6th August 1990 – the day democracy was derailed – by Ahmed Iqbalabadi

On 6th August 1990, Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto’s first government was sent packing by President Ghulam Ishaq Khan (GIK) on corruption charges, just 20 months into office. Along with other things, it was charged that she was unable to control law and order in the country and there was bad governance (same charges are repeated against her party over and over). The notorious 58-2(B) brought under the 8th Amendment was used to dissolve the National Assembly and sack the government. Promising elections within 90 days, GIK appointed Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi as Caretaker Prime Minister and set on to prepare ground for the ascension of Zia ul Haq’s protégé, Mian Nawaz Sharif, who was the chief of the ISI created and funded Islami Jamhoori Ittihad (IJI) and the Chief Minister of Punjab during the first term of Benazir.


The speech of GIK can be heard here:


It is important to see the historical context to the events that culminated into MBB’s sacking. General elections were held in Pakistan in November 1988, in which the PPP came out as the single largest party with 93 seats out of 207. The PPP formed a coalition government with MQM (13 seats), ANP (2 seats), JUI-F (7 seats) and other independents. Along with federal government, the PPP also formed governments in Sindh (Qaim Ali Shah as CM), NWFP (Aftab Sherpao as CM) while in Balochistan Nawab Akbar Bugti formed government with almost all political parties there. Punjab fell in the hands of Nawaz Sharif. At the Federal Level, the government formed by the PPP was fragile as it was devoid of a simple majority and couldn’t legislate on its own. It is also a fact that MBB was handed over a government without major ministries like Defence, Foreign Office and Finance under her control. With a hostile GIK elected as President to continue the Zia era and an over smart Gen. Mirza Aslam Baig as COAS, it was not smooth sailing at all for the PPP in general and MBB in particular. Aslam Baig’s belligerence can be seen from the facts that he openly defied the federal government by launching operations in civilian localities like Hyderabad and Interior Sindh without prior approval. The ISI was on a high after defeating the Soviet Union in a proxy war in Afghanistan. It was unstoppable in Pakistan.


The conspirator generals against the MBB first government sharing a laugh. GIK, Aslam Baig and Nawaz Sharif along with Akram Zaki and Wasim Sajjad

It is also a fact, that MBB didn’t have prior experience of administration as she remained under intense pressure and was leading the opposition in the oppressive Zia days from 1977 to 1988. Same was the case was about a majority of leadership who were part of the PPP cabinet. Zia era’s infested bureaucracy was also a major challenge for any new leadership of the country.


Because she tried to normalize relations with India, the Deep State called her a Security Risk

What were the challenges she faced in her twenty months, let’s have a cursory look:


  • Accusations of being a security risk by trying to befriend India the same month she took over. The SAARC Summit was held in Islamabad between 29-31 December, 1988. MBB led the Pakistan delegation while from India the charismatic Rajiv Gandhi was on his first visit to Pakistan. She tried to improve relations with India but the ISI’s media allies termed that MBB was giving list of Khalistan rebels to India.


  • A hostile government in Punjab led by Nawaz Sharif. With Punjab not under the control, Nawaz Sharif played the role of a hostile foe to MBB and the PPP. PPP workers were rounded up on false charges, funds to be deployed for development stopped, horse trading of legislators etc. Nawaz Sharif would not even accord MBB the Prime Ministerial protocol while in Punjab. Height of Federal-Punjab government tussle could be seen when in November 1989, the Bank of Punjab, not recognized by the State Bank of Pakistan, opened for public dealing which the federal government declared unconstitutional


  • A very hostile media with Jang and Nawai Waqt fueling accusations fed by ISI against the PPP government, MBB and her then not known husband, Asif Zardari. Stories of corruption against Asif Zardari were too many like extorting money from businessmen to tying a bomb to a philanthropist’s leg to demand ransom etc. Kamran Khan became the blue eyed boy for feeding stories against MBB and Asif Zardari. A now docile but then hostile columnist, Ayaz Amir was a favorite in publishing stories against the first couple.


