Phases of democracy and dictatorship in Pakistan – Ayub Khan


On 14th August 1947 Pakistan appeared on the world map as an independent democratic state. On the contrary it has been subject to periodic military interventions. Political observers have been investigating the reasons for shift of power between the civil and military authority in Pakistan. The unstable political landscape of the 1950’s resulted in the first ever military coup in Pakistan staged by Field Marshal Ayub Khan. In “Masters and Friends” Ayub Khan recalled the moment when he informed the then President Iskander Mirza that “I will administer Martial Law”. Ayub instructed Mirza to write a letter to the Prime Minister saying that he had abrogated the Constitution and appointed Ayub to administer Martial Law. According to observers Ayub knew that the Constitution had no provision for its abrogation, imposition of Martial Law and the appointment of a Chief Marshal Law Administer. Ayub Khan was fully aware that what he had done was wrong but for his convenience he fastened the blame on Iskander Mirza.

Ayub Khan like any other military dictator sought legitimacy for his regime thus he had to initiate a system for democratization and civilization. The Ayub regime had setup three political institutions in order to increase its support through political participation. The introduction of the basic democracies and the Constitution of 1962 were seen as the first two political institutions.  The rise of the political party was the third institution.  The second Constitution was adopted by Pakistan on 1st May 1962 now all power vested in the President. Thus it was impossible for the president to face impeachment. The Late Prime Minister Chaudhry Mohammad Ali remarked that the 1962 Constitution formed a government which was “by the President and for the President.”

The system of local bodies was introduced for the first time under the pretext that the masses were as alien to democracy as they were to the English language. This was the first experiment conducted on democracy and later proved to be a successful system for successive dictators.

The Basic Democracies was actually the Presidential Electoral College aimed at providing legitimacy to Ayub as the President besides supplying him a support base free from civil military bureaucracy. The Basic Democrats were accused of misusing the funds for rural construction plan. The Electoral College established by Basic Democracies has been criticized for re-electing Ayub in 1965 against Miss Fatima Jinnah Quiad –e – Azam’s sister.

The extra ordinary economic growth witnessed during Ayub’s era was seen by the US economists as a reference model of free enterprise for the other developing countries. Ayub Khan’s earnestness in carrying out development in Pakistan became evident as he became the Chairperson of the Planning Commission. The economic success of the 1960’s in Pakistan was unfortunately coupled with economic inequalities owing to flaws in the economic model. However the regime earned worldwide admiration for the success of its economic model which was termed as the “Golden Decade” of development. This economic model was accused of enabling the rich in acquiring more wealth as all the wealth was accumulated by twenty two families of the country. The common people particularly the working class grew restive due to Ayub’s economic model which happened to benefit the business class.

Rapid industrialization produced more and more trade unions besides a considerably high rate of students who enrolled in universities and colleges. Ayub had to face harsh criticism from students and members of trade unions for his anti-democratic movements and Capitalist system. In addition to this the Peace treaty between India and Pakistan brokered by Soviet Union turned out to be a contributing factor in Ayub’s downfall. Leaders of the opposition accused Ayub for loosing on the negotiating table what had already been won in the battlefield. The Leftist accused him of imposing ‘crony capitalism’ furthermore he was criticized for suppressing the ethnic nationalism of the Sindhi’s, Balochi’s, Pakhtun’s and the Bengali’s.  Ayub Khan eventually succumbed to the pressure and stepped down amidst many allegations transferring power to the new Martial Law Administrator Yahya Khan.

The first military coup 1958

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