyen of the Pakistan movement, the Muslim League leader and Finance Minister was appointed the founding Prime Minister of the country in 1947 by Muhammad Ali Jinnah. After completing 4 years and 63 days since assuming office on August 14, Pakistan’s first Prime Minister was assassinated on October 6, 1951, by an Afghan while addressing a rally at Rawalpindi’s Company Bagh.
After the death of Pakistan’s first prime minister, the aristocratic Khawaja Nizamuddin, who had been the governor-general, was asked to step down to take over the post of premier. He lasted just 1 year and 182 days, until April 7, 1953, before governor-general Ghulam Muhammad dismissed him on the grounds of being unable to control the widespread riots and agitations in Lahore and East Pakistan.
Mohammad Ali Bogra
Governor-general Ghulam Muhammad went onto appoint Mohammad Ali Bogra, a diplomat, who reportedly forged Pakistan’s alignment with the United States, as the next prime minister. Even though he had been personally installed by Ghulam Muhammad, Bogra’s effort to curb the powers of the governor-general by amending the India Independence Act, 1954, resulted in the Constituent Assembly being dissolved later that year. The Sindh High Court declared the move illegal, but the federal court overturned it, claiming that the Constituent Assembly was illegitimate as no constitution was finalised for six years.
In the meantime, Bogra had been forced to head a Cabinet formed by persons chosen by the President, including the Army Chief Ayub Khan as the Defence Minister. In the 1955 elections, the Muslim League lost the majority, but Bogra came back through a coalition government. However, after Iskander Mirza replaced the ailing Ghulam Mohammed as President, Bogra’s days were numbered, and he was forced to resign on August 12, 1955.
Chaudhari Muhammad Ali
Born in Punjab in 1905, Chaudhari Muhammad Ali was the one who helped Pakistan frame its Constitution in 1956, ending the country’s dominion status. However, as the Muslim League turned against him and resigned en masse from the Cabinet, he was asked to step down in 1956, ending his term of 1 year and 31 days.
Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy
Chaudhari was followed by Suhrawardy from the Awami League assuming power at a time when Pakistan saw widespread violence and coups. He began his leadership career as the premier of Bengal province in 1946, having led the Bengal Provincial Muslim League to a decisive victory in the legislative elections. His tenure saw the outbreak of the brutal Direct Action Day which saw large-scale violence between Muslims and Hindus in Calcutta.
His luck as the Prime Minister had run out after he was forced to resign by Mirza in 1957, before he was subsequently arrested when the military coup began in 1958.
Ibrahim Ismail Chundrigar
One of the shortest-serving PMs of Pakistan, Chundrigar was asked to serve as PM by Mirza, forming his government on October 18, 1957, with the help of the Republican Party, the Krishak Sramik Party and the Nizam-i-Islam Party. Less than two months later, he would lose the confidence of his party and coalition partners when he tried to modify the electoral college.
Feroz Khan Noon
Noon was invited to be the Prime Minister by President Iskander Mirza after Chundrigar’s ouster in 1957, though the two quickly developed sour relations amid Mirza’s attempts to take full control of the country. It culminated in the 1958 coup, in which Mirza sacked Khan, abrogated the Constitution and assumed total control of the country. Mirza himself was deposed by military General Ayub Khan. Noon’s tenure lasted a total of 9 months and 21 days.
In 1958, Pakistan went into an almost-decade long military rule after martial law was imposed by General Ayub Khan. Ministries were made and broken in quick succession and in October 1958, with national elections scheduled for the following year, General Mohammad Ayub Khan carried out a military coup with confounding ease. Between 1958 and 1969, President Ayub Khan, through autocratic rule, was able to centralize the government without the inconvenience of unstable ministerial coalitions that had characterized its first decade after independence. In the aftermath of the 1965 war with India, mounting regional discontent in East Pakistan and urban unrest in West Pakistan helped undermine Ayub Khan’s authority, forcing him to relinquish power in March 1969.
After Ayub Khan, General Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan headed the second military regime from 1969-1971. By that time the country had been under military rule for thirteen of its twenty-five years of existence.
Towards the end of the Bangladesh liberation war, Nurul Amin, a politician from East Pakistan, was appointed as the Prime Minister by General Yahya Khan on December 6, 1971. But after Yahya Khan resigned in the aftermath of Pakistan’s defeat and losing East Pakistan, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was handed over the Presidency. Nurul Amin was asked to leave, having held the post of prime minister for just 13 days. He was sworn in two days later as Pakistan’s first and only vice president.
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto launched the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) after leaving General Ayub’s cabinet. His party had won an overwhelming majority in West Pakistan in the general elections held in December 1970 but failed to reach an agreement with Sheikh Mujib’s Awami League that won most of the seats in East Pakistan.
