Athar Osama July 9th, 2007
…The Bureaucratic Musical Chairs
With the Constitution now in effect, there was logically an expectation that it would lead to an end to the constant reshuffling of governments and political leaders over the last few years and bring political stability to Pakistan. Before going into whether or not that ultimately happened, lets look briefly look at some aspects of the constitution that are worth emphasizing here.
The Constitution of 1956
The Constitution of 1956 was a lengthy document—containing over 234 Articles in 13 parts and 6 schedules. By contrast, the American Constitution has a 3-line preamble, 7 articles, and 27 amendments over the last 200 years of existence. The Indian Constitution, on the other hand, has 395 articles and 12 schedules (Wikipedia, 2007). Clearly, in Pakistani Constitution of 1956, but also later ones, the framers adopted an approach, somewhat analogous to India’s, that explicitly stated many of the things that are generally left to convention in most well-developed constitutions of the world. Hamid Khan identifies several reasons for the length of the constitution including, but not limited to, complicated relationship between the federation and the provinces, special provisions for tribal areas and the Islamic character of the Constitution, emergency provisions, bill of rights, issues of state languages, election commission, and directive principles of state policy etc. (Khan, 2001, p. 102).
There is nothing inherently right or right, perhaps, about explicitly stating in quite a lot of minutiae the various structures that comprise the state and their inter-relationships with each other provided there is consistency between them and that the Constitution is then properly and fully implemented. Pakistan’s First Constitution and the later experienced presented serious problems in both these counts.
The first set of problems arose in the distribution of power between the President and the Prime Minister. The 1956 Constitution was developed and delivered during the Governor-Generalship of Iskander Mirza and the Prime Ministership of Chaudhri Mohammad Ali. While the latter was an able person—and perhaps a man of good integrity (more on this later)—the former’s strong control over power and desire to maintain that was no match to the latter’s independence and/or desire to create a well-designed (from a structural standpoint) Constitution.
Pakistan’s Constitution-makers had chosen the parliamentary form of government for Pakistan. There were some who believed that parliamentary democracy would not suite Pakistan where there were no two major political parties to alternatively carry the mantle of the government (Khan, 2001, p. 105). These factions seem to favor stability over representative-ness. Parliamentary form of government also resisted by those seeking to establish an Islamic state in Pakistan since the early practice of Khilafat seemed nearer to a Presidential system (Khan, 2001, p. 105). The framers of the first Constitution preferred the parliamentary system because of its ability to forge a better relationship between the executive and the legislature (they’re one and the same in the parliamentary system) and chose to explicitly dictate the nature of the relationships with various state organs and geographical units—rather than leave them to convention—to ensure lack of ambiguity (Khan, 2001, p. 106).
In a parliamentary form of government, the Prime Minister is the true head of Government and, along with his Cabinet, is the locus of all powers. The role of the President is more or less ceremonial in nature. He is the custodian of the federation and has certain powers to arbitrate between the various provinces of the federation. He also, as a neutral constitutional officer—by making decisions and bridging the gaps between incoming and outgoing governments and ministries—provides stability to the government (Khan, 2001, p. 106).It was in fact mentioned during the constitutional debates within the second Constituent Assembly that the position of the president was really that of a figurehead. Indeed, Mr. A. K. Barohi—the Law Minister under Mohammad Ali Bogra’s government—had noted during the debates in the preparation of 1954 draft of the Constitution:
“’I shall plead here that we ought to have a strong Central Government to be able to deal adequately with the problems which are peculiar to Pakistan.’ But the strength of the government was not to lie in the hands of the future President. ‘. . .it is a misnomer to call him the Head of the State. He is only there for “Nam ke waste”! He is there for ceremonial purposes. . . . His position is that of a figurehead, as much and as little as that of the King in England. He has no power at all.’ (Constituent Assembly of Pakistan Debates vol. XV, 1953, p. 349 quoted in Callard, 1957, p. 148)
When the Constitution of 1956 came out, however, the President seemed far more than just the figurehead. The executive authority of the 1956 Constitution was vested in the President. Keith Callard, in his Pakistan: A Political Study, expounds over the relative powers and responsibilities of the President and the Prime Minister in considerable detail. He notes, for instance, that the President, in the 1956 Constitution, “is to appoint a Prime Minister who must be a member of the Assembly and who seems ‘most likely to command the confidence of the majority of members of the National Assembly.’ Other ministers are to be appointed by the President on the advice of the Prime Minister. The cabinet is to be collectively responsible to the National Assembly. The Prime Minister is to hold office ‘during the pleasure of the President,’ but he is to be dismissed by the President only if the latter is satisfied that ‘the Prime Minister does not command the confidence of the majority of the members of the National Assembly’ (Article 37(6)).”
