Pakistan Table of Contents

Pakistan, in its comparatively short history, has tried various forms of parliamentary, military, and presidential governments in its efforts to achieve political stability. At independence Pakistan was governed by the Government of India Act of 1935 as amended by the authority of the India Independence Act of 1947. The amended act provided at the center for a governor general (as successor to the British viceroy) as head of state and for a Constituent Assembly with two separate functions--to prepare a constitution and to be a federal legislature until the constitution came into effect.

At the outset, however, this structure of governor general and parliamentary legislature took on singular characteristics tailored to the personality, prestige, and unique position occupied by Jinnah, Pakistan's first governor general. At independence, he was the supreme authority, the founder of the state, and the chief political leader. As head of the All-India Muslim League, in 1940 he mobilized the political effort that in just seven years won Pakistan's independence. His ultimate authority came not from military power, not from the support of the bureaucracy, and not from constitutional prerogatives but from the political support of the people. In these circumstances, Jinnah chose to unite in himself the functions of head of state and the power of chief executive and party boss. In addition to his position as governor general, he was elected president of the Constituent Assembly.

For the office of governor general to be held by an active party politician who continued as political leader was an innovation. Initially, the arrangement may have seemed necessary to preserve national unity after independence and to facilitate the work of the new government. When Jinnah died, the prime minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, and the cabinet assumed increased power, in more traditional roles, and Khwaja Nazimuddin, as the new governor general, became a more traditional, nonpolitical head of state. Liaquat, however, found it difficult to establish his political authority. Whether the transfer of effective power to Liaquat while Jinnah was still alive might have created a precedent for future political stability in Pakistan is a moot point. Liaquat's assassination, three years later in October 1951, was the catalyst for a series of constitutional and political crises that over the years seemed almost endemic.

More about the Government of Pakistan.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress