History in a nutshell

October 2014 marks the 60th anniversary of the dissolution of the first constituent assembly

History in a nutshell


October has often been an eventful month for Pakistan – be it October 12, 1999 when an elected prime minister with two-thirds majority in the assembly was forcibly evicted, arrested, and humiliated by army generals; or October 7, 1958 when the first President Iskandar Mirza imposed martial law and appointed commander in chief, General Ayub Khan, as the chief martial law administrator of Pakistan. After 20 days on October 27, 1958 Ayub Khan’s collaborator generals entered Iskandar Mirza’s bedroom to seek his resignation and dispatch him to exile.

Even before 1958, there were at least two Octobers that heralded doom for the nascent democracy: October 1951, when the first prime minister of Pakistan, Liaquat Ali Khan, was assassinated in Rawalpindi; and October 1954, when Governor General Ghulam Mohammad dissolved the first Constituent Assembly of Pakistan that had failed to deliver a new constitution to replace the Government of India Act 1935 that both Pakistan and India had inherited from the British Empire.

Despite endless eulogies still being showered on Jinnah and Liaquat for their contributions to democracies, the fact remains that both did not show any tolerance for opposition. In May 1948, the first opposition party was established by Khan Abul Ghaffar Khan and G M Syed -- both great freedom fighters in their own right irrespective of what the official history textbooks of Pakistan say. This new political party was named Peoples Party of Pakistan and Abdul Ghaffar Khan became its president while G M Syed its general secretary. Within a week after its creation, a ban was imposed on its political activities much in the same fashion as an earlier ban had been imposed on the Red Shirt Movement.

On another front, the first Ruet-e-Hilal (moon sighting) committee was set up in June 1948 comprising Mufti M Shafi, Ehthisham ul Thanvi, M Siddique, Abdul Hamid Badayuni and Abdul Aleem Siddiqui. Apparently, this seems to have no connection with the political events of the day but a common thread could be detected to show what path the new state was about to embark upon. In the new homeland, science and technology were to have lesser importance than a bunch of hirsute committee members.

Probably the most important step taken at the third meeting of the Constituent Assembly was the election of Maulvi Tamizuddin as the president of the Assembly.

Though, even at that time, scientist could foretell when and where the moon would be sighted, the creation of a moon-sighting committee was to lead Pakistan into celebrating multiple Eids almost every year to this day.

After the death of Jinnah, Khawaja Nazimuddin became the governor general of Pakistan and Nurul Amin replaced him as the chief minister of East Bengal. Less than a month after the death of Jinnah, Jamaat-e-Islami launched a campaign for Islamisation of Pakistan but Maulana Maududi was arrested and the campaign fizzled out. Jamaat-e- Islami was opposed to the creation of Pakistan but now wanted to introduce an Islamic system in the country and this campaign is still going on in one shape or another.

In October 1948, after the death of Sindh Governor, Ghulam Hussain Hidayatullah, a former judge of the Punjab High Court, Shaikh Deen Muhammad, was appointed the governor of Sindh. By this time, the First Constituent Assembly had met only twice; for the third time it met in December 1948 i.e. ten months after the second session. Even the second session was convened six months after the first meeting. This shows the lack of seriousness in constitution making displayed by the Muslim League leadership of the time.

Probably the most important step taken at the third meeting of the Constituent Assembly was the election of Maulvi Tamizuddin as the president of the Assembly. At that time, probably the most troubling problem faced by Liaquat Ali Khan was the political tussle in Punjab between the Punjab Chief Minister Nawab Iftikhar Mamdot, and another Muslim League leader, Mumtaz Daultana.

In this tug of war Feroze Khan Noon swayed between the two, before being sent to East Bengal as governor. Meanwhile Mumtaz Daultana managed to get elected as president of the Punjab Muslim League. This was a political defeat for Nawab Iftikhar Mamdot and Liaquat Ali Khan used article 93 A to dismiss Mamdot and impose the governor’s rule in Punjab.