“Also, the key provision regarding the independent power of the President is Article 37(7), which reads: ‘In the exercise of his functions, the President shall act in accordance with the advice of the Cabinet or the appropriate Minister . . . except in cases where he is empowered by the Constitution to act in his discretion, and except as respects the exercise of his powers under clause (6).’ [Clause (6) deals with the dismissal of the Prime Minister.] This seems clearly to mean that the President has no power of independent action except where discretionary authority is explicitly conferred. There are four articles which give power to the President to act in his discretion. They relate to the appointment of the Prime Minister, the Election Commission, the Delimitation Commission and the Public Service Commission. The powers of appointment of the three last-named bodies are designed to take out of politics the control of electoral procedure and of the public services.” He then asks the important question:
“…Is it, therefore, safe to assume that the role of the President has been reduced to that of a figurehead? In the first place, the President may choose a Prime Minister. If the party position in the Assembly is clear and the major party is solidly united behind its leader, then the element of discretion disappears. But in Pakistan the party situation is often fluid and party loyalties are often weak. And it has been shown that, once appointed, a Prime Minister tends to acquire the majority that he may have lacked before his appointment. A similar reasoning applies to the dismissal of a cabinet. The President is to dismiss only when he considers the ministry to have forfeited the confidence of the Assembly…Might the President dismiss his Prime Minister and then dissolve the Assembly? … [also]… it is possible that the President should dismiss the cabinet, dissolve the Assembly on his own initiative and then appoint new ministers. The President is bound to accept the advice of his cabinet; but if there is no cabinet the constitution does not say that he is precluded from taking any action except that of appointing a new Prime Minister…” (Callard, 1957, p. 149-51)
Another source of potential friction between the President and the Prime Minister was the explicit provision dealing with the Prime Minister’s relationship with the President. Article 42 of the Constitution read:
‘It shall be the duty of the Prime Minister—
a) to communicate to the President all decisions of the Cabinet relating to the administration of the affairs of the Federation and proposals for legislation;
b) to furnish such information relating to the administration of the Federation and proposals for legislation as the President may call for; and
c) if the President so requires, to submit, for the consideration of the Cabinet, any matter on which a decision has been taken by a Minister but which has not been considered by the Cabinet.’
Once again, Callard (1957) seems at a loss reconciling this article with the theory of a purely ceremonial role for the President. In short, the Constitution itself left a lot of ambiguity—perhaps purposefully so—for the President and the Prime Minister to find themselves into serious conflict with each other. The 1956 Constitution must be seen in the light of the personalities and ambitions of its protagonists—the chief one being Governor-General Iskander Mirza himself who had his fingerprints all over the document and went on to become the First President of Pakistan.
Iskander Mirza, an ex-Army colonel (who later came to be known as or acquired the rank of Major-General), who was the first Indian to have trained at Royal Military Academy of Sandhurst, and after serving for 6-years joined the elite Indian Political Service before partition. He served as Defense Minister in the Indian government and was on the Committee responsible for dividing military assets between India and Pakistan. After partition, Iskander Mirza served as Pakistan’s first Defense Minister. Interestingly, his Wikipedia description notes that he was as a descendant of Mir Jafar of Bengal—the great traitor who is immortalized in Maulana Hali’s couplet (Jafar az Bengal aur Sadiq az Deccan, Nang-e-Adam, Nang-e-Deen, Nang-e-Watan). Iskander Mirza, right from the beginning of his political career in Pakistan, had a vision of a “controlled democracy” for the country (Callard, 1957, p. 152).
Now with the constitutional authority in his hands, we began the process of implementing this controlled democracy.
Crisis of Governance in Pakistan Under the First Constitution
Having achieved the unification of the provinces in West Pakistan and promulgated the Constitution, the Prime Minister Chaudhari Mohammad Ali’s attention now moved towards governance. Because of the strong resistance to and reaction against the One Unit scheme, several provinces, most notably Sindh and Frontier, were in state of disarray within now West Pakistan. It was decided that Khan Sahib, one of Frontier’s most veteran politicians and an old Congressman who had opposed the creation of Pakistan, would be tapped into as the first Governor of the united province of West Pakistan. The idea was to allay the fears of Sindh and Frontier regarding domination by Punjab (Sayeed, 1960, p 428). However, the choice of Khan Sahib ultimately put into process a bizarre series of events that became the undoing of Prime Minister Chaudhri Mohammad Ali himself.
