Developments in October which shook Pakistan

By: Muhammad Zahid Rifat

October, the 10th month of the calendar year, is almost a fortnight old.  For any nation, every day in a month and a year becomes important when some important developments and events take place, having a short or a long impact on things to come in future. Living nations do remember history, learn from the good or bad events taking place every now and then and learning lessons to avoid such things which may lead to further bad developments.

As such, the month of October has somehow assumed a lot of importance in our chequered political history as many events of the sorts had taken place during this month in the past 71 years since the creation of Pakistan.

It was on October 16, 1951, just little more than four years after the birth of a separate country for the Muslims of the sub-continent, that Pakistan’s first  Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan was shot dead while addressing a public meeting in Gol Bagh Rawalpindi since named after him as Liaquat Bagh. This was the first political murder in the newborn country. The inquiry report conducted into this mysterious murder has never been made public so far. It is also not confirmed whether the post-mortem of the assassinated prime minister was then conducted or not.

During the month of October in different years, two military takeovers by the then Army Chiefs had also taken place.

It was on October 7, 1998, that the then President Justice (retired)  Muhammad Rafiq Tarar on the recommendations of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had promoted and appointed  General Pervez Musharraf as the new chief of Army Staff (COAS). In this way, General Pervez Musharraf had superseded a couple of generals who were senior to him. Afterwards, General Pervez Musharraf was also named as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee on April 9, 1999, thus two offices were combined in one person.

The key post had fallen vacant after COAS General Jahangir Karamat was forced to step down by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for floating the idea of a civil-military partnership in power. The same idea was later translated into reality with the establishment of the National Security Council through an Act of the Parliament.

Usually, the Chief of Army Staff is appointed for a period of three years. But the tenure can be cut down or extended depending on the circumstances by the competent authority and whether a civilian or a military ruler is at the helm of national affairs.

It was on October 12, 1999, when an event changed the course of things drastically. The civilian government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was summarily ousted and COAS General Pervez Musharraf had seized the power, assuming the title as the Chief Executive and retained incumbent President Rafiq Tarar apparently till the completion of his tenure.

All these developments had taken place in the fateful afternoon and culminated by the evening on October 12, 1999. Firstly, a ticker was run by then only PTV that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has removed COAS General Pervez Musharraf and appointed then ISI Chief General Ziauddin Butt as the new Army Chief in his place. A couple of hours later, another ticker on PTV said that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has been ousted and COAS General Pervez Musharraf has seized the power. Had the Prime Minister reduced something in writing in this regard on some official file, then the things would certainly have been entirely different instead of the developments that so took place.

The coup was so staged on the ground when a flight coming from Colombo, Sri Lanka,  with COAS General Pervez Musharraf on board along with over 200 passengers were not allowed to land at Karachi airport. General Pervez Musharraf was returning home after paying an official visit to Sri Lanka and following this development, the army had promptly intervened.

It is a matter of record  that General Pervez Musharraf  had promulgated Provisional Constitution  Order (PCO) on October 14, 1999  holding the 1973 Constitution in abeyance  and suspended the Senate and its Chairman and Deputy Chairman, the National and Provincial Assemblies with their Speakers and Deputy Speakers  and also dismissed the federal and provincial governments  as well. It was the first time ever that the Senate, upper house of the Parliament, was so dismissed, perhaps.

Under the PCO, the National  Security Council was established in October 1999 with a mandate to render advice to the Chief Executive  (later the President) on matters relating to national security, sovereignty and solidarity of Pakistan.

On June 20, 2001, prior to his visit to India, General Pervez Musharraf assumed the office of the President of Pakistan while retaining the post of COAS also after incumbent President Rafiq Tarar was sent home rather quite unceremoniously without letting him complete his tenure. This was in sharp contrast with the good treatment which General Ziaul Haq had meted out to President Fazal Elahi Chaudhry by letting him complete his tenure, even after seizing power and toppling of Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in July 1977.

