Addressing the constituent assembly of Pakistan (including the present-day Bangladesh) on August 11, 1947, Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah said, ‘The first and the foremost thing that I would like to emphasize is this: remember that you are now a sovereign legislative body and you have got all the powers.’ The point is mentioned at least three times in the speech, acknowledging the assembly as a ‘Sovereign assembly’ and ‘a full and complete sovereign body as the Federal Legislature of Pakistan.’
In less than seven years, this very sovereignty of the assembly had been repudiated by almost every school of thought in the new state. This is arguably the most shocking aspect of the history of Pakistan, and yet it is the least discussed (possibly because everybody who mutinied against the state has become a hero by now).
In April 1948, Chaudhry Rahmat Ali arrived in Lahore from Cambridge and announced through a newspaper that his aim was ‘a complete repudiation’ of the partition plan through which Pakistan had been created.
In October the same year, Abul Aala Maududi and two of his associates had to be charged with sedition and arrested under the Public Safety Act. They remained behind bars till May 1950.
The members of the Congress Party, representing some of the non-Muslim constituencies, undermined the authority of the assembly from within on many occasions. In March 1949, they demanded that religion should not be mentioned in the constitution because, in their opinion, this was contrary to a famous statement of the Quaid (‘you may belong to any religion or caste or creed; that has nothing to do with the business of the State’). They failed to acknowledge that the Quaid himself had asked the assembly to act as a greater authority than him.
In 1951, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, many other members of Pakistan Communist Party and some army personnel were found guilty of plotting to overthrow the government, kidnap the Prime Minister and the cabinet, murder senior security officers and bring a totalitarian revolution by using military force.
In February 1952, a vilification campaign against PM Khawaja Nazimuddin was launched by Inayataullah Mashriqi, was soon taken over by religious organizations like Majlis-i-Ahrar and was eventually joined by Jamaat-i-Islami and several other ‘ulema’ including Syed Suleman Nadvi and Mufti Muhammad Shafi. Initially complaining about issues like the shortage of food items, the agitators moved on to press three religious demands, i.e. the Ahmadis should be declared non-Muslims, the Ahmadi Foreign Minister should be sacked and all Ahmadis should be removed from higher posts in the government.
While refusing to accept the demands, the PM made it clear to the agitators that they were trespassing on the jurisdiction of the assembly. Undeterred, they launched ‘direct action’ against the government in January 1953. Riots followed and resulted in loss of life, especially in Punjab, where an S.H.O. of the police was lynched to death inside the historic Wazir Khan Mosque in Lahore. The army was called to restore order on March 5.
Using these events as pretext, and with support from the military leadership, Governor-General Ghulam Muhammad dismissed the PM and appointed in his place Muhammad Ali Bogra, who was Pakistan’s ambassador in US at that time (and believed to be ‘pathetically pro-American’). Thus the assembly was stripped of an important aspect of its sovereignty, i.e. the authority to choose the PM and to keep him or her in office as long as it pleases the majority in the house.
Although the possibility of foreign involvement in the matter was suggested by an English newspaper of Karachi as early as the summer of 1952, it seems that nobody has noticed the striking similarity between these events and ‘Operation Ajax’, an undercover activity of MI6 and CIA in Iran around the same time. According to Kermit Roosevelt, the senior CIA officer in charge of this operation, it was based on ‘four lines of attack’:
- first, the popularity of PM Mossadegh would be undermined through a campaign in mosques, the press and the streets;
- military officers loyal to the Shah would deliver the decree dismissing the PM;
- mobs would take control of the streets; and
- General Zahedi, a loyalist, would emerge to be nominated by the Shah as the new prime minister.
There is an obvious parallel in the events that led to the dismissal of Nazimuddin in Pakistan, except that (b) and (c) occurred in the reverse order. There is no direct evidence, but the similarity tempts us to think that if the same foreign agencies did not stage-manage the events in Pakistan, they must have learnt something here to be repeated in the neighbouring country a few months later. The final outcome was the same in both cases. A civilian dictator willing to serve the British or American interests got rid of a PM supported by the majority in the house, was able to replace him with an avowedly pro-American person of no political standing, and succeeded in marginalizing the assembly.
The official report of the inquiry about the disturbances in Pakistan, commonly called the Munir Reportand published by the autocratic regime of Ghulam Muhammad in the summer of 1954, called it unrealistic to think that ‘any Foreign Power would attach or has any need to attach so much importance to Pakistan as to consider it worth their while to run the risk of being caught meddling with its domestic affairs’ (p.76).
The issue of sovereignty was discussed at length in the report but the term was never linked directly with the constituent assembly, thus paving the way for the eventual dissolution of the assembly that happened soon afterwards with the full blessing of the main author of report. On October 24, 1954, Governor-General Ghulam Muhammad dismissed the assembly. At the end of the legal battle that ensued, a full bench of the highest court in the country, headed by Chief Justice Muhammad Munir, ruled on March 21 that it was ‘a mistake to suppose that sovereignty in its larger sense was conferred upon the Constituent Assembly.’ It still belonged to the Crown of Great Britain and the assembly ‘lived in a fool’s paradise if it was ever seized with the notion that it was the sovereign body in the State.’ The only member of the bench to disagree was Justice R. A. Cornelius (later the Chief Justice of Pakistan).