Soon after the appointment of Khan Sahib was announced, Muslim League withdrew his support for it. It asked all the Khan Sahib’s ministers to join ranks with the Muslim League within a week or face expulsion from the party. Khan Sahib skillfully outmaneuvered Muslim League by dropping those members from his Cabinet who opposed him and keeping those that didn’t (Khan, 2001, p. 120). To make maters worse, he, with the blessings of President Iskander Mirza, formed the Republican Party primarily comprising defectors from the Muslim League but also some other politicians. Iskander Mirza, on his part, fully favored this party and joined it at a later date.
The formation of the Republican Party put Chaudhri Mohammad Ali in a very difficult position. He, as the Leader of the Muslim League, was in power in the center but his party was not in any of the two Provinces. There was a pressure on him from members of his own parliamentary party to dismiss the Khan Sahib government in West Pakistan but the latter enjoyed his support and vice versa. Through more defections in Muslim League, the ranks of the Republican Party grew to the point where in June 1956, it declared itself as the single largest party in the National Assembly (Khan 2001, p. 121). Muslim League’s size in the National Assembly had been reduced from 36 to 10 by August of 1956 (Sayeed, 1960, p. 428). Mohammad Ali, however, remained in power due to the support of Republican Party for him as well.
When confronted again to dismiss Khan Sahib, he adopted the line that his actions as Prime Minister ought to be dictated by the good of the country rather than the good of the party. He called a meeting of the Coalition Parliamentary Party in August 1956 but his own Muslim League members refused to attend the meeting. Faced with this revolt within his own party, Chaudhari Mohammad Ali resign in disgust on September 8, 1956 resigning, at the same time, from Muslim League as well (Khan, 2001, p. 121). At the time of resignation, the Prime Minister still enjoyed a majority in National Assembly. All he needed to continue as the Prime Minister was to join the Republican Party and Iskander Mirza made him an offer to continue as Prime Minister but the latter refused. Sayeed (1960, p. 428-9) attributes Mohammad Ali’s refusal to a strategic calculation by the latter of his own power vis-à-vis the President’s in the new set-up. Khan (2001, p. 121) calls Mohammad Ali’s “decision to resign of his own accord while still commanding a majority in the Assembly… [as] a unique example of political proprietary in the history of Pakistan”.
With Chaudhri Mohammad Ali out of the picture, Huseyn Shaheed Suhrwardy was sworn in as the Prime of Pakistan. Suhrwardy was a politician of truly national stature and vision. He was also an independent leader—a quality that had worked against him in the past in Mohammad Ali’s appointment over him. Hamid Khan notes, however, that Suhrwardy signed away part of his independence to the President when he agreed to three conditions of his swearing in. These were: 1) no change in pro-western foreign policy, 2) army as an institution would be left intact [alone?], 3) the left-leaning tendencies in East Pakistan (especially, Maulana Bhashani) would be controlled. When Suharwardy assumed power, many in the establishment were quite skeptical of the new arrangement between an independent and strong leader as a Prime Minister and an strong President who wanted none of that. Incidentally, Surhwardy proved true to the deal he had made with the President and proved a very able partner in the relationship with the President who, in turn, returned the favor in time of need.
Suhrwardy’s greatest challenge was the issue of separate vs. joint electorates. In East Pakistan, where Hindus were in considerable minority, the idea of separate electorates was a non-starter and Suhrwardy’s party, the Awami League, had the fought the election on the platform of eliminating separate-electorate. In the West Pakistan, Muslim League which had a history of separate electorates even from the pre-partition days would not have it any other way. In fact, the Khan Sahib government in West Pakistan wanted separate electorates for the entire Pakistan. On October 8, 1956, Khan Sahib announced the same in Dhaka—a statement that was vehemently criticized by Bengalis both in and out of government (including Suhrwardy) and that had to be retracted only 24 hours later on the intervention of Iskander Mirza (Sayeed, 1960, p. 430). Subsequently, the Electorate (Amendment) Act was passed in April 1957 stating that elections to both National and Provincial Assemblies would be held on the basis of joint electorates.
