Constitutional Coup d’etat: Pakistan


                                                                                           April 25, 2019  By Dr Jyoti M Pathania



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. (Sejdiu n.d.). 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. (Pakistan - Constitutional Beginnings - Country Studies n.d.) 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 Paksitan, 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.