The Shakespearean Ides of March is historically related to patrimonial coups and cantankerous deceits. In Pakistan’s short and checkered history, March is perennially of political significance that revitalises the medieval European drama.
Come 2013; pending general elections, indecisive political establishment and a caretaker government that has no time to be forewarned, bear semblance to the tradition of overriding self-interests at the cost of the state. As Pakistan celebrates its 73 years of Lahore Resolution and 57 years of its first constitution, it is opportune to peep into the past with objectivism and contemplate why the ‘Pakistan that was envisaged’ by its Founding Fathers is not the ‘Pakistan that is’?
On March 23, 1956, Pakistan adopted its first constitution transforming itself from a Dominion under the British Empire to Islamic Republic of Pakistan. It was a 234 Article compromise document that took shape in fits and starts after the adoption of the Objective Resolution that displaced the League’s Creed of Lahore Resolution. The document was a still born effort at providing a federal system based on the principles of parity between East and West Pakistan on the model of the British Parliament. In contradiction to federalism, the constitution comprised a single chamber paving way for the centre to take unilateral action in emergencies, curtailing provincial autonomy and denying devolution. It also declared that no law could be passed against the spirit of The Holy Quran and Sunnah and alienated Pakistanis on the basis of religion. Both Bengali and Urdu were declared national languages. In commemoration, March 23 was declared a national holiday called the Republic Day. On October 7, 1958, President Mirza staged a coup, abrogated the constitution and imposed martial law. On October 27, General Ayub Khan deposed Mirza and assumed the presidency. Though the constitution barely lasted over two years, it opened enough fissures in Pakistan’s politic and federal body that ultimately cost the division of Pakistan in 1971. It also resulted in the rise of sub-nationalist movements. The issues of the federation, including FATA and Balochistan, despite three constitutions and scores of amendments, have yet to be resolved.
In sharp contrast to the Lahore Resolution passed by All India Muslim League from March 23-24, 1940, the 1956 constitution was a conspicuous disconnect that successive governments in Pakistan failed to address. Seen in the context of this argument, what Sheikh Mujib had demanded was a logical reiteration of the Lahore Resolution. As history proves, Pakistan had to pay a heavy cost for assigning the Lahore Resolution to history. Had this Muslim League creed become a preamble to the constitution, Pakistan’s evolution would have taken a different and synergetic course. Distorted attempts by Ayub to revive it in the folds of the Two Nation Theory are seen by critics as distorting and not correcting history.
In terms of the national holiday, the Republic Day during Ayub’s government was first changed to ‘Pakistan and Republic Day’ to its present name as ‘Pakistan Resolution Day’. In reality, March 23 is a grim reminder of how a military dictator subverted the dates of a democratic and constitutional process to eclipse his unconstitutional act of abrogating a constitution. Why Ayub resorted to such a measure is also a manifestation of the growing tensions with the East Pakistan led political establishment under Prime Minister Huseyn Shaheed Suharwardy, who favoured relations with China and USSR in contrast to the growing military relations between Pakistan Army and the US for a bulwark against communism.
Within the above context, it is important that every Pakistani views the abrogation of Pakistan’s first constitution as an attempt by the military to preserve its corporatism and plunge Pakistan into unending constitutional and political crises. Having become interventionist, the proverbial military on a horseback continues to patrol our society. For whatever little it was worth, had the 1956 constitution been given a chance, it could have morphed into an effective document of federalism ensuring the integrity of Pakistan and its institutions. Alas, for the opportunist it was prudent to board the containment bandwagon with complete disregard to the fallouts on psycho-social fabric of Pakistani society.
The true historical context of the Lahore Resolution and constitutionalism in Pakistan is hidden from the people due to the deliberate historical distortions introduced by centres of power. Deficient of political logic, these successive regimes resorted to paying lip service to religion as hedge to elitist interests, thereby creating fault lines and dissections in the politic body. Consequently, the question to define the Lahore Resolution warrants incisive analysis.
According to K.K. Aziz, there were 88 variations of the partition of India before Dr Mohammad Iqbal gave an idea of a Muslim state at his Allahabad address of 1930. Most historians and events thereof indicate that Iqbal and other leaders of All India Muslim League envisioned a Muslim province within the British Empire and, therefore, within the Indian Union. In 1933, Qauid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah dismissed Chaudhry Rehmat Ali’s idea of “Pakistan: Our Fatherland”. After the elections of 1937, faced with Nehru’s intransience and mocking, Jinnah realised the inevitability of diverting his movement to the Muslim majority areas and with it, the importance of regional politicians.
The original draft of the Lahore Resolution was prepared by Punjab’s Unionist Chief Minister Sikandar Hayat, who later withdrew on the pretext that he did not wish Punjab to be divided. After a series of modifications under Shaheed Liaquat Ali Khan, the final draft was presented before the League convention by Bengali Leaguers, A.K. Fazlul Haq and seconded by Chaudhry Khaliquzzaman. It is important to note that the resolution made no mention of religion, had a vague demand of state(s) and talked of Muslim majority areas. This meant that the League’s real constituents, the Muslims in Hindu majority areas were being ignored in favour of Muslim majority areas. It appears that the League at that point was envisioning autonomy and not partition.
On March 24, 1940, the resolution was adopted. The Hindu press cynically called it Pakistan Resolution. The Sindh Assembly was the first British Indian legislature to pass the resolution in favour of Pakistan. G.M. Syed, an influential Sindhi activist, revolutionary and Sufi presented it. On April 15, 1941, the Lahore Resolution was incorporated as a creed in the constitution of the All India Muslim League. Post-1946, the movement for Pakistan intensified resulting in its creation in 1947.
Post-1947, a cardinal piece of League’s legal and constitutional history was assigned to history. Had the politicians of Pakistan continued to adhere to this creed after the death of Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistan’s history could have been different.
Once we as Pakistanis pledge ourselves to the vision of Jinnah’s Pakistan, we are bound by our integrity to revisit the Lahore Resolution as the first step to reclaiming it.
The writer is a retired army officer, current affairs host
on television and political economist.
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