Pakistan Constitutional Beginnings
Source: The Library of Congress Country Studies
At independence Jinnah was the supreme authority. An accomplished politician, he won independence for Pakistan within seven years of the Lahore Resolution and was hailed by his followers as the Quaid-i-Azam (Great Leader). As governor general, he assumed the ceremonial functions of head of state while taking on effective power as head of government, dominating his prime minister, Liaquat Ali Khan (the Quaid-i-Millet, or Leader of the Nation). To these roles, he added the leadership of the Muslim League and the office of president of the Constituent Assembly.
Although Jinnah had led the movement for Pakistan as a separate Muslim nation, he was appalled by the communal riots and urged equal rights for all citizens irrespective of religion. Jinnah died in September 1948--only thirteen months after independence--leaving his successors to tackle the problems of Pakistan's identity.
Jinnah's acknowledged lieutenant, Liaquat Ali Khan, assumed leadership and continued in the position of prime minister. Born to a Punjabi landed family, Liaquat used his experience in law to attempt to frame a constitution along the lines of the British Westminster system of parliamentary democracy. He failed in large part because neither the Muslim League nor the Constituent Assembly was equipped to resolve in a parliamentary manner the problems and conflicts of the role of Islam and the degree of autonomy for the provinces. Liaquat's term of office ended when he was assassinated in Rawalpindi in October 1951. He was replaced by Khwaja Nazimuddin, who stepped down as governor general; Nazimuddin was replaced as governor general by Ghulam Mohammad, the former minister of finance.
The Muslim League, unlike Congress, had not prepared itself for a postindependence role. Congress had constitutional, economic, social, and even foreign policy plans in place before independence and was ready to put them into effect when the time came. The Muslim League was so preoccupied with the struggle for Pakistan that it was poorly prepared for effective government. Its leaders were largely urban professionals whose political base was mainly in areas that were in India. In the areas that had become Pakistan, its base was weak. Landlords with ascriptive and inherited privileges were uncomfortable with procedures of decision making through debate, discussion, compromise, and majority vote. The Muslim League was a party with little grassroots support, a weak organizational structure, powerful factional leaders, and decisions made at the top. Although Ghulam Mohammad tried to exercise the "viceregal" power that Jinnah had used so powerfully as governor general, concern for office and the fruits of power were more important to most of the politicians than the evolution of ideology or the implementation of mass programs. The effect of this lack of direction was shown most clearly when the Muslim League was routed in the 1954 election in East Pakistan by the United Front--mainly a coalition of the Awami League and the Krishak Sramik Party, led by two one-time Muslim League members, Hussain Shahid Suhrawardy and Fazlul Haq, who ran on an autonomist platform. Other parties established during this period included the leftist National Awami Party (a breakaway from the Awami League), which also supported provincial autonomy. Islamic parties also made their appearance on the electoral scene, most notably the Jamaat-i-Islami.
The Muslim League was held responsible for the deterioration of politics and society after independence and had to answer for its failure to fulfill people's high expectations. There was a rising level of opposition and frustration and an increasing use of repressive laws inherited from the British or enacted by Pakistan that included preventive detention and rules prohibiting the gathering of more than five persons. In 1949 the Public and Representative Office Disqualification Act (PRODA) allowed the government to disqualify persons found guilty of "misconduct," a term that acquired a broad definition. In 1952 the Security of Pakistan Act expanded the powers of the government in the interests of public order.
The armed forces also posed a threat to Liaquat's government, which was less hostile toward India than some officers wished. In March 1951, Major General Mohammad Akbar Khan, chief of the general staff, was arrested along with fourteen other officers on charges of plotting a coup d'état. The authors of what became known as the Rawalpindi Conspiracy were tried in secret, convicted, and sentenced to imprisonment. All were subsequently released.
Pakistan's first Constituent Assembly was made up of members of the prepartition Indian Constituent Assembly who represented areas that had gone to Pakistan. The body's eighty members functioned as the legislature of Pakistan. As a constitution-making body, the assembly's only achievement was the Objectives Resolution of March 1949, which specified that Pakistan would be Islamic, democratic, and federal. But the assembly could not reach agreement on how these objectives would take form, raising fears among minorities and concern among East Bengalis. Other important matters remained equally problematic-- the division of executive power between the governor general and the prime minister; the distribution of power between the center and the provinces; the balance of power, especially electoral, between the two wings; and the role of Islam in the government. With the 1951 assassination of Liaquat, resolution of these issues became unlikely.
