Early Constitution Building

Pakistan Table of Contents

The path to the current constitution and government was often tortuous and accompanied by successive upheavals in the nation's political life. The years between 1947 and 1958 were marked by political chaos moderated by the administrative power and acumen of the CSP. They were also years in which the armed forces, especially the army, expanded its mission and assumed political influence alongside the CSP. Initially, the country was governed by a Constituent Assembly. The Constituent Assembly had dual functions: to draft a constitution and to enact legislation until the constitution came into effect. It was nine years before Pakistan adopted its first constitution in 1956. Major conflicts in the Constituent Assembly included the issues of representation to be given to major regional groups (particularly the East Wing) and religious controversy over what an Islamic state should be.

The first major step in framing a constitution was the passage by the Constituent Assembly of the Objectives Resolution of March 1949, which defined the basic principles of the new state. It provided that Pakistan would be a state "wherein the principles of democracy, freedom, equality, tolerance and social justice, as enunciated by Islam, shall be fully observed; wherein the Muslims shall be enabled to order their lives in the individual and collective spheres in accordance with the teachings and requirements of Islam as set out in the Holy Quran and Sunna; [and] wherein adequate provision shall be made for the minorities freely to progress and practice their religions and develop their cultures." Seven years of debate, however, failed to produce agreement on fundamental issues such as regional representation or the structure of a constitution. This impasse prompted Governor General Ghulam Mohammad to dismiss the Constituent Assembly in 1954. The Supreme Court of Pakistan upheld the action of the governor general, arguing that he had the power to disband the Constituent Assembly and veto legislation it passed. This preeminence of the governor general over the legislature has been referred to as the viceregal tradition in Pakistan's politics.

The revived Constituent Assembly promulgated Pakistan's first indigenous constitution in 1956 and reconstituted itself as the national legislature--the Legislative Assembly--under the constitution it adopted. Pakistan became an Islamic republic. The governor general was replaced by a president, but despite efforts to create regional parity between the East Wing and the West Wing, the regional tensions remained. Continuing regional rivalry, ethnic dissension, religious debate, and the weakening power of the Muslim League--the national party that spearheaded the country's founding--exacerbated political instability and eventually led President Iskander Mirza to disband the Legislative Assembly on October 7, 1958, and declare martial law. General Mohammad Ayub Khan, Pakistan's first indigenous army commander in chief, assisted Mirza in abrogating the constitution of 1956 and removing the politicians he believed were bringing Pakistan to the point of collapse. Ayub Khan, as Mirza's chief martial law administrator, then staged another coup also in October 1958, forced Mirza out of power, and assumed the presidency, to the relief of large segments of the population tired of the politicians' continued machinations.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress