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Constitutional Coup d'etat: Pakistan

A coup d’etat is defined as “a sudden and decisive action in politics, especially one resulting in a change of government illegally or by force.” As one looks through all the coup d’etat that have occurred throughout the history in various parts of the world, one can observe that often the protagonists of such events are political enemies, military leaders, or distressed insiders. While it is generally understood that coups are military in nature, however, if we prefix the word constitutional to a coup, then it means a sudden, illegal and decisive overthrow/dismissal of the constituent assembly and targets the constitution which is the basic framework of principles, laws and rules governing a nation.

The first coup in Pakistan was not a purely military coup but a Constitutional coup, since it led to the dismissal of the Constituent assembly (a body constituted to frame the constitution). Governor General Ghulam Mohammad dismissed the Prime Minister Khawaja Nazimuddin’s elected government in 1953 and subsequently dismissed Pakistan’s first constituent assembly in 1954. The backing and support of General Ayub Khan for the governor general started the dangerous precedence of involvement of the military in politics which continues till date.

Pakistan’s constituent assembly met for the first time on 10 August, 1947 on the eve of independence marking an end to the British rule. This first session was held at the Sindh Assembly building, Karachi, on 11th August, 1947. Muhammad Ali Jinnah who was hailed as the Quaid-i-Azam (Great Leader) was unanimously elected. In his speech to the Constituent Assembly on 14th August 1947, he outlined the ideals and fundamental features on which the constitution would be based. But his untimely death, only thirteen months after independence left the country directionless. With his demise the fate of the constitution making body, i.e., the constituent Assembly also became gloomier.

Hopes of framing a constitution were somewhat revived under the Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan, whose expertise as a  lawyer and political theorist helped him in his attempts to frame a constitution on the sidelines of the British Westminster system. The Objectives Resolutions were introduced by him and adopted by the Constituent Assembly on 12th March 1949. This resolution primarily stated that Pakistan would be an Islamic, democratic and federal state. It was on the basis of these resolutions that a basic principles committee consisting of 24 members was constituted to prepare the draft of the Constitution. 

This committee had an enormous task of addressing number of concerns: rising fear amongst the minorities and East Bengalis with regard to their rights and representation; equally problematic was the issue of division of executive power between the governor-general and the prime minister; distribution of power between the centre and the provinces; the balance of power especially electoral, between the two wings and the role of Islam in government.Coupled with these problems was the main threat posed to Liaquat Ali Khan’s life as exposed by the “failed coup” known as the “Rawalpindi conspiracy”, wherein 14 Pakistani army officers under Major General Mohammd Akbar Khan plotted a coup against him.

Khwaja Nazimuddin was appointed as the country’s Prime minister after Liaquat Ali Khan’s assassination in 1951. Ghulam Mohammad took over as the Governor General. He followed the footsteps of Jinnah in establishing a “viceregal” form of governance. This was not taken well by the people of Pakistan, as a result the Muslim League Party was almost routed in the 1954 elections in East Pakistan. The fallout of this was imposition of Governor’s rule to prevent the winning party i.e. the United Front to come to power.

TABULATION OF THE FIRST CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY

TABLE - 1

YEAR

NAME OF THE REPORT

BASIC CONTENTS

Result

12 Mar,1949

Objective Resolution

Sovereignity of the universe belong to Allah, Constitution of Pakistan be framed by the Constituent Assembly

Appreciated by the citizens

7 Sep,1950

Interim Report on Basic Principles

Federal Govt., Urdu as national language, Objective resolution to be included

Criticized by East Pakistan

6 Oct,1950

Interim Report of the Committee on Fundamental rights and Minorities

 Fundamental right to Minorities

Adopted by Constituent Assembly

12 Dec,1952

Basic Principles Committee Report

Objective resolution to be adopted as preamble, head of the state should be a Muslim with 5 year term

Criticized and opposed by Punjab

7 Oct,1953

Muhammad Ali formulae

Bicameral Legislature with equal representation to provinces, Governor General post to be permanently abolished

Appreciated and gained popularity.

21 Sep,1954

Revised Report on basic principles committee

 Islamic stance was adopted & a board of Ulemas was formed to check the laws.

Approved by Constituent Assembly

24 Oct,1954

Constitutional Coup led by Governor General Ghulam Muhammad

Dismissal of the Prime Minister Khawaja Nazimuddin

First Constituent Assembly dismissed

 

The constituent assembly became the battleground for the tussle of power between the Governor General Ghulam Muhammad and the Prime Minister Khawaja Nazimuddin. On one such occasion, the Prime minister tried to initiate an amendment which led to  curtailment of the power of the governor general by bringing in amendments to the Govt. of India Acts of 1935 and the India Independence Acts of 1947, since these remained the basic laws in Pakistan. But fearing that such changes might lead to further curtailment of  his powers; Ghulam Muhammad dismissed the Nazimuddin  in April 1953 and subsequently  the  Constituent Assembly on 24th October 1954. Thereafter, he appointed his own cabinet. This was the first Constitutional Coup in the Pakistan history, wherein an elected constituent assembly was overthrown unceremoniously by the Governor General.

 This coup thus negated all the efforts of the members of the Constituent Assembly who had been working for seven years for framing a suitable constitution. In fact, the constitutional coup d’etat marked the end of Jinnah’s Muslim League and the beginning of a history of coups in Pakistan.

References

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constitutional_Coup. (Accessed April 20 , 2019).

2. Pakistan - Constitutional Beginnings - Country Studieshttps://www.google.com/search?q=constitutional+beginnngs+pakisan&rlz=1C1CHBF_enIN837. (Accessed April 24, 2019).

3. Sejdiu, Korab R. "A Constitutional Coup!The Take-Down of the First President of the Republic of Kosovo." 76 Academicus - International Scientific Journal (Law Firm “Sejdiu & Qerkini”, Prishtina, Kosovo).

 

Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of CLAWS or of the Government of India

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