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How dictatorships became ‘necessary’ in Pakistan

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On August 11, 1947 Muhammad Ali Jinnah was elected the first president of the Constituent Assembly which was established under the Indian Independence Act 1947. Soon after Jinnah’s untimely death, Maulvi Tameezuddin was elected president of the Constituent Assembly on December 14, 1948, a position he held till 1954. Just as he was to present a draft of the constitution before the assembly for approval, then governor general Malik Ghulam Muhammad sacked him over incompetence and mismanagement.

It must be remembered that prior to this, Ghulam Muhammad had dismissed Khawaja Nazimuddin, then the prime minister of Pakistan, and his cabinet for failing to administer. Tameezuddin was trying to ensure that the powers of the governor general, an ancient relic of the colonial government, were curtailed in the constitution. Ghulam Muhammad summoned Tameezuddin to his office and dismissed him and the Constituent Assembly over their inability to frame the constitution. He then appointed a cabinet of bureaucrats and General Ayub Khan as defence minister of Pakistan. Historians consider this action the beginning of a vicious cycle of politics in Pakistan, in which the military and civil bureaucracy, and not elected officials, would gain increasing influence over the country’s policymaking.


Maulvi Tameezuddin filed two petitions in Sindh High Court challenging the appointments of cabinet ministers by the governor general.

‘Tamizuddin Khan and his lawyers had suspected that the governor general would use the police and all related machinery at his disposal to stop them from filing the petition in the court. On the morning of the filing, a junior attorney in the law offices of S. S. Pirzada, acting as a decoy, began his journey towards the court building.

Simultaneously, another attorney, carrying the actual petition, and dressed in a fully covered burqa, left the offices from the backdoor towards the court. The decoy was intercepted by the police and arrested. The burqa-clad associate managed to reach the court and filed the petition with the registrar. S. S. Pirzada himself reached the court in a diplomat’s car and retired to the court’s law library where they thought they would be safe from the police until the case was called to the docket.’ (McGrath, 1996)

Sindh High Court decided in favour of Maulvi Tameezuddin but the governor general challenged their decision in the Federal Court which reversed the decision. For the first time in the history of the nascent country, the ‘Doctrine of Necessity’ was invoked and in hindsight, that judgment is considered a landmark ruling which sealed the fate and the future state structure of this country.

The performance of Pakistan’s constituent assembly, whose job was to frame the constitution, was dismal compared to the Indian constituent assembly which framed its constitution within two years after Independence. When the Indians finalised their constitution, they did not seek the assent of their governor general. They passed the constitution right away but in Pakistan there was considerable delay in reaching consensus. Framing the constitution or reaching a consensus in India was an easy task owing to its geographical continuity whereas in Pakistan’s case there was a distance of 2,000 miles between its eastern and western wings. This distance was not just geographical but social as well.

The creation of Pakistan was itself a huge paradox that posed a lot of problems which Nehru’s secular India did not have to face. Hence, reaching consensus over a constitution was much easier.

Pakistan was an idea of the North Indian Muslim Urdu speaking elite whose nostalgia for a glorious past made them rise against the Raj in 1857. The revolt failed and the Urdu-speaking Muslim elite, now being marginalised, began seeking a state to preserve its interests. The Punjab, which constitutes a major part of Pakistan, fought for the British during the War of Independence in 1857 mostly because of the economic benefits that were attached with the colonial empire. After the creation of Pakistan, a number of intra-country power struggles began which were deeply rooted in the paradox that was Pakistan. Power struggles were fought on various fronts: among political groups for control of power; between the civil and military bureaucracy; between civil and military bureaucracy and the political classes; between the military and major civilian players.

Unlike the military, there was no unity in the political classes of Pakistan. From the very beginning, they relied on undemocratic, divisive and authoritarian measures. For instance, when Pakistan’s first prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan started losing control of the Punjab to another Muslim League leader Mumtaz Daultana, he dissolved the Punjab Assembly with the assistance of the governor general and brought the province under the direct control of the central government till elections were held in March 1951.

This act was similar to the imposition of governor’s rule by late Salman Taseer in the Punjab not too long ago. There are certain acts which are constitutional but are highly undemocratic in spirit and the imposition of governor’s rule is one of them.

General Ayub Khan, who was the army chief, reportedly visited the United States on his own initiative, without taking prior approval from the cabinet. The US, in dire need of a strategic partner in the region, found a mercenary in the form of Pakistan Army which was to be used against Soviet Russia. Later, Ayub joined CENTO and the military aid Pakistan secured from these alliances boosted Pakistan Army’s organisational capacity and consequently its image both at home and abroad.

The military in Pakistan did not become a major player in politics and consequently an independent class in Pakistan on its own. It was at first brought in by the civil bureaucracy which sought a superordinate-subordinate relationship with the military against Pakistan’s political class whose incompetency created a void for other actors to fill. For a small period, such an arrangement worked for the bureaucracy but in 1958, this relationship was reversed by General Ayub Khan’s counter-coup in response to Iskindar Mirza’s imposition of Martial Law.

Blowing the threat from the eastern border out of proportion provided much-needed legitimacy to the military and it has been riding on its projection of the Hindu threat to sustain itself as a major political player in Pakistan. The country’s political class, owing to its lack of unity, vision and competence, failed time and time again to present an alternative national agenda. Until Pakistan’s political class risks speaking truth about the highly paradoxical nature of this country’s origin and makes an attempt to forge a new social contract, one sees no hope for the future.