  • A belligerent Mirza Aslam Baig and ISI that left no stone unturned to embarrass the government. The Jalalabad fiasco and sending troops to Hyderabad and Interior Sindh to maintain law and order without order of the Federal Government are examples


  • Karachi burning with MQM playing a very difficult ally’s role. MQM was on collision course with the PPP government and had an ethnic outlook representing the Urdu Speaking Muhajirs. Their leaving the coalition gave the opposition a lot of power which allowed them to create a Combined Opposition Party. In February 1990 an MQM-directed strike in Karachi escalated into rioting that virtually paralyzed the city. The strike had been called to protest the alleged abduction of MQM supporters by the PPP.  Similarly on May 27, More than 60, including women and children, die in Hyderabad Pucca Qila area during a police operation, heightening the growing tension between the MQM and the PPP


  • No Confidence Motion of October 1989. Imagine a no confidence motion less than 10 months into office. An unbelievable game of horse trading began. MBB survived, but it was short-lived causing the opposition to befriend the military and GIK in campaigning against her.


Problems were many, but in the little time given to her, she achieved quite a few things:


MBB with British PM, Mrs. Thatcher

  • A balanced foreign policy wherein she took steps to reestablish relations with the falling Soviet Union, an emerging China under Deng Xiaopeng and Li Peng, US accorded her a status fit for queens with an address to the Congress and Senate in June 1989. French President Mitterand visited Pakistan as well as many dignitaries. In essence, MBB provided a very good face of Pakistan. Unfortunately, our military didn’t realize this. Pakistan rejoined the Commonwealth after a 17 year hiatus.  The Pressler Amendment followed after she was made to go out and military aid dried up
  • Women emancipation was a major slogan of MBB. She established the First Women’s Bank and concept of Women’s Police Stations was introduced. The Hudood Ordinance couldn’t be repealed as the PPP didn’t have the necessary numbers to repeal the ordinance.
  • Media was freed from the clutches of a very few. We saw new newspapers being given authorization. The likes of The Friday Times, The News etc began publication. Peoples Television Network was established and similarly new radio channels were considered to be licensed
  • Despite of what Zia ul Haq and his henchmen did to the PPP, there was no witch-hunt or dragging to courts instead MBB came up with the slogan of “Democracy is the best revenge”


On 2nd August, 1990, Kuwait was invaded by Iraq annexing it as a province. The royal family of Kuwait took exile in Saudi Arabia and according to information, Saudi Arabia demanded Pakistan to send troops to Saudi Arabia. It is also said that the invasion of Kuwait and a possible role to be played by Pakistan in defending Saudi Arabia is also cited as a reason for the removal of MBB’s government. MBB a few days after her removal, exploded at a press conference and charged that the Military Intelligence (MI) was responsible for her ouster. She goes to the extent of alleging that the draft of the President’s speech was prepared by the JAG (Judge Advocate General) branch of the Pakistan Army at the GHQ falling just short of calling the COAS and the Corps Commanders responsible for her ouster.


In any case, the unholy alliances and marriage of interests that allowed the PPP to form a government were to be ended sooner than later. All the parties that played a role in dismantling the PPP fought amongst themselves.


Nawaz Sharif had a major fall out with GIK and the Pakistan Army under Asif Nawaz. MQM left the government by June 1992. Jamaat-e-Islami left the IJI while the power struggle within the Muslim League reached an apex when Nawaz Sharif tried to capture the party. A Junejo faction was created and within months Nawaz Sharif’s government folded. On the international front, the Pressler Amendment caused our money to be blocked while in late 1992, Pakistan was on the verge of being declared a terrorist state along with the likes of Iraq, Iran, Syria and Sudan.


The conspirators were able to get MBB out of the way for a couple of years, only to see her return to power in 1993. 6th August, 1990 will remain the day when democracy was derailed in Pakistan and an unnecessary see-saw was formed that saw the country in turmoil by the end of the decade.



Latest Comments
  1. Abdul Nishapuri
  2. Humza Ikram
  3. Rabia
  4. Rabia
  5. Humza Ikram
  6. Ali Arqam
  7. Ali Arqam
  8. Ahmed Iqbalabadi
  9. Ali Arqam
  10. Rusty Walker
  11. Maula Bux Thadani
  12. TruePakistani