Sayeed (1960, p.431) also notes another example of the “bold” and “fruitful” partnership between the President and the Prime Minister. In 1957 Israel attacked Egypt creating a strong Pan-Islamic sentiment in the country. Since Pakistan was officially pursuing a pro-western foreign policy so far, this provided an opportunity for opposition to exploit this sentiment to their advantage. The President and the Prime Minister worked like a team to not only alleviate the problems of Baghdad Pact countries as a result of this crisis making diplomatic visits to key countries (the former to Saudi Arabia and the latter to Lebanon) but also braving the opposition at home.
However, the politics of the country remained polarized with One Unit (in West Pakistan), electorates, and provincial autonomy (in East Pakistan) as the key issues. In March 1957, 30 members of the Republican Party crossed over to the opposition benches thus depriving the government of a majority in the National Assembly. With much jugglery, trickery, and arm twisting by Mirza, the coalition was put together back again. In April 1957, the East Pakistan assembly passed a resolution for full provincial autonomy in all matters except foreign policy, defense, and currency, On September 17, 1957, the West Pakistan Assembly passed a resolution by 170 to 4 to abolish One Unit in that province. All this, and the need to continue to align himself with the President, weakened Suhrwardy beyond recourse (Khan, 2001, p. 122).
On Oct 10, 1957, when the Republican Party withdrew support from the Prime Minister, Iskander Mirza asked for his resignation. Suhrwardy was confident that he still commanded a majority in the National Assembly and challenged the President to call the Assembly in session for him to seek a vote of confidence. The President, probably knowing that such an act would take the initiative out of his hands, refused his request and threatened him with dismissal. Suhrwardy resigned under threat of dismissal. (Khan, 2001, p. 122). Sayeed (1960, p. 433) notes that:
“One cannot escape the feeling that the President was always haunted by the insecurity of his post and the uncertainty of getting elected again. As a civil servant, he thought he has reached the President’s position by steady promotions and did not want to be dislodged from his ‘permanent’ post”
On the resignation of Suhrwardy, Ibrahim Ismail Chundrigar was asked to form a government in the Center. Chundrigar remains the shortest serving Prime Minister in Pakistan’s history with a tenure of just over 2 months. While Republican Party was in majority at the center, Chundrigar was a Muslim Leaguer and had only become the Prime Minister after Republicans had given up their prerogative to nominate a Prime Minister. Being a Muslim Leaguer, however, Chundrigar obviously believed in the issue of separate electorates for West Pakistan and made the mistake of stroking this—once settled—issue again. He failed to gain support for it from any of his coalition partners. On the other hand, the down-but-not-out Suhrwardy offered better terms to Noon and Khan Sahib in exchange for their support for the joint-electorates. This sealed the fate of the Chundrigar Ministry.
Malik Feroz Khan Noon now became the fourth Prime Minister in just over a year. He had the support of several parties along the Bengali-Punjabi axis. Soon, the Noon-Suhrwardy relationship—despite the latter being out of the government—began looking ominous to the President. Iskander Mirza saw this as a start of a partnership whereby after the elections Suhrwardy would emerge as the new Prime Minister and Noon would become the next President. As preparations for the elections geared up, the fight for control in the provincial assemblies in East and West Pakistan gained all the more steam. Sayeed (1960, p. 435) describes the situation as follows:
“Pakistan was faced with a triangular scramble. The apex of this triangle was the President. The President was purely interested in remaining where he was. He was opposed by both the contestants, namely, the Republican-Awami League alliance and the Muslim League.”
The Imposition of First Martial Law
The country represented the state of the worst kind of political crisis. In East Pakistan alone, four different ministries fell within a period of six months in 1957 (Khan, 2001, p. 123). Iskander Mirza, already skeptical of the growing power of the political parties, declared emergency in East Pakistan under Article 193 of the 1956 Constitution. With the political crisis continuing into summer of 1958, every walk of life was being affected and it is claimed that life had become a miserable experience for all and sundry. Iskander Mirza continued in his quest to try to postpone elections on one pretext or another. On 6th October 1958, Khan of Kalat announced succession of Kalat from Pakistan on the pretext of Army’s establishment of bases in Baluchistan. This revolt, however, was put down by Army.
