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Muslim League

Hafeez Malik, Clifton Martin
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World What is This? Provides comprehensive scholarly coverage of the full geographical and historical extent of Islam

Muslim League

This organization is the successor in Pakistan of the All-India Muslim League, which spearheaded the movement for the creation of Pakistan. The latter, established in 1906 in Dhaka, articulated three objectives—the protection of Muslim political rights in India, the attainment of self-government appropriate to India, and cooperation with the All-India National Congress. In its first phase (1906–1930) Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the President of the League, emphasized the creation of a separate Muslim province in Sindh, political reforms in the North-West Frontier Province and Baluchistan, and representation for the Muslims in the Punjab and Bengal provinces in proportion to their populations, with 30 percent of the seats in the central legislature of India reserved for Muslims. However, he failed to convince the congress that these demands were equitable.

By 1930 public opinion in the Muslim-majority provinces had changed to demand Muslim self-determination in India, rather than seeking autonomy within the Indian Federation. This transformation was reflected by Muhammad Iqbal's presidential address to the All-India Muslim League in Allahabad in 1930, in his articulation of the Two-Nation Theory. At the annual meeting of 1940, the League under Jinnah adopted the so-called Pakistan resolution. Seven years later, Pakistan became a reality.

The Muslim League ruled Pakistan intermittently from 1947 to 1958 and then again for short periods during the 1960s, 1980s, and 1990s, and gave birth to practically all contemporary political parties in Pakistan with the exception of the Jamāʿat-i Islāmī. Jinnah died in September 1948; immediately afterward the Muslim League and its provincial branches became involved in the struggle for power, financial corruption among their leaders, and conflict with the newly created central government. This political instability led to military takeovers of the government, in 1958 by Field Marshal Ayub Khan (1958–1969) and in 1978 by General Zia ul-Haq (1978–1988).

Under Ayub Khan political parties were reorganized, while the Muslim League split into two factions; the Council Muslim League opposed the Ayub regime, while the Conventionist Muslim League (now called the Pakistan Muslim League) supported him. In the 1965 election, Ayub was declared president with 63.3 percent of the total vote. His opponent, Fatimah Jinnah, lost the election but had overwhelming support in East Pakistan, now the nation of Bangladesh.

After the secession of East Pakistan in 1971, Prime Minister Zulfiqar ʿAli Bhutto came to power with the support of the Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP), an offshoot of the All-Pakistan Muslim League. The Bhutto government lasted until July 5, 1977, when General Zia ul-Haq, chief of the army staff, staged a coup. Declaring martial law, Zia ul-Haq suspended the 1973 constitution and banned all political activity.

In February 1985, Zia ul-Haq appointed Muhammad Khan Junejo as prime minister; he resurrected the political parties banned by Zia ul-Haq and himself became president of the All-Pakistan Muslim League. In May 1988 Zia ul-Haq dismissed Junejo, accusing his government of corruption and mismanagement of the national economy.

On August 17, 1988, General Zia ul-Haq died in the crash of a Pakistan Air Force craft in the Punjab. Immediately, Ghulam Ishaq Khan, chairman of the Senate, was sworn in as acting president, and he arranged elections in November 1988.

Ishaq Khan appointed Benazir Bhutto, leader of the PPP, prime minister in December 1988, and he himself was elected to a five-year term as president. In this election, the Islamic Democratic Alliance of nine parties, led by the Muslim League, won the majority of the legislative seats in the Punjab Legislative Assembly, bringing a leader of the Muslim League, Mian Mohammed Nawaz Sharif (chief minister of the Punjab, 1985–1988), into the leadership of the Muslim League.

In August 1990, President Ishaq Khan dismissed the National Assembly and the government of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and announced new elections. In the 1990 elections, the Islamic Democratic Alliance and the Muslim League captured the majority of seats in the federal legislature, and its leader Nawaz Sharif became the prime minister of Pakistan.

President Ishaq Khan dismissed the Nawaz Sharif government in 1993, accusing him of corruption and mismanagement, although the Supreme Court declared this action unconstitutional. New elections were held, and the PPP won the majority in the Federal Legislature; its leader, Benazir Bhutto, became prime minister once again.

Following the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in December 2007, the chairmanship of the PPP devolved on her husband Asif Ali Zardari and her son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. Nawaz Sharif maintains his role as the political leader of the Muslim League. There seem to be no ideological differences between the policies of the PPP and the Muslim League. The personal charisma of the leaders maintains tenuous cohesion within the ranks of these parties. Following the 2008 elections in which both the PPP and Muslim League won a majority of the seats in the Punjab Assembly, both parties’ leaders agreed to form a coalition government.



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  • Malik, Hafeez. Muslim Nationalism in India and Pakistan. Washington, D.C., 1963.
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  • Robinson, Francis. Separatism Among Indian Muslims: The Politics of the United Provinces’ Muslims, 1860–1923. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007.
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  • Wolpert, Stanley. Jinnah of Pakistan. Oxford and New York, 1984.
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