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Pakistan Table of Contents


The Army Assumes Control

The developing relationship with the United States was only one of the dramatic experiences that the military underwent in the late 1950s. The political system had been performing very poorly, especially since the assassination of Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan in 1951 (see Constitutional and Political Inheritance , ch. 4). There was increasing public disillusionment with the system and little respect for political leaders, who were seen as incompetent and corrupt. In fact, decision-making power had been moving inexorably away from the leaders of the political parties and into the hands of the two national institutions that were seen as competent and honest--the bureaucracy and the army.

On October 7, 1958, President Iskander Mirza annulled the 1956 constitution by proclamation, dissolved the national and provincial assemblies, and banned political parties. Asserting that if Pakistan were to be saved, the army would have to assume political control. Mirza then declared martial law and appointed General Ayub Khan chief martial law administrator. Twenty days later, Ayub moved against Mirza, sending him into exile, and assumed the office of president himself. Thus began the second role of the military--self-appointed guardian of domestic affairs of state as well as defender against external enemies. The results were mixed, both for Pakistan and for its soldiers. The military continued to enjoy preferred access to resources in Pakistan, and an elaborate system of quasi-governmental bodies provided economic opportunities for military personnel, especially after retirement. The country as a whole welcomed army rule, which brought a period of stability and rapid economic growth and vigorously attacked the corruption that beset the country. The army ruled with a firm but light hand, retaining ultimate control but working largely through the bureaucracy.

Economic gains, however, were so badly distributed that they seemed hollow for many Pakistanis. The involvement of military personnel in governing detracted from their primary mission. Although the military remained popular, it became associated with the political divisions of the country and was no longer solely the symbol of national unity. Opposition began to develop, especially among intellectuals and politicians.

Ayub Khan lifted martial law in 1962, replacing it with an authoritarian constitution under which he was elected president (see Basic Democracies , ch. 1; Ayub Khan, 1958-69 , ch. 4). While the new system had some constructive features, it failed to gain public support, and even though the army was no longer governing the country, Ayub Khan and his system were seen as unpopular manifestations of military rule.

Data as of April 1994