In recent history, the Pakistani political processes have taken place in the framework of a federal republic, where the system of government has at times been parliamentary, presidential, or semi-presidential. In the current semi-presidential system, the President of Pakistan is the head of state, the Prime Minister is head of government, and there is a multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is largely vested in the Parliament.
Pakistan has been under the influence of its military almost since it was founded. The Intelligence agencies have a huge role in the politics since the beginning in making and breaking the political parties. The president, in keeping with the constitutional provision that the state religion is Islam, must be a Muslim. Elected for a five-year term by an Electoral College consisting of members of the Senate and National Assembly and members of the provincial assemblies, the president is eligible for reelection. But no individual may hold the office for more than two consecutive terms. The president may resign or be impeached and may be removed from office for incapacity or gross misconduct by a two-thirds vote of the members of the parliament. The president generally acts on the advice of the prime minister but has important residual powers. One of the most important--a legacy of Zia--is contained in the Eighth Amendment which gives the president the power to dissolve the National Assembly "in his discretion where, in his opinion . . . a situation has arisen in which the Government of the Federation cannot be carried on in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution and an appeal to the electorate is necessary." The Thirteenth Amendment which was passed in 1997, revoked this power. In December 2003, the President's power was partially restored by the Seventeenth Amendment. In April 2004, the Presidency's influence was augmented by an Act of Parliament that established the National Security Council, a body chaired by the President.
The prime minister is appointed by the members of the National Assembly through a vote. The prime minister is assisted by the Federal Cabinet, a council of ministers whose members are appointed by the president on the advice of the prime minister. The Federal Cabinet comprises the ministers, ministers of state, and advisers. As of early 1994, there were thirty-three ministerial portfolios: commerce; communications; culture; defense; defense production; education; environment; finance and economic affairs; food and agriculture; foreign affairs; health; housing; information and broadcasting; interior; Kashmiri affairs and Northern Areas; law and justice; local government; minority affairs; narcotics control; parliamentary affairs; petroleum and natural resources production; planning and development; railroads; religious affairs; science and technology; social welfare; special education; sports; state and frontier regions; tourism; water and power; women's development; and youth affairs.
Pakistan's democracy has no recall method. However, past governments have been dismissed for corruption by the President's invocation of Article 58 of the Constitution. The President's power to dismiss the Prime Minister and dissolve the National Assembly was removed by the Thirteenth Amendment and partially restored by the Seventeenth Amendment.
Members of the National Assembly are elected by universal adult suffrage (formerly twenty-one years of age and older but the seventeenth amendment changed it to eighteen years of age.). Seats are allocated to each of the four provinces, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, and Islamabad Capital Territory on the basis of population. National Assembly members serve for the parliamentary term, which is five years, unless they die or resign sooner, or unless the National Assembly is dissolved. Although the vast majority of the members are Muslim, about 5 percent of the seats are reserved for minorities, including Christians, Hindus, and Sikhs. Elections for minority seats are held on the basis of separate electorates at the same time as the polls for Muslim seats during the general elections. There are also 50+ special seats for women now, and women are selected (i.e. not directly elected in the general election but given representation according to how their parties performed in the general election) on these seat by their party head: another seventeenth amendment innovation.
The Supreme Court has original, appellate, and advisory jurisdiction. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is appointed by the president; the other Supreme Court judges are appointed by the president after consultation with the chief justice. The chief justice and judges of the Supreme Court may remain in office until age sixty-five: now 68 years and this is also another clause of seventeenth amendment.
There is also a Federal Shariat Court consisting of eight Muslim judges, including a chief justice appointed by the president. Three of the judges are ulama, that is, Islamic Scholars, and are well versed in Islamic law. The Federal Shariat Court has original and appellate jurisdiction. This court decides whether any law is repugnant to the injunctions of Islam. When a law is deemed repugnant to Islam, the president, in the case of a federal law, or the governor, in the case of a provincial law, is charged with taking steps to bring the law into conformity with the injunctions of Islam. The court also hears appeals from decisions of criminal courts under laws relating to the enforcement of hudud (see Glossary) laws that is, laws pertaining to such offenses as intoxication, theft, and unlawful sexual intercourse.
In addition, there are special courts and tribunals to deal with specific kinds of cases, such as drug courts, commercial courts, labor courts, traffic courts, an insurance appellate tribunal, an income tax appellate tribunal, and special courts for bank offenses. There are also special courts to try terrorists. Appeals from special courts go to high courts except for labor and traffic courts, which have their own forums for appeal. Appeals from the tribunals go to the Supreme Court.
Pakistan has been ruled by both democratic and military governments. The first decade was marred with political unrest and instability resulting in frequent collapses of civilian democratic governments. From 1947 to 1958 as many as seven Prime Ministers of Pakistan either resigned or were ousted. This political instability paved the way for Pakistan’s first military take over. On October 7th 1958 Pakistan’s civilian and first President Iskander Mirza in collaboration with General Mohammad Ayub Khan abrogated Pakistan’s constitution and declared Martial Law.
