First Term as Prime Minister, 1988–90

  1. First Term as Prime Minister, 1988–90

Benazir Bhutto became the 11th Prime Minister of Pakistan on 2 December 1988. Bhutto formed a coalition government December 2 with the liberal Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) party. The effects of Zia’s domestic policies began to reveal themselves, and she found them difficult to counter.

Bhutto had vowed to repeal the controversial Hudood Ordinance in her first term, and also to revert the Eighth Amendment, General Zia’s modification of the Constitution giving himself the power to dissolve Parliament and call for fresh elections. Bhutto also promised to shift Pakistan’s semi-presidential system to a parliamentary system. But none of these reforms were implemented and Bhutto began to struggle with conservative president Ghulam Ishaq Khan over issues of executive authority. Khan systematically vetoed proposed laws and ordinances that would lessen presidential authority.

4. Relations with India and Afghanistan War

Bhutto took office at the end of the Cold War, and aligned herself closely to United States (US) president George H. W. Bush based on their shared distrust of communism. However she strongly opposed US support for the Afghan Mujahideen, and told George W. Bush he was creating a Frankenstein. Bhutto’s government oversaw major events in the alignment of the Middle East and South Asia. In the west, the Soviet Union was withdrew from the Afghanistan in 1989-1990, and the US-Pakistan alliance broke off in 1990 due to US government’s suspicions about Pakistan’s nuclear-weapons program.

Bhutto attempted to warm relations with neighbouring India and met with Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1989. She negotiated a trade agreement when the Indian premier paid a farewell visit to Pakistan. The goodwill in Indian-Pakistani relations continued until 1990, when V. P. Singh succeeded Gandhi as premier. The influence of the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Singh forced him to abrogate the agreements. Tensions also began to rise with Pakistan after the BJP enforced hardline policies inside Kashmir which the Pakistani government denounced. Soon the Singh administration launched a military operation in Kashmir to curb secessionists. In response, Benazir allegedly authorized covert operations to support secession movements in Indian Kashmir. In 1990 Major General Pervez Musharraf, then head of the Directorate-General for the Military Operations (DGMO), proposed a strategy against India to Bhutto that called for Kargil infiltration, but she declined because he didn’t have a contingency plan for dealing with any international fallout that might result. In 1988, Lieutenant General Hamid Gul, chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), met with Bhutto and advocated for a supporting the Khalistan movement, a Sikh nationalist movement. Gul justified this as the only way to pre-empt new Indian threats to Pakistan’s territory. Bhutto disagreed and asked him to stop playing this card. Gul reportedly told her “Madam Prime Minister, keeping [Indian] Punjab destabilized is equivalent… to the Pakistan Army… having an extra division at no cost to the taxpayers.

Bhutto also authorised further aggressive military operations in Afghanistan to topple the fragile communist regime and Soviet influence in the region. One notable military authorisation was military action in Jalalabad in Soviet Afghanistan to retaliate for the Soviets’ long unconditional support for India, a proxy war in Pakistan and Pakistan’s loss in the 1971 War. This operation was “a defining moment for her government”, proof of the loyalty to the armed forces. Planned by Hamid Gul and U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Robert B. Oakley and known as the Battle of Jalalabad, it intended a conventional victory over withdrawing Soviet troops. The mission brutally failed within a couple of months with effectively no results. The morale of the involved Mujahideen slumped and many local commanders ended truces with the government.

Angered and frustrated by the outcome of the operation, Bhutto, already displeased with Gul, now sacked him. The decision to dismiss Gul was an authoritative move that surprised many senior statesman, although they did back her. Gul’s replacement, Lieutenant General Shamsur Rahman Kallu, proved himself more a capable officer. Bhutto favoured a political settlement between all the Afghan Mujahideen factions and hence international legitimacy for the new government. This was never achieved and the factions began fighting each other, further destabilising the country.


About ayyubkulla

Ex Army Officer, NWFP UET'88, Civil Engineer, 3D Modelling, BIM and IFC from FHNW . Liberal religious views. All out to serve motherland.
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