It had been just one and a half years after the creation of the new country that three provincial governments were dismissed by the central government. First it was Dr. Khan Sahib in the NWFP (now KP), then M Ayub Khuhro in Sindh and finally Mamdot in Punjab. In all three instances, nowhere it was done within the confines of the provincial assemblies; vote of confidence from the provincial assembly members never mattered and democratic traditions were not taken into account.

In February 1949, a World Muslim Conference was held in Pakistan presided over by Maulana Shabbir Ahmed Usmani. Again, apparently this has no relevance with the politics of the day but shows how the religious lobby was moving forward while the politicians were destroying democracy. In this World Muslim Conference delegates from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Indonesia, Tunisia, Yemen, Palestine, Lebanon, Libya, and Malaya participated. This was one of the first attempts to dissociate Pakistan from its South Asian history and entangle it with the Muslim world.

Meanwhile, a Public and Representative Offices Disqualification Act (Proda) was passed at the behest of Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan. According to this Act, all central and provincial ministers and parliamentary secretaries could face legal proceedings on charges of corruption.

The Act was passed in 1949 but with effect from August 14, 1947, and politicians could be disqualified for as long as ten years. One of the first to be disqualified for three years was M Ayub Khuhro; then proceedings were initiated against Nawab Iftikhar Hussain Mamdot and Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy. M Ayub Khuhro had just been elected as the president of Sindh Muslim League in December 1948.

Liaquat Ali Khan also initiated legal proceedings against the Chief Minister of Sindh, Pir Ilahi Bukhsh and got him disqualified for six years on charges of corruption resulting in the appointment of Yusuf Haroon as the new CM of Sindh. So, from 1947 to 1949 Sindh had seen four chief ministers i.e. Sir Ghulam Hussain Hidayatullah, M Ayub Khuhro, Pir Ilahi Bukhsh, and now Yousuf Haroon. The musical chair of politics had started in its earnest and Sindh was leading from the beginning.

In March 1949, the First Constituent Assembly met for the fourth time since 1947 and passed the Objectives Resolution. This resolution was to have far-reaching implications on the country’s politics in terms of pushing Pakistan towards a theocratic state. From the Muslim League side these efforts were led, inter alia, by Maulana Shabbir Ahmed Usmani and Maulana M Akram Khan from East Bengal.

On the other side of the spectrum, there were leaders such as Mian Iftikharuddin and Hashim Gazdar who were relatively secular minded and trying to keep the state away from religion. Liaquat Ali Khan had formed a committee to prepare a resolution proposing basic principles of the prospective constitution; the committee leaned towards what S A Usmani proposed and formulated the Objectives Resolutions according to which the country was supposed to be a welfare state but it resulted in strengthening the religious right wing and gradually steered the country to an abyss of sectarian intolerance. Overall, the resolution was an amalgam of roundabout statements or nuggets with which no Muslim could disagree; for example, the declaration that all sovereignty belonged to Allah and the promise to deliver justice in accordance with Islamic injunctions or that the Muslims would be allowed to live individually and collectively within the Islamic parameters.

Once this resolution was passed by the Constituent Assembly, Liaquat Ali Khan formed another committee that presented its recommendations in September 1950 including the three important suggestions as follows:

The head of state could be a non-Muslim too.

President, PM, and members of assembly were given legal protection.

Judiciary and executive were not separated.

The religious right reacted sharply to these suggestions and Maulana Maududi went as far as saying that to have a non-Muslim head of state is tantamount to having a Sikh prayer leader in a mosque. Liaquat Ali Khan sought more recommendations and the report was withdrawn.

In the meantime, Liaquat Ali Khan tried to consolidate his power by getting himself elected unopposed as the president of Muslim League, replacing Khaliquzzaman. This set another devastating trend by which one leader coupled the premiership with party leadership and hence an autocratic tradition was set up that still plagues the country.

