1958, 1977 & 1999: How the Pakistan Army Overthrew Civilian Govts Over the Years

There have been multiple times when the Pakistan military has overthrown a civilian government in the country.

3 min read

Video Producer: Mayank Chawla

Video Editor: Purnendu Pritam

Pakistan has been in the throes of political turmoil for weeks now, with Prime Minister Imran Khan possibly on his way out, after the nations's Opposition rose up against him, coupled with a rebellion within Pakistan's ruling party itself.

The allegation? That he was responsible for the country's economic crisis and spiralling inflation.

Hundred lawmakers from Pakistan's Opposition parties had submitted a no-confidence motion against the ruling government in the National Assembly Secretariat, which was on Sunday, 3 April, disallowed by the National Assembly Speaker. Consequently, the National Assembly was dissolved on the advice of PM Khan.

However, on Thursday, the Supreme Court of Pakistan unanimously ruled that the National Assembly Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri's rejection of the no-confidence motion against PM Khan was illegal, noting that it was contrary to the country's Constitution. The SC ruled in favour of restoring the National Assembly.

The much-delayed no-confidence motion will now be held on Saturday, with the Supreme Court ordering that the session cannot be adjourned till a vote is taken on the motion.

A History of Army Coups

The powerful Pakistan military has denied playing a role in the events that led to the dissolution of the Assembly and the rejection of the no-confidence motion.

The influential army has actually conveyed to Imran Khan that they are "neutral" in the events that continue to unfold, which suggests that despite having stood behind him in 2018, they have now withdrawn their support.

In Pakistan, the army holds a significant position: They have played and continue to play a significant role in the establishment and shaping of the country and its politics.

It may be noted that in its 75 years of its existence, no prime minister of Pakistan has ever completed their full five-year term. From assassinations to forced removals by the army, there have been multiple upheavals in the country's governments.

The army may not be overtly behind this attempt, but there have been multiple times when they have overthrown a civilian government in the country.

Ayub Khan to Bhutto

In 1958, Pakistan saw its first military coup when General Ayub Khan seized the position from President Iskander Mirza, who had earlier abrogated the Constitution and appointed the former Chief Martial Law Administrator. Mirza, meanwhile, was exiled.


While officially martial law lasted for 44 months, Ayub Khan only left office in 1969, after appointing General Yahya Khan as his successor. In turn, Yahya Khan held on the position till 1971, when he resigned after having lost the 1971 war to India. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was handed over the presidency.

In 1973, after the constitution was passed under special arrangement, Bhutto took up the position of prime minister and stepped down as president.

General Zia-ul-Haq

He won the elections in March 1977 again, but was deposed by General Zia ul Haq in July the same year. Ul Haq also went on to place Bhutto under house arrest. General Zia imposed martial law across Pakistan, dissolved the National Assembly and all provincial assemblies, and had the Constitution of Pakistan suspended.

In September, he lifted a seven-year-old state of emergency, while in October, he postponed elections indefinitely and banned political parties.

In 1985, General Zia held the long-promised elections and invited Muhammad Khan Junejo to form government as the country’s new prime minister, while he himself was sworn in as president for five-year term in March.

However, by 1988, Junejo's relations with General Zia had soured, and he was removed from power on grounds of a breakdown in law and order, using the controversial eighth amendment. General Zia himself continued as president till 1988, when he died in a plane crash.


Pervez Musharraf & Nawaz Sharif

After winning a mandate in the February 1997 elections, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif returned for his second non-consecutive term, but remained in power only for under three years as Army Chief Pervez Musharraf conducted a military coup in October 1999.

Musharraf was sworn in as president in June 2001 and later in April 2002 won a referendum which extended his rule for five more years.

Musharraf finally resigned in 2008 and Asif Ali Zardari became the new president.

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Topics:  Pakistan   Imran Khan   Pervez Musharraf 

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