The searching 50s
Pakistan was carved out from the rest of India in August 1947. It was made up of the region’s Muslim-majority areas on the west and east sides of colonial India.
The creation of Pakistan had been the work of lawyer and politician, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, and his All India Muslim League. Jinnah and his party’s ideologues had argued for a separate Muslim nation-state. They emphasised that the Muslims of South Asia were a different cultural entity compared to the Hindu majority of the region.
After successfully achieving his goal of creating this Muslim nation-state (Pakistan), Jinnah described it as a Muslim-majority state where the Muslims could freely live according to their cultural ethos, but where men and women of other religions too, were free to practice their respective faiths. He maintained that in Pakistan, ‘religion was not the matter of the state’ and that the Pakistani nationhood would triumph and prevail over divisions triggered by religious and ethnic differences.
Though over 90 per cent of the country’s population was Muslim, it was made up of various ethnic groups, languages and cultures.
Muslims who were a minority in India had now become a majority in Pakistan. But this majority contained deep-rooted sectarian and sub-sectarian theological and cultural differences and divisions as well.
Pakistan’s first batch of rulers led by Jinnah had the tough task to mould a concept of the Pakistani nationhood that would eschew ethnic, sectarian and sub-sectarian differences. But even before such a project could be launched, Jinnah passed away (1948).
Much of the 1950s in Pakistan was a decade of searching.
The new country’s early politicians, religious figures, intellectuals, artistes and society as a whole, spent most of their time and energies groping and grappling with various conflicting and vague ideas about the Pakistani nationhood; and/or what sort of an economic system Pakistan should have, how much of a role religion should play in the matters of the state and government, and what was a person’s ethnic identity vis-à-vis his or her national (Pakistani) identity.
Politics in the 1950s in Pakistan was at best wobbly. It was largely dominated by a highly politicised bureaucracy and political intrigues and infighting between members of the ruling party (Muslim League).
On the other hand, the opposition that was made up of various progressive and socialist groups and ethnic nationalists on the left and certain conservative religious outfits on the right was largely kept outside and away from Pakistan’s transitional Constituent Assembly.
The Muslim League, whose precursor, the All India Muslim League, had risen to become a strong, assertive and moderate-progressive Muslim party in undivided India, mutated into becoming a fragile abode of self-serving pragmatists.
Though the League governments occasionally experimented with the idea of using Islam to define Pakistan’s nationhood, it failed because its concept of such nationhood not only contradicted and undermined the cultural identities of the country’s various ethnic groups; it was also seen as being half-baked and elitist.
Politically, the 1950s was a turbulent decade in Pakistan that failed to provide a stable government. This encouraged political intrigues and infighting within the ruling elite, while opposition groups were often accused of working against the interests of Pakistan.
Economic variability could not tackle various social problems arising from the sudden growth of shanty towns in the country’s main urban centres where the rising number of poor Pakistanis became victims of exploitation, crime and disenchantment.
But in spite of the impact of these economic and political ills, and the fact that the Muslim League governments in the 1950s had haphazardly tried to weave religion into the political fabric of the new country, the social, political and cultural milieu in Pakistan remained inherently pluralistic.
The Ups: Urdu literature; Radio Pakistan; Cricket.
The Downs: Politics; Economy; Poverty.
Sadat Hasan Manto is considered to be one of the finest Urdu short-story writers. He migrated to Pakistan and became as controversial as he was famous. His stories reflected his increasing perplexity regarding the impact of partition of India on the common folks of both India and Pakistan. He also investigated the repressed sexuality and its effects on a society confused about its national identity. Manto was labelled as being crude by the leftists and ‘obscene’ by the rightists. He died in 1955 in Lahore due to depression and alcoholism.
The paradoxical 60s
In 1958, Pakistan’s President Iskander Mirza and Army chief, Ayub Khan, imposed the county’s first Martial Law. Both had become incensed by the growing infighting within the Muslim League, the rising cases of corruption in government institutions, and the advent of ethnic forces whom they saw as a threat to the country’s existence.
