For Pakistan watchers, the recent dismissal of a popularly elected civilian prime minister is neither unique nor unpredictable. No civilian government has been allowed to be voted out by the country's military-led oligarchy, of which the country's judges are an integral part.
Pakistan's first Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan (1947-51) was a leader of the All India Muslim League, the party led by Mr Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Liaquat Ali Khan was assassinated in 1951. Between 1951 and 1958, Pakistan had seven civilian prime ministers but only one governor general - Ghulam Muhammad (1951-56) - and one president - Iskander Mirza (1956-58), both of whom were former government officials. Each of the seven prime ministers, while leaders in their own right, were never allowed to stay in power long enough to pose a threat to either the military or the governor general/president.
Pakistan's first military coup was staged in 1958 by General Muhamamd Ayub Khan, who stayed in power till 1969. Ayub attempted to convert Pakistan from a parliamentary to a presidential system but was never able to find requisite support. Not only was Ayub dismissive of the civilian leaders but he was equally dismissive of democracy and its suitability for a country like Pakistan. In his memoirs, Friends Not Masters, Ayub argues that Pakistan is not suited to democracy because: "You must understand that democracy cannot work in a hot climate. To have democracy we must have a cold climate like Britain." If this were true then democracy would only flourish in the northern reaches of Scandinavia and Russia.
Ayub's views were not his alone. Over the years what has been known as Pakistan's establishment - the military-bureaucratic-technocratic-judicial - has believed that democracy does not and will never flourish in a country like Pakistan. The arguments may vary from climate to illiteracy to corruption; the remedy is always the same: keep out popularly-elected civilian leaders. Ayub even tried to adopt what he called Basic Democracy, i.e., a controlled form of democratic rule.
In 1969 when Ayub decided to step down instead of holding elections and allowing the people to choose their own leader, he simply handed over power to then-army chief, Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan. Yahya (1969-71) agreed to hold elections in 1970 and the Awami League, an East Pakistan based party, won the majority of the seats in Pakistan's first free and fair elections since independence. Since the electoral results were not what the military and West Pakistan-centric oligarchy desired, martial law was imposed on East Pakistan. The subsequent war with India and the breakup of Pakistan led to Yahya's resignation and the coming to power of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).
Under the 1973 constitution, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto became Pakistan's first popularly-elected civilian prime minister. Holding elections a year early in 1977, Bhutto faced a massive opposition who accused his government of rigging the elections. Before any compromise could be agreed upon amongst the various political parties, Pakistan's Army Chief General Zia ul Haq took over power.
Following in Ayub's footsteps, General Zia (1977-89) too believed that democracy did not suit Pakistan, though his reasons were more Islamist and realist. During Zia's 11 years of military rule, there was only one prime minister, Muhammad Khan Junejo (1985-88), who was selected by Zia only to be dismissed when Junejo attempted to take independent decisions, including the decision to accept the Geneva Accords of 1988.
Zia's sudden death in 1988 led to a 10-year period when a succession of civilian prime ministers came to power in Pakistan. None of them, however, stayed in power for their full term. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's daughter, Benazir Bhutto, was elected twice (1988-90; 1993-96) but dismissed from power both times by the president (and army chief). Nawaz Sharif, former Zia protégé and leader of the Muslim League was twice elected as prime minister (1990-93; 1997-99) but was never voted out of power.