In October 2001,  General Pervez Musharraf had extended his own term as the COAS indefinitely till further orders. Out of three previous military rulers, General turned Field Marshal Muhammad Ayub Khan had relinquished the post of Commander-in-Chief when he had become the President by appointing General Muhammad Musa as his successor and General Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan and General Muhammad Ziaul Haq had retained the khaki uniform even after assuming the office of the President.

In accordance with the direction of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, general elections were held on October 10, 2002, just two days before the expiry of the three year time-frame laid down by the country’s apex court.

Going back to the early political history of the country, Major General Iskander Mirza was the last of the four Governors-General and the first President after enforcement of the 1956 Constitution. General Ayub Khan was the third Commander-in-Chief of Pakistan Army after two British  Generals and the first Muslim/ Pakistan army chief.

Political development developments continued to place in quick succession. Leg pulling and intrigues were part of the political culture of that time. The situation took so bad turns that the Deputy Speaker of East Pakistan was beaten up to death in the first week of October 1958.

Viewing this ugly development as “enough is enough”, President, Major General Iskander Mirza  imposed the first ever full-fledged martial law  in the country on October 7,1958, derailed the democratic  system, removed the central government of Prime Minister  Feroze Khan Noon and appointed General Ayub Khan as the Chief Martial Law Administrator  just  a little more than eleven years after Pakistan had surfaced on the world map.. This was the beginning of the army’s intervention in civilian political matters.

This was quite unfortunate and sadly not the end. Much more was in store for the person who had imposed the first martial law in the country. After just 20 days on October 27, 1958,  CMLA /Commander-in-Chief of the Army General Ayub Khan got Major General Iskander Mirza kicked out of the President’s House in Karachi and himself became the President.

It was also in the month of October that Pakistan’s first Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan was assassinated on October 16, 1951, while addressing a public meeting in Rawalpindi and was replaced by Khwaja Nazimuddin,  who had stepped down as the Governor General, on October 17, 1958 as the new Prime Minister, the second in the list to which  new names were being added as the years went by despite frequent military interventions. The democratic process had been derailed and the National and Provincial Assemblies dissolved a number of times. The third Governor General of Pakistan Malik Ghulam Muhammad laid the foundation of foul practice by dissolving the Constituent Assembly on October 1954 just when the draft of the Constitution was ready to be placed before the assembly for consideration and approval.

Pakistan’s third Prime Minister Muhammad Ali Bogra was, however, not dismissed and was asked to run the administration until such time fresh general elections were held. Thus he remained in the office as the Prime Minister, but with a reconstituted cabinet.

Cutting the long story short, the general elections for the 9th National Assembly were held on October 24, 1990, as a result of which  Nawaz Sharif became the 13th Prime Minister.

Elections to the 10th National Assembly were held on October 6, 1993. Its first session was held on October 13, Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani took oath as Speaker National Assembly on October 17 and Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto became the Prime Minister for the second time by taking oath on October 19, 1993, as the 17th Prime Minister of Pakistan. By the time Prime  Minister Nawaz Sharif was removed on October 12, 1999, both Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif had served two stints as the Prime Ministers in quick succession in about a decade from December 12, 1988, to October 12, 1999.

Besides these frequent political developments, more unpleasant than pleasant ones, Nature had also shaken the people of Pakistan when a massive earthquake of 7.8 Richter scale intensity hit the country on  October 8, 2005, causing massive devastation in Islamabad, Azad Kashmir and elsewhere. Billions of rupees have been spent so far, but the hard-hit large number of people in Pakistan and Azad Kashmir have not been fully rehabilitated even after the passage of thirteen long years.

This is not all. Developments continue to take place. Only Almighty Allah knows the best as to what is in store for the rulers, political leaders and the people of Pakistan in the coming days, weeks, months, years and decades. There is certainly and surely no harm in keeping our fingers crossed and praying for Almighty Allah’s continued blessings, mercy and good times coming and keeping Pakistan safe, secured, progress and developed for all times to come.


The writer is a Lahore-based Freelance Journalist, Columnist and retired Deputy Controller (News) Radio Pakistan Islamabad, my dad and can be reached at