Ayub soon deposed Mirza and became the country’s sole sovereign and its first military ruler. The Ayub regime ushered in a period of political and economic stability largely brought about through aggressive state-backed capitalism, a close alliance with the United States, and a crackdown on politics on both sides of the political divide.
Leftists and ethnic nationalists were hounded out for being ‘traitors’ and the rightists were taken to task for working against the ‘progressive and modern concept of Jinnah’s Islam.’
Pakistan enjoyed tremendous economic growth between 1960 and 1966. But Ayub’s regime began to suddenly crumble and look vulnerable after it went to war with India in 1965.
The war went well for Pakistan in the early stages and its military and air force made important territorial gains. But soon the conflict retracted and became an exhaustive stalemate for both the sides.
When the Soviet Union brokered a peace treaty between the two warring countries, the opposition political parties in Pakistan claimed that ‘Pakistan had lost on the negotiation table what its forces had won in the field.’
The anger against the treaty among most Pakistanis was a manifestation of the economic frustrations that the lower middle classes, working-classes and the peasants had begun to face under Ayub’s lopsided pro-business economic policies.
Though Ayub managed to navigate through the sporadic series of protests against the treaty, in 1968 his luck began to run out. A concentrated movement was launched by left-wing student groups that were soon joined by labour and trade unions and opposition political parties.
Unprecedented economic growth under Ayub had paradoxically also triggered unprecedented inflation.
Widespread industrialisation had given birth to active labour and trade unions. A growth in the number of students in the country’s universities and colleges also saw many of these students becoming radicalised against Ayub’s overt capitalist and anti-democratic manoeuvres. Ethnic nationalist groups began to once again assert themselves as well.
The Ayub regime’s firm frontage build upon secular but authoritarian and overtly capitalist foundations began to melt away when the movement against him peaked in 1969. He finally decided to step down and hand over power to General Yayah Khan.
The Ups:Industry; Economy; Film; Hockey; International Relations; Tourism, Pakistan International Airlines (PIA).
The Downs: Political repression; Rich-Poor Gap; Cronyism.
The populist 70s
The people of Pakistan got their first ever election based on adult franchise in 1970. Ironically, the election was held under the military dictatorship of General Yayah Khan who had taken over from Ayub Khan after he resigned as Field Marshal and President.
Left-leaning populism and radical nationalism that had been building up within the country’s opposition parties, student and labour unions and eventually on the streets in the late 1960s poured out with an even more force in the shape of the results that the election produced.
In the Bengali-dominated East Pakistan the Bengali nationalist party, the Awami League, swept the polls, whereas in the two largest provinces of West Pakistan (Punjab and Sindh), the populist Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) won a majority.
In Balochistan and the former NWFP (present-day Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), the leftist National Awami Party (NAP) won the most seats followed by the Qayyum Muslim League and Jamiat Ulema Islam (JUI).
JUI was the only mainstream religious party to win a respectable number of seats as most other religious and conservative groups were routed in the election.
In theory, the Awami League should have been asked to form Pakistan’s first truly elected government but a three-way struggle for power between Yahya’s dictatorship, Awami League and ZA Bhutto’s PPP, delayed the process to a point where a civil war between radical Bengali nationalists and the Pakistan military erupted in East Pakistan.
The conflict drew India into the war as well and by December 1971 the Pakistan armed forces were facing a full-scale war against Indian forces and Bengali radicals.
The war ended badly for the Pakistani forces and East Pakistan managed to separate itself from the rest of the country and become an independent Bengali republic.
Since Bhutto’s PPP had won the largest number of seats in West Pakistan, a group of officers invited him to take over power. Yayah and his regime were sent packing.
A wave of populist nationalism and socialist sentiment swept the country as the Bhutto regime began to initiate land reforms and widespread restructurings in the country’s bureaucracy, military and economics.