As 1950 drew to a close, some Punjab politicians such as Sardar Shaukat Hayat, Mahmood Ali Qasuri, Shaikh M. Rasheed, formed a new political party called Azad Pakistan Party (APP). Mian Iftikharuddin had bitterly criticised Muslim League for its anti-people politics and had been expelled from the Muslim League with Sardar Shaukat Hayat for five years. Mian Iftikharuddin had proposed land redistribution to benefit common people but the dominant landed aristocracy in Muslim League had opposed any such move. The manifesto of APP was much more progressive in comparison with that of Muslim League and the new party included most disgruntled former Muslim Leaguers in its fold.

In 1951, General M Ayub Khan assumed charge as the first Pakistani Commander in Chief of the armed forces and – if his confession in Friends not Masters is to be believed - immediately started thinking about how to fix the politicians. According to him, all politicians were selfish and greedy; lacked administrative skills and were leading the country to disaster. He had to wait another eight years before he could realise his dream of battering the politicians into shape.

In January 1951, led by Maulana Syed Suleman Nadvi, 35 religious scholars presented 22 recommendations in response to the Basic Principles Committee for constitution making. After the death of Maulana Usmani, Maulana Nadvi was leading the efforts to Islamise the constitution and none other than Liaquat Ali Khan had appointed him the adviser to the Constituent Assembly. The 22 points presented by the Ulema revolved around religion; for instance the declaration that the Islamic state would enforce the tenets of Islam and strive to unify the Muslim Umma; and that the citizens’ conduct would be circumscribed by the Sharia.

On the political front, another political party emerged - All Pakistan Jinnah Awami Muslim League (APJAML) - led by Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy and Iftikhar Mamdot. Earlier, in almost all provinces the disgruntle elements of the Muslim League had formed political groups and had adopted similar sounding names as the Muslim League. Suhrawardy reckoned that Liaquat Ali Khan was converting the Muslim League into a sectarian organisation that would result in religious extremism. If the Objectives Resolution – and the display of apologetic attitude towards sectarian lobbies of that time - is any guide, Suhrawardy’s diagnosis was not off the mark as the symptoms of 2014 testify. In fact, back in March 1948, Suhrawardy had suggested the dissolution of Muslim League and the formation of a ‘Pakistan National League’ on non-religious and non-sectarian basis. He had also defended Mamdot in the infamous Proda case and now both were united in the APJML and Suhrawardy became president of the new party.

In March 1951, Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan disclosed in Lahore that a few military officers in collusion with some civilians had conspired to topple his government. According to details, the Chief of General Staff, General M Akbar Khan had hosted a meeting at his home where a conspiracy was hatched with Faiz Ahmed Faiz - the editor of Pakistan Times - and Sajjad Zaheer, a renowned progressive writer, in tow. In April 1951, a special tribunal of high court judges was constituted that sentenced 12 out of 15 accused to imprisonments of various durations. Faiz, Zaheer, and M H Atta received imprisonment for four years each.

This case and the punishments awarded to well-respected intellectuals proved that the new state was going to have anything but a progressive dispensation. Sectarian lobbies were being encouraged and the state and religion were being amalgamated by steps such as the Objectives Resolution led by Liaquat Ali Khan; Proda was being used for political arm twisting and progressive intellectuals were implicated in false cases.

The treatment meted out to Faiz, Zaheer and others is a shameful chapter in the history of early Pakistan written under the supervision of Liaquat Ali Khan. Later on, the public admiration that Faiz commanded made it evident that the state shenanigans seldom sway public opinion. But, for how long? Repeated persecution of liberal, secular and progressive intellectuals ultimately led the country to its sorry state today.

The tenure of Liaquat Ali Khan ended abruptly in October 1951 when he was assassinated in Rawalpindi while addressing a public gathering. His assassination threw Pakistan onto a bloody conveyer belt that kept bringing in dead bodies of politicians who were not removed democratically but in violent bloodbaths. Pakistan still had to see the murders of Dr. Khan Sahib, Nawab Kala Bagh, Abdul Samad Achakzai, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Ghulam Hyder Wyne, Murtaza Bhutto, Azeem Ahmed Tariq, Benazir Bhutto, Salmaan Taseer and many more.

History in a nutshell