General Ayub Khan was the president from 1958 to 1969, and General Yahya Khan from 1969 to 1971, with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto as the first civilian martial law administrator. Civilian, yet autocratic, rule continued from 1972 to 1977 under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, but he was deposed by General Zia-Ul-Haq. General Zia was killed in a plane crash in 1988, after which Benazir Bhutto, daughter of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was elected as the Prime Minister of Pakistan. She was the youngest woman ever to be elected the Head of Government and the first woman to be elected as the Head of Government of a Muslim country. Her government was followed by that of Nawaz Sharif, and the two leaders alternated until the military coup by General Pervez Musharraf in 1999. Since the resignation of President Rafiq Tarar in 2001, Musharraf has been the President of Pakistan.
Nation-wide parliamentary elections were held in October 2002, with the PML-Q winning a plurality of seats in the National Assembly of Pakistan, and Zafarullah Khan Jamali of that party emerging as Prime Minister. Jamali resigned on June 26, 2004. PML-Q leader Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain became interim PM, and was succeeded by Finance Minister and former Citibank Vice President Shaukat Aziz, who was elected Prime Minister on August 27, 2004 by a National Assembly vote of 191 to 151.
Pakistan is subdivided into 4 provinces, 1 territory, and 1 capital territory. Each province has a Provincial Assembly, a directly-elected legislature. Members are elected for five-year terms. Each Assembly elects a Chief Minister, who then selects the ministers of his or her cabinet.
Pakistan's provinces are divided into zillas (counterpart to a county in US or UK terminology). A zilla is further subdivided into tehsils (roughly equivalent to a borough in an integrated multi-tier (federated) systemic context, such as the one to be found in Montreal (Canada, 2002) and Birmingham (UK, 2001 announcement) or known as arondissements in French context. Tehsils may contain villages or municipalities. Pakistan's system is the one that applies an integrated federated systemic framework most comprehensively, so far.
This methodology is not new to the region, as it is similar to what is referred to as the Panchayat Raj system in India that was introduced by Britain (which was first nation (1890s) to adapt revolutionary Paris (1790) framework to implement a 3-tier rural version (county, district, parish councils) by grafting the 2-tier Paris framework on pre-existing parish councils and urban context (London)) during colonial era. In India it was implemented in some regions and not others; and then allowed to lie fallow. It got new life after the very successful West Bengal revival in the 1970s, which eventually inspired the 1990s Constitutional Amendment making it national policy.
The main difference is that Pakistan is the only country with an urban framework, as well, in the region today; and Pakistan's system has common-representational framework between tiers (as Montreal and Birmingham also have in 2-tier context--even though Birmingham is working on implementing a 3- tier system); and, it has a bottom-up representational framework like the Canadian example. Pakistan had the only 3-tier integrated bottom-up common-representational local government system, until it was adapted for another country in 2003. UK, the country which first introduced this methodology in the region, also has the urban examples of London and Birmingham (being implemented in Post- 2001 era by building on steps first introduced in 1980s); as does France (where largest cities and smaller units have created such frameworks either by devolution (Marseilles and Lyon, in addition to Paris) or by integration of neighboring units (such as the Nantes region pursuant to the Marcellin Act of 1970s); and, Canada.
This methodology is being increasingly adapted, as it delivers greater systemic productivity, being a more inclusive framework that provides greater regional integration. In the US, the 7 county Twin Cities (MN) regional system and Portland (OR) Metro are both the most integrated US examples;but, also those often cited in the US for what they have achieved. These US examples- with their multi-county framework- are similar to what is in place in France after regional unit introduction (making France have a 3-tier systemic framework also in the Commune (municipal/lowest tier local unit), Department(county), Regional unit context). Multi-county frameworks are suitable for a very suburbanized system like in the US. After France and Britain, the Indian colony of Britain was the third region to see this methodology implemented.
There are over five thousand local governments in Pakistan. Since 2001, the vast majority of these have been led by democratically elected local councils, each headed by a Nazim (mayor or supervisor.) Council elections are held every four years.
Pakistan is the second largest Muslim country in terms of population, and its status as a declared nuclear power, being the only Muslim nation to have that status, plays a part in its international role. It is also an active member of the United Nations. Historically, its foreign policy has encompassed difficult relations with India, a desire for a stable Afghanistan, long-standing close relations with the People's Republic of China, extensive security and economic interests in the Persian Gulf and wide-ranging bilateral relations with the United States and other Western countries. Pakistan is also an important member of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC). Pakistan has used the OIC as a forum for Enlightened Moderation, its plan to promote a renaissance and enlightenment in the Islamic world.
Wary of Soviet expansion, Pakistan had strong relations with both the United States of America and the People's Republic of China during much of the Cold War. It was a member of the CENTO and SEATO military alliances. Its alliance with the United States was especially close after the Soviets invaded the neighboring country of Afghanistan.
In 1964, Pakistan signed the Regional Cooperation for Development (RCD) Pact with Turkey and Iran, when all three countries were closely allied with the U.S., and as neighbors of the Soviet Union, wary of perceived Soviet expansionism. To this day, Pakistan has a close relationship with Turkey. RCD became defunct after the Iranian Revolution, and a Pakistani-Turkish initiative led to the founding of the Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO) in 1985. Pakistan's relations with India have improved recently and this has opened up Pakistan's foreign policy to issues beyond security. This development might completely change the complexion of Pakistan's foreign relations.