On 8th October, Iskander Mirza declared Martial Law within the country—dismissing all assemblies, banning all political parties, and putting members of Noon Ministry under house arrest. Before doing so, however, he did meet with several western envoys to apprise them of the situation and assure them that the new government would be even more pro-Western than before. (Khan, 2001, p. 124). Thus came to an end, Pakistan’s first encounter with the Constitution—with four Prime Ministers serving in 2 years—and a period about which Nehru is said to have remarked that he doesn’t know whom to talk to in Pakistan because “Pakistan changes its Prime Minister more frequently that I change my pajamas” (Khan, 2001, p. 122).
With the imposition of Martial Law, the power went into the hands of President Mirza and General Ayub Khan—the Chief Martial Law Administrator. A power struggle ensued. Mirza had constituted a new cabinet on October 24, 1958 comprising mostly non-political members. This did not satisfy Ayub Khan as he wanted more power in the equation (Khan, 2001, p. 127). This made Iskander Mirza nervous about his own position and he tried to instill mutiny within the senior-officer ranks of airforce and army against Ayub Khan. On October 27th, 1958, at a meeting with Generals (Azam Khan, Burki, and Sheikh, and central cabinet) Ayub Khan decided to dispose off the President himself. Iskander Mirza was removed from power and sent to exile in Great Britain.
When Ayub Khan’s Martial Law was challenged in Supreme Court—in the famous Dosso Case—Justice Munir, once again sided with the Military and the continuation of Martial Law. In his historic judgment, he held that a victorious revolution or an successful coup d’ etat is an internationally recognized method of changing a constitution thus making the revolutionary government and the new constitution, according to international law, the only legitimate government and constitution of the state. In doing so, Justice Munir applied the logic of the more popular revolutions, such as the American and French revolutions, to the state of government in Pakistan. In his eagerness to legitimize the military government, the Supreme Court also suspended the fundamental rights of people. Munir, once again, is judged harshly for his willingness to side with the government of the time on the pretext that he could not ensure the acceptance of the an opposite verdict. In doing, however, Munir laid the foundation for the legitimization of illegal usurpation of power of every other military general from Yahya, to Zia, to Musharraf in Pakistan. This is a debt that the nation will never be able to repay back.
President Iskander Mirza’s Legacy
History has also judged Iskander Mirza very harshly—and perhaps rightly so. In a scathing critique, Sayeed (1960, p. 436) has this to say about Pakistan’s First President:
“Iskander Mirza had never outgrown his role of a political agent in the North-West Frontier. He belonged to what Philip Woodruff called the school of ‘bons viveurs’ not ‘very concerned about what might happen in five years, opportunists hoping to get over the next hurdle and perhaps obtain some amusement’…Mirza’s training and experience had been such that he knew only one way of achieving his objects, namely, the old Frontier game of setting one tribe against another. There was nothing positive in the ends sought in this game…Pakistani politicians were even more manageable tools than the Pathans for they lacked loyalty to group or party to which they belonged…Perhaps Mirza thought that this game could be played just as easily and skillfully with the Pakistani Army.” (Figure on the right: Major Iskander Mirza Family Crest)
This is where he was beaten at his own game.
More recently, though, there is a move, especially from people close to his inner circle and relatives—to explicate his name from the various charges of wrong-doing and high-handedness that he has been accused of. They try to make a distinction between Iskander Mirza as a politician and as a person noting that, as a person, he was exactly opposite of what he was as a politician (Does that really matter?).
They also highlight the fact that, contrary to rumors, he did not engage in any personal profiteering from his position as the President and that when allotted a plot of land (500 acres), as an ex-military officer, by Ghulam Mohammad, he chose to return it back (only to be divided amongst themselves by Generals Ayub and Musa!). And finally they highlight that he died a very secluded and improvished life after being exiled to London as being another indicator that he did not profit from his office and neither used his office to promote his children and relatives (Read Iskander Mirza’s Wikipedia description for a more detailed statement on these claims).
It is hard to independently validate the voracity of these claims and even if they were true, they do little to absolve him of his very ill-conceived conception of Pakistan’s future and his desire to concentrate power in his own personality. Indeed, alongside Ghulam Mohammad and Justice Munir, Iskander Mirza bears considerable responsibility for the destruction of democracy and constitutionalism in Pakistan. He was also one of the first leaders to promote the notion of “controlled democracy” in Pakistan that has been repeated often by Military Generals from Ayub to Musharraf ever since.