After the 1973 constitution came into force, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto stepped down as President to become Prime Minister after getting the majority of votes in the Parliament. He returned to power as Prime Minister after the March 1977 elections, but only for a short time.
Although Bhutto’s PPP had won the 1977 elections, the Pakistan National Alliance — a nine-party coalition — charged him with rigging the vote. Violent urban unrest gave the army under General Zia-ul Haq the pretext to make a powerful comeback to the political arena, and on July 5, 1977, Pakistan was placed under military rule yet again and the 1973 Constitution was suspended. His total term as Prime Minister lasted for 3 years, 10 months and 21 days.
The Army makes a comeback
Upon assuming power General Zia banned all political parties and expressed his determination to recast the Pakistani state and society into an Islamic mold. In April 1979 Bhutto was executed on murder charges and the PPP’s remaining leadership was jailed or exiled.
On December 30, 1985, after confirming his own position in a controversial “Islamic” referendum, completing a fresh round of nonparty elections of the provincial and national assemblies, and introducing a series of amendments to the 1973 constitution, Zia finally lifted martial law and announced the dawn of a new democratic era in Pakistan.
Mohammad Khan Junejo
In the 1985 non-party elections, Mohammad Khan Junejo was re-elected from his constituency and was invited by President Zia to form the government. He managed to survive for three years and two months but was dismissed on the grounds of a breakdown in law and order. Junejo’s relations with President Zia had deteriorated by that time, and he was removed from power using the controversial eighth amendment. He served for 3 years, 2 months and 5 days.
In the 1988 elections held after Zia’s death, political parties went back to the polls, and Benazir Bhutto was elected as Prime Minister on December 2. One of the longest-serving PMs of the country, she was not only one of the longest-serving PMs of Pakistan, but also the country’s youngest Prime Minister and the first woman to lead a modern Muslim state.
She managed to dodge an impeachment move in 1989, but her government was dismissed by president Ghulam Ishaq Khan on August 6, 1990, accusing her administration of corruption, nepotism and other acts “in contravention of the Constitution and the law”.
She returned to power in 1993, and oversaw economic privatisation and attempts to advance women’s rights. Her government was, however, damaged by several controversies, including the assassination of her brother Murtaza, a failed 1995 coup, and a bribery scandal involving her and her husband Asif Ali Zardari – resulting in President Farooq Leghari dismissing her government. She served as PM for a total of 4 years, 8 months and 7 days.
Effectively the longest-serving Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif became the 12th PM after winning the election in 1990. Using powers conferred upon him through the eighth amendment, President Ghulam Ishaq Khan dissolved the National Assembly and appointed an interim PM on April 18, 1993. Sharif went to the Supreme Court, which ruled in his favour on May 26. Sharif was forced to reach an agreement under pressure from the military, under which he tendered his resignation along with Ghulam Ishaq Khan in July 1993.
Sharif returned for his second non-consecutive term after winning a mandate in the February 1997 elections. He remained in power for less than three years before Army Chief Pervez Musharraf conducted a coup in October 1999.
He returned to power a third time in June 2013, winning another clear majority. However, he was disqualified in July 2017 by the Supreme Court of Pakistan as a result of the Panama Papers case. In total, Sharif served as the PM for over 9 years.
Under Musharraf, Pakistan saw three prime ministers – Mir Zafarullh Khan Jamali, Chaudhary Shujaat Hussain and Shaukat Aziz. The shortest term was that of Chaudhary Shujaat for two months before Aziz became the PM in 2004. He left office at the end of the parliamentary tenure in November 2007, becoming the first Pakistan prime minister to do so.
Yousaf Raza Gillani
Following Pakistan Peoples Party’s win in the 2008 elections, Yousaf Raza Gillani became the prime minister. During this period, the presidential powers under Article 58 (2) (b) were withdrawn by Parliament. Following this, the method of removing prime ministers moved from the presidential office to the judiciary. With just nine months left for his term, Gillani had to leave office in June 2012 after the Supreme Court disqualified him for not writing a letter to Swiss authorities to re-open corruption cases against President Asif Ali Zardari.
Raja Pervaiz Ashraf completed the remaining term of the PPP government till March 2013.
After Nawaz Sharif was disqualified as the prime minister by the Supreme Court, former cricketer and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf leader Imran Khan finally became the PM of a coalition government, after his party won the largest number of seats in the 2018 elections.
However, Khan’s relatively stable tenure began to unwind late last year, as dissatisfaction with his handling of the economy came to a head and a dispute with the military over its leadership appeared to cost him its support.
With some help from Deputy Speaker Qasim Khan Suri, Khan on Sunday snatched a reprieve from what seemed like a sure ouster from office ahead of the scheduled vote on the combined Opposition’s no-confidence motion against him. He blindsided the Opposition by dissolving the National Assembly and asking people to “prepare for another election”.