During the years after Liaquat's assassination, none of these problems were resolved, and a major confrontation occurred between the governor general, Ghulam Mohammad, a Punjabi from the civil service, and the prime minister, Nazimuddin, a former chief minister of united Bengal and now chief minister of East Bengal. Ghulam Mohammad, who relished the trappings of dominance earlier held by Jinnah, asserted his power by declaring martial law in 1953 in Punjab during disturbances involving the Ahmadiyyas, a small but influential sect considered heterodox by orthodox Muslims, and a year later by imposing governor's rule after the Muslim League defeat in East Bengal, not permitting the United Front to take office. When Nazimuddin attempted to limit the power of the governor general through amendments to the Government of India Act of 1935--then still the basic law for Pakistan, as altered by the India Independence Act of 1947-- Ghulam Mohammad unceremoniously dismissed him in April 1953, and then the following year appointed his own "cabinet of talents," dismissing the Constituent Assembly.
The so-called cabinet of talents was headed by Mohammad Ali Bogra, a minor political figure from East Bengal who had previously been Pakistan's ambassador to the United States. Significantly, the cabinet also included both military and civil officials. Chaudhuri Mohammad Ali, who had been head of the Civil Service of Pakistan, became minister of finance. General Mohammad Ayub Khan became minister of defense while retaining his post as commander in chief of the army. Major General Iskander Mirza, a military officer who was seconded to civilian posts, including becoming governor of East Bengal when Ghulam Mohammad imposed governor's rule on that province, became minister of home affairs. The cabinet thus provided an opportunity for the military to take a direct role in politics. Ghulam Mohammad was successful in subordinating the prime minister because of the support of military and civil officers as well as the backing of the strong landed interests in Punjab. The facade of parliamentary government crumbled, exposing the military's role in Pakistan's political system to public view.
The revived Constituent Assembly convened in 1955. It differed in composition from the first such assembly because of the notable reduction of Muslim League members and the presence of a United Front coalition from East Bengal. Provincial autonomy was the main plank of the United Front. Also in 1955, failing health and the ascendancy of General Iskander Mirza forced Ghulam Mohammad to resign as governor general. He died the following year.
In 1956 the Constituent Assembly adopted a constitution that proclaimed Pakistan an Islamic republic and contained directives for the establishment of an Islamic state. It also renamed the Constituent Assembly the Legislative Assembly. The lawyer-politicians who led the Pakistan movement used the principles and legal precedents of a nonreligious British parliamentary tradition even while they advanced the idea of Muslim nationhood as an axiom. Many of them represented a liberal movement in Islam, in which their personal religion was compatible with Western technology and political institutions. They saw the basis for democratic processes and tolerance in the Islamic tradition of ijma (consensus of the community) and ijtihad (the concept of continuing interpretations of Islamic law). Most of Pakistan's intelligentsia and Westernized elites belonged to the group of ijma modernists (see Religious Life , ch. 2).
In contrast stood the traditionalist ulama, whose position was a legalistic one based on the unity of religion and politics in Islam. The ulama asserted that the Quran, the sunna (see Glossary), and the sharia provided the general principles for all aspects of life if correctly interpreted and applied. The government's duty, therefore, was to recognize the role of the ulama in the interpretation of the law. Because the ulama and the less-learned mullahs (Muslim clerics) enjoyed influence among the masses, especially in urban areas, and because no politician could afford to be denounced as anti-Islamic, none dared publicly to ignore them. Nevertheless, they were not given powers of legal interpretation until the Muhammad Zia ul-Haq regime of 1977-88 (see Zia ul-Haq and Military Domination, 1977-88; Early Political Development , ch. 4). The lawyer-politicians making decisions in the 1950s almost without exception preferred the courts and legal institutions they inherited from the British.
Another interpretation of Islam was provided by an Islamist movement in Pakistan, regarded in some quarters as fundamentalist. Its most significant organization was the Jamaat-i-Islami, which gradually built up support among the refugees, the urban lower middle-class, and students (see Jamaat-i-Islami , ch. 4). Unlike the traditional ulama, the Islamist movement was the outcome of modern Islamic idealism. Crucial in the constitutional and political development of Pakistan, it forced politicians to face the question of Islamic identity. On occasion, definitions of Islamic identity resulted in violent controversy, as in Punjab during the early 1950s when agitation was directed against the Ahmadiyyas. In the mid-1970s, the Ahmadiyyas were declared to be non-Muslims by the government of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (1971-77) and the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), based in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia.
During the 1950s, however, the fundamentalist movement led by Maulana Abul Ala Maududi, the founder and leader of the Jamaat-i-Islami, succeeded only in introducing Islamic principles into the 1956 constitution. A nonjudiciable section called the Directive Principles of State Policy attempted to define ways in which the Islamic way of life and Islamic moral standards could be pursued. The principles contained injunctions against the consumption of alcohol and the practice of usury. The substance of the 1956 clauses reappeared in the 1962 constitution, but the Islamist cause was undefeated. Sharia courts were established under Zia, and under Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif in the early 1990s, the sharia was proclaimed the basic law of the land.
Data as of April 1994
NOTE: The information regarding Pakistan on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Pakistan Constitutional Beginnings information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Pakistan Constitutional Beginnings should be addressed to the Library of Congress.