The Bhutto regime’s policies in this context both triggered, as well as absorbed the time’s populist zeitgeist. Large industries were nationalised, labour unions were co-opted (at times forcibly), the working and peasant classes were given a larger platform to air their views, and narratives of ethnic nationalisms were weaved into the government’s otherwise federalist outlook and appeal.
At the same time, the regime also initiated a concentrated intellectual and political project to clearly outline the concept of the Pakistani nationhood that explained Pakistan to be a unique Muslim nationalist experiment that was trying to achieve a balance between liberal democracy, socialist economics and Islam.
It was supposedly this balance that became the central trust behind the 1973 Constitution.
But democracy and a new constitution did not unleash a truly pluralistic and democratic culture in the country. Enjoying a large majority in the parliament and a weak and fragmented opposition, Bhutto and his party arrogantly lorded over the proceedings, alienating the country’s elite, middle and lower-middle-classes.
But as the economy began to suffer due to ill-planned nationalisation, urban and semi-urban groups began to express their discontent through right-wing student organisations and the press.
The regime’s populist manoeuvres also included the aggressive patronisation of Pakistan’s various folk cultures, especially their music. Folk artistes with humble backgrounds were given lots of space to perform their art along with progressive Urdu poets, singers and intellectuals.
The 1970s also saw the country’s tourism and film industries reach their respective peaks. The Karachi Airport became one of the busiest in the region and the government greatly expanded the country’s tourism department.
According to a 1974 report authored by the Ministry of Tourism, over 50,000 tourists (from the US, UK and other European countries; and Brazil and Argentina), entered Pakistan through air and road (between 1973 and 1974).
This saw the mushrooming of various tourist-related businesses in Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar, Swat, Chitral and Gilgit.
Between 1972 and 1977, the Pakistan film industry was releasing an average of 80 films a year (not counting films in Punjabi, Sindhi and Pushtu).
These trends continued despite the fact that the Bhutto regime moved a bit to the right after 1974 – a move that contributed in religious riots in the Punjab and growing intervention of conservative oil-rich Arab monarchies in the affairs of Pakistan.
But as cultural activities thrived in the era and Pakistan became to be known as ‘the gateway to Asia,’ the economy continued to struggle and incidents of hooliganism in educational institutions and the streets grew two-fold.
The economy, the hooliganism and the regime’s almost authoritarian attitude towards any opposition got the country’s religious and conservative parties to unite with the financial muscle and backing of the industrial classes against the regime during the 1977 election.
The alliance promised a more ‘Islamic government’ and a stable economy. It then managed to get a large number of urban middle and lower-middle-class youth to protest and riot on the roads of the country’s major cities when it blamed the Bhutto regime of rigging the election.
To save his government, Bhutto agreed to implement certain demands made by the right-wing opposition: Closing down nightclubs; banning the sale and consumption of alcohol (for Muslims); cracking down on hooliganism; holding fresh elections; stopping nationalisation; etc.
But the time’s populist fascia collapsed when the regime was finally toppled in a reactionary military coup in July 1977.
In 1979, the military regime through a highly controversial trial executed Bhutto for ordering a political murder.
The Ups: Nationalism; Folk Music; Tourism; Film; Cricket; Hockey; Squash; International Relations; Reforms; Pakistan Television Corporation (PTV); PIA.
The Downs: Economy; Hooliganism; Education Standards; Repression of Media.
The seething 80s
When General Ziaul Haq toppled the Bhutto regime in July 1977, he promised to hold fresh elections within 90 days. Instead, he went on to rule the country as a military dictator for 11 years!
Though he began to undo the policies of the Bhutto regime and introduced a number of harsh draconian laws (in the name of faith), his regime was showered with millions of Dollars and Riyals by the United States and Saudi Arabia who wanted him to turn Pakistan into a launching pad for a right-wing insurgency against Soviet forces that had occupied neighbouring Afghanistan in 1979.
