Throughout its history, Pakistan has had difficulty establishing stable civilian leadership. On October 7, 1958, just eleven years after the founding of the nation, President Iskander Mirza abolished political parties and proclaimed martial law. General Mohammad Ayub Khan became prime minister under Mirza, then forced Mirza to resign and became president in his place. In 1968, there was an attempt to assassinate Ayub and he responded by arresting Pakistani opposition leaders, including the civilian politician Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Protests and social disorder ensued and in March, 1969, Ayub handed power over to another military leader, General Agha Mohammad Yahya Khan.
After the civil war that produced the independence of Bangladesh in 1971, General Yahya resigned and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, whose Pakistan People's Party had won a surprising victory in national elections, became the country's first civilian leader in many years. However, when Bhutto announced new elections in 1977, violence broke out between Bhutto's party and an alliance of opposition parties. To contain the violence, Bhutto brought in the military and placed the nation under martial law. This proved to be a mistake for Bhutto, whose chief administrator of martial law, General Mohammad Zia ul-Haq, had him arrested. Charged with attempted murder, Bhutto was hanged to death on April 4, 1979.
Zia established ties with the United States, helping to channel U. S. arms to Muslim guerrillas fighting against the Soviets in Afghanistan. He also established many facets of Islamic law in Pakistan, partly to maintain the support of Pakistani Muslims and partly as an expression of his own religious beliefs. Both the connections to Afghanistan and the strengthening of the role of Islam in public life would come back to haunt a later Pakistani administration.
On August 17, 1988, Zia was killed in a plane crash. The following December, the daughter of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto, was elected prime minister. However, the new prime minister had the support of neither the military nor the president, Ghulam Ishaq Khan, a supporter of the late General Zia. After twenty months in office, Bhutto was forced out and replaced by Mohammad Nawaz Sharif, a wealthy Punjabi industrialist.