GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS
Government Overview: The government is based on the much-amended constitution of 1973, which was suspended twice (in 1977 and 1999) and reinstated twice (in 1985 and 2002). According to the constitution, Pakistan is a federal parliamentary system with a president as head of state and a prime minister as head of government. The legislature, or parliament, is the Majlis-i-Shoora (Council of Advisers), consisting of the Lower House, which is often called the National Assembly, and the Upper House, or Senate. National Assembly members are directly elected for five-year terms. Senate members are elected by provincial assemblies, with equal representation from each of the four provinces as well as representatives from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Islamabad Capital Territory. Both the Senate and National Assembly may initiate and pass legislation, but only the National Assembly can approve federal budgets and finance bills. However, parliament often has had little real political power. For example, in 2003 the only bill passed by the National Assembly was the national budget.
Executive power lies with the prime minister and president. The prime minister is an elected member of the National Assembly and is the leader of the National Assembly’s dominant party or coalition. However, the prime minister also is appointed formally by the president. The prime minister is assisted by a cabinet of ministers who are appointed by the president on the prime minister’s advice. An electoral college composed of members of the national and provincial legislatures elects the president for a five-year term, and no individual may hold the office for more than two consecutive terms. By law the president must be a Muslim. The president acts on the advice of the prime minister but has the power to prevent passage of non-finance bills and may dissolve the National Assembly if he concludes that the government cannot operate according to the constitution. The Senate, however, cannot be suspended.
Politics in Pakistan often have not operated according to the constitution. The military and Civil Service of Pakistan (CSP) frequently have been the preeminent actors in the country’s power structure, and in 1999 General Pervez Musharraf assumed power in a military coup. Moreover, there has been some concern that Pakistan could become a “failed state” because of the apparent inability of any single entity to control the country, the weakened productivity of a population beset by years of economic difficulties, and continuing problems of communal conflict and terrorism. Ethnic and provincial tensions often are manifested in rivalries between political parties, and several governments have been ended by assassination or military coup rather than by formal, electoral change.
Religion has played an important role in politics, and religious differences have been very salient in Pakistani government and civil society. The government has consistently been faced with tensions of whether and how to synthesize Islamic principles into an essentially secular and Western form of government. Religious differences among politically influential actors have become increasingly prominent since the early 1980s, when politics became more religiously oriented under the rule of General Zia ul-Haq (1977–88). As religious groups’ access to government resources increased, groups competed for political resources and the capacity to promote their approach to Islam, and sectarian divisions often became violent.
Administrative Divisions: Pakistan has four provinces—Balochistan, N...