This war and the large amounts of American and Saudi aid that followed helped Zia strengthen his grip on power and also stabilise the country’s economy that witnessed a boom of sorts under him.
The tenure of the Zia regime was overtly conservative, and the polices that he formulated gradually began to almost completely change the cultural and political dynamics of the society.
Nevertheless the economic boom under him ran parallel to the mushrooming of a rather anarchic form of capitalism and a two-fold growth in institutional corruption and in crime.
Between 1977 and 1983, his regime faced multiple movements led by left-leaning and progressive political parties (and at least one religious party, the JUI), but by the mid-1980s, the resultant violence triggered by these movements began being dwarfed by vicious conflicts between various ethnic groups.
It was also in the mid-1980s that the extremist and sectarian organisations that were formed by the state to fuel the Mujahideen insurgency in Afghanistan began to turn inwards and would go on to become a major issue for the state of Pakistan in the next two decades.
Due to the regime’s strict social, political and cultural policies, the Pakistani society retracted. From being populist/extroverted it became conformist/introverted.
The country’s once-thriving film industry collapsed and other art-forms like folk music, Qawalli and theatre also began their collective decline. However, despite the regime’s reactive tone, PTV somehow continued to produce quality programming.
Pakistan cricket and squash that had begun to ascend in the world arena in the late 1970s continued their rise. But from the mid-1980s onwards, Pakistan hockey began to experience a painful decline.
By the time of Zia’s demise in 1988, the Pakistan society stood considerably changed compared to what it was before 1977.
Interestingly, regarding the time’s conservative zeitgeist and Zia’s reactionary policies, all that was sowed during this period would not come into full fruition till after Zia’s demise.
After Zia’s end these seeds would begin to sprout events and effects from which Pakistan is yet to recover.
The Ups: Economy; Middle-Classes; Cricket; Squash; PTV; International Relations; Travel.
The Downs: Ethnic conflict; Gun Culture; Social/Political Repression; Film; Drug Addiction; Corruption.
The first blast: In 1987, Pakistan witnessed its very first major bomb blast. A huge bomb planted near Karachi’s congested Empress Market area went off killing dozens of innocent civilians. No one took responsibility. The government blamed ‘communists.’
The chaotic 90s
A pleasant but short-lived breeze of euphoria blew across the country when it witnessed a peaceful transition of power from a military dictatorship to a democratic system (November 1988).
But the coming decade that had promised effective and democratic resolutions to the many social, religious and political issues that had cropped up during the Ziaul Haq dictatorship in the 1980s, failed miserably to accomplish what it was expected to achieve and resolve.
Though, throughout the 1990s the country remained to be driven by democracy and civilian political parties, the truth was, the political parties lacked the cerebral and strategic resources and acumen that were required to effectively challenge and neutralise those forces in the country’s various state institutions that had been fattened by the Zia regime and had managed to retain their hold over the country’s politics.
As these elements pulled the strings and smugly presided over the fates of the four elected governments that emerged in the 1990s, the main political parties too, didn’t help their own cause and ended up spending an excessive amount of their time and energies on bringing each other’s governments down.
Two PPP and two PML-N governments emerged in the decade and all of them were unceremoniously dismissed on charges of corruption by ‘establishmentarian’ presidents and finally, by a military coup (1999).
The ethnic violence in Karachi that had erupted in the mid-1980s carried itself into the 1990s and throughout the decade Karachi became a scene of multiple strikes, shut-downs, protests, clashes and operations by military, paramilitary and police forces.
However, the early euphoria of the return of democracy and related freedom did have a positive impact on the fortunes of the country’s cultural scene.
A second (privately-owned) TV channel (NTM) was allowed to set up shop and it directly challenged the monopolistic hold of the state-owned PTV by producing quality entertainment programming.
Pakistan’s pop music scene experienced an unprecedented boom and dozens of new pop acts emerged, releasing albums and holding well-attended concerts all over the country.
And though the folk music scene continued to go under, Qawalli music enjoyed a brief revival led by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan who went on to become an international star.
Pakistan cricket continued to blossom and the team went on to win its first cricket World Cup in 1992.
Hockey witnessed a brief revival before falling back into the slump that it had hit in the late 1980s. Squash began its long decline and became a pale reflection of the might that it had exhibited in the late 1970s and 1980s.
Then, from the mid-1990s, the country’s overall disposition began to move rapidly towards conservatism and even religious radicalism, when the extremist and sectarian outfits that the state had constructed in the 1980s (for the ‘Afghan Jihad’), became active within Pakistan, triggering a brutal sectarian war in the Punjab.
Various old and new Islamic evangelist organisations began to assert themselves, concentrating on bagging clients and enthusiasts from the country’s urban middle and lower middle-classes.
Alas, in October 1999, General Pervez Musharraf toppled the last democratic government of the decade and imposed the country’s fourth Martial Law.
The Ups: NTM (Pakistan’s first private TV channel); Local Pop Music; Qawalli; Cricket; Nuclear Capability.
The Downs: Economy; Ethnic and Sectarian Violence; Politics; Corruption; Political Intrigues; Hockey; Folk Music; PTV; Tourism; PIA; International Relations.
The polarising 2000s
Just as the Ayub Khan coup in 1958 had (initially) been popular, the military coup pulled off in 1999 by General Pervez Musharraf too, was largely received with a sigh of relief and even joy by most Pakistanis.
Tired of the political chaos, corruption intrigues and ethnic and sectarian violence that had plagued the 1990s, Pakistanis looked forward to a period of some sort of stability.
In the first five years of his dictatorship, Musharraf managed to inject this sense of stability. Ethnic violence greatly receded, the economy bolstered, various radical religious and sectarian organisations were banned and neo-liberal capitalist manoeuvres strengthened the economic status of the middle-classes.
Such moves augmented a revival of sorts in the country’s cultural activities as modern art-forms like popular music, fine arts and fashion thrived. Folk music too made a brief comeback as the regime tried to complement its moderate-liberal image by promoting Sufism among the growing urban middle and lower middle classes.
The regime also initiated a revolution in the country’s electronic media, allowing a number of privately-owned news and entertainment TV channels to mushroom.
However, the feel-good sentiment that the regime managed to inoculate in its first few years was achieved through political repression. Also, it was awkwardly paralleled by the rise of resistance to the regime by violent religious outfits that began to emerge after Musharraf agreed to join the United States’ ‘War on Terror.’
By 2005, the upbeat economic and cultural disposition of the regime and its achievements began to steadily crumble due to the government’s selective action against extremist outfits (eliminating some, patronising others), and the gradual erosion and rollback of the economy began to polarise the Pakistan society into liberal, moderate and conservative segments.
In 2007, this polarisation came out with a force when the economy began to fold and a wave of angry religious conservatism began to sweep the country.
The regime came under attack from two sides: A powerful political movement (‘Lawyers Movement’) and the private media outlets on the one side, and a more violent and assertive brand of religious extremism on the other.
Opposition parties like the PPP and PML-N managed to oust the ‘King’s Party’ (PML-Q) in the 2008 election and the same year Musharraf was forced to resign.
He left behind memories of a stable Pakistan which, however, by the end of his regime had become a place of deep political and ideological cleavages, a crumbling economy, blood-soaked insurgencies in Balochistan and in the tribal areas, and an intense sectarian war between Muslim sects and sub-sects.
The Ups: Economy; Upward Mobility; Pop Music; Fashion; Electronic Media; PTV; FM Radio; International Relations.
The Downs: Political Repression; Economic Downturn; Sectarian and Religious Violence; Squash; Hockey.
A 2002 poster showing Musharraf as a gallant hero. His regime gained a significant degree of popularity in its first five years.